Women who Weave

May 30, 2018 - 10:20 am

Last week I saw a weaving book advertised on craigslist for $10, and asked E to pick it up for me. It’s a copy of Mary M Atwater’s The Shuttlecraft Book of American Hand-Weaving which I knew was a classic, and appeared to be in good condition. 

Mary M Atwater book cover

Inside it’s a treasure. Not only is the book itself full of amazing (for the time) images and so information dense I’m sure I could study it for years, the owner of the book took careful notes on her projects, both in light pencil on the pages themselves and on included pieces of paper: 

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We asked the seller for any history of the weaver herself, but all he knew was that the book came from a local estate sale. If anyone can tell me about Ada Tilton, I would love to know more about her. 

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In general I’ve been encountering remarkable weaver women from the 1800 and 1900’s who significantly shaped American handweaving. I am deliberately saying “American” because Canada, the US, Mexico, and to a lesser extent South America all had some mixing of craft, and many of these women traveled extensively in their lifetimes. The technical aspects of weaving are their own rabbit hole that I’m delighted to be traveling down, but the history of the weavers who preserved and developed handweaving in the Americas are a whole other fascinating area of study. And, from what I can tell, It was almost exclusively women, sometimes with the assistance of their husbands, who built this community.

I have two looms, one of which was designed by Margaret Olofsson Bergman, and the other by Melvina Norwood. As I am learning to weave I am finding all the amazing little touches on both looms that make weaving easier and more enjoyable. They are machines that were designed thoughtfully with an eye to improving the experience of the weaver rather than to simplify manufacture, and they have graceful lines that make them pleasing pieces of furniture that can live comfortably in the home. I can only imagine the many iterations of design and the work that went into their manufacture. 

Beyond the looms, I keep getting drawn in to the history of the women who wrote weaving books, taught classes, and generally shaped the American hand-weaving community, both the teachers I have encountered and their fore-mothers in MM Atwater’s generation. I want to learn more and more about these women and the remarkable culture of technical craft they influenced. I feel I am entering good company.