CNCHnet . . . The Textile Arts Webzine of the Conference of Northern California Handweavers

Mother Lode Weavers and Spinners Guild

Mother Lode Weavers and Spinners Guild is centered in Sonora, California and has active members from Coulterville, Valley Springs, Turlock, Oakdale, Modesto, MiWuk Village, Pioneer, etc.

The Mother Lode Weavers and Spinners Guild (MLWS) was formed in April of 1974 by a group of women weavers who had spent several months teaching themselves to weave. Lucille Morgan, a member of the group, contacted Everett Gilmore of Gilmore Looms to seek looms for formal classes the group decided they needed.  As Mr. Gilmore had current orders stretching out over the next several years, he agreed to provide the hardware for looms to be built by a Mr. Mann, a local woodworker.  At the time, fourteen 4-harness looms were built and Mr. Gilmore provided three more.  Lucille was the teacher and became the first guild president.”  This quote is from our application for a FiberHearts grant in 2007.

MLWS received recognition from FiberHearts, one of nine guilds honored, and received a Gilmore rigid heddle loom and a Montana Table loom.

For several years we held meetings and workshops in various locations in the Sonora area. One of our members, Britt Lamb, taught weaving classes through Columbia College, and many guild members helped fill up her classes. In about 2007 we bought several looms from the then-defunct college program and arranged them in a member’s 3-car garage—our “Studio”—that now also houses our guild library, equipment for member rental, and our boutique display items. Our Studio and our former meeting hall in Columbia State Historic Park have allowed us to host workshops led by such renowned instructors as Kaye Collins, Anita Mayer, Sharon Alderman, Stephenie Gaustad, Jennifer Moore, Trish Goldberg, Linda Hartshorn, Robin Lynde, Kathrin Weber, Laverne Waddington, Sarah H. Jackson, Lisa Souza, and more. We’ve also had some inspiring workshops on spinning, weaving, drafting, dyeing, pine needle basket making, etc., taught by our own members, as well as a multi-day class on beginning weaving taught once or twice a year.

Evelyn Gordon and Sheila Stanger helping kids weave

Evelyn Gordon and Sheila Stanger helping kids weave

We have several sub-groups within the guild. Studio 49, a monthly Saturday group that meets at the Tuolumne County Library and is open to the public and is focused primarily on the needs of working people who are unable to attend our weekday guild meetings. Many new or former weavers and spinners “find” us through this group and become enthusiastic guild members.  Studio 49 has also offered an annual spinning/weaving/whatever-portable-craft-you-prefer weekend retreat for the last 10 years for 40-50 lucky attendees. These retreats offer wonderful sharing opportunities, short “workshops,” stunning views, relaxing yoga, tempting vendors, and enticing raffles—everything one needs in a retreat!

Constance Sheilds and Jan De Shera at Columbia Harvest Festifall

Constance Sheilds and Jan De Shera at Columbia Harvest Festifall

Various study groups have formed and dissolved over the years to study inkle weaving, block weaves, drafting, etc. Until founder Lucille Morgan’s recent death at 100, a small weaving—and later, spinning—group met bi-monthly in her home. We also have a larger spinning group that meets monthly in a member’s home to spin and enjoy a potluck. This group is especially open to sharing advice on fibers and fiber sources and to teaching each other the finer points of spinning, plying, and fiber preparation.

Many of our members raise fiber animals—pygora goats, mohair goats, various breeds of sheep and alpaca—so there is a continuing supply of fiber available. Other members dye fibers and yarns, for those who prefer to work with bright colors. The opportunities to explore new fibers, new fiber processing techniques, or new fiber skills (spindle or wheel spinning; tapestry, Navajo, rigid heddle, and floor loom weaving; carding and blending fibers) are always luring members on to new adventures.

Evelyn Gordon showing bookmarks kids wove, to be cut apart and mailed to them

Evelyn Gordon showing bookmarks kids wove, to be cut apart and mailed to them

To spread the word about these ancient and continuing fiber arts beyond our members to the public at large, we demonstrate at various public events, such as the Calaveras and the Tuolumne County Fairs, the annual Quilt & Thread Show sponsored by the Sierra Quilt Guild, the Columbia Harvest Festifall at Columbia State Historic Park, etc.  Some of our members work closely with local schools, providing hands-on experience for young students. In 2012 we cooperated in a local Andean art display and demonstrations with the Central Sierra Arts Council. We’re also always available to “give a talk” to home schooling groups, to various civic groups, and to local service groups.

Therese May and Jan DeShera with quilt top.

Therese May and Jan DeShera with quilt top.

In the early 1980’s, led by Everett Gilmore, members decided to create some woven quilts. They each chose an overshot pattern and a background and contrasting color. Each member wove 15 or 20 squares, and later they traded among themselves so that several identical quilt tops could be created. Some years later, one of the original weavers, Jewell Wedegaertner, found 20 “squares” in a garage sale and recognized them instantly. She was no longer weaving, so gave them to a MLWS member that was still weaving.  Therese May and her husband, Steve, wove sashing strips and sewed the pieces together.  Members Lindy Miller and Marilyn Brown took on the job of backing and quilting the work and others wrote up a short history and identified the individual weavers of most of the squares—Britt Lamb, Lucille Morgan, Jewell Wedegaertner, Everett Gilmore and more.  Our quilt has been displayed at the Sierra Quilt Guild show, the quilt show at Ironstone in Murphys, and at the 2014 and 2016 CNCH conferences. Currently, it hangs in the Church of the 49ers’ Faith Hall, where MLWS meets. It serves as a reminder of some of our original members and the beauty that can be created when we work together.

Tina Welch, Nancy Gaffney, Nancy Horne, Sofia Hudson, Peggy Morris, Christine Hall, andBetsy Wagner showing off CNCH 2016 volunteer scarves they'd just dyed.

Tina Welch, Nancy Gaffney, Nancy Horne, Sofia Hudson, Peggy Morris, Christine Hall, and Betsy Wagner showing off CNCH 2016 volunteer scarves they’d just dyed.

The MLWS has close to 100 members, although some have become inactive due to location or age. Our active members live in four counties—Tuolumne, Calaveras, Mariposa, and Stanislaus—and many drive more than an hour to get to meetings. We come together at least once a month for excellent programs, inspiring show-and-tells, and wonderful sharing of experiences, fiber, and finished objects. Three times in recent years we’ve been on CNCH conference planning committees: 2006 in Modesto, 2011 in Sutter Creek, and 2016, again in Modesto. Two of our members co-chaired the 2016 conference, Tina Welch and Eva Burton.

The Mother Lode Weavers and Spinners Guild is proud to be a member of CNCH and to be a continually learning and sharing group! We’ve got great members!

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