The art of weaving can be traced back to biblical times, and while it has evolved through the years, the basic premise of creating fabric from two pieces of thread remains the same. In a room at the Yadkin Valley Senior Center, Mary Freas continues to practice and teach others how to weave.
“I’ve been weaving about 25 or 30 years. I got the itch to do it thinking I wanted to do tapestries,” Freas said, noting that she still hasn’t created a tapestry. “Once I learned to weave I fell in love with pattern and overshot, which are colonial-looking patterns.”
Freas says she married into the family she should have been born into, because her husband’s great-aunt, Lucy Morgan, was the founder of the Penland School of Crafts, an internationally known craft school in Spruce Pine.
“Her brother was an Episcopal priest in western North Carolina, and the women there had no way of earning money. Weaving was a lost art, and her idea in founding it was if the women would learn, then she would do the marketing and selling of the items,” Freas explained.
While Freas was not able to learn from Morgan, she mentioned to her husband’s aunt, a niece of Morgan, that she was interested in learning to weave, so Morgan’s personal loom made in 1933 is now in Freas’ possession and is used in the weaving room at the senior center as one of several looms used by her students.
“I acquired the loom and I really had enjoyed using it over the years, but it is a little loom and not heavy enough to do rugs or large shawls. So over the years, I’ve acquired other looms,” she said.
One of those looms is well over 100 years old and was acquired when the Yadkin Valley Craft Guild disbanded and closed its Main Street location. She was told the loom was originally the loom of Elkin’s Ralph Beshears family. Others are newer, with some being small portable models.
But the looms were mostly sitting at her home not being used, so she decided it would be good to have a place for people to use them and to learn to weave. “I tell people to buy the biggest loom they can afford to buy and have room to put it, because it doesn’t work if it is put up.”
As she began thinking about teaching weaving, the big question came of where to do it. “I met Judy Wolfe and she spoke with Jennifer Hemric, who was the director of the senior center at the time, and they came up with a space,” Freas said.
Several of the looms have students’ projects on them, from a rag rug to a table runner. She said another student will be working on a tapestry.
She said the pattern of one’s weave depends on the treadles they step on when they send the shuttle of thread through the warp, which are the long pieces of thread attached to the loom.
“My reason for teaching was number one if they want to learn, here is affordable and the loom is here so they can try it before they go out and buy one,” Freas said.
Another reason was the educational part, she said. “You won’t believe the number of people who come up and say ‘what do you do with it?’” about the finished woven product. “What you have is a piece of cloth, so it can be tied off as a scarf or table runner or rug, or you can cut it and make clothes or something else out of it.”
Freas said she believes people don’t understand the process and what can be done with it, because so much of the commercial weaving is done abroad now. “It is very much the same process,” she said of commercial weaving compared to hand weaving. “It’s just been mechanized because somebody was bright enough to figure it out.”
There are times Freas also demonstrates weaving for others. Her family’s loom collapses so she can take it to events like Old Fashioned Day at Stone Mountain State Park to demonstrate for visitors.
On May 7, during the Jonesville Jubilee at the adjacent Lila Swaim Memorial Park, Freas will have the weaving room of the Yadkin Valley Senior Center open for visitors to stop in and see how weaving works and learn about the process and her classes. They will even be able to try their hand at weaving.
“You don’t have to be senior citizen to use the equipment and space,” she said of the weaving room.
There is a cost for instruction and use of the facilities, with discounts available to students through high school and seniors. “I’m just trying to cover my costs for the equipment I need to buy and extra thread,” she said.
Many clothing items are now knitted instead of woven, Freas said, explaining weaving involves the interlacing of two threads, long and cross threads, while knitting is one thread which is looped.
Freas said weaving moves along quickly, but the set up prior to weaving is what takes a while. She added there are a large number of pattern books for weaving.
For more information about weaving or Freas’ instruction, she can be reached at 336-957-2753 or email [email protected]
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.