Learning to Weave with Lisa Telford

Francene Blythe, NACF Director of Programs

During a recent visit with 2018 NACF Mentor Artist Fellow Lisa Telford (Haida), I had the pleasure of attending a cedar-bark weaving workshop at the Daybreak Indian Cultural Center in Seattle, Washington. Lisa and her apprentice Cathy MacGregor (Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe) were teaching a group of Native youth how to weave their first Haida hat to wear in ceremony and dance.

I joined the class and Lisa patiently guided me through the process of weaving a small cedar-bark basket, teaching me that there is much more to weaving than looping material in and out or up and down. The in-out/up-down method is all I had known about weaving; it’s how I was taught to weave a flat mat or a decorative pie crust topping in my youth. Lisa gave me a starter kit to make a small basket. As she taught me – first how to weave a circle base for my basket – she explained the historical and ecological context of the materials that I was using, such as the best time of year to gather the cedar and how to prepare the cedar strips. She also taught me how to count the different types of weaves, which gave design to my basket – I liken the count between the different weave types to knitting a design in a sweater. All that Lisa taught me is from the oral knowledge she carries about weaving, which was passed on to her from her mother, grandmother, and aunties.

I am Eastern Band Cherokee, and while basket weaving is one of the prevalent art forms in my culture, I am not a weaver. The hours I spent weaving with Lisa deepened my appreciation for the ancestral and ecological knowledge of Pacific-Northwest basket weavers. The process of weaving was relaxing and meditative, and by the end of the class I was proud to have completed a cute little basket. I then gifted my basket to a friend, as is customary to do with one’s first basket in both the Cherokee and Haida cultures.

Written by Francene Blythe (Diné/Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota/Eastern Band Cherokee), NACF Director of Programs
Lisa Telford (Haida) was awarded a 2011 NACF Artist Fellowship in Visual Arts.

Lisa Telford (Haida)is a weaver who creates contemporary garments, shoes and other objects using Northwest Coast style weaving techniques. Her work serves as a commentary on Native identity, stereotypes and fashion. Born in Ketchikan Alaska, Telford is Gawa Git’ans Git’anee Haida and comes from a long line of weavers including her grandmother, mother, aunt, cousins, and daughter. She learned the traditional techniques of Haida basketry from her mentor Delores Churchill, and Haida cedar garments thanks to Holly Churchill.

Lisa is currently part of the NACF Mentor Artist Fellowship program that is invested in providing opportunities for artists to mentor and pass on traditional practices, languages, and cultural expressions to a new generation of artists.

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