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Local weavers contribute to ‘Giving Strength Robe’
Debbie McLavey, Kathy Rousso, Dorica Jackson, Trevan Skan, Stacey Williams and Kayla Williams hold woven squares from Ketchikan-based weavers on Sunday at KIC tribal scholars classroom. The squares will later be assembled and become part of the “Giving Strength Robe.” Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Daily News Staff Writer

Ketchikan’s weavers have joined “The Giving Strength Robe” project, designed to bring weavers together to create a multi-community collaborative weaving to support the prevention of violence against women.

Certificate of Merit weaver and Ketchikan Indian Community Native arts instructor Debbie McLavey said she joined the project as soon as she heard about it.

“It’s making people aware of sexual assault and domestic violence,” she said.

Woven five-inch squares, each created by participants, will be sent to Juneau, where the squares will be joined by weavers there, into a combination Ravenstail/Chilkat design robe.

The robe is planned to be 72 inches by 60 inches, according to program information at www.spirituprising.com. Juneau weavers will assemble the robe and weave the top and bottom borders in the Juneau AWARE women’s shelter. The side borders are planned to be woven at women’s shelters in other communities.

Ketchikan weavers coordinator and Ravenstail instructor Kathy Rousso and Chilkat weaving instructor Dorica Jackson joined McLavey on Sunday afternoon at the KIC Tribal Scholars classroom on Stedman Street and talked about their involvement. They, along with seven fellow Ketchikan weavers, have been meeting twice weekly since mid-November to work on their woven squares that will be added to the final robe.

McLavey said that her involvement was an easy decision, motivated by her past work as an advocate at the Women in Safe Homes shelter in Ketchikan.

“That was probably the hardest job I’ve ever done in my whole life, because battered women come in,” McLavey said. “It was horrible. You don’t know those things are happening.”

She said the experience changed her outlook.

“I learned to be very compassionate working there — to everything around me, because I don’t know anybody’s story,” McLavey said.

Rousso agreed.

“That’s what I’ve come to know, too,” Rousso said.

When Rousso, a couple of years ago, had to stay in Seattle for nearly a year while her husband was hospitalized there, she said she learned a lot from interacting with other families and patients there.

“You don’t know what’s going on, really, in people’s lives,” she said.

The Giving Strength Robe project was inspired by the Weavers Across the Waters Spirit Robe, spearheaded by the late Juneau weaver Clarissa Rizal and her friend, Klawock weaver Suzi Williams. That robe currently is exhibited at Evergreen College in Washington state.

Rizal’s daughters, Lily Hope and Ursala Hudson, along with Rizal’s sister, Deanna Lampe, soon after created the Spirit Uprising organization to support the Giving Strength Robe project, as well as to support the education of weavers across the world.

Hope said, speaking from Juneau via telephone, that the Giving Strength Robe project was first conceived by weaver Heidi Vantrease.

In early 2018, Hope said Vantrease wrote on the Chilkat-Ravenstail Facebook group that she was working on a new project.

“I’m weaving this in remembrance or in support of, or in honor of domestic and sexual violence survivors,” Hope said she remembers Vantrease writing.

Hope and her sister, Ursala Hudson — also a weaver, were inspired.

“What if we did an entire robe for domestic and sexual violence survivors?” Hope remembered discussing with her sister. “To bring an awareness and healing to this issue, which is very present today.”

Hope said they jumped right into setting up the project, with collecting materials, fundraising, recruiting weavers and staff, and setting up the Spirit Uprising website.

They sent out kits to the weavers who signed up, with a loom and merino wool for creating the designs. Weavers were required to use the teal and purple wool provided and were not allowed to use black in their designs.

Ketchikan weavers who have been working with McLavey, Rousso and Jackson are: Viv Benson, Lisa DeWitt, Joyce Makua, Pat Palkovic, Trevan Skan, Kayla Williams and Stacey Williams.

Makua also contributed to Rizal’s “Weavers Across the Waters” robe.

Rousso and McLavey said there have been unexpected benefits for the Ketchikan weavers, as they gathered to create their squares together.

“What’s been fun for me, is to be here with all the weavers in town,” Rousso said.

McLavey agreed, explaining that usually the weavers gather only when taking a class.

Rousso said, “This kind of gave us a purpose, too. That was really good. We had a goal, and we’re from different levels of weaving and different generations of weaving. That’s been really fun.”

One aspect of creating the squares that McLavey and Rousso agreed was challenging, was their small size, compared with their usual projects.

“Sometimes, making something smaller is harder than making something bigger,” Rousso explained.

“They’re very precise on what they want,” McLavey said of the organizers’ guidelines.

McLavey said she was getting a bit frustrated with her square, and had to re-do hers about five times before Rousso was able to give her some critical tips to help.

The group was just finishing up their squares Sunday, and readying them to mail to Juneau, where they will be joined with squares from weavers from Alaska, Canada, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico and Colorado.

Hope said that a high percentage of the weavers were students of her mother’s.

“A lot of those places that are participating are communities where my mother actually taught classes,” Hope said. “They are descendants of my mother’s work.”

After the squares arrive in Juneau, the work of weaving the borders will commence. Hope said that shelter clients will work with weavers from the community to learn the skills to complete the robe.

“Most of the participants so far have personally been affected by sexual or domestic violence — or a family member, or it’s an issue in their own community,” Hope said. “It will be truly created by the people who are affected by this, or working toward healing this.”

Hope said that the robe project has spurred many conversations on their Facebook discussion group, about people wanting to weave with the intention of “lifting up women or survivors, instead of coming at it with rage and grief and all of that.”

She added, “The energy that we’re putting into this robe is literally going to heal people that we don’t even know.

The project also is about bolstering the weaving community.

“It really is all about not just bringing healing to this issue,” Hope said, “but strengthening our community of weavers and giving us meaningful work. Bringing this together is bringing all of the good together.”

The Spirit Uprising organization is planning to publish a book about the creation of the Giving Strength robe. There will be professionally shot photos of the woven pieces, along with biographies of the weavers and a statement of the intent behind their involvement in the project.

The book is planned to be exhibited along with the finished robe at the AWARE shelter in Juneau, Hope said.

To celebrate the completion of the robe, Hope said there is a reception with a First Dance planned for October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness month.

Hope said, “We want to be conscious about putting the good things into our meetings so that when someone does put this whole robe on their shoulders, they have the work of anywhere from 60 to 80 people’s intentions and healing thoughts and all that on their shoulders. That in itself is profound.”

Rousso said that positivity has been a theme in Ketchikan’s group as well. She said the lead weavers are mentoring the newer weavers, but it goes deeper than that.

“It’s not just, ‘I’m going to help you twine,’” she said, but also “to bring the joy into it and the healing into it.”