Monday, December 21, 2009

For Doris’ girls

Another of weaving’s great mentors and teachers has gone. Doris Boyd, who operated a continuing weaving class in her cellar in Tabernacle, NJ, died two weeks ago from complications of Alzheimer’s. I was unable to make it back for her memorial service Saturday, but she and the rest of Doris’ girls were on my mind.

I started studying with Doris and the Thursday Pineland Weavers more than 10 years ago, and I’ll never forget the first day I met this petite, slim, agile, happy, patient woman who never let any weaving challenge fluster her.

A few years ago, I wrote a story for Handwoven about four such weaving mentors, including Doris. The story was edited for publication, so i112_1282 (1) thought I’d include the entire segment I wrote about Doris here. It’s how I’ll remember her and the wonderful weaving sisterhood who will always be Doris’ girls. Pictured here are a few of the girls (Rita, Diane, JoAnn and Naomi) with Doris leaning on the loom.

“Across the United States and Canada, small pockets of weavers fortunate enough to have met the right person at the right time come together to study under the watchful eyes of outstanding teachers and mentors who challenge and inspire them to master the fundamentals and push the creative envelope.

Some of these teachers, who learned to weave in the 1950s and 1960s, have become not only masters of the craft, but its strongest champions, training new weavers, leading and supporting guilds and conferences, writing books and adding to the industry’s collective knowledge with insights gained during decades of experience.

Following are the stories of four such mentors who together have nearly 200 years of weaving experience. The youngest is 90, the oldest 102. Whether weavers are simply born of heartier stock or weaving itself has kept them young, they, and the many mentors like them, are excellent examples of what most weavers want to be “when we grow up.”…

For nearly 30 years, openings in Doris Boyd’s weekly weaving classes were rare. Only so many looms fit in her 20 ft. x 20 ft. cellar, and probably half are at least 36” wide. With some careful maneuvering, though, Doris has fit as many as 12 devoted students down there at once, all weaving at their own pace, but challenging themselves to learn everything Doris knows before they graduate.

That partly explains why many students lucky enough to land seats at her looms never left. Doris knows an awful lot about a lot of things, including weaving. One 17-year veteran of Doris’ Thursday class said her husband once asked, “You’ve been going to weaving class every Thursday for years. Haven’t you learned it yet?”

Those students fortunate enough still to be weaving with Doris continue to make every effort to schedule doctor’s appointments, vacations, even jobs around Doris’ class. Every hour spent studying with Doris and her Pineland Weavers is an hour that inspires creativity, soothes the stresses of daily life, stimulates the psyche and teaches something new, whether it’s about weaving or life.

The driving spirit of this tight sorority of very diverse weavers is a slim, petite woman whose 90 years have only slightly diminished her ability to rearrange the looms that fill her basement weaving studio. Until a recent hip injury, from which she has recovered nicely, it wasn’t unusual to find her crouched under a loom repairing the tie-up cords, and the next minute climbing on a chair to retrieve a particular cone from the top shelf of her wall of yarn.

Her enthusiasm for weaving, and the myriad other crafts she has mastered, is as boundless as her energy. A high school business teacher by trade, Doris didn’t start weaving until she and her husband retired to New Jersey’s Pinelands in 1969. During a break from formal teaching to raise her two children, she ran a ceramics studio in Philadelphia. A lifelong fascination with birds prompted her to produce three films for the National Audubon Society, handling all the photography and writing herself. The films launched a national lecture tour. With her husband, Howard, a naturalist, author and authority on the New Jersey Pinelands, she has traveled the world.

Once she finally “retired,” she focused her energy on learning every conceivable craft: painting, watercolor, pottery, doll and doll house making, beading, quilting, knitting, crochet, jewelry, copper enameling, paper making, leatherwork, basketry, china painting, embroidery, lacework, felting, spinning, dyeing and weaving.

But she has always been a teacher at heart, and the nearly 30 weaving students she has mentored over the years are forever grateful she focused her teaching on weaving. In the beginning, she insisted every student master the basics, with carefully prescribed lesson plans and samplers. She has mellowed over the years, guiding beginners through projects and yarns of their choosing and letting them learn from their mistakes. Her goal has always been not just to teach people to weave, but to help them learn to love it.

Some lessons her students will never forget: “Never give up. You’re not going to waste the rest of that warp, are you? If the knots are not up against the heddles, keep weaving. You’ll never know until you try. Don’t worry, everything will work out fine. I think it’s time you tried something new. No, you cannot hire someone to warp your loom.”

Doris was one of the first members of the South Jersey Guild of Spinners and Handweavers and has always contributed to it and other local guilds, teaching and hosting workshops, providing an unending inventory of show and sale items, participating in public demonstrations, sharing her extensive library and attracting new weavers. As Doris looks back over her weaving career, one of her biggest concerns is for the future of the craft itself and who will continue the teaching tradition.

Fortunately, some of her students have become weaving teachers. But Doris’ passion, patience, determination and contagious enthusiasm are unique. Her cellar has become the foundation for a true community of weavers who learn from and are inspired by her and each other. That is her greatest gift. We treasure our time together and wish only for more lifetimes, so we can finally learn it all.”   


  1. Thanks for sharing this. It brought tears to my eyes. Doris' Memorial Service was cancelled indefinetly due to the snowfall on Saturday. Can I send this Tribute to the guild members?

  2. Thank you for this - I tried somewhat unsuccessfully to get into her class. But I did enjoy this - she surely will be missed but not forgotten!