March 7, 1934: Ten women gathered to hold weaving classes at the Women’s Institute. This group became the nucleus of the present day Victoria Handweavers’ and Spinners’ Guild (VHWSG).
The charter members of the weaving guild were Mrs. Ruth Anstey, Mrs. E. F. Arnold, Mrs. F. I. Bell, Mrs. S. Carmichael, Mrs. L. Clowes, Mrs. M. Findlay, Mrs. W. Peden, Mrs. Sexton, Mrs. E. Simmonds, and Mrs. Violet White. Ruth Anstey continued to be an active member of the Guild until her death in 1988 at the age of 97.
The first President was Violet White, who held that position for 11 years.
A donation of $6.00 was given to the Guild by the Women’s Institute to buy materials for handweaving and Mr. John Kyle, Director of Technical Education for the Provincial Government, supplied the five table looms. Members paid $3.00 for a course of 10 lessons taught by Mr. Eldridge.
December 12, 1934: The first Annual Meeting was held, with 7 of the 10 members present. By the second annual meeting there were 31 members present and they now met in each other’s homes.
1939: Meetings were held in the Union Building on View Street and at the YMCA on Blanshard Street. Exhibitions were held annually at the YMCA and at the Empress Hotel. In later years meetings were held in the Douglas Room of the Hudson’s Bay Store.
1940: In April, the Guild withdrew from the Women’s Institute and called themselves The Victoria Handweavers’ Guild. The membership was now 38. The war years put a strain on the membership, but they carried on.
1944: The Guild became affiliated with the Society of Canadian Handicrafts.
In the 1930’s, the BC Department of Agriculture had promoted the growing of flax for weaving fishing nets. The location chosen to grow the flax was Cloverdale in the Fraser Valley, but the outbreak of war and the ensuing lack of labour brought the industry to an end. The guild corresponded with the Department of Agriculture about the possibility of obtaining some of the flax for spinning. Sixty pounds of flax grown in the Fraser Valley was eventually given to the guild in 1944. Hand towels spun and woven from the flax remain in the guild’s Permanent Collection today.
1946: Ethel Rankin (no picture) was elected guild president and served until 1947. There were now 40 members. The Guild obtained rooms at Prince Robert House on Douglas Street, where meetings and courses were held.
1949: The guild constitution was amended to include an elected Standards Committee to set quality standards for articles included in the guild exhibitions and sales.
1951: The Guild moved to the Blue Room, which was upstairs at the corner of Yates and Broad Streets. Active membership was open to any handweaver sponsored in writing by two members in good standing; such handweaver must be the owner of a harness loom in active use. Only active members were entitled to vote or hold office. The membership fee was $2.00 per year.
1952:The Guild’s membership had grown to 53. Miss Florence Daniels, Instructor of Weaving at Hull House, Chicago, was welcomed as a guest at the September meeting.
1954: Frances Clark (no picture) was elected guild president and served until 1955.
1955: In April, Life Memberships were initiated and the first one was awarded to charter member and president Violet White for her long service to the guild.
1958: The Guild moved their meeting place to the Victoria Art Gallery.
1959: In May the Guild recognized charter member Ruth Anstey’s long service by awarding her with a Life Membership.
1961: The membership was 73. A Social Service Committee was formed to help the disabled. Florence Daniels taught weaving classes during the summer at the Gallery. She also taught weaving in the fall and spring, at first through the Department of Education evening program and later in her own home, until her death in 1975. Many of our present members learned to weave with Miss Daniels.
1962: This was Victoria’s Centennial Year. Membership was now at 81. The Guild decorated a float that participated in the May 24th parade. Eight hundred visitors attended the annual exhibition that was held in the Douglas Room of The Bay.
1963: Guild membership was 75. A new program called A Library Afternoon was instituted. The guild library was open from 2:00 to 3:15 pm one day a week. The Guild had 38 bound books.
1964: In honour of the Guild’s 30th Anniversary, the Guild presented table looms to both the Cerebral Palsy Clinic and to the Arbutus Craft Centre.
1965: The Guild produced the Bulletins for the Guild of Canadian Weavers. This included both writing the articles for the year and producing the woven samples to be attached to each Bulletin.
1966: In March there was another move for the Guild, this time to a building on Vancouver Street. The library, weaving yarns, and equipment were contained in a small room and the meetings were held in the large workroom at the Arbutus Crafts Centre. Later, a larger room upstairs was obtained which the Guild was able to use for all activities.
1972: The Listeners group was formed for members unable to attend regular meetings so they could keep in touch. Gathering in the afternoon once a month in each other’s homes, they listened to and discussed the minutes of the last general meeting. Show and Tell was conducted and there was a guest speaker to talk about and demonstrate a special interest. The members also contributed projects to the various conferences. This group remained active until 2011.
1973: The Guild’s name was changed to the Victoria Handweavers’ and Spinners’ Guild.
In November of that year, the guild made another move—to rooms on the second floor of the Pemberton Holmes Building at Government and Broughton Streets. The Guild also spearheaded the amalgamation of all BC Guilds and initiated a Newsletter Exchange amongst BC guilds.
1974: Small Interest Groups were suggested and the first to be formed was a spinning group. Over the years, several spinning groups, a weaving discussion group called the Just 4’s, and a basketry group have also been formed. For a while, there was an active tapestry group as well.
1977: The Guild hosted the 8th Biennial Conference of the Association of Northwest Weavers Guilds (ANWG). This was held at the University of Victoria campus with a full capacity registration of almost 700. Workshops, seminars, exhibitions of fibre work, a vendor hall and a fashion show all took place over a weekend in June.
Proposed renovations forced a move to new premises at St Alban’s Church on Ryan Street. However, with the Guild’s membership growing, now at 240, larger facilities were required and the hunt continued for a bigger space.
1978: The Constitution was revised to reflect the growing guild. Membership had reached 283 and the library owned 300 books as well as periodicals, pamphlets and sample collections.
1979: In April there was a happy moving day to a “little cottage” at 3811 Synod Road, which housed all the guild equipment, library and records. General meetings were held in the adjoining St. Luke’s Church Hall where the Fireside Room was also available for workshops.
1981: The membership peaked at 320 members
1982: The Guild again produced the Bulletins for the Guild of Canadian Weavers.
1983: The Guild became a registered society, with a new Constitution and Bylaws as required by the BC Society Act. Supplementary Rules and Regulations were also formulated.
1984: The guild turned 50 years old. To celebrate, in May the guild organized a conference, Fibres Gold ’84, featuring complementary workshops with instructors from across Canada. All events took place on the University of Victoria campus. In July, major renovations were needed to the guild’s home in “the Cottage” and the St Luke’s Church also required the building for their minister so the guild moved to Harbour View School in Esquimalt.
1987: Harbour View was needed again as a public school. The library and looms were moved to St. Ann’s Academy. Meetings were held at St. Matthias Church.
1988: Ruth Anstey, one of the ten women who founded the guild in 1934 and a lifetime member, died on June 17th 1988 at the age of about 94. Shortly after Ruth’s death, her family had contacted the guild to offer her equipment, books and fibre for sale, the proceeds to be donated to the guild. The membership also wished to make donations to the guild in Ruth’s name and requested a memorial fund be set up. The executive then passed a motion put forward by Helen Thomas and seconded by Joanna Stevens “that [the guild] set up a Memorial Fund to which members may donate.” In recognition of Ruth’s contributions to the guild, the memorial fund was named after Ruth. At this time, the Anstey family made a donation of $1000 to the Ruth Anstey Memorial Fund and requested “that the use of funds generated to be to promote curiosity, spread knowledge and give experience.” Quotes from the July and October 1988 executive meeting minutes.
1989: Proposed renovations at St. Ann’s forced a move to the cottage at 930 Mason Street for the library and looms. Meetings were held in St. John’s Church Hall, next door.
1990: In March, the first annual Ruth Anstey Memorial Lecture was held in memory of Ruth Anstey.
In April, the first Island Retreat was held at Parksville, organized by the guild. Two days of spinning and mini-workshops, a fashion show and a banquet were attended by fibre enthusiasts from all over the Island.
1991: January saw the start of the Community Tapestry woven by the guild for the Commonwealth Games. A loom was set up in the foyer of the Royal BC Museum and the project was finished in May. The tapestry was hung in the Sports Department at the Commonwealth Pool.
In June, due to the rising rent for a full-time space to house all the guild looms and equipment, it was decided to sell the large looms and some equipment. Arrangements were made to rent meeting space at St. Margaret’s School where the guild would have the use of the kitchen to house the library.
1992: The annual Exhibition and Sale was held at Cadboro Bay United Church Hall.
1993: In June, the guild approved revisions to the Constitution and Bylaws and the Rules and Regulations.
1994: In September, Chair Frances Smith announced a Steering Committee had been set up to plan the 18th biannual Conference of the Association of Northwest Weavers Guilds (ANWG)–Straits and Strands–to be hosted by the guild in Victoria in June 1997.
1997: Guild membership reached 193. In February, arrangements were made to move to St Aiden’s Church Hall on St Aiden’s Street. Meeting nights changed to the third Thursday of each month except July, August and December. The 18th biannual ANWG Conference Straits and Strands, hosted by the guild, took place at the University of Victoria from June 26 to 29. The Tapestry Weavers of Vancouver Island (TAPIS) wove a tapestry for the Cool Aid Association. A 4-H Fibre Club was organized and run by two members of the guild.
1998: The annual show and sale, Fibres A’hoy, was held at the Maritime Museum in Bastion Square for a month. A number of members attended workshops at Coupeville Arts Centre and the ANWG Conference Sett Under the Sky in Bozeman, Montana.
1999: The September program featured the results of challenge to create woven and/or knitted vests. The guild offered to make silk fusion prize ribbons for the Handweavers Guild of America’s (HGA) biennial international fibre arts conference which was being hosted by the Greater Vancouver Weavers and Spinners Guild. The Vancouver Guild accepted the offer. A silk fusion workshop taught by Karen Selk was held by the guild for those members involved in making the prize ribbons. In November, the guild set up it’s first website at web.uvic.ca/~joanj/vhwsg.
2000: The guild had 150 members. Victoria hosted the Annual Retreat at Tigh na Mara Resort in Parksville April 7th to 9th. A competition was held to name the guild newsletter and the name chosen was The Fibre Web. The guild sponsored beginner weaving classes at the Cedar Hill Recreation Centre and guild members knitted bears for children in refugee camps. The Convergence 2002 committee chair asked if the guild would be willing to host an exhibition of work in Victoria in conjunction with the conference. A day bus trip to the island would be offered for those conference participants who would like to visit Victoria. The guild moved to develop an exhibition for Convergence 2002. Finally, the guild had started using email in its communications with members and other guilds and decided to provide members with name tags to be worn at general meetings.
2001: Carole Davidson was made a VHWSG Life Member in recognition of her contributions to the guild. The annual sale, Fibre Fair, was held at the Community Arts Council October 13th to 17. Members made award ribbons out of silk fusion for the upcoming HGA conference, Convergence 2002, in Vancouver. The guild won the grand prize at the ANWG conference earlier in the summer–a J Made 8 shaft floor loom. The guild decided to sell the loom as it was large and difficult to move. A spinning group held a sheep to shawl demonstration at the Saanich Fair.
2002: The guild had 128 members. Hazel Murray was made a VHWSG Life Member in recognition of her contributions to the guild which included 20 years of service in positions on the guild executive. Convergence 2002 – Textile Tides, was hosted by the Greater Vancouver Weavers and Spinners Guild. As part of the event, the Victoria guild organized Island Tides, a juried show at the Fran Willis Gallery and arranged a downtown walking tour. Guild members participated in Arts Appreciation Week at the Cedar Hill Recreation Centre, demonstration spinning and weaving. The Joint Meeting with the Deep Cove Guild in May featured a challenge to weave a tea towel in fibre owned for at least six months and/or fibre obtained from a previous owner. The participants were asked “to confess to how many years you have actually owned the fibre … or how many people kept it on their shelves before you got hold of it!” The guild library introduced circulation software to handle the inventory and borrowing/returns.
2003: The guild membership was 124. Isabel Tipton was made a VHWSG Life Member in recognition of her contributions to the guild. The Guild was part of the June Peninsula Studio Tour with a sale and spinning display titled Beyond Wool at the Saanich Fairgrounds. A questionnaire was sent to members asking: What is a perfect Guild? The guild also revisited the standards for entering work in a guild show and/or sale. Priscilla Lowery, internationally recognized silk artist and historian spoke on Marco Polo and the Silk Route for the Ruth Anstey Memorial Lecture. The Guild storage locker was downsized and reorganized. BC Guilds began sharing newsletters with each other using email. The guild created a new, independent website at vhwsg.ca.
2004: The Guild held an Anniversary Lunch at McMorran’s Restaurant and a guild studio tour to celebrate the guild’s 70th anniversary. Janet Keir was made a VHWSG Life Member in recognition of her contributions to the guild. Janet was 100 years old, had joined the guild in the 1950’s, and was still a guild member; she attended the Anniversary Lunch. Handmade items were sent to help fire victims in the interior. Two guild members assisted in a class teaching docents from the Royal BC Museum about the process of growing flax and processing it to make yarn and linen cloth. Six items from the guild’s Permanent Collection were also used in the class. The docents would be working in the Eternal Egypt exhibit at the museum. The guild began providing judges to the Saanich Fair to judge the spinning and weaving entries. Items from the guild archive were loaned for an exhibit titled A Woman’s Place: Art and the Role of Women in the Cultural Formation of Victoria, BC, 1850’s to 1920’s held at the Maltwood Gallery.
2005: Membership stood at 121. In January the guild began sending out its newsletter to members and other guilds via email. The guild held its first annual Spin-In which saw about 50 members and visitors gather at the Elk Lake Baptist Church and spend the day spinning. There was a potluck lunch, door prizes, Show and Tell and several vendors. Guild members rented a bus and travelled to Vancouver to visit Fibrefest International in Abbotsford. Anke Keizer-Bles was made a VHWSG Life Member in recognition of her contributions to the guild. The guild participated in the 3rd annual Knit Out at Saxe Point. The guild created an engagement calendar for 2006 in the form of a small booklet showcasing photographs of work by guild members.
2006: The guild had 108 members. The guild held its second annual Spin-In in February. Several guild members also participated in the Community Arts Council Celebration of Excellence in Craft show at the CAC Gallery. Guild members drop spindled from an overpass on the bicycle trail The Galloping Goose to help celebrate Saanich’s 100th birthday. A longer length of yarn can be spun in this way. Spinners handed out information about the guild to passers by. Retreat was held in Parksville this year and the guild organized the fashion show for the event. The guild updated its Rules and Regulations adding the position of Webmaster among other changes. The guild again created an engagement calendar, this time for 2007. The calendar sold for $3.50 each.
2007: The guild held its third annual Spin-In in February with 50 spinners attending. The day included a lunch and several vendors. A guild sale was held in May in conjunction with the Scattered Artists Studio tour. Guild members again demonstrated spinning and weaving at the Cedar Hill Recreation Centre for Saanich Arts Week, at the Highland Games, and at the Victoria Fibrefest and Knit Out. Guild members also participated in a Sheep to Shawl competition on Salt Spring Island. Ivan Sayers, clothing historian and collector, presented the Ruth Anstey Memorial Lecture in March. The guild organized a guild booth with the theme of Wild Women of the Woods and Water for the ANWG Conference in Red Deer. Guild members made masks of wild women for the booth. The booth won a ribbon for the Best Use of Wild Fibres at the conference.
2008: The guild began holding informal Drop In meetings the last Tuesday of each month except December. The guild held its third annual Spin-In in February. A guild sale was again held in May in conjunction with the Scattered Artists Studio tour. The books in the guild library were bar-coded to to make it easier to track the circulation of books.
2009: The UN Year of Natural Fibres. Weavolution, an online site for weavers was launched. Membership in the guild was 134 including 11 Life Members and 4 associate members. The Guild celebrated our 75th anniversary with an anniversary tea, and a birthday party at the University of Victoria’s Faculty Club, and hosted the Annual Retreat in Cowichan Bay. The executive decided that in future the guild membership list would be available in electronic form with only a few exceptions for members without computers. The guild challenge for the Saanich Fair was for members to enter 75 items in the Needle Arts Categories. There was an enthusiastic response from the members. Guild members again demonstrated spinning and weaving at the Cedar Hill Recreation Centre for Saanich Arts Week, at the Highland Games, Tartan Day, and at the Victoria FibreFest. The first annual Spindle Walk was held in August with members drop spindling around the ”Signs of Lekwungen” spindle sculptures in Victoria.
2010: Carol James gave both a talk and a workshop on finger weaving, the traditional method for weaving voyageur sashes. Anita Mayer presented the Ruth Anstey Memorial Lecture and also taught a workshop, Mudpies for Adults, on embellishing fabric surfaces. Guild members began planning a guild booth display for the ANWG 2011 Conference Exploring Fibre Horizons.
2012: The Guild had 123 members.