As we reflected upon our past 85 years, we realized that residents have been producing hand-woven cloth at Friedman Place for 35 years! Did you know that Friedman Place’s fiber arts program originated in 1985 with one weaver and one loom? Now, we have a standalone weaving studio right next door to the Friedman Place residence. Nearly one-third of Friedman Place residents participate in the program and enjoy access to more than 25 floor and tabletop looms. Weavers may sign up for up to 2 hours of weaving instruction each week.
While many of our weavers view the weaving process as relaxing or meditative, others consider it their workout for the week. In addition to being a creative outlet, the program was originally developed to be therapeutic in order to improve many important everyday skills such as hand–eye coordination, memory retention, concentration, and fine & gross motor skills. Fine motor skills are also referred to as dexterity. It’s how the small muscles in our hands, fingers, wrists, feet, and toes work together to perform tasks like picking up or manipulating small objects, writing, drawing, and wiggling our toes. Gross motor skills have to do with larger movements (arm–leg coordination) such as walking, running, and crawling. Weaving is a wonderful activity for the residents because the act of weaving requires the use of both fine and gross motor skills (feeling for the end of yarn, threading it through slots in the shuttle, and lifting/pushing on the correct levers in the correct order).
Most recently, the Friedman Place fiber arts program and participating residents have had the honor of partnering with researchers at Northwestern University conducting a study revolving around accessibility in creative making for people with disabilities. The paper “Weaving by Touch: A Case Analysis of Accessible Making” was published this month.
This is an ongoing project being carried out by two of our volunteers who are also PhD students at Northwestern. In a nutshell, they have been observing our weavers and how they (with their visual impairments) have been able to be involved in the creation of their craft (weaving) and what tasks they find intuitive, which they find difficult, and which they need sighted help with. The next step in their process is manipulating a loom to enhance the weaving process for the residents.
If you care to read more about their observations an introduction to the paper may be found here. Here is the introduction from their published paper:
“The rise of maker communities and fabrication tools creates new opportunities for participation in design work. With this has come an interest in increasing the accessibility of making for people with disabilities, which has mainly emphasized independence and empowerment through the creation of more accessible fabrication tools. To understand and rethink the notion of accessible making, we analyze the context and practices of a particular site of making: the communal weaving studio within an assisted living facility for people with vision impairments. Our analysis helps reconsider the material and social processes that constitute accessible making, including the ways makers attend to interactive material properties, negotiate co-creative embodied work, and value the labor of making. We discuss future directions for design and research on accessible making while highlighting tensions around assistance, collaboration, and how disabled labor is valued.”