For the last 10 days, 12 weavers have been studying intensively at the Handweavers Studio in Finsbury Park, North London on the Handweavers’ Diploma course. This is one of just two study courses that I know of that non-mainstream weaving students can take. (I would like to stress that I am not including weekly classes that people can attend, just the intensive courses.) As a tutor on the Handweavers Diploma, I can tell you more about that. The other is run by Janet Phillips and you can get more information from her website. The two courses are quite different from each other, and also have a distinct difference to degree courses.
The Handweavers’ Diploma has been developed after the long-running Bradford Diploma for Handloom Weaving ceased in any viable way. For many years, the Bradford and Ilkley Community College in Yorkshire ran a diploma course that stretched weavers to think beyond recipes and challenged them to extend their knowledge in a supportive, intensive learning environment that weavers with family committments could undertake. Many people come to weaving after their formal educational years, and quite often have family responsibilities for parents, children and siblings which don’t allow for full-time, mainstream degree-level participation. The Bradford Diploma circumvented this problem.
My own involvement was as a student in the early 1990s, when the rules were pretty strict, and we were only allowed to use 4 shafts, and not to re-thread a loom once it had been threaded for a set of samples. We were allowed to replace up to 1/3 of the warp, but all the heddles had to be in place ready for the re-placement without the re-threading of the whole warp. How this would have been policed is anybody’s guess, but as I am a rule-abiding student, I learned to plan my heddles so that I placed the required number of empty heddles in the sections I wanted to replace. It stood me in good stead in later warps!
We also had to learn spinning, dyeing and braiding, and take a final examination in all sections, as well as weaving 10 warps which had to display a wide range of original drafts and samples across a very wide spectrum of weaving techniques.
In later years, the Bradford Diploma evolved into an affiliated main-stream qualification (BTEC, I think) with more of an emphasis on design, and expanded to 8 shafts, without the spinning, dyeing and braiding requirements. However, the learning format remained the same – an intensive study period (a week – 10 days), followed by private study, interspersed with a couple of weekends, and another week at the end of the study. Design briefs were issued for the various warps.
However, numbers gradually dwindled and because it was now part of main-stream teaching, low numbers meant the course was cut.
This is the point at which Wendy Morris stepped in, and with Melanie Venes as the main tutor, and several other experienced weavers as additional tutors, the Handweavers’ Diploma was developed. The format has pretty much remained the same, but with no affiliation, the diploma can be tailored much more to the students’ needs rather than to a specified curriculum. It is a two-year course for weavers who want to take their weaving to another level and provides students with an excellent grounding whether they want to pursue a career as a designer-maker, or a teacher of handweaving, or purely for their own satisfaction. The initial summer school of ten days gives a good grounding for project-based learning with regular tutor contact and quarterly teaching weekends so that students can gain an intermediate to advanced knowledge and understanding of a wide variety of weave structures, develop their weaving skills to an expert level and build their creative skills and confidence to be innovative in their weaving.
For weavers who are serious about developing their skills, curious about weave, and adventurous in their approach, this is better than a university course, in my opinion. Each individual is encouraged to develop their own style right from the start. This year’s intake of 12 students, including one from overseas, was the first and I look forward to seeing how each person develops their weaving skill and expression over the next two years.