Sunday, May 3, 2009

Testing, Testing

A recurring theme in discussions with other weavers over the past couple of months has been that of testing oneself. My experience has been with the Guild of Canadian Weavers certificate program, but I also have some knowledge of other test programs.

Why would anyone want to do the tests?

Well, the programs make a great study guide, especially for people who don't have a local guild handy or haven't the time/money to take workshops.

If there is an interest in teaching, following the program gives a good foundation of knowledge over a broad range of weave structures.

If one is working in isolation it is difficult to gauge one's progress, so submitting the problems for marking is one way of getting feedback.

My personal decision was based on all of the above. I confess I'm not a huge fan of certain weave structures. :) OTOH, one of my career goals was to teach weaving and I felt that in order to do that effectively, I needed to at least understand the principles underlying the common structures.

I 'grew up' as a weaver in an area where there were few resources - there were a lot of people interested in weaving, but none of us knew very much about it. I looked closely at the HGA COE and the GCW programs and felt that the GCW would best fit my needs. It was also cheaper, which fit my budget. :D

Some people aren't comfortable with the GCW program because you work on your own and submit when you're ready. The COE requested that you notify them before you submited, pay your fee and then submit on deadline (as I understand it - this may have changed over the years).

For me the GCW program was a little more in-depth with 4 levels, allowing me latitude about when I submitted. This latitude has its advantages and disadvantages, of course. If I had been held accountable to a firm deadline, I'd have finished the program years sooner. OTOH, by taking longer, I learned a whole lot more and felt a good deal of satisfaction when the research project was completed. I felt I'd accomplished a much more mature work than if I'd pushed through the program and submitted 10 years earlier.

The GCW program can be down loaded for free from their website:

If you have Mary Black's (New) Key to Weaving, you have pretty much all of the information in one tidy package to begin the program. Other resources are helpful, of course!

A bit of history - Mary Black, Mary Sandin and Ethel Henderson formed the Guild of Canadian Weavers in the late 1940's. Mary Black was an Occupational Therapist who had begun weaving as a child, studied in Sweden and the US as well as Canada. Mary Sandin had lived in Boston, MA and had done the Boston test levels before returning to Canada.

One of the aims of the GCW is to foster and encourage excellence in weaving, and as such the three of them developed the GCW program. As an example and encouragement to others the two Mary's completed the test program in 1955.

There are now about 30 GCW Master Weavers. Several have gone on to publish works based on their monograph (as it was then called) and from these efforts we have Linda Heinrich's Magic of Linen, Jane Evans A Joy Forever and my own Magic in the Water. Others have self-published various titles - Nell Steedsman, Mary Andrews, and Carol Oberg. There may well be others that I've misremembered - if so I apologize and hope that the MW's will set me straight. :) Many more have, of course, written and published articles in periodicals.

As I began my studies I was curious about which topics had already been researched and studied for the final level. At the time no one had kept a list, but Nell Steedsman combed through all of the GCW Bulletins and gave me a list to study. As I perused the names I realized that we were beginning to lose our MW's - out of that initial list of 13, one had died, and some of the rest (including Mary Black) were elderly. (Mary Black died in Nova Scotia in her 90's. She was well into her 80's when I wrote to her.)

I set about contacting as many of them as I possibly could, asked if they would send me slides of their work and asked them some questions. From their replies I made up a slide kit and donated copies to GCW and HGA. Several years later when several more weavers had completed their Master level, I was asked to up-date the kit, which I did. By the time I turned everything over to the new co-ordinator, the kit filled 3 carousels. Jane Evans made a video about the Master Weavers and more recently a DVD was made.

Someone else kindly offered to take over when my schedule precluded continuing with it and I look forward to hearing of more people completing their Master levels in the near future.

A recent brief discussion with the test administrator revealed that there are several more candidates working toward their certification.

One of the questions I asked the MW's was what they had learned by taking the tests. Many of them said that the most important lesson was how much more there was *to* learn. :)



charlotte said...

Thank you so much for this post, this is very interresting to me. I live far away form any education opportunities in weaving, so I will check your link immediately. Thanks again!

Dorothy said...

So interesting to learn about the master weavers and the wonderful slide collection you put together, what a superb resource that must be.

I like the idea of this kind of certificate. In the UK we can work for a Certificate of Achievement from the Association of Guilds of Weavers Spinners and Dyers. I'm not doing it because my life style is unsettled and I can't be sure of being able to finish what I start, but nevertheless I have found the assessment criteria and book lists for all subjects (weaving, spinning and dyeing) invaluable.

Sharon Schulze said...

When I taught high school children it was very obvious to me that the most important thing about giving tests was that it forced the kids to take the bits and pieces they had been accumulating and put them into some kind of order that they could them carry with them mentally. I can see how a certification program would do the same thing. I like workshops but the required combination of the right workshop coming at the right time for my schedule leaves me feeling that the workshops are for fun and social weaving experiences but the learning I do happens when I'm alone in my studio. I've checked out the COE requirements but the time deadline is a concern for me. I'm very excited to know the GCW requirements are freely available! Does a weaver have to be Canadian to get the GCW certification?

Is there anyone who has achieved both COE and GCW?

Laura said...

Hi Sharon,

Yes, Dini Moes did the GCW, Boston and COE. :)

You don't have to be Canadian, just be a member of the GCW when you submit your test for jurying.