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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 2, 2011

As summer looms, Heldeberg Workshop weaver gets ready to pass on tradition

By Saranac Hale Spencer

NEW SCOTLAND — Centuries of history are woven into Karin Demis’s work, which she passes on to the next generation of weavers at Heldeberg Workshop.

“We’re just touching the surface of it,” she says of modern weavers and their ancient craft.

It is a common thread across cultures.  “People have been out of skins for a long time,” Demis said, and they’ve covered themselves with things knotted or tied.  Today, weaving is often done on elaborate looms with computerized guidance, but it is still essentially interweaving threads.  Kids do it naturally, she said: “Tell them to play with grass and they’ll interweave it.”

The dozen or so students in her Heldeberg Workshop class use a four-shaft loom to learn the principles of weaving, although Demis points out that it only requires two shafts and could be done on a tree branch.

Over the summer, she’s found, kids don’t want to be lectured to, they just want to do it, and they absorb the language and techniques as they go.  In the first week, they finish a sampler and in the second week, they design something of their own.  Demis works in the history of weaving, from traditional American dyes to the large-scale mechanization of the craft during the Industrial Revolution.

Beside the longitude of history, Demis describes weaving’s latitude across cultures.  In her own work, she takes something from each tradition and sells her intricately patterned jackets and sweaters at local shows.

They are unique, she said of their appeal; there is nothing like them commercially.

“Weaving is fairly solitary,” said Demis, who listens to classical music as she works.

With the kids at Heldeberg Workshop, she said, “We laugh a lot.”

The workshop is a not-for-profit organization chartered by the Board of Regents that offers summer programs for kids on the 200 acres of land it owns at the base of the Helderberg escarpment in New Scotland.

She teaches them to design their patterns the same way that she did, on paper, even though there are computer programs for it now.

Demis learned to weave with her own kids in 4-H Club and raised sheep on a hobby farm in Feura Bush.

“You can go as much from scratch as you want to,” she said of shearing sheep and spinning wool, both of which she’s done.  “You have to call a halt,” she said, smiling.

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