Friday, September 30, 2016

Partners in Weaving—Barb MacIntyre and the Importance of Giving Back

I recently had the pleasure of connecting with Barb MacIntyre, a longtime AVL customer and friend.  Barb is a retired production weaver with a passion for making a difference.  Even though she’s retired from production work, Barb still enjoys weaving in her home studio on her Little Weaver and 60” Production Dobby Loom, which she has outfitted with a double beam, fly shuttle, and compu-dobby.  She also loves her AVL warping wheel.  She has found that her AVL equipment has allowed her to challenge herself to weave more complexly with her design, skills which are reflected in and assist with her new focus, paying it back.  Outside of her studio time, Barb has been teaching weaving to an unlikely group of people—residents at an assisted living facility in Poulsbo, Washington.   Her self-appointed challenge after getting her mother-in-law settled into the facility, was to get the seniors out of their rooms during the day and challenge themselves to interacting with each other and enjoying life other than breakfast, lunch & dinner. 
Back in 2010, Barb helped to identify an unknown piece of furniture an employee at Brookdale Montclair Poulsbo had found in the sprinkler room. Turns out it was an abandoned 4 shaft floor loom.  Barb cleaned the loom up, rethreaded it with the warp that was found on it, and set it up in Montclair’s Great Room.  Residents were invited to come-by and throw a couple of shots on the loom.  The rag rug that was woven now is displayed in the Great Room.  Sadly, the loom had to be re-homed, as it was too difficult for the residents to treadle.  Montclair and Barb struck a deal, providing Barb with a dedicated space within the facility to house the Kitsap Weaving School if Barb would provide looms & teach the residents how to weave at no charge.  Barb had been looking for a way to give-back in some way, and was pleased when this opportunity presented itself.

For the last seven years, Kitsap Weaving School has been teaching free classes for Montclair residents once a week for two hours and the room is open to residents twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  Barb also teaches day workshop classes and private lessons to the general public. She has furnished the school with several 1970’s tabletop looms, many of which she’s picked up from yard sales and reconditioned over the years (as well as a few which were left over from her previous weaving school in Montana), and instructs attendees on all aspects of weaving. She utilizes her laptop and WeavePoint software as a teaching tool to allow students and residents to visually understand structure, complexities of color and how the overall look of a piece changes when changes are made.  She also utilizes WeavePoint to prepare drafts for the students so they can see what their project weave is going to look like to assist in their selection, as well as taking complex weaves and translating it down to four harness patterns. 

When it comes time to work on a piece, residents perform all steps of the process.  They select a draft from the options Barb has prepared, choose from the available yarns and are responsible for measuring, beaming, threading, weaving (including manually tracking the treadling), and wet finishing.

Barb encourages her students to push themselves, and enjoys seeing the many benefits weaving provides them.  As you know, weaving involves a lot of physical exertion as students have to stretch and raise their arms to warp, treadle, and operate the beater bar.  Over time, they often experience an increase in stamina and their range of motion.  Weaving is also a mental exercise, as students are responsible for math applications, and manually tracking threading and treadling as they progress, keeping their beat even and recognizing flaws (once they identify a flaw, they work backwards to fix the error).  Barb has also noted some important emotional benefits her students are experiencing from weaving—many students have shared with Barb that the class has helped to give them purpose again, as it provides an opportunity to leave their rooms and work on a meaningful project. 

One thing that struck me while listening to Barb describe teaching at the Kitsap Weaving School, is that as a teacher she’s really tuned-in to her students and meets them where they are at.  If someone has a hard time manipulating the loom to advance to the next pick, she’ll come over to assist.  If someone has a difficult time sitting/standing for a long time, she finds a way to modify the seating arrangements to make them comfortable, allowing for longer stretches of weaving.  In my experience, having a teacher who is attuned to their students’ needs and abilities, is key for an enjoyable learning experience.  I was also impressed with the level of involvement Barb elicited from her students. 

In talking with Barb, I found her passion surrounding this project to be both palpable and inspiring. She greatly enjoys giving back through her teaching at Kitsap Weaving School, and her commitment to making a difference is infectious.  Recently, in the banter of conversation among the residents, they indicated a desire to have more meaning in their lives.  Barb, after listening to their discussion, started asking herself what she could do to make that possible.  After much thought, a brilliant idea came to her.  What if the weavers could produce scarves that were of high quality, both in materials and skill, that could then be donated to the Kathleen Sutton Fund.  The scarves could then be auctioned off at the foundation’s annual event to raise funds to assist cancer victims with their transportation costs during their treatment visits.  What a win win scenerio!  The weavers loved the idea and six months later, they presented four beautiful scarves to the Kathleen Sutton Foundation to be auctioned off.

Barb encourages all weavers to look for ways to give back in their communities.  She’s found that the rewards of making a positive difference in someone’s life to be heartening.  If someone is interested in starting a program similar to what Barb has created, she suggests seeking out a facility who is amenable to the idea.  If you’re unable to find an independent/assisted living facility that is a good fit, she also recommends checking with Senior Centers as a secondary option (secondary only because 24/7 access might not be available and transportation may be a barrier for some interested seniors who would like to attend).  If you’ve not taught before, Barb suggests to keep it simple and have patience.  Having an interest in people is also beneficial.  If possible, having a teaching partner(s) would be ideal.  It can be difficult running the show solo—if you’d like to take time off, there’s no one to give instructions and solve problems.  If you do take this project on as a partnership, she suggests that you take steps to ensure you’re teaching consistently (decide together your approach to teach the different stages of weaving, then commit to teaching that way, even if it’s different from your own practice).

If anyone is interesting in supporting the program and their efforts to create more scarves for the auction this fall, Barb is seeking yarn donations.  For more information on how to send yarn donations, please email marketing [at] avlusa [dot] com, and we will connect you with Barb.  (If someone would prefer to support the nonprofit directly they can send their donation to Kathleen Sutton Fund, P.O. Box 727, Kingston, WA, 98346.  Please mention Kitsap Weaving School as you donate, so they know how you heard about them.)

Submitted by Ashley, Marketing Manager

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