History always looming for weavers

Last month the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum in Vista opened its grounds and buildings to the public for its annual Fiber Arts Fiesta. Present were 100 weavers, spinners, basket makers, felters, gourd artists, quilters, and knitters.

Featured at the fiesta were a spinning corral and booths with hand-made finished products and craft supplies for sale.

It was a spirited occasion with a historical link to a bygone era. Visitors saw demonstrations, learned the history of these ancient practical arts and had a hand in trying it for themselves.

Weaving and spinning reach back to the dawn of civilization when people first started to clothe themselves, said Marty Foltyn, a weaver and member of the Museum Weavers. “In that way we are honoring an ancient tradition,” she added.

Foltyn, a Carmel Valley resident, was drawn to the weaving group in Vista because she has always had a love of fabrics. “My husband and I collect Navajo rugs,” she said, so she already had a deep appreciation for the process and the beauty of the final product.

By happenstance, when she first visited the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum in Vista, it was just dedicating the 4,000-square-foot weaving barn. “I walked in and I was hooked,” Foltyn recalled.

There were 50 floor looms, varieties that included an 1840s floor loom up to present- day, computer-operated looms, and women and men who were busy weaving on them. Foltyn signed up for classes on the spot.

Her mentor was Bill Rafnel, 83, the museum’s founder. A former Navy chaplain, he left the service and became a professional weaver, creating beautiful damask tapestries, said Foltyn.

It was his vision to build the barn that would house looms and spinning wheels donated by others. Consequently, the collection is eclectic but more interesting as a result.

To raise construction funds, weavers created rugs from fabric remnants that people donated. Then the rugs were sold, which contributed half of the building costs.

Tyler Orion also understands the lure of the loom. Formerly dedicated to a long career in business development, the Del Mar resident had yearned to weave but never had the time, she said.

That changed with her retirement in 2006. Her daughter-in-law bought her a year membership to the Museum Weavers, where she also took classes with Rafnel. Now Orion weaves beautiful, fine fabric that she transforms into useful items like towel sets and table runners.

“There’s something enormously satisfying about weaving,” said Orion. “When you are done with your weaving you have cloth — it’s a beautiful substance that has texture to it and yet it’s useful, and you’ve had all this fun making it. It’s a wonderful craft that I am lucky enough to have the time to play with.”

As well as being a practical skill, the steady, repetitive motion of weaving can be therapeutic. “You can’t use a cellphone while you are weaving,” Foltyn joked. “You become one with the process; it’s very soothing. And at the end of the day, you have woven your 10 inches and have a great sense of accomplishment.”

All members of the Museum Weavers are volunteers and are happy to demonstrate their craft. Classes are available for all levels. The Museum Weavers barn is open to the public every Thursday and during special events at 2040 N Santa Fe Ave. in Vista. Admission and parking are free. Visit http://www.agsem.com/exhibits.php for more on the Museum Weavers barn. For more on the fiber arts classes, click on the link for classes or call 760-941-1791.

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