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Spokane Handweavers’ Guild presents ‘70 Years Of Weaving Exhibit’

Members of the Spokane Handweavers’ Guild stand for a photo in front of a vintage piece of handweaving produced back in the 1980s titled “Spokane: The Big Picture.” The group, including, from left, Sandra Staff-Koetter, Judy Olsen, Dodie Ruzicki, Arlene Klotz, Viki Leuba and Sarah Hickman, is showing their pieces in the Chase Gallery at Spokane City Hall. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The art of weaving is as ancient as the desire for mankind to cover our nakedness. But like many art forms, what was born out of necessity has evolved into creating beauty.

For 70 years, members of the Spokane Handweavers’ Guild have met to learn, for fellowship and to create.

In honor of that milestone, the Guild and Spokane Arts are hosting a juried exhibit at the Chase Gallery in City Hall through Sept. 24. On Friday night, they’ll present a weaving demonstration at the gallery.

The Guild is a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to increasing skill and awareness of the art and craft of weaving by hand. Membership isn’t confined to Spokane. Members hail from Colville, Sandpoint, Athol, Curlew and one comes from British Columbia.

Thirty-seven past and present members participated in the show, and Sarah Hickman, a younger and newer member of the group, was one of them.

“I went to a Spokane Handweavers’ Guild show at Pottery Place Plus,” she said. “The president invited me to a meeting. I didn’t even have a loom, but I’d been knitting for years. It felt like weaving was just the next step.”

Member Judy Olsen understands the attraction and affinity.

“Weaving is my bliss,” said Olsen. “I lose track of time when I’m at the loom.”

She learned to weave from a children’s book and then attended a class at Spokane Falls Community College. Later, she ended up teaching that class.

In addition to monthly meetings, the Guild hosts workshops and study groups, and that’s what drew Arlene Klotz to the group 42 years ago.

“One of the reasons I joined was because of the workshops,” she said.

Currently, she’s enamored with the technique of weaving figures into her work.

“For me it’s the mental process of figuring it out,” Klotz explained.

Guild president Dodi Ruzicki smiled at that sentiment.

“Basically weaving is applied mathematics, but fun,” she said.

The exhibit celebrates weaving in all of its multifaceted incarnations from clothing, to wall hangings, to a tea cozy with matching placemats.

Viki Leubea created the red and gold tea cozy set.

“This came out of my head,” she said. “I rarely use a pattern.”

Central to the exhibit is a cascade of more than 70 handwoven scarves in myriad colors that hang suspended like a chandelier.

Sandy Staff-Koetter fingered a purple silk scarf she’d created.

“I like to use vintage waxed silk that I buy off e-Bay,” she said. “I love to see the cloth develop as I weave the pattern.”

While looms come in many shapes and sizes from tabletop to floor models, Staff-Koetter prefers the floor loom.

“It keeps you active. Your whole body is in motion,” she said.

One of the most eye-catching exhibits at the gallery is called “Spokane: The Big Picture.” The woven mural tells the story of the Inland Empire, with Spokane as its heart. Sixty-three blocks were individually woven and then stretched onto one-foot square frames and attached together. The blocks depict the best of the city; from Clocktower to carousel.

In 1968, the Spokane Handweavers’ Guild presented the woven mural to the citizens of Spokane, and for many years it hung in the City Council Chambers of City Hall.

That’s not the only large project the group has donated to the city. “Barnacles and Fans” also hung in City Hall for many years. The 8-foot-by16-foot wall weaving was commissioned in 1982. The Guild, with the encouragement of longtime member Betty Lukins, dedicated countless hours to create the Ken Weaver-designed project. It now hangs in the Spokane Convention Center.

Whether large projects or small, weaving takes thousands of yards of fiber.

“They say it takes 15 spinners to keep one weaver going,” said Ruzicki.

This year she grew flax on her property, which fellow Guild member Judy Olsen spun into linen for her.

Ruzicki said every part of weaving can be challenging, from getting the fiber to threading the loom, but it’s a challenge she relishes.

“It’s really fun to see what develops,” she said. “You think you know where you’re going, but sometimes the destination changes.”

The Spokane Handweavers’ Guild meets monthly at Paradise Fibers on West Indiana Avenue, and anyone from novice to expert is welcome to join.

Sarah Hickman is glad she did.

“I feel like I found something I didn’t know I was looking for,” she said.