Last week I was privileged to spend five days beginning to learn the Appalachian art of hand-weaving at North Carolina’s Crossnore Weaving School. I say “beginning” because after the first hour in the weaving classroom, it was very clear I had SO much to learn. It had looked easy, right?

Shirley, a Crossnore weaver for over 40 years, weaving a chenille tartan throw.

The women of the “Weaving Room” who produce the gorgeous woven throws, wearables, kitchen and table linens, and rugs for sale in the Weaving Store have years of experience on a loom. Their feet dance on the treadles, their hands sail thread shuttles from side to side with ease, and the rhythmic sounds of their working looms echo through the building. These women are preserving (and sharing!) a traditional mountain craft which in turn, supports the Crossnore Communities for Children providing homes for children in foster care. Being surrounded by women like these was truly inspiring – and a whole lot of fun.

I traveled to Crossnore with my good friend Hilary, also from Madison, Indiana. We stayed the week in nearby Linville Falls Lodge & Cottages, just “around the bend” from an entrance to Pisgah National Forest. To say that the area is scenic is an understatement. We were lucky to experience peak color in the mountains, and we had a taste of pretty much every kind of weather – rain, fog, ice and snow!

The first day of weaving class, we met our classmates Kim and Jody, and we all learned from instructor and veteran weaver, Lesa, that we had two days of hard work ahead of us before we would begin “the fun part” – the actual weaving. She.Was.Not.Kidding.

Putting up the WARP
“The warp is the yarn which runs the long way in cloth made on a loom.” Or as this beginner calls it, “the up and down threads” on the loom. For the placemats/table runner projects that Hilary, Kim and I had chosen, we each needed 336 pieces of fiber in our chosen colors in eight yard lenths (2,688 total yards) wound carefully on a wall-mounted warping board or turning upright warping tower. I opted for off white/natural, Hilary & Kim chose multicolor, and Jody selected red. Jodi was making dishtowels/dish cloths, so she needed less warp threads for her narrower/single thread project – but it was still as challenging! It took a while to choose our color palettes, but that was the easiest part! (Here is an online glossary of weaving terms used in the captions.)

Hilary winding her warp threads on the mounted warping board
Me, winding threads on the turning upright warping tower
My basket of completed warp threads

Dressing the Loom
Now that we each had a basket of warp threads, it was time to set up the looms for weaving – or as Hilary called it, “put another thread in the hole!”

After fastening the warp threads over the “breast bar” of the loom, we put two threads through each of 168 skinny “dents” (teeth) of the “reed” in the front of the loom and tied them off.

Let the WEAVING begin!

Me, weaving a placemat

After the weaving projects were cut off the looms, we learned how to separate, edge stitch and trim the fringe from Weaving Studio staff member Sally (another one!) Very satisfying, indeed!

Our weaving instructor, Lesa, was delightful – happy, patient, incredibly helpful, and passionate about weaving. She helped us individually and collectively, and she made all five of our class days thoroughy enjoyable. She comes by her love of traditional craft honestly. Her great-grandmother, Emma Conly, was a teacher in the Dye House at Penland School of Crafts. She wrote a booklet about vegetable dyeing (acorns, marigolds, onion skins, pokeberries, etc) in the 1950s. The book’s introduction reads, “As a little girl my mother taught me to card, spin and dye the wool for our clothes. The dyes we got from plants growing in our neighborhood. We used both the iron and brass kettle and did work out-of-doors.” These ladies know their stuff.

I loved this week-long immersion in the world of weaving. We agreed that we are not interested in purchasing a loom, but Hilary and I are ready to do it again. I’m very happy with the weaving projects I brought home – some for me and some for gifts. I chose to weave a smaller and lighter placemat version (14″ x 14″) since we have a fairly small round dining table. Here’s a look at some of the finished product.

My gold & natural placemat, with gold napkins purchased at Crossnore Weaving Store
My placemat with my great-grandmother Laura Esmon’s handpainted china
My table runner woven with waste yarn to finish weaving out my warp

Let me leave you with two thoughts regarding Crossnore Weaving: CHRISTMAS GIFTS & TRAVEL PLANS

Think about buying beautifully crafted items, hand-woven by the women of Crossnore Weaving, for some of your Christmas gifts this year. The online store makes shopping a breeze! You can share the tradition of this mountain craft and help Crossnore Communities for Children with your purchase.

Consider visiting Crossnore Weaving in Crossnore, North Carolina. The weaving studio, a working museum and National Historic Site, is just an eight minute drive north of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Linville Falls (Milepost 316.) The scenic Parkway is a wonderful Craft Trail through Western North Carolina, so if traditional crafts are something you enjoy, pack your bags! We enjoyed the fall color, but the giant rhododendrons lining the highways are surely gorgeous in the spring!

Crossnore Weavers and Gallery on Crossnore’s Avery Campus

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One thing that makes my journey unique is that all of my interests are driven by a joyful and genuine curiosity. I delight in finding less expensive ways to make something or creative ways to enjoy something longer. Finding and creating joy - and sharing it - is core to who I am.