Monday, February 2, 2015

Olds Textile Program - Toby Smith

Thinking about doing the Olds Master Weaver Program?
As I am a student in the Olds College Master Weaver Program, others who are thinking of doing it ask me what it is like. I can only speak for myself. I have been a life-long learner, by nature and by profession. If you are thinking of doing Olds, you are probably of a similar frame of mind. I’m not going to make an argument for why you might want to do it. I’ve already done that in the Jan/Feb issue of Handwoven. Here are some things to think about.

1)     Sampling.

You do have to be a weaver who is not averse to sampling. I know a number of people who never want to weave anything that does not have a direct, immediate use. I challenge this simple definition of useful. “Useful” is not a thing in itself. Nothing is just useful; it is always useful for a purpose, and its definition at any given moment is tied to that purpose. For example, a sleying hook is a very useful tool for getting warp ends through the reed. But it is not useful for baking cakes, doing open-heart surgery, chopping wood, or probably anything else. Samples are like that. They are very useful for checking sett, testing colours, calculating shrinkage, trying different wefts, etc. In the classroom at Olds we do samples to make sure we know what the instructor is explaining and that we understand what her expectations are for our homework assignments. We sample to learn how sett affects density and integrity of cloth. We sample to learn to sample. So sampling is always useful because it teaches us something, it answers our questions, it raises questions we had not expected. I learn the usefulness of sampling at Olds and I never see a sample as a waste of time. Sampling is useful. This takes us directly to number 2.

2)     Thinking about weaving.

We have to think about weaving at Olds. This is the source of learning. This is what makes it fun for me. But I like to think about things; I can get a big thrill out of a little learning. We don’t just sample, measure, wash, re-measure and move on. We learn to analyse a series, analyse colour relationships, examine design principles, etc. Basically, we learn how to think as a weaver, ‘think’ being the operative term here. You can weave for forty years and not know much about weaving itself. You can probably make a mean tea towel and gorgeous scarf. I’m sure your edges are memorable. But do you have the theoretical background to understand an article outside your regular structures, or analyse a piece of weaving you would like to reproduce? For example, I have just done my overshot homework. Previously I have done a number of overshot pieces and I had no problem following a draft and weaving it. But after the classroom teaching at Olds and the need to understand it at a theoretical level, I now find overshot way more interesting and I am motivated to explore more advanced overshot such as double-weave overshot and tied overshot. Now I have the theoretical knowledge to be able to read that information and understand what writers are saying to me.

3)     Paperwork

We do paperwork for all our homework assignments. In class we learn how to do the planning, the calculations and the drawdowns. I feel this is one of the most valuable parts of the programme. Completing the Record Sheets makes us slow right down and think about what we are doing. This mental activity is a great gift to the mind. When one does the paperwork, it is possible to explain to others how to reproduce a piece. It is possible to understand, ourselves, what we have done. Yes, it is possible to race on to the next project and never write up anything. Indeed, if you just follow the recipes in Handwoven, you will never have to think again. Because a structured programme like Olds requires paperwork of me, I must reflect upon what I have done, and this makes me a more thoughtful weaver. I feel it in my head; I’m getting smarter.

4)     Completing the homework assignments.

I know that some people are concerned once they go back home after the intensive week that they will lose motivation to complete the homework assignments. This is where structure reinforces best intentions. The binder we receive each year is a teaching instrument; we have gone through it page by page in class, we have done the samples. We are set up for success, not failure. If new questions come up when doing the assignments, I have found my instructors to reply with a meaningful answer within a very short time. I feel I am connected to my instructor and to my classmates: I have met with them, laughed with them, heard their stories. We are all in this together, and everyone wants everyone else to finish. Our Level One class set up a closed Facebook page so that we could encourage each other. We are in different provinces and states, yet we share a common goal. This sisterhood sustains us. It is so terrific to meet weavers from all over the continent: it expands our weaving community. It would be good for a few people in an area to do the programme together, like a study group, meeting regularly, even if they are at different levels. This would help everyone to complete each assignment and each level.
            I know that different people find different aspects a challenge. These are four points I can think of right now that could deter someone from committing to a programme of study such as the Olds College Master Weaver Program. You have to decide for yourself what is right for you. I hope you will consider joining us.

Submitted by Toby Smith 01/15T

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