Mary E. Black: A "Key" Figure in Weaving History

Next in our series of weaving teachers throughout history is the story of Mary E. Black(1895–1988) a “key” figure in the resurgence of weaving. Her book The Key To Weaving(and it’s updated version The New Key to Weaving) is considered by many to be a classic. Her love of weaving began when she was an eight-year-old girl living in Nova Scotia. After seeing a picture of a traditional “native” loom, young Mary immediately built her own version and by that evening had woven a grass doormat that was subsequently used for years.

She started out her professional weaving career as an occupational therapist. During WWI she taught soldiers at the Nova Scotia Hospital in Dartmouth a variety of crafts and eventually organized an occupational therapy program aimed to help civilians. She then moved to the U.S. where she became one of the pioneers to introduce occupational therapy programs into mental illness treatment.  

In 1942 she was asked to return to her native Nova Scotia to help develop and market local arts and crafts. As the Supervisor of Handcrafts for the Department of Industry she helped to organize centers that taught and promoted weaving and other handicrafts. She found markets for the crafts being locally produced and helped to promote tourism to Nova Scotia.

Around the same time she returned to Nova Scotia, Black began work on a series of notes about occupational therapy and weaving. Fortunately for all of us, after contacting Bruce Publishing on behalf of her sister, she found out they were in dire need of a textbook for weavers and she retooled her book to fit this need. The result was The Key to Weaving and many weavers throughout the years have learned to weave with this useful book.

After passing away in 1988, Black left her collection of textile samples to the Atlantic Spinners and Handweavers who then contacted the Public Archives of Nova Scotia in the hopes of finding a safe home for them. Today, you can view these samples online thanks to a collaboration between the Atlantic Spinners and Handweavers and the Archives.

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