Monday, March 21, 2005
Guilds and Groups
There are lots of opinions about fiber guilds and groups, ranging from ‘can’t live without them’ to ‘can’t see any earthly reason for them’. Where do I fall on that scale? Let’s take a look at the evidence.
I started my weaving with no guidance other than Mary Black’s New Key to Weaving and tenacity. I don’t recommend this as an approach, since I spent a great deal of time re-inventing the wheel. On the other hand, once I found an area hand weavers guild, I wasn’t impressed. The members appeared to group into three categories – tapestry weavers, ‘show-off ’weavers with a great deal of very expensive equipment that they didn’t use very often, and production/design weavers who were only interested in producing woven goods for sale as quickly as possible. I didn’t fit into any of these categories. I simply wanted to learn to create good cloth for use in household goods and personal clothing. I branched out from this, eventually doing ecclesiastical weaving for several area churches, but I still predominately produce woven textiles for my family and household or for gifts. So I decided after a couple of years that the weaving guild and I had little to give to or learn from one another and went on my way – no hard feelings. And I did learn things from this group – I never knew about Weaver’s, Handwoven, or the other fiber publications until I joined this group!
The next rung on my personal ladder was to join a local fiber arts guild composed of weavers, spinners and knitters. I must admit that this small group (there were originally only 4 members – there are now over a dozen) has done a great deal to teach me various fiber techniques. When I joined, I was a weaver, tatter and crocheter. Now I’m also a spinner and knitter. The members of this group are the best sort of fiber guild – enthusiastic, challenging and always supportive of new endeavors. We have no dues, largely because most meetings are in members’ homes, and do one ‘public service’ spinning demonstration each year. I look forward to the monthly meetings, and always feel deprived when I can’t attend. This is the group that includes my ‘fiber friends’ – those whom I call between meetings for support and encouragement.
The other local guild is strictly for hand spinners (with a large sprinkling of weavers and knitters, of course), and is based in a nearby large city. This is a much larger group with more resources – equipment that can be rented and a nice library of tapes and books. It also tries to sponsor at least one workshop each year on techniques of interest to members. We have several shepherds in this group, and also do mass purchases of supplies that are cheaper to buy in bulk. There are dues for this group, and I pay them cheerfully for the access to resources and fiber supplies.
Another type of guild entirely is the professional crafts guild into which I juried a decade ago. This guild has stringent guidelines, and the criteria for admission are tough. Quality standards are sky-high, and the guild membership includes several internationally-known artists. I am honored to be a part of this guild, and enjoy fulfilling my membership requirements. This guild does two shows each year, spring and fall, and public demonstrations are always a large part of those shows. Since I’m doing nothing for resale at this time, I fulfill my membership requirements by demonstrating and doing the ‘behind-the-scenes’ work needed for this type of show/exhibit.
The current rung on my own ladder includes both of the above local groups. But I’ve discovered through the years that I’m also what my best friend calls a “natural teacher”. I’m happiest when I’m showing someone else how to do something. I push myself to learn more (and in more detail) when I know I’ll have to show a student how to do the same thing. So a bit more than a year ago, after numerous requests from the local high school students to coach them through a knit or crochet project, I started a needlework group at our local library. We meet one Saturday morning each month. This group has grown from just me to a core group of six with additions each month bringing our usual number up to about ten. Ages and skill levels range all over the place. We have two sets of mother-daughter members, a couple of teenagers, a couple of retirees and a couple of empty-nest mothers. We also have a couple of men! It’s completely informal – we meet around a couple of tables in the resource area of the library and everyone brings whatever they’re working on that day. They also bring ‘problem projects’ for help and advice. While I seem to be the unofficial leader of the group, I think that’s just because I was there first. We pitch in to help one another learn new techniques or skills. I truly do enjoy this group, at least partly because it is such a public forum. We have at least one person each meeting who just walks over to see what’s going on. Frequently they show back up a month or two later, project in hand, to join us.
Based on the above paragraphs, I have to say that I do believe in guilds. I do miss meetings – sometimes for months at a stretch – but I enjoy the various people and resources of each guild. Could I live without them? Of course, if it was necessary. But I probably wouldn’t learn as much, or as well, as I do with the support and encouragement of these groups of people. But these types of support are neither necessary nor desirable for everyone. So if you find guilds a waste of time, don’t bother. But if you enjoy having other enthusiastic fiber people around you for a morning or two each month, go for it!