The Dean of Handweaving: Mary Meigs Atwater

Next in our Famous Weaving Teachers Throughout History series (in honor of our Teacher of the Year Contest) is Mary Meigs Atwater. Known as the “Dean of American handweaving”, Mary Meigs Atwater didn’t learn weaving when she was young. Instead, she began weaving when she was 38 years old. With her husband busy as a mining engineer, Mary picked up handweaving to fill the times when she was alone while he was at work. She soon bought all of the materials to create a workshop in Basin, and in the process began working to revive the dying art of American handweaving. For someone trained at the Chicago Art Institute, this task wasn’t too difficult. Mary Atwater was fantastic at writing drafts and interpreting extremely old patterns that were written with much older notations. Mary researched Summer and Winter to find the origins of the pattern and the style and analyzed the available patterns before reintroducing them to modern handweavers. To this day, Summer and Winter is a favorite among weavers, especially for coverlets. 

After the Great Depression caused their beaver ranch to fail, Mary wrote The Shuttle-Craft Book of American Hand Weaving. Mary also pioneered using weaving as therapy for WWI and WWII soldiers. Later in life, Mary held informal weaving workshops. The workshops in turn led to the creation of the Montana Weaving Guild, which created more weaving guilds in other states.

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