Woven Through Time

Weavers bring fresh life to an ancient craft

Story and photos by Drew Myron

Mary Marker, a member of Grace Carter Weavers, uses a loom to create a handcrafted work of practical art.

A thread of camaraderie runs through an enduring group of Columbia Gorge artists.

For more than 50 years, area weavers have met every week as a community of creativity. The Grace Carter Weavers, named after its beloved founder, was formed in 1970. Participants have been meeting faithfully ever since.

The group includes beginner to expert weavers who come from all across the Gorge to meet Friday mornings in an open studio in Odell. The space is calm and colorful, with the steady clack of looms and the murmur of quiet conversation as colorful threads glide into intricate patterns.

Seasoned weavers assist newbies, and friendships are forged with time and shared appreciation.

“There is lots of knowledge here,” says Kathy Semmes, who lives in the community of Mount Hood and serves as the group’s coordinator.

At 60, Kathy is the youngest member. She has been weaving since 1990.

Norma Redford, 90, of Hood River, is the most senior. A weaver since 1983, Norma has created hundreds of baby blankets for her ever-growing family. At last count, she had 12 great-grandchildren.

The group has 19 members. Weavers of all ages and abilities are encouraged to join.

Sharon Trout demonstrates the weaving process of interlacing horizontal and vertical threads, with variations that range from simple to complex.

“It’s a great group of women,” says Kathleen Dalke, of Mosier. “There’s a great sense of community.”

Until 2010, the group had no permanent location and hopscotched from place to place. Kent Lambert was building a garage in Odell to house his vintage car collection when his wife, Judy, a charter member of Grace Carter Weavers, asked him to create a weaving space above the garage.

The result is a spacious 3,200-square-foot art studio boasting tall ceilings, natural light, heating, air conditioning, and more than 20 looms of varying sizes and styles. The open floor plan features a library of weaving books and guides, and a dining space where the weavers gather for lunch.

Sadly, Judy died before seeing the dream reach completion. Kent continues to welcome the group, asking only that weavers contribute to operation costs. Dues are $30 a month.

Many of the things people use in their daily lives are woven—from bedsheets and blankets to clothing and rugs—although most are now produced by machine, not hand. The process involves the interlacing of horizontal and vertical threads, though the variations go from simple to complex.

“A lot of people don’t realize that the clothing you wear is weaving,” Kathy says. “It’s natural fibers that are woven.”

The Grace Carter Weavers meet weekly in a spacious studio in Odell that has more than 20 looms of varying sizes and styles.

Weaving is an ancient craft dating back 12,000 years. Woven fabric fragments composed of natural fibers such as linen and wool have been found in Egypt, Peru, China and Turkey.

“There is nothing new about this,” says Jo Anne Sala, who lives in White Salmon. “Weaving has been around for so long.”

A weaver for a quarter-century, Jo Anne makes a variety of household textiles, such as table runners and towels.

“But the sky’s the limit, really,” she says. Weavers use a loom—a metal or wooden frame that holds the threads tightly as they’re being woven. Weaving uses 2 types of threads: the warp and the weft.

The process begins with the warp threads, which are stretched tight on a frame and run vertically to the fabric’s intended length. Weft threads are laced over and under and run horizontally to the warp threads.

By working the warp and weft threads at right angles, a weaver can create cloth, carpets or tapestries.

The weavers welcome new members. Kathy Semmes is the group’s coordinator.

Like many arts and crafts, weaving is gaining renewed interest among artisans and decorators who shy from mass-produced items in favor of handcrafted works of practical art.

The Grace Carter Weavers are seeking new members.

COVID-19 took a toll, Kathy says, with some members losing contact and enthusiasm. Earlier in the pandemic, the group met over Zoom. They have returned to gathering in person, but some members are not ready to join a group setting.

No experience is required to join the group, but members say patience, concentration and some math skills are valuable assets in learning the ancient art.

“It’s very meditative,” Kathy says. “Weaving teaches patience. You get into a rhythm with the colors, the textures. You can create something from nothing. The learning process is a lifetime. You’ll never learn everything.”