History of the Fiber Arts Guild
A unique guild of fiber artists exhibited their work in downtown Boone each weekend this past October. Visitors may have stopped by their exhibit on West King Street and seen the fiber artists demonstrate their craft on the looms. Aprons, bookmarks, masks, scarves, sweaters and lap looms for beginners were all on display and available for shoppers to purchase.
Fiber arts is the long-standing crafts in the High Country. Passed down generationally, the artists said that they learn new skills of the hand and loom from each other.
“She (Susan Sharp, co-founder of the guild) gave me a drop spindle and a bag of wool. It actually changed my life forever.” said Eleanor Hjemmets, one of the first weavers and co-founders of the guild.
The guild members believe that the number of people practicing fiber art has decreased in the past 20 years.
“Most weaving has been moved to large machining centers, so many groups like us are disappearing. The machines take the place of our tedious labor, so these goods can be priced much cheaper,” Hjemmets said. “I continued to weave because I enjoyed the tediousness of it.
The artists of the guild describe the craft as a series of nuanced skills that require a sharp eye, relaxed agility and a creative mind. With only a few weaving communities left, the women of the Blue Ridge Fiber Guild cherish the practicality of fiber.
“For all of us, it’s a continuing education and a hobby,” said Sharp, co-founder of the Blue Ridge Fiber Arts Guild. “I had an interest in traditional weaving and tapestry before we started the guild.”
The Blue Ridge Fiber Guild of the High Country was established in the 1970s by Sharp, Hjemmets, Sandie Adair and Jane Campbel, who began crafting different types of fiber, wool, cotton and yarn, supporting their essential desire to learn.
The mission of the guild is to teach the skills to the next generation of children and adults and provide practical goods to the community surrounding themselves.
Their exhibit was hosted by the Watauga Arts Collective in downtown Boone, at street level above Doe Ridge Pottery celebrating American Craft Week.
Hjemmets, who provided weaving demonstrations on weekends this October, began her artistic education as a painter in the late 1970s. Hjemmets transitioned to weaving when she met Sharp.
Sharp is well known for her giant story quilts. Her first quilt she constructed, “Family Photo Album,” was recently purchased by the International Quilting Museum in Nebraska. The Turchin Center and the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum have also exhibited her work.
Amber Bateman, executive director of the Watauga Arts Council, said all of the guild members were thrilled to show in such a prime location as downtown Boone, where they had an opportunity to capture the attention of visitors who may have never seen the breadth of work that fiber arts include.
“There were always women wanting to spin. The revival of the guild connected us weavers together in the community,” Hjemmets said.
Jean Marie Martinac, a new member of the Blue Ridge Fiber Arts Guild, said she learned the craft from her grandmothers on both sides of her family.
“This art is essential. To learn, all one has to do is decode the process and follow the instructions,” Martinac said.
Martinac has created a variety of woven sweaters, patterned scarves and fabric landscape scenes.
“Yarn and fabric make me happy, and it’s productive. Weaving and quilting, like all things, requires counting and thinking. Plus, it keeps my hands busy,” Martinac said. “When we get together, we disconnect from our phones and connect to crafting.”
Sharp spent five years in Watauga County teaching fiber styles and has been sourcing the Guild’s collective work for galleries across North Carolina. She currently has 15 students and seven looms that they use.
“Find a group or class. Support each other. I always research new things because of this craft, as I love to learn as much as I teach,” Sharp said.
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