Almanac

News - January 19, 2011

Handweavers' Guild thriving in Woodside

by Barbara Wood

Here in the heart of Silicon Valley, a thriving group meets monthly not to brainstorm about the art of creating the next killer iPhone app, but to celebrate and educate themselves about a quite different, centuries-old art — making textiles by hand.

In addition to weaving, members of the Black Sheep Handweaver's Guild may spin wool, dye yarn or fabric, knit, make baskets, make lace or wall art, or just watch and listen and soak up the creativity flowing at the monthly meetings.

Before a recent meeting, Barbara Shapiro, who first joined the guild more than 30 years ago, showed off one of her current projects. She was winding strips of fabric she had used to test indigo dyes into disks featuring subtle variations of blue that would eventually become wall art.

Ms. Shapiro, a former Peninsula resident who now lives in San Francisco, is a professional textile artist who has a woven silk piece currently on display at the deYoung Museum.

Carolyn Van Cise of Woodside, who has also been a member of the guild for three decades, brought some baskets and a scarf she had made. Ms. Van Cise says she belongs to three different guilds and enjoys doing "anything I get off the loom quickly," including baskets and scarves. She often starts by musing on how a certain material, color or texture would work in a project. "Everything is a 'what if,'" Ms. Van Cise says.

The Black Sheep Guild meets monthly in the Guild Hall at the Woodside Village Church. Most meetings feature a speaker or other program and a show-and-tell, when members can share their latest project.

"Everything is applauded," Ms. Shapiro says.

Members also share projects they are having trouble with, and ask for advice from the group.

A few smaller working groups have spun off from the guild, including one that does complex weaving (using computer-generated patterns), one for spinning, and one for free-form projects, all meeting in members' homes.

The guild also holds workshops a few times a year. Planned for 2011 is a two-part series teaching how to weave fabric to be made into a fitted jacket. In March, in the first three-day workshop, participants will weave the jacket fabric. In September, the students will make the jacket. Sharon Alderman and Daryl Lancaster will teach the classes March 18-20 and Sept. 16-18.

The Black Sheep guild is part of the Handweavers Guild of America , but contrary to what is happening in some other parts of the country, the local guild is growing and attracting new members each month.

"This is a successful large guild that is growing," says Ms. Shapiro. Many young Silicon Valley professionals seem to find spinning, weaving or other textile arts an antidote to the stress in other parts of their lives, she says.

Andrea Niehuis, who owns Amazing Yarns in Redwood City and lives in Emerald Hills, is another active Black Sheep member. Although she teaches weaving and writes articles about knitting, Ms. Niehuis says she never fails to be inspired by the guild meetings. "Every time I come here I get so many ideas about what to do next," she says. "The creativity is amazing."

In case one wonders where the guild got its name, Ms. Van Cise can explain.

It seems that shepherds used to cull the black sheep from their flocks, as their wool could not be dyed and was thought to be worthless. But then artisans who were spinning and weaving wool began to treasure the naturally colored fleece, and began preserving and breeding black sheep.

Today sheep are bred with black and other colors of wool for use by those who, like the members of the Black Sheep Handweavers Guild, love to spend time cultivating an ancient art.

Go to blacksheepguild.org for more information on the guild. Meetings are open to the public and are listed in the Almanac's online calendar.

Barbara Wood is a freelance writer, photographer and gardener from Woodside. She writes the "Dispatches From the Home Front" column for the Almanac.

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