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

In Memory of Lydia van Gelder 10/5/1911-12/22/2012

It’s not what you know but what you do with itLydia often said.  Fiber artist Lydia van Gelder taught at Santa Rosa Junior College for more than a quarter century, and has spent half a century as a working artist, exploring many styles of weaving.

Lydia and Claude English at a meeting of Spindles and Flyers in 2008. Note the handwoven insert on Lydia’s cup! photo by Jutta Franke

Some things she did anticipated recent trends: to name a few, natural dyes, indy dyers, local sources, self patterned yarns and sock knitting.   She taught classes about many aspects of fiber art at Santa Rosa Junior College and passed her knowledge and enthusiasm on to many of her students and friends for years.

Lydia teaching spinning

Things that I remember: The two eucalyptus trees along her front walk would produce two different shades of orange dye without mordents. Many students in her Santa Rosa JC classes took up sheep raising, providing local sources for fleece. JoAnn Slissman of Wyammy Ranch credits Lydia for converting her from horsewoman to shepherd of a fantastic Romney flock. Others converted her dye lessons into indy dye businesses. Karen Emery learned to dye with Lydia in the 70’s then started Royale Hare, known for wine country colors and stocking silk hankies in unlimited colors. When Threads Magazine was new and not yet dedicated to garment sewing, they published Lydia’s article on designing ikat knitting by designing self patterning yarn. Lydia wrote of several ways to convert knitting designs to space dyed yarns.

Lydia wore bright colored hand knit socks and knit socks most of her life for husband, Homer and three sons – all with with huge feet. At her 90th birthday celebration during the Sonoma Spinners Picnic at Westside Farms, a crowd of people that had learned to knit socks from Lydia showed off theirs. She would also double knit checkerboard potholders with tatted edges, using Aunt Lydia’s Rug Yarns of course, as gifts for anyone and everyone.  Last November the Interweave Knits Lab hosted several double knit classes, a sign that interest in this traditional knitting technique is returning.

Lydia is best known for ikat. She researched traditional ikat around the world, collaborated with Prof. Alfred Bühler of Switzerland, wrote two books, Ikat (1980) and Ikat II(1996) and used the techniques in many of her tapestries and weavings.

An early photo of Lydia and Homer. Both look very stylish!

Her first major exhibit was with Houses on the Street, at the 1939 Treasure Island World’s Fair. One of her favorite summer blouses was of indigo ikat stripes on natural white cotton. She started spinning the cotton when the airport shuttle arrived for a trip to an Olympics Summer Games and she had enough thread to weave a blouse by the time they got home.  Homer van Gelder loved attending Summer Olympics.

There were many handwoven, tailored coats and suits as well as hand spun sweaters in her closet that many of us have not seen, as not all of us knew Lydia when she dressed more formally.

Lydia’s family is considering having a memorial service sometime this spring.

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