I am frequently asked about the difference between the two programs - Guild of Canadian Weavers and Olds College master weaving certificates.
Essentially the GCW program is a self-directed testing program while the Olds College program has in person classes in order to teach the participants, not just test their knowledge.
With GCW, there are four levels with set problems that each candidate must answer. Most involve weaving samples and providing full documentation. The final level has some problems which require woven cloth, some are paperwork only, and one involves weaving a traditional tapestry, along with the research project which again involves weaving samples and providing full documentation.
The Olds program requires the presence of the student at the 5 (or 6) day class for lectures and the weaving of samples, then there are homework assignments to be done in the following months at home which are then sent to the instructor to be marked. All components of the homework must be passed in order for the student to pass to the next level.
When I tackled the GCW program there were very few options for learning weaving in-depth. I could not afford to enroll in (another) college level two year certificate program - I'd already done that. However, I felt that there was still much more to learn and I set about digging further and deeper, approaching the craft in an analytical way to try to understand the principles.
By the time I investigated all the options, I had determined that the GCW program would best suit my needs. I was very self-motivated so a self-directed program meant I could fit it into my schedule. I could do it at home, in my own studio. And I could really dig into the sampling required to make sure I could execute the test samples as well as I could. I had to become my own best/worst critic - by understanding the requirements, then setting the very highest standards for myself, I could accept - or reject - my own work and either submit or re-do, as seemed appropriate.
Along the way I did a lot of pure sampling, comparing the results, analyzing them, adjusting things like density and weave structure and the wet finishing to see how changing one variable changed the end results. Gradually conclusions formed and I felt I was beginning to really understand the underlying principles.
The Olds program is the first one that I have come across where those very underlying principles are actually taught to the students. The lectures present the principles and the foundation information, then the manual directs them through a series of woven samples to help them understand how those principles work in practice.
The in-class weaving they do are the pre-sampling they need to do in order to go home and weave their samples to complete the homework assignments.
When possible, I bring my samples done for the final research project of the GCW tests, partly as an example that I have already done the work that is being asked of them. That I am not telling them to do what I say rather than what I do, because I have already done that sort of experimental sampling myself.
I hope to show them that I believe deeply in the concept of doing the work in order to fully understand the craft. That the class is not just to 'force' them to do things that are not meaningful, but that - if we are to truly grasp the essential nature of the construction of cloth - we must all do the work. Because change one thing, and everything can change. That the only correct (short) answer about weaving questions is - it depends. It depends on the yarn. It depends on the loom. It depends on the weaver. It depends on what, precisely, the weaver wishes to result from their efforts. And the only, only, way to know any of that...is to weave the samples.
So yes, I am an ardent supporter of the Olds program. Yes, it may be a little more expensive than taking a workshop, but the depth of investigation goes much further than most workshops because the aim is to bring the weaver to the point where, instead of being told what to do, each weaver will begin to learn how to make those decisions for themselves. To give them the tools to make good decisions. It is a serious commitment of time and energy, and even, yes, of the yarn to weave the samples. The program is also a 'for credit' college course, so participants ought to be prepared to invest the required time and energy, and money required for materials.
Because they are not just taking a workshop. They will be getting an education. And yes, it is intense. Students feel like they are drinking from a fire hose along about the end of day two. But it is all important information, and all of the course content is there for a very real and specific reason.
More satellite programs are being developed - in addition to the classes here in Prince George, BC and Yadkinville, NC, negotiations are underway to begin level one at the Gaelic College, St. Ann's, Nova Scotia, June 5-9, 2017.