I have a strong appreciation and admiration for textile guilds. Their members join to foster community and learning around textile crafts like weaving, spinning, and knitting, to name just a few. Their existence is important to the preservation of craft traditions, both through member workshops and community demonstrations, offering others an exposure to making.
Guilds for skilled craftsmen began in Medieval Europe with the mission of working collectively toward skill standards, political clout, and control of competition. Some descriptions of early guilds asserted that to become a member, one had to submit completed textile projects for acceptance by the guild as evidence of skill in the textile craft.
As a member of my local weaving and textile arts guild, I’ve had the privilege to read original meeting minutes, often handwritten, from the organization’s inception in 1937 through today. During the guild’s early years, potential members had to submit weavings for approval to become full members. This practice was eventually abandoned to allow makers of all skill and interest levels to become members. That is the desire of guilds today - to invite all to participate.
In my role with June Cashmere, I enjoy telling our story virtually and in-person to guild groups. Most recently, I spent a few hours on a beautiful Saturday with our local knitters and crocheters guild at their spring retreat. This group of individuals embody community and learning through the love of their crafts, knitting and crochet.
It was my first in-person talk since before Covid so I admit, I was feeling just a bit anxious about being with people again. But the minute I walked in the door, I was met with warmth. One member’s son was there that day to ensure that all the technology pieces were in working order for my talk. We likely would have watched my presentation on my laptop if it hadn’t been for him navigating the smart board and PowerPoint downloads to get my talk where it needed to be.
As I walked around, the members were busy working on their varied individual and group projects. Collectively, they were getting ready for a local Juneteenth celebration where they were to have a demonstration table. Some were crocheting hats in Kwanza colors (red, black, and green). One member showed me bags of lovely, donated yarn and explained that the group had purchased crochet hooks so that at their demonstration table, they could teach anyone interested how to crochet. They were preparing to share their craft, to ignite in others creative possibility. They were doing the work of a guild, fostering community and learning through their craft.
After my talk, the group invited me to eat with them. They had prepared an utterly delicious and varied potluck, because you know, creative sorts extend their artistry to food, too. In many cultures, eating together is one of the most important acts of community and sociality. This act of community did not disappoint.
As if these grass root manifestations of community weren’t heartwarming enough, in thanks to me for my program that day, one of the members presented me with a gift – a coiled, cloth basket filled with fine chocolates and a shawl she had knit. Yes, a shawl she had knit. I am still awed by her gesture, her act of giving herself - her time, her skills, her resources - to a complete stranger. I suspect this member understood that as a fellow maker, I would understand her gift. She is correct. Her gift is not lost on me as I will wear it often with joy, remembering its maker and considering it a symbol of the importance of guilds.
Beautiful hand knit shawl given to me by guild member.