WHEN THE SOUTHEAST Seattle Senior Center came to the Seattle Weavers’ Guild and asked for help with 25 looms that were collecting dust in a back room as the legacy of a project started decades ago, Linda Stryker helped resurrect them into a teaching tool. “It’s been a wonderful thing,” she tells me during a recent guild “show and tell” gathering, noting that the project has drawn everyone from Scout troops to older folks looking for a new hobby.
That’s one of many ways the guild is bringing this ancient craft into the modern era and introducing it to new generations. Cultures around the world developed weaving techniques over thousands of years. Now, much more recently, it happened to be the perfect pandemic activity.
Weavers’ Guild members might often work in solitude, but they enjoy each other’s company, too. And they were very happy to meet at a park one recent morning to show off some of the things they’ve been making, and to catch up.
“It’s kind of a solitary craft, but it’s really great to get together and see what everyone else is doing,” says guild president Cathy Smither.
At the park, tables overflowed with colorful fabrics sparkling in the warm sunshine. Folks checked out color combinations, materials and patterns that others have been trying.
People of all ages chatted and snacked — many simultaneously keeping their fingers busy with handwork. “We’re the type of people who just can’t sit and do nothing,” Smither says.
I walked into the meeting knowing nothing. I had envisioned looms as the giant things used to make big rugs, but it turns out some of them are only the size of a deck of cards — tiny, delicate things you can use to make a belt.
One of Eileen O’Connor’s specialties is making hats to give away to those who need them. “It’s just wonderful to see the cloth come out from under your fingers,” she says.
Weaving is a sustainable craft in more ways than one. Most weavers use natural fabrics such as wool and bamboo, and some of them upcycle old pieces into new ones — scarves out of old cashmere sweaters, for example.
They plan to bring back their annual sale, which they had to skip last year, in October. With two years’ work instead of one, and given the extra time for weaving last year, it looks to be a blockbuster.
They’ve made rugs, towels, shawls, sweaters — you name it. “A lot of us make a lot of stuff, which is why we have a sale,” Smither says.
They call themselves weavers, but that spans a broad range of fiber arts. Some of them make their own looms. Some of them also spin their own wool. Many do related crafts, like knitting.
Under a nearby tree, Stryker and Miryha Runnerstrom were spinning wool into yarn. “The thing that I love about weaving is that this doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world,” Stryker says, gesturing at a multipatterned towel Runnerstrom was showing to interested passers-by.
The group has workshops and meetings, including speakers on aspects of structure or technique, or history. No one feels bad if someone works on a piece as they listen. “I’m a much better participant in everything when I’m doing something with my hands,” Runnerstrom says.