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

A Short History of the Glenna Harris Weaving Guild

Our history begins before the guild was founded.  Glenna Harris was born in Arkansas in 1892, and came to San Jose in 1914. Her mother, Darlutha Jane Walker Harris, was a master weaver, designed women’s sportswear in the 1930’s and demonstrated spinning at the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939.

Glenna Harris was a milliner in 1922 when she started teaching weaving at Edison High School in San Jose, where she continued to teach for 35 years.  She started her business, Custom Handweavers in 1929, and in 1939 created the weaving display at the Golden Gate International Exposition.

Weaving was offered in adult education at Edison High. The studio was on the second floor, housed in two rooms on the north side of the school building.   The front room was Miss Harris’ office.  It held tables for drafting, drawdown and the table looms.  The floor looms were in the second room.  The classes were taught by Miss Harris and others, and were very popular.  Analysis of weave structure and drawdowns were emphasized more than weaving.  Miss Harris’ students called themselves the Edison Weavers and participated in CNCH in 1956 and 1957.  When Miss Harris retired from teaching at the high school, the class was discontinued and the guild was organized.

The first official meeting was held on the second Monday of July, 1957.  Roll was taken and included in the minutes that were copied by hand into a record book.  That record book for the first year’s meetings is in our library, and the source for this article.

Items discussed in that first meeting included:
Naming the group The Weavers.
Setting annual dues at two dollars, understanding that special assessments would be made as the need arose.
Electing officers; Donna Alger, who is still an active member, was vice president.

Deciding refreshment duty would be shared by three members each meeting, on a rotating basis, assigned alphabetically by last name.

Reporting on the fifth CNCH.

Announcing that the 36 inch floor looms from Edison High School would be available to former students after the teachers had made their selections.

Going forward, CNCH would be divided into seven geographical areas with the areas taking turns hosting the conference.  There were thirty three guilds in the conference and five members on the CNCH Advisory committee.

Items of interest during the first year:

Membership increased to 49 members.

The guild planned an activity to demonstrate weaving at the county fair.  The Fair was a very important and a big part of our activities.

Programs were planned to expand member’s knowledge of weaving and textiles.  Members showed textiles they’d purchases on foreign trips, and items they had woven.  Most programs were given by     members.

There were demonstrations, lectures and workshops.  There was a lot of enthusiasm, and there were active outside study groups

Announcements were made concerning weaving equipment that had become available for sale, as well as classes being offered all over the Bay Area.
Field trips for shopping and museum visits were organized, as were group buys from mills.
A sewing teacher presented a program, What To Do With Woven Materials.  She focused on planning items made from handwovens, finishing edges, and selecting proper facings, seam tapes and interfacings.

The Guild purchased a Structo loom and a Wade Crusader table loom to warp and pass around to members.
The Guild also subsidized Miss Harris to attend the first Southern California Weavers Conference in March 1958.

Signed petitions and wrote letters urging Congress to pass the bill for the establishment of a Federal Advisory Commission of the Arts.

Warped 12 inch 2 harness looms and taught public school teachers to use them so the teachers could demonstrate in conjunction with history classes.
Volunteered at the local Red Cross assisting disabled veterans with their weaving projects.  This support had been ongoing since the 1940’s.
Attended 6th CNCH in Santa Rosa in May, 1958.  Registration was $2.75.  Round trip chartered bus fare was $4.30.
Watched borrowed films from the Wool Council, Pendleton Mills and University of California Extension.
Renamed the guild Glenna Harris Weavers, over Miss Harris’ protest.
Considered starting a weaving library for the guild.

There was a lot of correspondence, all of it conducted by mail.  Usually it was all read during the meetings.
By the end of the year, some issues had come up.  Suggestions were made that we must plan ahead to be ready with projects to display at conference and show at the fashion show.  We needed to shorten our business meetings to leave more time for programs, and we needed to raise dues to have funding for programs and projects.  We wrote bylaws.

How things have changed:
We originally met at the Willow Glen Friendship Room in the Pioneer Investor Savings and Loan in Willow Glen in San Jose. We later moved to the Stone Church in Willow Glen. We were there for about 30 years, then moved to the Willow Glen Senior Center for about 20 years.  For the last 2 years we’ve been at the Sobrato Center for Non Profits in San Jose.
Our membership is down.  In 1958 we had 49 members; in 1985 we had 33 members.  In 2013 we had 25 members.
In 1957 a weaver had to be invited and to demonstrate weaving ability before being voted on for membership.  The weaves work was judged by a committee.  Today we welcome all interested members.  We have men as well as women in the guild.  We have spinners and dyers and basket makers and needle workers in our guild.

The guild owns looms that are occasionally passed around for study groups, as well as donated looms on long term loan to members.

We have more presentations from outsiders at our meetings.  We try to take advantage of traveling experts when they come to our area.
We have very little postal correspondence.  Most of our communication is done by email.  Most of our new members find us through our web site.
We also rely on the internet for guild communication.  Our meeting minutes are emailed as well as posted on our web site.
We did start a library, and own hundreds of books and magazines.  The catalog for our library is on line for members.
Our outreach efforts have changed over the years.  In the past, members would take looms or spinning wheels and demonstrate in classrooms.  For a few years we had a curriculum for elementary teachers.  We would give the teachers an orientation, and help the students weave a small pouch on a cardboard loom.  Today the teachers are busy with government mandated programs and don’t have time for these extras.

The Glenna Harris Sheep to Shawl Team with their finished product

The Glenna Harris Sheep to Shawl Team with their finished product

Our outreach now is at public functions.  While the County Fair has changed a lot over the years, we still staff a booth.  We demonstrate on one day with a Sheep to Shawl contest, and have hands on crafts for the public on the other days.  We also demonstrate and bring hands on craft projects to Insect Days (emphasizing spinning silk), Pumpkins in the Park, Wildlife Days, the Prusch Farm Harvest Fair and local Living History events.
Our membership dues are $25, of which $5 goes to CNCH.
What’s stayed the same:
We meet on the second Monday of the month.
It’s a friendly group, with members being generous with their knowledge.
We’re still always looking for ideas for projects and programs, urging members to make and do things for display at conference and the fair.
We struggle to keep the business meeting short to allow time for programs.
We love show and tell.  While we haven’t seen a tailored garment made from handwoven fabric in a while, we are still very concerned about what to do with our handwovens, including seam finishes, embellishments, linings, facings and interlinings.
Custom Handweavers is still in business, now in Mountain View and owned by our member Hannelore Cole.

Special thanks for input on this article go to Donna Alger, guild charter member and librarian, Barbara Kinchen, early member, and Marcia Kehr, not our historian but working on saving our history.

Next Article…