Artful Living: The home of handweaving

BY: Marina Loew 
I didn’t realize you had such a large collection!” is something we commonly hear from visitors to the archives of the Thousand Islands Arts Center ~ Home of the Handweaving Museum (TIAC). It’s hard to comprehend that our little museum houses over 4,000 pieces including textiles, books, and artifacts from weavers around the globe. We are a veritable paradise for textile, and more specifically weaving, enthusiasts looking for inspiration and knowledge. Our impressive collection represents some of the most pioneering work of 20th century North American handweaving, including an early study on the insulative properties of fabric.

    Some may be unfamiliar with handweaving. As one of the oldest surviving crafts, weaving has been in existence for thousands of years. Cut down to its basic principle, weaving is the laying down of vertical (warp) threads through which horizontal (weft) threads are interlaced. The majority of weaving is done on looms, which come in a variety of sizes and designs. Our museum focuses on weaving done by hand rather than modern machine-made fabrics. Among many other things, the TIAC archives house handwoven quilts, coverlets, scarves, tablecloths, suits, curtains, and numerous fabric swatches and samples. Supplementing our archives is one of the most comprehensive libraries of weaving books and manuscripts in the country.

    Not only do we hold the history of handweaving in our archives, we are making our own history through the use of a fully operational weaving studio. It is used by a group of dedicated weavers known affectionately as the Wednesday Weavers, who challenge themselves and each other by exploring new techniques, fibers, and designs while sharing their work and progress with the visiting public. As a living museum, the Wednesday Weavers demonstrate the craft in both traditional and modern interpretations, and meet every Wednesday throughout the year.

    Some of their work is currently on display in our exhibition Inspired by Nature, which features weavings influenced by the natural world. From a simple seashell, a leaf, or a landscape, a textile work of art is born. The modern weavers’ pieces stand side-by-side with older pieces from our permanent collection, all unique interpretations of the theme. Everyone will find something to enjoy and regular visitors to the museum will be excited by some never-before-exhibited pieces from the archives.

    The pieces in the TIAC collection are here to be seen, to be studied, and to be preserved. Our archives aren’t just for seasoned weavers and fiber academics, but also serve as a source of inspiration for artists everywhere. We are dedicated to maintaining and protecting the art of handweaving through our exhibitions, archives, classes, and weaving studio. We encourage you to schedule an appointment to tour the archives, to see the Wednesday Weavers in action every Wednesday, and to view Inspired by Nature, April 9 to June 8. For those interested in learning to weave, we have a number of classes coming up this summer. Take a look at the course catalog on our website, or call our office for more information.

Artist Focus: Susan Riley


   Entering the archives with a roll of fabric under her arm, Susan Riley excitedly announces, “It’s off the loom!” She unrolls the bundle and reveals a beautiful, complex, nearly complete work of art – a weaving she’s planned on making for years and has been working on for well over a month. Blending rich brown yarns of different textures and fibers, mixed with a little blue, black, white, and beige, Susan has mimicked the rock formations on her drive from Waddington, N.Y., along route 12E. As she gently brushes out the folds, you can sense the wonder Susan has in her own work. She knows what it took to get to this point: years of waiting, adoration, and an avid pursuit to learn to weave.

    When she was 25, Susan observed a woman weaving towels and was instantly enamored by the craft. On her 40th birthday she was given her first loom but with no training and a busy career, it sat untouched for the next 20 years. Weaving hovered in the back of her mind throughout this time until finally, after her retirement at the age of 65, Susan made a commitment to learn. In 2010 she found the Thousand Islands Arts Center’s website, signed up for a beginners weaving workshop with Sonja Wahl, TIAC’s curator emerita, and has been weaving ever since.

    Today, Susan has her own studio with three beautiful looms. She’s a member of the Wednesday Weavers, teaches weaving for beginners, assists with exhibit installations, and volunteers in the museum’s archives. She’s particularly fond of making wall hangings, many of which she’s woven in the TIAC studio. For her next piece, Susan plans to design a hanging inspired by the Canadian “Group of Seven” painters.

    Susan exhibits and sells her work at The Gallery at Lake Saint Lawrence Arts in Waddington and has displayed her pieces many times at TIAC. You can see her recently completed piece in the Inspired by Nature exhibition, take her class this summer, and see her on Wednesdays in the studio. Susan’s advice for those interested in weaving? “Come visit and see the studio. We’d love to see you and are here to help!”