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Women weave cloth and community

on October 30, 2009

Dolores Alcala sees a potential weaving project everywhere she goes.  An image of graffiti she spotted in Argentina is emerging from her loom at the Richmond Art Center.  Robin Mitchell prefers to weave functional pieces, like yellow dishtowels and placemats. Jennifer Horne is creating a thick tapestry inspired by an Amish quilt.

On Wednesday evenings, ten women come together to weave their ideas into reality, inch by inch. The classes at the center are among the few options available in the Bay Area for people not paying tuition to a college or university.

Christie Brady, 59, of Alameda said weaving has helped her appreciate where things come from and the craftsmanship that goes into handmade objects. “When you see cheap scarves come from Indonesia or someplace and they say they are hand-woven, that takes a lot.”

On a recent Wednesday evening, the teacher, Stacy Speyer, helped students set up their projects on large wooden looms. As the women pushed pedals with their feet, different parts of the looms moved. The weavers look like they are slowly playing an organ. “It’s all about basically raising and lowering threads and passing other threads through them,” said Renee Perry, 58, of Kensington.

Speyer also teaches her students to dye and paint the various materials they weave. In the process, colors often change or bleed into each other. “There’s going to be a surprise at the end of each stage,” said Susan Pulliam, 62, of Richmond. Many students said the repetitive motion of weaving is calming and meditative.

A few of the women have managed to fit personal looms into their homes. But Sara Ruddy, 61, of Berkeley said she got lonely weaving at home. At the center, the women call to each other throughout the evening to ask for advice. At one point they all huddle around a large table to evaluate a completed piece. “It feels like we’re always interested in each other’s projects,” Alcala says. “Everyone has different ideas.”

Scholars have yet to determine the origin of weaving, but it is generally believed that the craft developed along with civilization, according to an article by Susan C. Wylly, of Georgia College & State University.  Rene Perry feels the connection to this history each time she pushes the pedals and shuttles yarn through her loom. “There’s hundreds of generations of women and men thinking this stuff through.”

This semester, classes cost $195 for those who aren’t members of the Richmond Art Center and $175 for those who are. To sign up for classes or weekend workshops call 510.620.6772.

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