Through the Years Weaving: Peek into the past with fiber art guild

Joan Jacobson shows off a traditional-style shawl she wove by hand. (Tucson Handweavers & Spinners Guild/Submitted)

By Karen Schaffner

This year, the Tucson Handweavers & Spinners Guild achieved something remarkable: a half-century of creating fiber art together. The guild is celebrating its 50-year anniversary.

To honor the milestone, the guild is hosting “Celebrating Five Decades of Fiber Arts and Friendship,” a show featuring works made by guild members through the ages. The show will be held in February at the Jewish Community Center.

Mounting the show is a real labor of love, but it’s important.

“My approach to it was to look at all five decades of the guild and try to represent each decade with a certain amount of history … to show how things have changed,” says Betty Headrick, longtime member and show organizer.

“The materials and techniques and skills of our members have changed drastically over the 50 years.”

“It’s a piece of Tucson history,” says Nicole McCulloch, second vice president of the guild. “We’re all from this area, and a lot of the (contributors) are professional artists.”

Adding this golden thread to its rich history, the organization has scheduled plenty of events to demonstrate their skills. Foremost among those is “Celebrating Five Decades of Fiber Arts and Friendship,” but there will also be demonstrations and sales throughout the year.

The guild’s name is a bit misleading in that it’s not just for weavers and spinners. Anyone from beginner to expert who does any type of fiber art may join. That might include knitters, crocheters, felters, rug makers, dyers, tapestry weavers or papermakers, to name a few. 

Despite its name, one skill does not dominate the others.

“We have such a wide variety of artists,” McCulloch says. “Everybody has such a unique voice.”

Monthly, guild members meet for a program with a guest lecturer. They also take this time to share their latest projects. Then, at a separate time, study groups meet. This is a time for members to meet with others who share their particular interest, so knitters meet together or the tapestry weavers meet. Skill level is not a factor here because this is where you may learn something to help you improve.

“They work around your skill level and help you gain new skill levels, and push you outside of your comfort zone,” McCulloch says.

It’s not just an opportunity to learn new skills but also to talk and share their latest projects. For Tucson newcomers who work with fiber, it’s also a way to find their tribe.

“When I moved here, not knowing anyone, joining the guild provided me with community and a group of people who understood and appreciated the work that I do,” says Judith Shangold, guild president.

Not all weaving is for clothing. “I Want to be a Cowgirl” by Karen Yackell is one example of tapestry weaving. (Tucson Handweavers & Spinners Guild/Submitted)

In addition to these meetings, there is another opportunity to gather.

“The guild also provides workshop opportunities throughout the year,” McCulloch says. “These are offered to the general public or to our members at a discount. Workshops are a great way to learn a new technique with a hands-on approach.”

The guild formed in October 1973 as the Old Pueblo Guild of Handweavers. Members had to be juried in, and it was only for weavers; there were 35 members. In 1976, the name changed to the Tucson Handweavers & Spinners Guild.

In 1990, the guild dropped the jurying process for membership and expanded to include most other fiber artists. These days membership stands at about 200, but they’re always looking for more.

“Early on the guild was for experienced weavers only,” Headrick says. “Primarily the weaving was loom weaving, either basic four-shaft or multi-shaft weaving. Generally, they were using natural fibers, cottons or silks or wools, frequently undyed. Many of our garments in the first couple of decades are beige or natural colors.”

Over time interests changed and today fiber artists are using synthetic fibers, bamboo, hemp and even metal. Dyes have also changed.

“As you go around the room it’s going to go from very bland to very bright and brilliant colors,” Headrick adds.

That’s just one part of the show, however. A gold challenge is set for the golden anniversary. 

“Some people are submitting work to hang that has to incorporate at least a little bit of metallic gold material,” Shangold says. 

Those who are unsure if they have the skill level to join should not be discouraged. 

“We’re always eager for new members,” Shangold says. “We’re a very friendly, welcoming group, so anyone interested in the fiber arts is welcome to come to a meeting, see what we do.”

“This has been such a welcoming group,” McCulloch adds. “They’ve really taken me under their wing and it’s like, ‘What can we help you learn?’”

Demonstrations of Weaving, Spinning and Other Fiber Arts

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, January 16

WHERE: La Encantada, 2905 E. Skyline Drive, Tucson

COST: Free


Demonstrations of Pine Needle Baskets and Spinning, Plus Children’s Hands-On Activity of Making a Paper Basket

WHEN: 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Friday, January 28

WHERE: Arizona State Museum, 1013 E. University Drive, Tucson

COST: Free


Celebrating Five Decades of Fiber Arts and Friendship

WHEN: Various times Thursday, February 2, to Sunday, February 26; opening reception is 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, February 5

WHERE: Jewish Community Center, 3800 E. River Road, Tucson

COST: Visit website for information


Tucson Handweavers and Spinners Guild’s Show and Sale

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, February 11, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, February 12

WHERE: Jewish Community Center, 3800 E. River Road, Tucson

COST: Visit website for information


Demonstrations of Weaving, Spinning, Basketry, Dyeing and Felting Using Plant Materials

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, March 4

WHERE: Mission Garden, 946 W. Mission Lane, Tucson

COST: Free