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

SF Fiber Reborn: A profile of Lou Gratham

Lou Grantham has been an integral part of the Northern California weaving world since 1977 but she’s  been weaving for nearly 5 decades.  Lou was fortunate to attend  the Anaheim public schools at a time when they actually taught weaving and ceramics.  As a seven year old she could just look at the weaving drafts and understand them and once she learned to weave she never looked back.  By high school she was selling her weavings at a roadside stand where she also sold paper roses and pies that she made. When she moved to UC Santa Barbara in 1966 she found a mentor in Augusta Oliver who taught weaving at the La Cumbre Art Center.   Throughout the ’60s, ’70s and into the ’80s Lou was creating rugs and commissioned weavings, 90% with her own handspun. In 1972 she moved to Boston where her husband Jim was studying at the Berklee College of Music. She continued to weave and spin, and began teaching for the Cambridge Park and Rec.  She had plans to open a weaving center in Cambridge but two babies in two years meant postponing those plans. As she looks back on her life Lou is quick to point out that her main focus has always been community.  Whether she is creating a community garden, a weaving program in Walnut Creek, or Oakland’s Fiber Fest, her intent has been to create public space to bring people together in community. When she and Jim and babes moved to San Francisco in 1977 she joined the SF Tapestry Weavers Workshop,  but still  she wanted to create more space for weavers.  She was with her children at the Dolores Park playground when she saw another mother with a small daughter and a handwoven purse.  Lou says she walked up to Jane Mintz (1943-2009)  and said, ” You look like a weaver. Do you want to start a store?” and thus San Francisco Fiber was born. In the late ’70s Sears and Roebuck had closed their store in a handsome building on the corner of Mission and Army Streets in the San Francisco Mission District.  The building was converted into artists’ studios.  I met Lou and Jane and Christine Cariati in 1981 when I heard there were weaving classes there and made my way up the freight elevator and into their cavernous studio.  SF Fibers had a retail section where they sold yarn and weaving supplies, a teaching section where I learned to weave and a production section where five weavers worked.  Everyone had children and juggled their weaving lives and their families and it was the ’80s in San Francisco. What a  wonderful introduction to the weaving community.  Many current Northern California weavers and teachers were part of this community 30 plus years ago.

Lou Grantham then

Lou Grantham 1980

Now the happy grandmother of three, Lou is moving on.  After many years as the Civic Arts Textile Program Coordinator, teaching weekly classes and bringing many fine textile artists from around the world to teach workshops, Lou has recently retired from that position.  An Oakland resident for 17 years, Lou has opened SF Fiber (East) on Grand Avenue in Oakland.  She modeled it on Augusta Oliver’s studio and in a tiny space she has a room full of looms for weaving classes and individual students.  There is a room packed with weaving supplies and books for her students and the rest of us, and a space that can be used for dyeing and similar work. The walls are hung with some of her current work, including spirit masks hung on beautiful woven shibori pieces.  Lou’s vision is of a place where she can weave and teach, and where other teachers can have students as well.  It is a gathering place for weavers and spinners, something which has been sadly lacking in the Bay Area for more than a decade.

Lou Grantham now

Lou Grantham now

In that spirit, on the first Thursday of each month during the Grand Avenue’s “First Thursday” festivities, SF Fiber is open for a free Spinners Night Out.  Grab your wheel or spindle and join us in spinning yarn and tales as we continue the centuries old traditions of making textiles with a community. San Francisco Fiber  studios open by appointment and for classes 3711 Grand Ave Oakland  http://www.sanfranciscofiber.com/ or  http://www.sffiber.com/index.html Phone   510.893.2015  or 510 995-6667 (99-LOOMS) Email   info(at)sffiber.com  Click here for the next article