Liz Spear Handwoven



I grew up in southeastern Minnesota, in the Mississippi River valley, across the street from Lake Winona, looking at the river bluffs, covered in a mixed hardwood/conifer forest very like these southern Appalachians. Traveling in 1992, trying to decide the next place to be, I found that these mountains of Western North Carolina are close to my visual memory, and home.

studio window

I've been a full-time craftsman since 1978. In college at Winona State, and later, St.Cloud State University, MN, I fell in love with both clay and fiber, and worked like a demon in both until I had to make a choice, to graduate. I realized that I had a specific direction in clay: I'm a thrower of functional pots, and that I really hadn't focused on any particular aspect of fiber, other than the weaving process. So, I finished the BFA in Ceramics in 77, went to Japan in a school group for 4 months in 78, and settled into making pots in a group studio outside of Minneapolis. By 1980, I'd relocated to north central Iowa, to make pots as the anonymous craftsman, in the Earthworks studio, of Alexander. We made many pots, did many craft fairs, built a new shop with two large kilns, and several displays. During what became 12 years in Iowa, my weaving interests prompted me to weave a few rag rugs, continue to collect yarns, threads, fabrics and looms. Finally, it was time to leave Iowa, and I decided to switch to weaving full time; I looked for a school, and chose the Professional Crafts Program at Haywood Community College, which I began in the fall of 1992.

at the loom

One of the greatest aspects of the HCC program is the inherent flexibility of the faculty in dealing with the wide variety of students, to push each into appropriate directions, or to help each student to discover those directions appropriate to their needs and desires. I arrived with a rather advanced set of skills, (the most valuable of which was time management) and realized, pretty quickly, that I wanted to weave yardage, and lots of it. I was, after all, a production potter, and accustomed to handling large numbers of pots. The functional aspect of what I make is also very important to me, so I decided that I wanted to sew garments (another skill out of my past) out of my handwoven cloth. I found that I missed playing with the commercial fabric, weaving rag rugs, so I determined to figure out how to made the rag fabric soft and thin enough to make into garments. Cutting the rags narrower, less than 1/2" and on the bias, makes lovely soft fabric, with body, and is still a part of my regular line of garments, generally made up into lined jackets and vests. Rag fabric is also the basis of the classes I teach at various Craft Schools, which activity began in 1996, (see Teaching).

I graduated from HCC in 95, and set to work on another body of garments in order to apply to the three Craft Guilds based in North Carolina. This was the basis of my marketing and business plans, generated at HCC: these craft organizations provided a total of 4 indoor craft fairs and 5 established stores, to which I would have access as a juried member. Success, in the spring of 96, and I made plans to build a fair display booth, (woodworking being another small, and handy skill) and began to do the organization fairs, in November of 1997. I had had an inkling that I might like to share the booth with another craftsman someday, so, while I was at it, came up with as many options as I could think of, shy of pedestals, and built a lot of booth parts.


In the fall of 1998, I met Neal Howard, another alumni of HCC (90), and Member of both the Southern Highlands Guild and Piedmont Craftsmen, Inc. We were participating in a group show, and determined that our work looked great together, and since she made only scarves and wraps, and did lots of dyework, and I made garments, maybe we could share a double booth at future craft fairs. We did so, for the first time, at a Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands in July of 1999, three weeks after I broke both arms in a horseback riding accident (since given up, for my craft).

Neal was a trooper, and we've done nearly all of our shows together ever since, to mutual benefit.