Missoula Weavers Guild

History of the Missoula Weavers Guild

as recalled by Karla Long: Living Treasures Retreat October 2023

Founded Feb. 16,1948

The founding members, primarily faculty wives and female instructors of Montana State University, were interested in gaining access to the many looms that were part of the curriculum of the Home Economics Department on the University campus. The looms were in use by students for one quarter each academic year and sat idle the rest of the time.

The original Constitution and By Laws of the group was essentially a contract with the University that gave the members access to the looms during the quarters that did not have a weaving class scheduled. In exchange for this access, guild members agreed to warp the looms in preparation for the classes and to see to the basic maintenance and upkeep of the looms.

When the guild had use of the looms, members were able to warp the looms for their own projects and were required to complete their work within a set time frame so that others could use the equipment. Sometimes, several weavers would agree on a group project, i.e., a warp would be agreed on, the ladies (all female membership at that time) would make the warp, dress the loom and each would weave o an agreed upon length, mark their piece, and the next weaver would take over until all participants had had their chance. Obviously, there were strict time limits so that everyone had time to finish before the next academic period. The completed web was taken o the beam, cut at the appropriate marks (I suspect each segment was probably hemstitched) and handed to its weaver for finishing.

This continued until the Home Economics Dept. dropped Weaving from the curriculum and the looms were turned over to the Art Department, around the late 1960s o 1970s. There was less interest in weaving among the art students though some of the looms were still dressed for student use. The art students were hard on the looms. By the 1980s, the looms were stored in a basement studio of the Fine Arts Building (the home of the Dennison Theater) in various states of neglect and disrepair, covered in dust and cobwebs. Ultimately, some of the usable equipment was donated or sold, the rest became scrap lumber. I believe one or two of the looms went to the Opportunity Workshop for use by the clients there. The rugs they produced there were sold to the public.

Because the original members were for the most part already weavers, potential applicants for membership had to prove proficiency in the craft before they were accepted. Specific pieces had to be presented for adjudication and members were juried in if their oerings met the satisfaction of the judges. Fortunately for me, this practice was dropped and the only requirement in later years was that a person be interested in learning about weaving and related fiber arts.

The early meetings were held in the style of the day, that is, the ladies dressed appropriately for such a gathering. That meant dresses, hats, heels and gloves were expected on everyone. The formal luncheon/business meetings were often recognized on the social pages of the Daily Missoulian, complete with photos and lists of the names of those present. For many years the guild sponsored a craft sale each fall. The sales were held with much advertising and fanfare in locations such as the Florence Hotel Ballroom and were well attended by the public.

There was an upheaval of sorts during the 60s and 70s. Where the weavers had been proud to display their finely woven linens and garment fabrics with setts of 30, 48, and more end per inch, suddenly there were new, often young, student types who wanted to be part of the weaving world. Along with weavings done in fine threads and traditional patterns, now there were shaggy ponchos with setts of 6 or 8 epi, coarse woolens and uneven fringes. Wall hangings, art pieces and o-loom weavings incorporated wood, straw, and found objects. Some people found this to be a dicult pill to swallow, others welcomed the newcomers’ enthusiasm and creativity to the group.

Along with the expanded styles of weaving, other facets of the fiber arts were introduced. Spinning had always been a part of this world, now basketry, felting, paper making, wheat/straw weaving, dyeing, braiding, etc., became part of the learning experiences. The meetings became much more casual.

Activities of the guild have grown to encompass outreach to the community. These activities have included working with and supporting the creativity of students of Willard School, and a longstanding cooperation with the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula where we have participated in demonstrations and hands-on shows.

The membership of 45-50 over the past few years has been consistently the largest on record.

The Missoula Weavers Guild played an important part in the development of the Montana Assoc. of Weavers and Spinners. MAWS was begun in 1980, after some Missoula weavers pulled together a gathering of people interested in a workshop lead by Peter Collingwood, an English artist and rug weaver with an international reputation. Barbara Hand had a hand in this.

Even earlier in our history, a member from the Mission Valley, Margaret Burlew was a founding member and an early president of HGA. Margaret was respected for her study, practice and teaching of ikat weaving.

MWG weavers are well represented among the roster Living Treasures of MAWS. Margaret Whitney, Coby Johnson, Joan Contraman, Bonnie Tarses, Barbara Hand and I have had the honor of membership on that list. Another member, Judith Colvin was named to the list while a member of another guild, and Joanne Hall, a member of MWG while a student at MSU and an honorary life member in recognition of the many workshops presented to us at no cost, is also a Living Treasure we happily claim. MWG members have also held a place in some capacity on the MAWS Board for every year of its existence.

In February 2024 the Missoula Weavers Guild celebrated 75 years of learning and sharing knowledge and ideas with everyone who shows an interest in what we do.

We have good reason to celebrate.


October 2022 - Living Treasures Retreat

Missoula Weavers Guild enjoyed presentations by four of our Living Treasures: Bonnie Tarses, Karla Long, Barbara Hand and Joan Contramen.

The Living Treasure designation is bestowed upon Montana weavers who have made significant contributions to the art and craft of fiber.

Living Treasure Bonnie Tarses
Bonnie Tarses at the after party!