Member Reflections about the History of the Guild
Founded in 1975, the guild’s history is one of steadfast dedication by members to developing craftsmanship in weaving and spinning arts. Members throughout the years offered their time, talent, energy and even their homes to foster learning and skill acquisition by themselves and others. Below are some of the reflections of founding and early members. Evident throughout their comments is the support, friendships and mentoring that were essential to the development of our Guild today. We honorand extend our deepest gratitude to these members for their contributions.
According to a 2012 presentation by Gloria Williams, charter guild member, at the Skagit County Historical Museum, the guild was formed in September 1975 by students from one of Anita Luvera Mayer’s beginning weaving classes. Starting with a dozen members, the group decided to work towards growing membership. Our name - Skagit Valley Weavers' Guild was adopted in 1976. Eager to continue learning, the growth of the membership allowed the purchase of books, magazine subscriptions, and fiber-related equipment that led to the appointment of a permanent librarian in 1977 (who housed the library’s holdings in cardboard boxes in her home). As acquisitions grew, the library moved to another member’s refurbished chicken coop, then for many years to a room in Arlene Summers' weaving studio, until its current location in an upstairs room at the Allen United Methodist Church in Bow, WA.
Guided by a set of new by-laws, the original governing board included 4 officers – president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer, a structure that served our developing guild well for many years. As the guild became more active, a program chair and a workshop chair were added to the board and the secretary position duties were separated into corresponding secretary and the recording secretary. More committee chairs were added later and a crop of mentors stepped forward to mentor new weavers.
Goals for guild members were set at the time of the drafting of the first bylaws: 1) Each member shall weave 3 items per year, complete with a write up of her process to give to all members; 2) Each member shall have at least two pieces to show in a gallery show each year; 3) Guild emphasis will be on improving craftsmanship. Although these goals were difficult to meet and ultimately were abandoned, the spirit of them lives on today.
The goal of striving for craftsmanship was fostered through guild workshops every year taught by well-known teachers from around the country and through small groups of members doing independent study of a particular aspect of weaving or related topics. In 2000, the 25th year of our Guild's founding was celebrated by a retrospective exhibit of members’ work over the years at the Depot Gallery in Anacortes, WA. It turned out to be a big job to create the display by ourselves, but also a very exciting time because the show was well received by the public. By 2012 the Guild had grown to 48 active members with 2 charter members still actively weaving and attending meetings. During February-April 2012, the Skagit Historical Museum displayed our members’ work in an Two-Day exhibit titled Over 'n Under. Members presented both current and past items they created demonstrating how they learned, improved, and enjoyed their craft. The exhibit was a great success.
In the late 70's and early 80's, many members began to learn to spin and quickly grew into a robust group who met regularly to socialize and provide for mutual learning. Notes compiled by Vivian Mizuta in 2015 and contributed to by Megan (Merritt) Jones, Jean Lohman, Sarah Hayduk, Gloria Williams, Nancy Hanson, Vivian Mizuta, Kim McKinnon, Sue Perry, and Kathy Crone noted the long spinning tradition in Skagit County.
The early group of spinners were informally organized and focused on the social aspects of spinning. The group met on Tuesday evenings (and sometimes also Thursdays) in people’s homes with the first spin organized by Sarah Hayduk at Anna Mae Kinkade′s home in Mount Vernon. It wasn’t long before the group started meeting during the day and formally referred to themselves as the Tuesday Spinners - Vivian Mizuta, Betty Fellion, Ann VanDenBurg, Sandy Shin, Jean Lohman, Penny Good, Lori Biss, and Anna Mae Kinkade. In a couple more years (1988) the group added Alice Hendricks, her mother JoAnn, Pat Skelton, Nancy Scott, Florence Scott (Nancy Scottʼs mother-in-law), Patricia McDonald, and Dixie Snow as members.
Vivian Mizuta reflected on learning to spin in 1985 from Anna Mae Kinkade and with fellow student and friend Anna Mead. We had both borrowed Ashford Traditional wheels and went to a fleece sale at Penny Goodʼs Westside Mount Vernon farm. In those early years, the only fiber available to spin was local raw whole fleeces to take home, skirt, wash, drum-card, and finally spin. Sarah Hayduk was also selling fleeces from her Fir Island home about that time and some members raised sheep; Pat Skelton had over 100 llamas. In 1986-87 Vivian remarks that the entire weaving guild seemed to be “exploding with new spinners.” The Coupeville Spinning and Weaving Shop played an early role in preparing some of these new spinners.
The Anacortes area also had a long-standing evening spinning group attended regularly by Megan Jones, Gloria Williams, Helen Nichols, Vera Stuber, Dora Coffelt, Mary Lou Morgan, and Fran Park, Herta Kerp, and Kiltie Ross.
Many fond memories have been recounted of times in the early group of spinners - the summer potlucks on the lawns, the dye days in our milk house, Loriʼs baby shower on our side lawn, the “special lunch” days when one of us suffered the loss of family, and we just sat together and spun, and somehow, being together seemed to ease the hurt. I remember Pat Skeltonʼs 60th birthday. We gave her a surprise birthday party at her house, taking everything with us from the cake and candles, paper plates and plastic cutlery, and of course the potluck lunch. We were more than a group of women who liked to spin yarn; we were a support group, we were true friends.
Around 2007, after a long hiatus from the disbanding of the Tuesday Spinners, the spinners reformed its group and added a larger focus on learning through workshops, mini-classes, watching DVDs, and monthly demonstrations or show and tell. This change in focus was driven in response to many more beginning spinners, by the explosion of new equipment (both wheels and carders), the availability of 3new commercially prepared fibers, as well as the advent of Spin Off and PLY magazines that addressed rare breeds and new techniques including art yarns and working with color. Kathy Crone and Sue Perry learned to spin from Vivian which also stimulated the idea to revive a regularly meeting spinning group. Megan Jones recalls that in 1989 two teams from the Skagit Guild for the first time participated in the Skagit County Fair individual weaving and spinning categories and the beginning Sheep-to-Shawl event. In following years, a team from Whidbey joined in the competition.
The Tuesday spinners continued to meet weekly during the 90’s adding more members including Mary Margaret Eighme, Penny Brown, Nancy Hanson, Sylvia Trask, Kathryn Alexander, Val Gleeson, Arlene Summers, Bev Sundean, Mary Lou Morgan, Jean Nelson, Jean Ferguson, Indrid Shellenberger, Renee Delight LaTorre, Gwyn Jackson, Barb, and Laura. A workshop for spinners was sponsored by the Skagit Guild and taught by Diane Varney on Designer Yarns. As the guild became more active around 2000 the spinners facilitated incorporation of more spinning education and skill enhancement, as well as weaving education since many of the spinners were also weavers. In 2008-09 Vivian received a grant for six table looms with the Anacortes Senior Center and started teaching beginning weaving classes there. These same looms are used for beginning weaving classes still today.
Kim McKinnon remembers getting her first alpacas in 2008 and as a new spinner, seeking out the Skagit guild spinners group. Later she took over coordination of the group from Vivian who was then the guild president. At that time, group members included Vivian Mizuta, Sue Perry, Kim McKinnon, Kathy Crone, Val Gleeson, Carol & Kevin Osterman, Megan Jones, Pat Skelton, Nancy Schwind , Stephanie Porter, Renee Delight la Torre, Arlene Summers, Gloria Lebowitz, Roxie Rochat, Anne Lorgen, Elinor Tapio, Louise Bayma, Anna Hosick-Kalahan, Alex Keggan, and Diane Hill. The group met on Mondays at peoples’ homes until the end of 2013 then moved to the Mount Vernon Senior Center. When Kim became guild president, Vivian enlisted Roxie Rochat to assume coordinating the spinning group and she continues to very capably handle the email newsletter to this day. The spinning group is now generally referred to as the Skagit Spinners.