The North Carolina
The Weaving Room
Through a signature enterprise, The Crossnore School lifts up children while strengthening cultural roots.
Written By Leigh Ann Henion • photography by DavidDay
The intangible benefits of the weaving process are much appreciated at The Crossnore School, a nonprofit residential program for abused and neglected children that has served the state since 1913. At Crossnore, located in Avery County, students who’ve been placed in the foster care system attend the program’s magnet school, live in cottages with “house parents,” participate in field trips, and take part in student work programs that often lead to careers.
existence since 1920, Crossnore’s weaving program is unique. In
addition to giving students the opportunity to learn a unique skill,
the Weaving Room has also long supported local residents by providing
weaving instruction and employment opportunities. On this day, Hoilman
is joined by Lisa Banner, weaving manager, and Virginia Coffey, a
contractual weaver known as “Granny” who has worked in the Weaving
Room, off and on, for about 30 years. At the moment, the weavers are filling orders for the stores that sell their wares, such as the
Mid-afternoon, Coffey runs out of material and announces that it’s time to dress her loom. Almost immediately, the Weaving Room falls silent. Banner and Hoilman leave their work to come to her aid. Dressing a loom requires putting nearly 30 yards of yarn, gathered in a horsetail-like mass called “the warp,” on a handloom. Every yard of yarn is carefully combed, like hair being prepared for braiding. It’s a laborious process and a community event; chatter replaces the room’s usual clatter.
The weavers appreciate their time together, but they also enjoy meeting the tourists who come to watch them work. “You never know who’s going to come in and want to help,” Coffey says. She’s not talking about additional assistance with dressing her loom but rather donations of time and money to The Crossnore School.
Martha Hill, director of Crossnore’s Retail Entities, recalls one man in particular who discovered the school through the Weaving Room. The man brought guests by to see the weavers during a tour of the area, and during his visit he fell into conversation with Phyllis Crain, Crossnore’s executive director, who happened to be observing that day. He ended up serving on the school’s board of directors and donated funds to build one of the Crossnore cottages. “We’re really a gateway to the school,” Hill says.
More than a job“When I started working here, I thought, ‘Well, this is a cool job,’” Banner says. “But it’s more than that. It’s a mission. You get attached to the kids — like this one right here!” She gestures toward Hoilman, who laughs and bows her head slightly.
It has been nearly seven years since Hoilman resided at The Crossnore School, but she still considers it her home turf. Weaving, which is a source of financial self-sufficiency for the school, has come to represent the same sort of freedom for Hoilman. When she married to start her own family, she exchanged vows in a dress she hand-wove on a loom given to her, as a personal gift, from one of Crossnore’s regular donors.
Now the mother of a young son, Hoilman says, “I’d love to teach him if he wants to learn.”
The Crossnore weavers’ work raises funds for programs dedicated to bettering children’s lives, and those same disadvantaged young people represent hope for the traditional craft of weaving. The newly opened campus coffee shop is currently the most sought-after placement in the student work program, but a steady flow of students still choose to participate in the Weaving Room tradition of apprenticeship. Linzee Wyatt is one of them.
When Wyatt first came to the Weaving Room, excited to learn something new, she was intimidated by the complexity of the looms. “In the beginning, I was like, ‘I don’t know where to start,’” she says. “But then I learned to just take it string by string.” Thinking back to the moment when she finished her first project, Wyatt says, “I was like, ‘Wow! I actually did this.’”
Learning how to create an extraordinary piece of art, thread by thread, is not unlike learning how to craft a good life day by day. Mary Martin Sloop, who cofounded The Crossnore School with her husband, Eustace, once said of the weaving program and its workers, “It is not only a material help to them, but it makes a change in their attitude toward life.”
Sloop’s observation still holds true. Wyatt looks like a typical 14-year-old, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and large, silver earrings, but she’s gained a rare sense of history and rootedness while bent over her loom. “It’s cool,” she says. “People used to do this way before my time. … Most teenagers in the world don’t know about this stuff.”
She pushes a few autumn-hued threads down on her loom. She pauses for a moment, struggling to find the right words to clarify the significance of weaving in her life. Looking at her increasingly able hands, she says, “Knowing how to do this just makes me feel different.”
Wyatt is young and shy, but her skills as a weaver make her feel special. She hasn’t yet perfected her craft, but she’s already a Weaving Room success. Shawl after shawl, scarf after scarf, year after year, these looms give Crossnore residents a sense of worth and well-being. And that emotional armor is one of the most beautiful things created in the Weaving Room.
Leigh Ann Henion is a freelance writer based in Boone. Her work has appeared in Smithsonian, The Washington Post, and Oxford American.
Reprinted with permission from Our State magazine.
if you’re going
Crossnore Weavers & Gallery
(828) 733-4305For a link to the gallery’s website, go to www.ourstate.com, and click on “This Month’s Issue.”