Updated: Aug 31, 2021
Our Interviewee for this month is Barbara Provest, whose lifelong joy has always been teaching weaving and teaching weaving to children. We celebrate her commitment to bringing handweaving experiences to people of all ages and abilities in a world that is focused primarily on electronic sources of knowledge and entertainment. This is her story.
When did you start teaching weaving?
My parents had a summer camp in Maine where I was the Arts and Crafts instructor so I started weaving at age 15. 79-15= 64 years ago.
How many years have you been teaching?
64 years. I love teaching anyone who wants to weave. Children just happen to be the most fun for me.
What kinds of situations did you teach in?
Classrooms, my home, summer camp, including teaching at the American Textile History Museum (ATHM) where bus-loads of children would appear from schools all around the Lowell area and homeschoolers too. I would frequently go to Wayland schools after school and before their parents picked them up with my 15 inkle looms warped up to different designs and they would all weave belts.
Please describe the various types of weaving looms that you use to teach children.
The ATHM had four-harness Leclerc table looms which fold down so I collected eight of those. I had 15 Inkle looms, several small portable floor looms, several card weaving looms, pin looms, 5 Structo looms, frame looms, etc.
Describe one or two instances of your favorite moments in teaching.
When weaving at the Natick Community Organic Farm I had a class of second graders who wove the most beautiful striped towels on the Leclerc looms. I thought the Farm would like them for their kitchen. However, they decided they were too good and they put them into their fall auction. None of the children had ever woven before.
You (and others from the guild) worked to assist Plimoth Plantation maintain their source of original woven fabric. Do you have a story to tell?
Weaving for Plimoth was one of the most fun assignments of the Guild. It took a lot of research to find patterns that were woven in 1637 and the colors had to be of that era also. I was happy that one of mine made it into the Bradford house as the Governor, who is my 10th great grandfather.
You have also taught differently-abled people. Please talk about that…
I have two weaving friends who have Cerebral Palsy, one of which weaves beautiful things with just her first fingers pushing her shuttle back and forth. I also work with Pam Loch who teaches at the Respite Center in Holliston warping up their looms.
Any other surprises in your career?
I had a Structo loom set up at my daughter’s home for my three-year old granddaughter. While we were weaving my two-year old grandson pushed his way in and started weaving away. Once teaching at a Bright Horizons pre-school I brought in looms and the children just started weaving with no instruction from me. I asked them how they knew how to weave and they replied, “Oh we’ve had weaving.”
What motivated you to become a weaver?
My first weaving ancestors that I knew about settled in Lynn, MA near Flax Pond which is still there. Other weaving ancestors settled in Pepperell, MA. Even one of my great grandfathers was trained as a weaver in England (but became a photographer when he arrived in Springfield, MA.) Could be in the blood. Also, on a trip to Sweden I was lucky enough to stop at several weaving schools and shops that sold weaving. Very motivational.
What people, elements, or challenges contributed to your personal growth as a weaver over the years?
Jean Bacon from the Guild started teaching from her home in Framingham with Structo looms and I learned a lot from her. Then in the 70s I joined The Weavers’ Guild of Boston and took as many classes as I could as Member # 1708. Now I just weave textiles for my home and family and of course for the Weavers’ Guild Sale in November.
Lately, where do your weaving design inspirations come from?
Handwoven Magazine gives me a lot of inspiration. I have every issue. Also, when I am traveling around, I have been known to take detailed notes on a piece I see. The library at the Weavers’ Guild is one of the best parts of the Guild and full of inspiration. I always take out a new book or two.
What is one of your favorite woven pieces?
A dress I wove is special to me as I designed it and wear it.
Please tell us something we may not know about your weaving.
You may not know that I have done a lot of loom restoration and am proud of the loom at the Dover Historical Society that had been sitting for 230 yrs. plus with no weaving on it. Now I weave on it. Also, the loom at the Golden Ball Tavern in Weston now has weaving on it. Both of these looms just needed a few parts and some warping to get going again.
Describe any roles you have undertaken for the Guild, for example, Guild Outreach
Outreach is the most fun (and work). While working at the Alden House in Plymouth I found out I was related to Priscilla. I spun and wove there with others from the Guild. We had a great time. Once while spinning flax at Plimoth Plantation in costume, I had my picture taken hundreds of times by lots of visitors from Japan.
Note: The image from the All Posts page was published in The Weaving Journal “Each one picked a color” (Summer 1984, p 35).
The quilt shown is primarily a woven project made by 4th and 5th graders from a California classroom in 1979-80. The image was added to this blog post because it celebrates children and their teacher, something that Barbara Provest would approve of. In the journal article, their teacher, Linda Hanna wrote how the classroom experience evolved, which is a wonderful story in its own right. (I have a copy if you are interested.)