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15: Certificate of Excellence (transcript)

Welcome to Episode 15, Certificate of Excellence. This episode we take a behind scenes look at the Certificate of Excellence.  This is a self-study program developed and administered by the Handweavers Guild of America. It’s an analogous to the master weaver program in Canada and others around the world. Before we do that, I’d like to catch you up on the latest weaving news.

I received many entries for the Teach a Friend to Weave contest.  It’s wonderful to hear so many stories about new weavers and the wonderful weavers who inspire them.

Now, if you have been thinking about sending in an entry, there’s still time.  I’ll be accepting stories from teachers and their students through the end of April, so you’ve got until April 30th to email that or send me an Odeo comment or send me a MP3.

Text or audio, either is fine.

Tanya from Wales recommended an on-line video.  This was produced by the Victoria and Albert Museum, and it illustrates Jacquard weaving so if you’ve ever wanted to see what a Jacquard loom looks like, here’s your opportunity.  I’ll have a link to that on the show notes.

I got a question from a listener – Nicki from Wisconsin writes, “My family and I are travelling to the UK to visit my in-laws in August and I was wondering how to find shops that stock weaving yarns.  It’s England – they’ve got sheep!  I googled and came up with guilds and knitting galore, but where are the weavers?  Is there a good shop finding website?”

I know there are several listeners in the UK so if you have a favourite weaving shop, or you know of a website that lists those, for the UK, please do help Nicki out and post in the comments where to find those. 

In fact, weaving shops are so few and far between, and so deserving of support, that if you have a favourite store that stocks weaving equipment or supplies, please send me that information in an email or post it in the comments.

If I get enough of those, I’ll put together a weaver’s travel guide for the website.

This episode is sponsored by the Handweavers Guild of America.  I thank them for their generous underwriting of all the expenses associated with this episode and for also making available information about their Certificate of Excellence program so I could share that with you.

Musical interlude

Every two years a handful of weavers carefully packs a box containing their best work, work that may have taken them years to weave and document.  And with the care they’d take in sending their first born off to summer camp, mails that package to the Handweavers Guild of America.  Their dream?  To have their work reviewed by the weaving world’s brightest talents and found worthy.

This month we shine a spotlight on the sometimes mysterious world of the HGA’s Certificate of Excellence program.

Before we talk about the Certificate of Excellence, we need to know about the organization that presents it.  With us is Sandra Swarbrick, long time HGA volunteer and past president.

SW  HGA is the Handweavers Guild of America.  It was formed in 1969 by a group of prominent weavers and fibre artists who wondered whether a national guild would be of benefit to the fibre community.  After serving educators, weavers, spinners, dyers, fibre artists, they formed this organization to encourage creativity and excellence and provide a national voice for the fibre community.

We provide educational programs, we have a biennial conference called Convergence that we hold in different locations around the country and we’ve actually held it twice in Canada. 

We have a quarterly magazine Shuttle, Spindle and Dyepot, which we publish.  Articles in the magazines promote museums, educational facilities, fibre artists, things like that.

SM  How did the COE get it’s start?  When did the idea of examining members work arise?

SW  The plan was really developed in response to craftspeople in those fields who wanted a system to provide guidelines for improving their work, and by which their technical proficiency could be evaluated, whether for personal satisfaction or professional purposes.  An HGA evaluation committee was formed and it was headed by Else Regensteiner.

They went out into the fibre community and looked for criteria that skills could be evaluated against and they developed a Certificate of Excellence.  At that time it was only in hand weaving.

They wanted it, however, to include hand spinning and dyeing skills, and so the handbook included requirements for primarily weaving, but also required hand spinning and dyeing samples.

The handbook was published in the magazine in the Summer issue of 1975, and the first examination was held in 1976.  It included both technical skills and a specialized study.  Each applicant submitted that material as a complete package.

It’s changed as hand spinning and dyeing became more of an interest within the fibre community.  Those programs were given their own handbook requirements.  So HGA actually has four different categories for which we provide Certificates of Excellence.  That’s hand weaving, hand spinning, basket making and dyeing.  Each has their own individual handbook. 

Now the program has developed to a point where the technical skill requirements are separated from the specialized study.  It used to be that people submitted everything as a complete package, but often they didn’t have the technical skills that would allow them to actually receive certification.  So now you are required to fulfill the requirements for technical skills before you can proceed to a specialized study.

We have a level 1, which is a technical skills, and then level 2 of the Certificate of Excellence which is essentially a specialized study and you become a Master in hand weaving or hand spinning, whatever.

SM  How does the COE application process work?  If weaver Sally in Minnesota wants to do the COE, what steps does she take?

SW  You can purchase the handbook on our website or by calling the HGA office.  You’ll be sent a COE handbook and packet.  In the COE packet there’ll be forms to register for the examination, there’ll be forms that you would fill out when you send your items to be examined. 

We have two fees.  There’s an initial fee.  You’ll be sent the materials and then there’ll be a second to sort of “seal” your registration. 

You could send for the handbook and start working on it.  In fact we recommend that you are well on your way to completing the requirements before you ever register for an examination.

SM  So it’s fairly common for people to, say, get the handbook and take four years?

SW  It is common for people to do that.

SM  So what happens at a COE examination?  You’ve filled out your forms, you’ve packaged up your samples, you’ve written up your documentation, you’ve shipped the box off – what goes on in that room where the examination happens?

SW  We have host guilds around the country that take on the responsibility of a facility and volunteers to actually run the event.  We bring in two examiners from out of town to exam all of the materials.  So for the host guild, we have a host guild chair that arranges for the facility, organizes the volunteers, makes arrangements to house both the examiners and the HGA observer, and then we have the volunteers who provide food and act as scribes for the examiners during the events.

And then we have the registrar that essentially is the advocate for the applicants at the examination.  She is the only person at the examination who knows the actual identities of each applicant.  All of the applicant materials are identified with an applicant number so that no one but the registrar at the examination knows who these people are.  And if for some reason the applicant does not receive certification no one will actually know the identity of that person. 

It’s only if a person receives certification that we make an announcement as to their identity.

So we bring in the materials each day, we have 6 or 8 banquet tables, we lay out materials, we usually examine two submissions each day.  It takes 8 to 10 hours to look through all…

SM  Wow!

SW  …of the materials.  It takes a long time because we want to really give each applicant feedback on how they’ve approached the requirements in the handbook.  And we thoroughly look over all of the materials – which are quite extensive. 

The handbook for every category involves written work that has to do with design and colour and the equipment that’s involved in whatever the discipline is and then there are technical samples for level 1.  Then the hand weaving handbook there are 40 samples that are required and they all have support documentation along with the technical sample – the woven samples.  Both examiners review a single submission. 

So you have two independent opinions about how the person has completed the requirements.

So it takes a long time to really honour the work that the people have done.

Each examiner is assigned a scribe and all of the score sheets are computerized.  For every single requirement there’s a score, there’s the opportunity for the examiner to make some comment.  So you get comments from both of the examiners, the scores are tallied at the end of the day and they are averaged, so you have two scores, you add them together and you average them.  85% is the cut off for certification.

SM  It sounds like a really valuable experience for a guild to host one of these examinations because then their members can have the opportunity to volunteer and see the samples.  How does HGA pick who hosts one of these?

SW  In the centre section of SS&D (Shuttle, Spindle and Dyepot) there is what we call Update.  In Update we list all of the examinations that will take place and we also solicit guilds to host a COE examination.  So if a guild was interested, they could contact the board member who was responsible for the COE program and that person’s name and contact information will be listed there. 

If we don’t have guilds that step forward with an interest, then that COE program chair is beating the bushes…trying to raise interest to host a COE event.

SM  So how does the HGA decide who will examine the COE submissions?

SW  There is a number of criteria that we look at in an individual that we would like to serve as an examiner.  It’s nice to have someone who has experience with the program, so often times, if there are people who have received their Master designation as a COE recipient, they are a very good candidate because they’re intimately experienced and involved with the program.

Often times in the development of the handbook there are a number of people who help with the revisions and that process, and they are very knowledgeable themselves and so they would be good candidates.  We look for people who are well known in the fibre community and well respected for their breadth of knowledge.  Those are some of the criteria that we would look at. 

It’s not a decision that’s made by a single person.  We have a COE policy committee that’s associated with the COE program and there are individuals in each category that are represented.

Often times the COE program chair, who is a member of the HGA Board, will consult with the representative of that category.  They’ll discuss who might be a suitable candidate.

SM  Recently the Seattle Weavers Guild hosted the COE and the recipients for Level 1and Level 2 – their work was displayed at the next guild meeting.  The whole guild got to share in the wonderful samples and experience of these applicants.  Are there other benefits to the member guilds for hosting?

SW  We bring these two well known people in to serve as examiners and the local guild can actually use the services of those people if they choose.  We ask that the local guild wait until the examination is over, but HGA brings those people in at our expense, and if the local guild wanted to use them as a speaker, or to teach a master class, or teach a workshop, or whatever, they could arrange with those people to do that. 

There are a number of guilds that have done exactly that.  It helps HGA develop a more personal relationship with individual guilds, which is good.  It also promotes the program.  It enables members of guilds to see work that they might never have the opportunity to see.  It just helps promote education, and provide sort of a baseline for excellence.

People can see what the standards are.

SM  Now, does the guild have to be a large established guild in order to host an HGA event?

SW  They don’t.  You know, I have been at a number of COE examination events, and many of them have been hosted by very small guilds.  Which is really wonderful.  I mean you don’t need many people to actually have the event.  In fact there was one examination event that I attended where it was the examiners, myself, and the chair and the registrar and that was it.

The chair and the registrar acted as the scribes.  I think that the COE program is a wonderful educational program that HGA provides and I hope that more people will take advantage of it.

Musical interlude

This past November, my guild hosted the hand weaving examination.  As someone curious about the COE and a potential applicant, I jumped at the chance to go behind the scenes during the exam.

I volunteered to be a scribe for one of the examiners.  My job – become a human dictaphone.

The judging was held in a small lightless room.  The walls were cinder block painted institutional yellow with a single tiny window providing the only natural light.

Despite the humble surroundings, the room had the sacred feeling of a cathedral. 

Taking up most of the room were rows and rows of banquet tables.  Spread out upon them were sample sets from two of the level 1 applicants.  Eighty rectangles of cloth finely handcrafted and representing years of labour.

The few people in the room – two examiners, two scribes, an HGA observer and other co-ordinators naturally spoke in a hush.

Before the examination began, I and the other scribe toured the many samples.  We’re study buddies for the COE and this was a preview of what we hoped to accomplish.

The amount of work and attention to detail was daunting!

I began to realize what an accomplishment it was to even put together a COE submission, much less one that passes.  We stopped at each sample, bending to look closer at an edge finish, at the clever play of colour and weave, the delicate lines of a tapestry – I just widened my eyes in awe!

All too soon it was time to get to work.  My examiner, the amazingly talented Barbara Walker.

Musical interlude.

SM  How did you first get involved with the COE?

BW  I began as an applicant.  I started my work on the COE on what is now known as Level 1 in 1986.  I submitted and passed it in 1988 and then I submitted and passed my in-depth study, which is known as Level 2 in 1990.

SM  What was your motivation?   What made you want to go through the COE process?

BW  I was starting pretty much as a beginning weaver and I realized that it would be a fantastic learning opportunity because I think when you look at the requirements, it would take a lot of years and a lot of workshops or classes to learn all those techniques but when it’s there, stated in the handbook that you have to demonstrate these different techniques it’s a good learning plan. 

I was teaching myself all these different techniques.  I am the kind of person who needs a goal at the end or a time line otherwise I’m not apt to do it, just for the sake of doing it.

That’s what got me going.

SM  I think a lot of people have this impression that in order to take the COE you have to have been weaving for decades, but it sounds…

BW  Not at all

SM…that’s not the case.  How did you go from  a person who has passed the COE to being invited to be an examiner?

BW  That was up to the discretion of whoever was on the HGA board in charge of the COEs.  I was invited to be an examiner for the first time in 1994.  So that was my first time as an examiner.  I’ve now done this three times.  It’s by invitation only.  You don’t send off a proposal or anything. You just hope you’ll be invited.

SM  What advice would you give to that first time examiner?

BW  Get your hands on the handbook and read through it very carefully.  I would suggest making a notebook to take with you – points that you want to look for in the definitions that are required, notes on unfamiliar weave structures, things like that.  References are made available to the examiners but I found that having my own notebook and my own notes speeded up the process so I didn’t have to constantly go to some other source or some of the other books that were available there.  I knew what I was looking for ahead of time.

There was a lot studying I did myself before I became an examiner just so I was more familiar with weaving techniques that I don’t do on a regular basis and make sure that I knew what to look for in definitions.

It’s important during the process to pace yourself.  You generally have to work more quickly than you might like to.  For Level 1 usually you’d see two applicants’ work per day.  That means one in the morning, one in the afternoon.  So you have to work pretty quickly because there’s a lot to evaluate.

And I also would suggest getting plenty of sleep.  It can be very mentally exhausting and it just depends on how many applicants, how many days you’ll have to do the evaluation. 

It’s very tough mentally.  You want to remind yourself that you’re looking for excellence.  This isn’t the Certificate of Pretty Good or the Certificate of Barely Meeting the Requirements.  This is the Certificate of Excellence, and that is what you are looking for.

Musical interlude

With a feeling of being a party to something great, I opened the laptop and began to type.

Barbara scrutinized each piece with an intensity that made me squirm.  A linen tester rested within hand’s reach, and there was a table filled with reference books.

On two occasions the examiners conferred over the interpretation of the instruction booklet.  Most of the time, the room was silent, save for the judges murmured commentary and the clicking of keyboards.

Musical interlude

SM  What’s the hardest part about being an examiner?

BW  The hardest part for me is when I know that an applicant won’t pass.  At the start of the evaluation of a particular applicant both examiners look at all of the samples from one person.  We kind of walk around, make comments to each other, and kind of get a feel for the submission as a whole before we get down to the nitty gritty and look at it in depth. 

Usually when you’re doing this first over view you kind of get a feel if the person has a good chance of passing or not and it’s a heart wrenching thing when someone isn’t going to pass.

So that’s hard.

As an examiner, I want to give constructive criticism and help that individual who is not going to pass to learn what needs to be done in order for them to pass in the future if they find they want to re-submit.

SM  So what’s the best part about being an examiner?

BW  Oh, that’s easy.  When in that initial over view of an applicants work and you just look and it and you say, wow! I know it’s going to pass and it’s going to be a joy to evaluate it because the work is so beautiful.  That’s definitely the best part.

SM  So is sounds like the examiners are trying to be impartial but somewhere deep inside as weavers you’re also rooting for the applicant.

BW  Yes because for me personally, I know how much work goes into the process.  It’s hours and hours and hours of work and that’s what makes it really hard when I know that someone’s not going to pass.  I know how much effort they put into it.

It’s kind of like sending off a child to have your work evaluated and it’s not easy.  I know that people are sitting back at home thinking okay – what are they thinking?  - how am I doing?



Two of those waiting were Vila Cox and Mary Berendt both members of the Handweavers Guild of Boise Valley, a small guild in Idaho with 25 active members. 

Vila Cox was waiting for news on her Level 1 application.

SM  So how long did you take preparing your application?

VC  I worked on it for four years.

SM  Oh wow

VC  All that time life gets in the way.  I found a couple of times that I didn’t sit down at a loom for 3 to 4 months with things that would crop up with the family. 

I had planned on getting mine submitted two years before, but it didn’t turn out for me to do that so I just kept on working on it and submitted when I was ready.

SM  Which sample gave you the most trouble?

VC  Tapestry.

SM  Had you done much tapestry?

VC  No.  None.  I think of tapestry as painting with yarn.  I’m not an artist.  It was painful coming up with the design.  Literally I was stalled on those for 8 months.  Just a total mental block, and until I got a design to weave I couldn’t even start.  So those were just terrifying for me.

I just kept putting them off, so it was getting a little scary.  One evening I was sitting down and I was thinking about curves and I came up with this idea of a kind of a round sun with rays coming out of it, curved rays.  So that’s what I jotted down quickly and figured out a colour scheme for and wove.


Mary Berent, her COE study buddy and mentor had already received her Level 1 certificate and was waiting for the results on her Level 2 submission.

SM  What inspires a Level 1 recipient to go ahead and do the Level 2 work?

MB  Well, I have say I really never considered it to be two levels.  I considered it to be one long thing.  Part 1 seems like the things that are assigned to me, they were the things the COE committee wanted me to do.  For the Part 2 things seemed like the things I wanted to do.

In reality it didn’t really work that way.

SM  How was it different?

MB  The Part 1 stuff really was more interesting and more fun than I thought it would be.  And I had done every single technique before I started the COE.  So there wasn’t anything that was new.  I really wish that I had, I did actually start on it when I was younger, in the late 70’s I started on it and it would have been better to do it then when I was learning those techniques, rather than later kind of just to prove I could.

I think it is a good program for learning.  You have to do 40 samples and each technique is different.  It’s a wonderful way to learn to weave.  It seems to me like it would be a wonderful thing to actually do the COE requirements at the time you are learning those techniques rather than just like I did, later, after I already knew how to do them.

SM  Well, that’s very encouraging.  I get the impression from some people that I talk to that they feel like you have to be a master weaver with 30 years of teaching experience before you do the Level 1, but it sounds like you would recommend that someone who didn’t know everything to go ahead and do it as a study project.

MB  I would.  I really would recommend that because people know that when I learned to weave I knew immediately that this was where I belonged, this was what I should be doing and I was pretty much obsessed with it.  Once you know that, this is a program that you can not only follow to do something for yourself and learn those techniques, but you can, at the end of it, get something in return which is the master weavers certificate.

SM  Now when you were going from Level 1 to Level 2 what did you pick as your area of specialization?

MB  My topic was 16 shaft advancing twill.  I wanted to pick something that had not been explored and there wasn’t a lot written about it already.  Naturally, that’s both good and bad.  When it’s an idea that isn’t much written about that means you can’t go someplace and look it up.  And then there was some information.  The book Twill Thrills had a lot of compilations from a lot of old Weaver’s Magazines in it that was useful to me at the time, but there really isn’t a lot written on advancing twills.  And yet it’s a limited field which, if you wanted to have your topic be “overshot” it’s such a huge field you really can’t do a good job of studying it in depth.  The subject has so much written about it already that there is less for you to study that’s your own.

So that’s what I wanted to do – something that was my own.

SM  What is it that makes a twill an advancing twill?

MB  If you take a little section of twill like 1, 2, 3, 4 and advance it by one shaft or by one harness – 2, 3, 4, 5, - 3, 4, 5, 6 – so that each little group advances by one shaft.  Once it does that it can either turn around and be a point twill coming back down in the reverse direction, or if you get into the more random things, that’s when it turns into a networked twill.

An advancing twill is a static regular threading order and it’s actually very easy to thread on a loom – you don’t tend to lose your place like you do on networked drafting.

SM  So what was it about the Level 2 work that was in some ways more confining than you had expected?

MB  Well once you write the outline, and of course the outline was of my choosing,  but once the outline is written you need to kind of follow it and the idea as you’re weaving samples or examples um, you’ve got these wild hare thoughts and unless they’re in your outline, you can’t go there.

You have to keep yourself on task.

SM  Ahhhh

MB  And that was harder than I thought it was going to be.

Normally when you’re studying something on  your own, just for your own enjoyment, you can follow those wild hares, so that part was harder for me to do than I thought it was going to be.  Just to stay where I thought I was going to stay.

SM  So what are some of the wild hares you didn’t follow?

MB  I didn’t study scale, I didn’t study Colour and Weave effects, I didn’t study what would happen if you made this fabric from wool and fulled it, I didn’t study any of those things.  I tried to stay pretty much following what the pattern itself in the weaving was doing.

Some of those other things seemed very interesting to me at the time and I will definitely follow up and continue studying some of those things.  And that was one of the things I wanted to do – I wanted to leave the study with more to go.

I wanted to finish what I had said I was going to do and then still have someplace that was interesting to me to go.

SM  What surprised you most about doing the Level 2 work?

MB  In my individual subject matter, when I really got into it and started working on it, what I was fighting the most was long floats.  And as I would design tie-ups or develop new tie-ups based on old ones, the first thing I always checked was the length of the floats.  And I found that I started working in finer and finer threads to accommodate the long floats.

About that time our local guild had a workshop with Bonnie Inouye and one of the things that she said and she said it very matter of factly, that she just limits her float length to three threads.  And then she went on teaching and it was like that hit me like a bolt of lightning, that that was one of the things that I could choose to do.  I could choose to limit my floats to three threads.

So from that point in my study on, then you can see very definitely in the study where Bonnie came.  All of my samples and all of my projects only have floats of 3 threads.  And it sounds like it would be very limiting, but in fact it was freeing.  If a tie-up had longer floats then I wasn’t going to use it.

That was a very big revelation for me and I think the fabric ended up being much better because it was more structurally sound fabric because it didn’t have any long floats.  And it was, the patterns were patterns that could be used on any material.

SM  Right

MB  You know, it didn’t have to be 60 threads per inch.

SM  Two weavers in the same small guild in Idaho, both submitting to the COE in the same year – you might expect a certain amount of rivalry.

MB  There was no rivalry.  We actually had kind of a support group.  Rebecca Winter, Vila Cox and me. 

VC  There are three of us in my local guild that have been working on our Certificate of Excellence.  We formed a support group – we would meet every other month.

MB  Rebecca, although she already had her master weaver would meet with us and we would encourage each other

VC  …and it was a chance to show off what we had been doing.

MB  Vila, she would bring a sample and say “is this good enough?” and we would take a look at it and either encourage her or encourage her to start over.

VC  It was a deadline.  If I knew there was a meeting coming up, I would be more likely to weave my two or three samples to keep up.

MB  It made all the difference to be able to work on it with someone else.  They know what you’re going through and it is a big deal.  It may not be a big deal to the “outside” world but in the weaver’s world it’s a big deal and it was great to have somebody working on it at the same time.

SM  So what were these two weavers doing on the day their results were announced?  Were they sitting by the phone chewing their nails with worry?

MB  We were at a dye day. 

VC  We were at a guild dyeing day – where there were 18 members of our guild.

MB  …out in the middle of nowhere, you know dyeing this and that.  We were having the dye day in an auto shop with no phones

VC  …and I had given my husband instructions that any phone calls were to be passed to my cell phone that day.

MB  Vila’s cell phone didn’t work in the building so she was out in the parking lot.

VC  When I heard the call come in I heard and then I got to pass the phone over to Mary.

MB  Francie Alcorn on the phone very calmly informed both Vila and I that we had passed.

VC  And we were both out in the parking lot squealing and jumping up and down.

MB  It was very exciting to be there with all the other people who at least knew what we were talking about.

SM  Oh what a wonderful way to find out.

MB  It was fun, very fun.  Made it hard to measure the dye accurately after that.

SM  And I’m so glad both of you passed cause awkward would it have been if it hadn’t worked out that way.

VC  We had those same comments. 

MB  It would have been tragic.

Musical interlude

After viewing all the wonderful woven samples and experiencing the reverence with which they are treated, hearing recipients talk about their experience, I was inspired.

My time as a COE scribe strengthened my resolve that 2008 might be my year.  That and a little prodding from Mary Berendt.

MB  Where are you on your COE?

SM  Oh, well, that’s a great question.  Um, I have a COE buddy, and I have a wonderful guild that is very supportive and has a couple of people who have gotten the COE and are kind of doing that mentoring thing that you mentioned. You know, encouraging them, or encouraging them to start the sample over.

I am working on double weave samples right now.

MB  Didn’t like those.

SM  Huh?

MB  Don’t put that in there!

Musical interlude

This is a story that doesn’t end.  Each year new applicants send in their work and past applicants re-submit, having learned that extra bit they needed to pass.  Will you be one of them?

Applying for the Certificate of Excellence is a daunting thing.  If you are like me, you could use a little advice.

VC  First off don’t pressure yourself to finish it in two years.  The only deadline is what you set for yourself.  Things get in the way.  Don’t get down on yourself – just keep working on it and when it gets to the point you’re about ready, then you start paying the fees.  Send in your registration.

Until then, just keep working. 

The next thing is, keep good notes.  As you’re doing your samples, write everything down.  I had a notebook, and I thought I was writing things down…

SM  Right

VC  …but inevitably I would have jotted something on a piece of paper and it’s here, somewhere.  Some of those notes I’m still not too sure where I actually wrote them down, so I had to go back in and go, okay, how did I do that?  If you’re going to take a while to do your samples, you’re going to have trouble then.

So, keep good notes.  Get a system and follow it.  Finish each sample folder as you go.  It took me two afternoons just to tack the samples in the file.  If I had been doing that all along, I wouldn’t have these major projects to do at the end.

Think of each sample as a miniature work of art.  It’s not a sample to the examiners.  It is a finished piece and that’s how you need to be thinking of it as you’re doing it.  For your finishing, your hemming techniques, it’s not a sample, it’s a work of art.

You need to follow the instructions in the booklet to the letter.  Then the hemming techniques, following what they say using an appropriate hemming technique for the item you are weaving or replicating.  If you are doing rug samples, a good rug technique finish is essential.

You need to hand stitch everything.  Don’t use the machine.  Make sure your edges are good. 

The instructions are really pretty clear.  Just make sure that you follow them, and don’t ad lib at all.

The things that I got marked down for were when I strayed from the instructions.  So unless you’re following those to the letter you’re not going to get the points to pass.

The other thing that I really recommend is finding or creating a support group.  Have people who know what you’re going through that can cheer you on.  You don’t feel like you’re going through it alone.

SM  And what do the examiners hope to see in a Level 1 application?

BW  Follow the requirements to the letter.  I don’t know, maybe sometimes that what seems to me to be in the handbook a very specific instruction for a particular sample and yet they applicant has not grasped what it was all about.

So follow the instructions to the letter.  Be very particular about that.

I think it’s important for applicant to evaluate his or her own work according to the criteria that are listed in the handbook.

It’s very easy to have friends look at a sample or fellow guild members.  Usually friends or fellow guild members want to be very supportive so they’re going to try to be really positive and when in reality that may not be a very good sample.  So you really need to learn how to evaluate your own work.

For Level 1, you make the samples as perfect as you possibly can.  Think of each sample as a complete project in itself, not as a piece of something bigger.

You want it finished properly, you want it to be a little miniature something, and I think that is a really good way to evaluate yourself when you’re evaluating your Level 1 samples. 

You want to use a variety of colours, you want to use appropriate fibres, demonstrate different finishing techniques.  I would suggest not relying on machine stitching to finish the samples – do that only if it’s necessary and then try to hide it if you can.

That might be one of my pet peeves.  I don’t like to see machine stitched samples because that tells me someone was taking a short cut at the end.

I think it’s important that if you’re taking the time to demonstrate that you know how to do that weaving technique, that you should also demonstrate that you know how to finish it.

Another thing is allow plenty of time because it’s always going to take longer than you think.  You may do a sample over two or three times before you decide that it’s good enough to send in.

You want to proof read all your written materials.  The last time that I was an examiner I was surprised at the number of written errors because I think people now rely on spell check so they might be using incorrect terms and don’t realize it because they are spelled “correctly”.

SM  The dictionaries that come with word processors don’t always understand all those wonderful little weaving terms.

BW  That’s for sure.

SM  So it’s easy for those to pick up the wrong word.

BW  Neatness and presentation is very important.  You want to make a good impression.  You don’t want – if you send in sloppy written work, or samples are mounted sloppily, or are sloppy in appearance – that makes an impression on the examiners.  And you don’t to make a bad impression.

So all those things kind of come together to make a good package, and they are all important.

SM  If you’ve done Level 1 and are trying to decide to apply for Level 2 – here’s your nudge.

BW  Go for it!

It’s absolutely fun.  It really is.  It gives you an opportunity and an excuse to do things you might never have done otherwise.  To really follow something in depth like that is very rewarding.

SM  Any advice on how to pick a really great subject?

BW  I think that was one of those challenges.  I had a lot of things that I thought might be interesting.  I’m a structure weaver, so there’s lots of structures that you can study and what I ended up focussing on was something that was big enough that you could really study it in depth, and sink your teeth into it, but not so overwhelmingly big that you couldn’t study it in depth.

When you start thinking about different topics, finding one that’s the right size is harder than you think.

BW  The concept of the samples in Level 2 is different from those in level 1.  Level l we’re looking for perfection.  In Level 2 you want samples to be well woven, appropriate fibres, appropriate set and so forth, but what you intend to demonstrate may not work.  Let’s say you’re studying a certain weaving technique, and you want to try something different with that technique, so you weave a sample, based on your conjecture, but what you wanted to demonstrate just doesn’t work.

That doesn’t mean that you discard the sample, as long as you have used appropriate fibres and pretty good construction techniques and so forth, and finish it properly, then you would include that sample and say, this is what I tried to do, it didn’t work, but maybe if I changed this, and try again, maybe now it will work.

And that’s one of the ways that you can look at Level 2 differently from Level 1.

SM  It’s interesting.  It makes it sound more like a scientific study.

BW  That’s exactly what it is.  It is an in depth study.  You’re trying to focus on a particular technique or subject of weaving that has interested you, and see how far you can go with it.

You also want to have a good outline which shows step by step approach and remember that the examiners are going to see that outline before the examination process so you want to give them a good picture of what your study is all about.  You want to have it progress logically, you want to have a good bibliography, you want to have good conclusions – what did you learn as a result of your study, table of contents – essentially it is a thesis.

Musical interlude

The next examination for the COE examination for hand weaving is in Fall 2008.

I’m hoping to be there, will you?

Our wonderful guests this episode were Sandra Swarbrick, past president of the Handweavers Guild of America, Barbara Walker, Certificate of Excellence examiner, Vila Cox, who received her Level 1 certificate this past fall – Congratulations! – and Mary Berent, who received her Level 2 for work with 16 shaft advancing twills.  Congratulations as well on your accomplishment.

For more information about our wonderful guests, I invite you to check out their websites.

Vila Cox has a website at http://www.warpedandwonderful.com

Mary Berendt can be found at http://www.mary-berent.com

Last name is spelled Berent

And Barbara Walker’s website is http://www.barbarajwalker.com

As always, links to these sites and more will be available on the show notes.

This episode was sponsored by the Handweavers Guild of America.  For more information about HGA and its Certificate of Excellence program, please check out their website at http://www.weavespindye.org

The background music for this show The Grand Prize by AMB26.  I’d like to thank this artist for generously sharing their work on the Podsafe Music Network.

In addition, I’d like to thank our donating listeners, Sue, Janet, Susan, Suzette, Ellen, Joanne and Brethe.  I hope I’m pronouncing that last name right.

Thank you so much for your support.

That’s all for this episode and now it’s time to get warped, because everyone knows you have to be warped to weave.