SHELBURNE FALLS -- "Her
talent is very, very, high," Bettes Silver-Schack said of local weaver Becky Ashenden
started teaching weaving, she's
had approximately 200 students, like Silver-Schack.
"I knew about you when I was in Illinois," Silver-Schack told Ashenden
, who was sitting in her
studio at a little table covered with weaving books.
This spring, Ashenden
and Robbins opened their studio, Vavstuga Swedish Weaving and Folk Arts, in the building formerly occupied by A Bottle of Bread.
had spent about 13 years as a production weaver, selling her
wares at national juried shows, such as the Crafts at the Castle in Boston, and the WBAI Crafts Show in New York City.
In 1993, she
decided to start teaching out of a smaller studio in Shelburne Center
"Your ability to teach such fine basics is what's attractive," Silver-Schack said to Ashenden
Many advanced weavers pick up a lot of bad habits along the way, for instance, starting out by learning shortcuts before mastering basic techniques, Silver-Schack said.Ashenden
studied weaving at Saterglantan College of Handicrafts
, a school in Sweden, about 125 miles north of Stockholm.
According to Ashenden, Sweden's weaving tradition has been unbroken for hundreds of years.Most towns have a weaving cottage or "vav stuga" where members of the community can weave together, she
In the United States, the craft of weaving largely went by the wayside during the Industrial Revolution, Ashenden
said.Although there's been a revival of interest in weaving, for most people it's no longer something that's been passed down from generation to generation, and even many American looms seem to be miniature versions of Industrial looms, Ashenden
That said, Ashenden
was only 9 or 10 when she
first learned how to weave on a child's two-shaft loom that her
mother had given her
"I tried using twice as many threads per inch as it was designed for," Ashenden
For those unfamiliar with weaving, that's a bit like using an Easy-Bake oven to cook a roast beef.
Thanks to having a crafts-oriented mother, Ashenden
two older sisters enjoyed hours in a stand-alone garage near their home in Shelburne Center
, where they practiced crafts like painting, dancing and weaving.
Some of Ashenden's passions included making furniture, creating doll houses and making miniature folk costumes.Ashenden
said at the age of 8, she
mother and her
sisters attended mostly European folk dance classes at Smith College
"We all made our own costumes for awhile," Ashenden
late teens, Ashenden
was dancing three days a week.
was 20 years old, as a teacher of contra dance -- a traditional New England folk dance -- Ashenden
joined a group of musician friends on a trip to Sweden.
Ashenden's friends had befriended some Swedish folk musicians and dancers at an international festival in Bulgaria, which led to their spending a month in Sweden teaching contra dance and performing in schools.
While staying at the home of a member of the Swedish dance troupe, Ashenden
had noticed a piece of weaving that had been on the woman's wall. Seeing that Ashenden was impressed, the woman took Ashenden on a hitchhiking trip through several towns to visit the Saterglantan College of Handicrafts, which so impressed Ashenden that the next year, 1981, she took a University of Massachusetts course in Swedish and enrolled for a semester at Saterglantan.
"I like that there's a lot of physical movement," Ashenden
said of weaving."It's using big, aesthetic-looking wooden tools.It's full of repetitive monotony, which is perfect for some temperaments, like mine."Ashenden
said that many Swedes were surprised to hear that Ashenden
intended to weave professionally, as the idea of a "professional" weaver was virtually unheard of there.
Upon returning home, Ashenden
became something of a "slave to the loom," constantly working to make enough napkins, towels, table cloths, rugs, blankets and so forth to make a living.
"It's body grueling," Silver-Schack said.
But over time, Ashenden
had enough experience and a good enough reputation to start teaching.Ashenden and Robbins, another former student, decided to open Vavstuga in the spring, importing a variety of looms directly from a company in Sweden and redecorating the Deerfield River-front building to imbue the Scandinavian aesthetic of clean, simple beauty, even painting their porch in the traditional greens, reds and yellows that mark the paintings of artist Carl Larsson, who is to Sweden what Norman Rockwell is to America.
is also working on a series of publishing projects for her
imprint, Vavstuga Press
, including translating weaving books from Swedish to English and publishing Swedish weaving books that have gone out of print.
Ashenden's love of dance and music has also matured.Ashenden
now plays piano, accordion, and fiddle.She's a member of The Moving Violations, a folk-music band that can be seen every month at contra dances at the Guiding Star Grange.She's also a member of Xopo, which plays Balkan music.