Posted by: bschutzgruber | September 3, 2021

AGWSD Summer School 2021: The Covid Edition (part 1)

I’ve been attending the biennial summer school organized by Association of Guilds of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers in the UK since 1999. This inspiring week of study follows a long tradition with courses running from Monday morning until Saturday morning. Ancillary activities include a Silent Auction, Raffle, the Trade Fair (Friday/Saturday), Fashion Show, Evening Lectures, the Tutors’ Exhibition, a Graduate Exhibition and the Certificate of Achievement Exhibition. The week includes local visit options on the Wednesday (free) afternoon, and concludes with the celebratory Gala Dinner. Over the years I’ve had amazing experiences meeting fiber artists from the UK, Europe and beyond, learning from individuals who are at the top of their art form, seen growth in my knowledge and skill within the vast and diverse field of ‘Fiber Arts’, and have been able to work with natural materials that are not always easily available here in the USA.

The 2021 AGWSD Summer School was set to run Sunday 15th – Sunday 22nd August 2021 at Writtle University College, Chelmsford, Essex with 15 courses being offered and the caveat that because the Covid-19 pandemic is not as yet over, the College was not able to confirm as yet whether there will be any restrictions.

Holding my breath and crossing my fingers that the upcoming availability of Covid vaccines would make August travel possible, I submitted my application for the January course allocation and got my first choice – Ply-Split Braiding using 3 ply Twisted Cords with Julie Hedges. [“Ply-split braiding is an ancient art that is practiced for making elaborate camel girths and other animal regalia of hand-spun goat hair, wool or sometimes cotton in northwestern India using a technique where one twisted cord passes through another twisted cord or cords, splitting the plies of the latter cords.“] The only thing I had ever done that is at all similar was years ago when I taught sailing and we needed to splice lines/ropes for specific use. This would be a new fiber technique for me!

I continued holding my breath through Spring as I got the Covid-19 vaccine and Summer with the rise of the Delta variant in the UK and continued travel restrictions/quarantine. On August 2nd restrictions and quarantine were lifted for fully vaccinated US travelers with negative Covid-19 tests prior to leaving and again 2 days after arriving. WHEW!!! I was going to make it to Summer School!! Multiple Covid tests, 2 days straight wearing N95 masks in airports, planes and trains, flight delays due to weather, plus my luggage taking a side trip to Atlanta, GA – the trip from Michigan to England was a LONG adventure but at last I arrived.

Writtle University College is an agricultural and horticultural college with lovely grounds. After 17 months of not meeting in person for events it was nice to gather in person and see old friends. We all wore masks when moving through the hallways indoors and for the larger group gathering.

Sunday evening we met briefly in our classrooms. Each class was allowed to decide if masks needed to worn in the individual classrooms. Our classroom had large windows, was well ventilated, and with only 11 in class we were spread out nicely so we decided masks would not be have to be worn in our classroom.

Our instructor, Julie Hedges, had a wonderful array of examples of what can be created using ply split braiding and gave some background as to the traditional uses with patterns and techniques being passed down orally. It was not until the late 1970’s-early 1980’s that a written vocabulary has been created. We would begin working Monday morning!

To be continued….

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