San Juan Weavers Guild Carries on Ancient Traditions, One Thread at a Time
by By Beverly Corbell
Sep 23, 2010 | 787 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WARPING THE LOOM — Bobbie Irwin of the San Juan Weavers Guild begins the first stages of creating Christmas ornaments from fine red and green cotton thread on one of her handlooms. The guild will have everything from ornaments and rugs to fine silk scarves along with craft demonstrations at the 33rd Annual San Juan Weavers Guild Show and Sale, Nov. 21 at the Holiday Inn Express from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Photo by Beverly Corbell)
WARPING THE LOOM — Bobbie Irwin of the San Juan Weavers Guild begins the first stages of creating Christmas ornaments from fine red and green cotton thread on one of her handlooms. The guild will have everything from ornaments and rugs to fine silk scarves along with craft demonstrations at the 33rd Annual San Juan Weavers Guild Show and Sale, Nov. 21 at the Holiday Inn Express from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Photo by Beverly Corbell)
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MONTROSE – While most of the fabric we use is mass-produced and machine-woven, the skills of hand weaving and spinning are not dying out. About 80 members of the San Juan Weavers Guild meet monthly to ply their crafts and to encourage others to learn how as well.

Bobbie Irwin, vice president of the San Juan Weavers Guild, said weaving gives her a lot of joy.

“It’s really satisfying to work from scratch and come up with something useful or beautiful,” she said. “I’m very much into quality, and I think the satisfaction is seeing something developed. There are just so many different things you can do and there’s no reason to ever get bored with it. You can make anything from rugs to very fine silk fabrics.”

All that and more will be available to the public when the guild holds its 33rd Annual Show and Sale at the Holiday Inn Express on Sunday, Nov. 21 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Guild members have been working all year to create “a wealth of useful and decorative household and personal accessories for sale, including towels, placemats, baskets, scarves, rugs, jewelry, bags, ornaments, fine clothing, and much more,” Irwin said.

The artisans will also demonstrate their skills throughout the day, and visitors are welcome to try their hand at the ancient skills of spinning, weaving and other fabric arts.

Irwin has been busily working in her spacious basement studio, with several looms sitting around the room lined by high open shelves stacked with bolts of thread of every color. As she demonstrated how to “throw the warp” of red and green fine cotton onto her loom, she explained that the warp consists of 902 longitudinal threads that take her about five hours to thread onto the loom. The next step, the “weft,” consists of weaving the transverse threads to create whole cloth.

The finished cloth will be a red and green tartan plaid, which Irwin will then cut into small pieces and mount on felt to create Christmas ornaments for friends and family, as well as for the annual sale.

According to Irwin, the variety at the show will be astounding, but the art of members will also come to light wthrough this year’s design challenge project. Members exchanged photographs for inspiration, and incorporate a theme or inspired colors into their finished works.

“The results typically range from scarves to jewelry and baskets, some with pictorial representations and others inspired by colors or themes,” Irwin said. The postcards and finished items will be accompanied by the creators’ explanations of their design choices, and at the end of the show, the postcard donors will receive the creations their cards inspired.

Irwin’s postcard was a photo of Balinese dancers, and her finished scarf incorporates small silver beads, like those of the dancers, on shimmering iridescent fabric.

Guild members hail from all over the region – Montrose, Delta, Grand Junction, Paonia, Hotchkiss, Ridgway and Telluride – and even if a member moves away, they’re still considered members.

The San Juan Weavers Guild was formed in 1977; Irwin joined after moving to the area in 1998, although she had visited the guild before to conduct weaving workshops.

Irwin, who also spins, is the author of three books on making rag rugs and spinning, and travels around the country teaching weaving workshops and giving presentations. A former newspaper and magazine editor and writer, she’s also published dozens of articles in craft periodicals.

But expertise doesn’t matter to members of the guild, and Irwin welcomes new members at any level. The group meets from September through May, usually the third Saturday of the month. Annual dues are $20 for individuals and $30 per family. Meetings consist of a program, usually by a guild member, with occasional workshops and guest speakers.

The guild’s spinners group meets year-round on the first Friday of each month at 9 a.m. at the Trap Club in Delta. There are no formal membership requirements or dues, and no programs, but occasional field trips or workshops, and beginners are welcome.

“Many who come are just learning how to spin,” Irwin said.

But it’s more than developing skills that makes guild membership valuable, Irwin said.

“I think of the guild as a support group. It’s full of people who appreciate what we do and understand the amount of work that goes into it,” she said. “Members are a wonderful source of inspiration and are always willing to help solve a problem or loan equipment in an emergency. It’s a very sharing group, welcoming anyone with an interest in the fiber arts, from beginners to professionals.”

To learn more about guild meetings or the Nov. 21 show, Irwin can be reached at 249-2981.
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