April 4, 2012

In and Out of the Quad-Cities

Contributed by Gail McPike and Toni Hall

The Gail and Toni Code
Ancient Mysteries, Secret Signals
and Sweaters that Fit

We hold a powerful connection with the past. An ancient link so potent, its very existence has been banned by Kings, Potentates and Pontiffs. Simultaneously springing forth across cultures, continents, echoing through the very development of mankind, the movement has held many names. In the Gupta period (300 AD) of India, they called us “shreni,” the Chinese Han Dynasty referred to us as “hanghui,” and to the Ptolemaic Egyptians we were the “koinon.”

Goodness gracious, if this is starting to sound like the makings of an alien invasion TV documentary, just wait till you hear the rest. The movement swept through Europe during the middle-ages using names like “ars,” “zunfte” and “métiers.” During the 10th Century, the power was suddenly manifest outside of Europe. In Iran, “senfs” suddenly appeared and were seen to spread into Arabia and Turkish regions under the name “futuwwah.”

It was said the members of these groups could easily identify one another. Often meeting in secret out of the way locations, they shared the mysteries and honed the powers of their work. Further, the lore of the organization instructed members to extend hospitality to those traversing foreign fiefdoms and unknown lands.

With all of this, you would almost expect to hear a Dan Brown voiceover and “The Da Vinci Code” music. Believe it or not, Gail and Toni are tied to the ancient codes covered by Mr. Brown. We are members of a craft guild – not the one Danny Boy tied to the Free Masons, but a real live guild none the less.

The Quad-Cities is home to the Valley Weavers and Spinners Guild. And, unlike the old days of the Dark Ages, they won’t burn us at the stake for saying – we’re members. Our guild is dedicated to sharing the trade secrets of spinning, weaving and knitting. Our group gathers on a regular basis to attend educational programs, share ideas, and of course, learning the secret hand signs. In an unprecedented move, we are throwing open the tapestry and giving all of you the never seen view from inside the mysterious world of the guild.

The Guild meets the first Tuesday of each month at the historic Hauberg House in Rock Island. Meetings are open to anyone with an interest in spinning and weaving of fiber. The only real cost to enter the meeting is the hair of three newts, a small peanut butter jar full of frog’s eyelashes and a droplet of bat blood. Just kidding, really – we had that line lying around since our Halloween article and didn’t want to see it go to waste. Recycle, reuse, save the planet is our motto.

Recently the Guild sponsored a visit and a three-day seminar by renowned New Jersey Fiber Artist – Daryl Lancaster. Ms. Lancaster has been involved in the design of fine fabric and clothing for many years. She is the real deal, with several books, time as the contributing editor of Handwoven Magazine and hundreds of classes on garment construction and related topics held across North America. As fellow authors and avid fiber enthusiasts, you can imagine our immediate connection.

Daryl’s class attracted not only our local fiber crew, but a group from Central Illinois and Northern Iowa. We spent our time learning to make custom coats and jackets. Clothes really built to our own specifications as opposed to a generic pattern (anyone who ever took home economics class in 7th grade will understand this point).

But, our tale of magical guild connections doesn’t end here. Saint Patrick’s week in the Good Old Quad-Cities had more green than a train load of Leprechauns could haul. If you didn’t notice, our fair city was home to over 3,000 John Deere enthusiasts attending the Gathering of the Green. This meeting has become the foremost conference dedicated to Deere antique tractors and related goodies. The River Center and surrounding hotels were literally packed with old farm stuff. Tractors, corn shellers, bailers, wagons, carts, motors, tractor seats and bright green harvester-hubcaps were displayed everywhere. Our good friends, Allen and Sarah Jarosz down at Davenport Tractor Company down on east Second Street served as our guides to a world of green goodies. Ah, we could go on about this – but back to the guild.

Amongst the other 3,000 tractor fiends (oops, make that friends), was a fellow Spinner and member of the Little Sioux Spinners and Weavers Guild, Sharon Rens. Now, we originally met Sharon at the Iowa Sheep and Wool Festival a couple of years ago. And, after a short while we became fast friends. It just happened Sharon joined her hubby on the trip from far away Orange City, Iowa and while he did his boy thing with all those green machines, we did some spinning – including a spin around the QCA, Dubuque and points in between.

Spring is here – April Showers will bring May Flowers. See you around….