Friendship, weaving entwine at the loom

At the Warped Weavers Guild in Fallston, a centuries-old craft is thriving.

October 02, 2005|By CASSANDRA A. FORTIN | CASSANDRA A. FORTIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Barbara Stam worked the treadle of her floor loom so fluidly that it looked as though she were dancing.

Nancy Spies picked up a bag and pulled out an intricately woven thin purple band brocaded in gold that she reproduced from a 500-year-old pattern.

Lizanne Smith described her captivation with the mathematics and machinery associated with textile weaving.

Although these women have diverse interests and use different techniques, they share a common bond as members of Fallston's Warped Weavers Guild, a group of hobbyist weavers that formed in 1974 to foster the art of hand-weaving.

"We thrive on the interaction with each other," said Stam. "We each have our own interests and areas of expertise, and we learn from each other."

The guild members are keeping busy at local shows and fairs and have scheduled demonstrations this month at local library branches. Although they've all won prizes at every contest level, Stam said that isn't the reason she weaves.

"One of the greatest joys in doing this is being able to ensure that the history of weaving continues," she said.

The modest size of the guild - it has 25 members from Baltimore, Baltimore County, Harford County and southern Pennsylvania - has its advantages, said Ginger Stufft, of the New Jersey-based Mid Atlantic Fiber Association.

"The Warped members are closer to each other," said Stufft. "They're more helpful to the progress and motivation of the other weavers within their guild. That's what makes them such a successful group."

In 1974, Anne Gibby and Edna Healy of Fallston founded the guild as the Steppingstone Spinners & Weaver's Guild.

Gibby owned the Loom Art Studio in Fallston, where she taught weaving classes and decided the interest her customers had in textile weaving was enough to start a guild.

In 1976, Stam met Gibby at an elementary school where Gibby was demonstrating textile weaving as part of a national bicentennial celebration.

"I was thrilled to find someone local to teach me to weave," said Stam. "I became fascinated with the interaction of threads and color."

Stam took classes until 1983 and then joined the guild.

"There's no limit to the combinations you can create to express your individuality, but it's such a joy to share weaving with the other guild members," she said.

Stam said it takes years to become skilled at weaving, and even after almost 30 years, conceiving an idea can be a long process.

"The plan for weaving anything requires choosing not only what you want to make, but the fiber, yardage for the loom, a pattern, how to thread it and how to treadle it," she said.

Stam uses a four-harness floor loom comprising warp (taut vertical fibers) and weft (horizontal fibers) woven with a treadle (a lever at the bottom of the loom) that manipulates the fibers.

About the same time Stam joined the guild, Smith became a member.

Her interest in weaving developed from a fascination with looms. As a 12-year-old girl, Smith visited an aunt who lived across the street from two brothers who had a large loom in their living room.

They never invited youngsters to touch the loom, but looking at it made Smith want to learn to use it.

Her chance came in 1983 when she took classes at Gibby's business.

"When I went to Loom Art, I ran into Mr. Gibby first, and he was as fascinated with the looms and machinery as I was," said Smith, a Forest Hill resident. "It was so exciting. If you work the treadles on the small looms properly, it makes you feel like you're dancing."

Spies joined the guild in 1997 while working on a project for the Society for Creative Anachronism, an international group specializing in re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe. She learned weaving while researching Viking craftsmanship. She focused on brocade card woven bands, which are straps used as belts or head or neck bands during medieval times.

As part of her research, Spies contacted textile museums in Europe and received photographs of bands from the 9th century.

"I used a magnifying glass to examine the photographs and count the threads," said Spies, a Fallston resident. "It's very mathematic and extremely complicated. I tell people you have to be insane coming into weaving or you go insane doing it."

One of Spies' most challenging projects was copying an 800-year- old pattern of a brocade band from the cloak of Roger II, the Norman king of Sicily.

"It was quite goose bumpy to be the only person in 800 years to have woven that pattern," said Spies. "As far as I know, no else has ever graphed it out, and you could not make it without graphing it out. It took about one hour per inch to weave."

During more than eight years of research, Spies has written books about the brocade bands and has established herself as an expert. Recently, she was contacted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to view a private collection containing what she described as the most jaw-dropping brocade band she had ever seen.

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