Penland School of Craft
When I was 13 years old, my grandmother decided it was time for me to learn how to weave. She was a weaver in her younger years and felt this was something I should know. I have no idea why she chose that particular summer or why Penland was the school she wanted us to attend. More questions I wish I had asked when I had the chance. We spent a week there taking a weaving course. It was the summer of 1962. We came home from our week in the mountains with a new 4 harness Macomber Add-a-Harness loom with a 32” weaving width, assorted bobbins and shuttles, boxes of yarn on cones and a yarn rack to hold the cones so we could sectionally warp the loom.
We all wove on the loom after it arrived. My grandmother had it in her apartment for a while, and then it lived in my parent’s living room. I still have the brown and white woolen blanket my mother wove that required three panels sewn together. I wove cotton curtains for my bedroom in blue, purple and gold. I remember my dad sitting at the loom very early in the morning humming as he wove. The loom got used less and less as I got older and mostly sat around unused while I was in college. When I got married my parents informed us we were taking the loom with us to Texas.
We hauled the loom around with us from house to house to house. The kids played under it when they were small. Every time we got ready to move we would have a conversation about the loom. My husband always thought selling it made more sense than moving it around and not using it. I never had to fight very hard to keep the loom since he knew the history of it but the conversation was required. I had a fling with the loom during the late 1970’s and warped it with some wool. I cut that same wool off the loom in 2005 the next time I wove on the loom.
I knew that Penland was in North Carolina but had no idea where exactly. When Peggy and I were getting ready for our trip to Asheville, NC for SAFF I googled Penland and discovered it is about an hour’s drive from Asheville. There are not a lot of non-stop flights between Asheville and Houston and in order not to have to leave early on Sunday and miss the end of the fiber festival our flight home was on Mon evening. That gave us a whole day to drive up to Penland!
I have very few memories of my time at Penland in 1962. I remember lots of trees, rocky paths to walk on between the buildings. I don’t know where my grandmother and I slept but I don’t think it was very far from the loom room. I remember a winding road to get up to the school. There weren't very many people ther while we were there but I had a huge crush on a boy who was taking metal-working while we were there. He was 16 years old and looking back on it I realize he was very kind to me. And I remember sitting on a couch and watching tv in the evenings. It was so exciting to think I would be seeing Penland again!
The loom room is in the same place, in the same building as it has always been. I remembered the walk up the stairs to the second floor and I remembered the fireplace at the end of the room. I think this was the only heat for that room when the building was first built. I'm pleased there was not a class going on when we were there so we could walk around and loom at all the looms. So many of them are exactly the same as my Macomber.
The whole area around Penland is gorgeous – at least it is this time of year. The trees are changing color and the leaves are falling. The road up to the school winds back and forth on itself over and over again. The buildings are a mix of old style log construction and new sleek steel and glass. It’s wonderful. Over half the buildings currently on the site weren’t there when I was a student. Many new buildings have been built and some replaced older buildings that have burned down or fallen over. They offer a much wider variety of courses now than they did in 1962. They offer a few one week courses but their main focus is 8 week courses in weaving, printing, metal work and pottery offered throughout the year.
I would love to go back and take some classes but 8 weeks is a very long time. I’ll be watching the offerings of one week courses…..