Saturday, February 28, 2015

History Challenge: Learning about a Folk Art or Tradition - Weaving

By Jeff Burns

            Weaving threads into cloth is older than  civilization itself, dating back to Paleolithic times with impressions of woven textiles  found at the Dolní Věstonice site in the Czech Republic dating back to 26,000 BC,  By biblical times, weaving was practiced around the world and appears in the art, history and mythology of all civilizations.  In ancient Egypt, linen and flax were woven on two person looms, and silk was woven in China by 3500 BC.  In Greek mythology, Athena, the vain goddess of wisdom and crafts gifted mankind with the knowledge of weaving and found herself challenged and defeated in a weaving contest with Arachne.  Of course, unwilling to accept defeat, she promptly turned Arachne into a spider in revenge.  As technology advanced, weaving became the driving force of the industrial revolution across Europe and in the United States. 
           The Chattahoochee Handweavers Guild in Atlanta is an organization of about 150 fiber artists who practice all different varieties of weaving.  The Guild hosts an annual Open House and demonstrations, and my wife, whose dream is to learn weaving herself, and I attended.   Enthusiasts were on hand to demonstrate spinning and weaving on hand looms, card looms (Dating back to ancient Egypt, this system uses hole-punched cards to manipulate the threads and make the weave.  This technology led to hole-punched data cards that eventually led to computers.), and larger looms.

            The handweavers were extremely friendly and knowledgeable, and their skill and artistry were amazing.  However, the focus of the event was not showing off their prowess. They were happy to share their hobby and passion. There were lots of hands-on opportunities for curious beginners and lots of advice on how to get started, and we learned things we didn’t know about the history of weaving.  It was a great event for hobbyists, artists, and history buffs alike.

            There are probably similar groups in your own area.  Go out and look them up!

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