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Our History

These writings are from the orginal text and reflect the style of the day.

Beginnings 1947 -1957

The Handweavers' and Spinners' Guild of New South Wales was born on 5 July 1947 at Miss Gladys Barnes's home in Croydon. The sixteen weavers who attended agreed to work as a group, help each other, exchange ideas, and display samples of their weavings to one another. The women met again two months later; Miss Barnes was elected President, three others became office-bearers, and a committee was appointed to buy yarn.

A speedy growth in numbers must have been anticipated, their third meeting being held at St Peter's Hall, Croydon. One brave man appeared and was invited onto the committee. At the fourth meeting, held at The Women's Club, three other men joined the swelling membership. On this occasion, the wording of the constitution was the major item on the agenda. The aim of the group was spelled out - To bring together men and women who practice the arts of handweaving and spinning for their mutual benefit, for the advancement of these crafts by discussion and exhibition of work, and for such other purposes as the Guild may hereafter determine.

At the first Annual General Meeting held on 1st May 1948, at the CENEF Auditorium, Castlereagh Street, Sydney, the Presidency was accepted by Prof. Henry Priesdey. Miss Barnes became the Honorary Secretary. On this occasion, the Guild's name as we know it was adopted. It must have been a heady moment for the 74 present, and all would have warmly endorsed the sentiments of Miss Moneypenny, the outgoing secretary. It is teamwork that counts most in a Guild like this, and now that the foundation stones have been laid, I think we all feel the effort has been worthwhile and holds great possibilities for the future.

Those early years were full of promise. Membership rose swiftly to over 200 by 1949. The organisation was efficient and served the members well. There was an excellent spirit of cooperation and comradeship, of a warm welcome and help generously shared.

Prof Priesdey started acquiring books to build up a library. Speakers on a diversity of topics enlivened the meetings. Guild members with foreign origins were invited to share their more diverse skills.

Educators in the textile fields, such as Arthur Johnson and Prof. Pat McMahon, gave lectures and provided advice. Every member was encouraged to participate by bringing their pieces of work to show.

In August 1949 the first issue of Quarterly News appeared, an octavo typescript booklet of 8, then 12, then 24 pages. Vol 1 N° 1 included the news that a four-day exhibition of members' work would be held in October in the meeting rooms at the CENEE This proved to be a success with the public, made a profit of £,60, and became a regular event. Eighteen months later the Quarterly News was enhanced by a card cover, with an insignia featuring a crossed shuttle and spindle. The articles were relevant and practical. Topics included basic weaving techniques, data on equipment, patterns and solutions to problems. Jean McMahon was the initiator and editor of this journal. It soon received overseas acclaim for its standard of reporting, content, and style.

As of now, production costs are a major item in the budget. Because of the weaving traditions of older countries such as the USA and Sweden, some members chose to widen their horizons with overseas penfriends. Many interesting weaving drafts changed my hands to this day. The Penningtons – Moines, Iowa, were the most Supportive, and a folder full of their drafts and samples is still the Guild archives.


Membership of the Guild spread far beyond Sydney. Its associate members received its message across the land, and in November 1951, its first offshoot was established at Alice Springs. A Melbourne branch was also started, but it was soon strong enough for them to form an independent Guild. In 1953, Longreach requested a collection of members' work for display at the local Show. Thus, the Travelling Exhibition was born. It was also sent to Barcaldine and then Melbourne, with enthusiastic responses. The editorial of August 1953 states. This new activity is well in line with the ideal of service, which has been a keynote of the Guild since its inception. It may be called advertisement, but the Guild had no need to advertise since it has more than enough members to support it financially and, being strictly non-commercial, it has no wares for sale. On the other hand, such an Exhibition gives much enjoyment to those who appreciate good craftsmanship and much inspiration and assistance to other weavers and spinners. The writer went on to say that in America, travelling exhibitions, workshops, and summer schools were very popular. The Guild, however, was cautious about the latter, knowing that first-class leaders, adequate equipment and suitable venues would have to be provided in order to be successful.


In 1954, following a realisation that membership was spread far beyond NSW, a decision was made to change the name from the Handweavers' and Spinners' Guild of New South Wales to the Hand Weavers' and Spinners' Guild of Australia. The Quarterly News was renamed The Australian Hand Weaver and Spinner. It was printed commercially, had a coloured cover and looked more professional. The extra costs were absorbed by including some advertisements. By 1956 the Guild had a membership of 350. Although 114 were associates living in the country, interstate or overseas, many participated actively by contributing their woven goods to the exhibitions.

Consolidation 1957 - 

In 1957, it was decided to bring out a monthly Guild News as well as a quarterly journal. A new President, Arthur Robertson, took over in 1958. The indefatigable Gladys Barnes continued as secretary but died in 1959, soon after retiring and was replaced by Miss Mary McClusky. Vice presidents Lance Ctane and Jack Harrison were known to many of us. Arthur Robertson was a keen observer of his fellows. He noted how the styles of work many of the members adopted reflected their personalities. From the vignettes he contributed to the journal, we learn, for example, of Jack Harrison, a man for all seasons, weaving in many styles but excelling in picture weaving and experimental weaving. Lance Crane, as an engineer, was a specialist in weave analysis and a frequent contributor to knowledgeable articles in the journal. Erika Semler, a Master "Weaver trained in Europe, inspired everyone through her ability in design and the perfect execution of her personalised creations. Others, according to their natures, had different specialities such as linens, lace weaves, household goods or tweeds. Although it was not mentioned, everyone knew that Arthur Robertson's own beautifully woven hand towels were symbolic of his desire to serve others, his warm personality and his good humour. He died after only four years in office.


He was followed by Lance Crane. Another initiative, started in 1958, was the first Loomcraft School. This was a week-long live-in learning experience. It was held at Allambie House, Royal National Park, Audley, with Miss J. Booth as instructor. She organised the setting-up of twelve looms for the students, each to demonstrate a different weave structure. Loomcraft became an annual event at Allambie House, providing the means to bring people with common interests together whilst absorbing new skills. Beginners and competent weavers alike found inspiration and help with their problems, and for weavers isolated in the country, it was especially rewarding. Because of the cooperation and camaraderie displayed between students and teachers, each both giving and taking, combined with the intense learning experiences it provides, Loomcraft has remained a valuable and popular item on the Guild's agenda ever since. After Allambie House closed in 1970/1, Loomcraft Schools were held at the University of New South Wales, where there were close ties with the School of Textile Technology and the School of Wool and Pastoral Sciences. Although accommodation was not available at the University, country visitors could stay nearby at the Moderne Private Hotel, where bed-and-breakfast was available. 

The Guild's first premises at CENEF became unacceptable in 1962 when there was a change in the management of the building. The City Mission in Bathurst Street was used briefly, and then a move was made to the "YWCA in Liverpool Street.


In 1964, the President, Lance Crane, was succeeded by Jack Harrison, who was to occupy this position for eight years and to continue almost to the present day to be an active member and teacher. In 1965, the group put together a new Travelling Exhibition so that weaving samples and examples of members' work could be sent around the country groups and thus shared more widely.

Membership continued to increase steadily. After 20 years, it was nearly 500. About half of these were associate members, the majority living in country areas of the eastern states. North America and New Zealand were well represented.


In her editorial of May 1967, Jean McMahon says - This Guild has grown so enormously that its nature has necessarily changed from a study group to a type of service organisation. Perhaps it is with a touch of nostalgia for the working-together days that an All-Day Workshop is to be tried for the first time this year. . .We would like to think that this will be the beginning of many workshops designed to help weavers at different leveb of experience and to introduce new techniques. Workshops were indeed to become a major facet of the Guild's activities. On the occasion of that first workshop Joan Keats initiated twelve beginner weavers into the mysteries of

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