Most people joke that they took a weaving course in college as an elective for an easy ‘A’ letter grade. But for Sharon Williams, weaving was no joke.
As a painting major at Memphis College of Art, in addition to classes in metalsmithing, pottery, and print and dye, Williams was required to take an eight week course in tapestry and fiber arts.
After weaving her very first tapestry, Williams said she absolutely fell in love with weaving.
“I had never seen it before until I got to Memphis,” Williams said. “But when I saw it, I fell in love with it. I don’t like doing tapestries, but I love mixing the colors. I don’t necessarily even care about the pattern. I just love the texture and the color of the yarns and how they mix.”
She still has the first piece she ever weaved tucked away in a cedar chest.
“My art weaving teacher at Memphis College of Art, Henry Easterwood, believed his samples were a yard wide and three yards long,” Williams said. “So I thought, if I’m going to weave a yard wide and three yards long, I’m going to do a blanket.”
Williams said Easterwood used to go to the Yarn Barn in Cartersville, Georgia, once a year when they would have dollar day and buy all his yarn.
“I’m not necessarily a green person,” Williams said. “But I guess they called them Florida colors. It was green, pink, and white. So I made a beautiful plaid blanket and that was my first piece.”
Today, Williams specializes in weaving shawls. She makes about a dozen pieces a year from her home in Independence on a 4 or 8 shaft harness loom.
Several of her pieces are currently on display for sale and to admire as part of the 3D & Fiber Art exhibit at the DeSoto Arts Council gallery in Hernando.
“I really enjoy it,” Williams said. “I make shawls and capes and scarves. I have made yardage that people cut and make vests and things like that.”
She’s still passionate about mixing the different colored threads - the yellows, greens, and deep blues that went in to the blue shawl, and the oranges, golds, and lime that she used in the red shawl.
The pieces are woven using a combination of silk, cotton, rayon and tinsdale yarn, and every once in a while acrylic and polyester.
When asked how long each one takes to make, Williams paused and smiled.
“I have a friend who said when they ask you that, if you’ve been weaving 40 years, it took 40 years to get there,” Williams said.
In reality though, Williams said if you count the time it takes to wind the warp, thread the loom, then weaving, washing, and braiding the fringe, each shawl takes about two days in total.
Williams said the great thing about weaving shawls and scarves is that they never go out of style and each one of hers is unique.
“On my business card it says ‘it’s all in an attitude,’” Williams said.
Williams used to sell her shawls at places like the Pink Palace in Memphis, and craft fairs in Northport, Alabama, and as far away as Santa Fe. Today, you can find them at the Ridgeland Chimneyville Weavers & Spinners Guild booth at the Chimneyville Arts Festival in Ridgeland.
“I put them in that booth and they sell really well there,” Williams said. “I don’t do two alike.”
Williams said learning to weave on a loom is not hard to learn, but take patience. A Ridgid Heddle loom costs about $150, but a larger floor loom can cost anywhere from $1,500 and up. She recommends taking a class before investing in the equipment.
“If you have patience, you can learn it,” Williams said.