Volume 14 Issue 1 A Journal Dedicated to Natural Dyes Fall 2008

HGA's Certificate of Excellence in Dyeing
By Sandra L. Swarbrick

In 1974, the Board of Directors of the Handweavers Guild of America, Inc. (HGA), approved the implementation of a plan to offer Certificates of Excellence (COE) for technical proficiency in handweaving, handspinning and dyeing. This plan was developed in response to craftspeople in those fields who wanted a system which would provide guidelines for improving their work and by which their technical proficiency could be evaluated, whether for personal satisfaction or for professional purposes. An HGA Evaluations committee, headed by Else Regensteiner, sought input from craftspeople, teachers and concerned HGA members and developed the basis for a certification program that continues to command respect to this day.

Debbi Cooper: Kimono, 1998. 5" strips of silk matka, hand stitched, then randomly dyed with 2 colors of procion mx dyes. Reassembled based on a Japanese Country Field Kimono pattern by Anita Mayers.
Cooper image of COE project
Photograph Copyright by Debbi Cooper

The first Handbook of Requirements for HGA Certificates of Excellence was included as a special insert in the Summer 1975 issue of Shuttle Spindle & Dyepot and the examination was held the following year in July. Since the original plan was to cover the essentials of fiber work in general, the primary emphasis of the requirements was on handweaving, but written work and samples of handspinning and dyeing were included. As the fields of handspinning and dyeing grew, separate standards were developed for each of them. The first COE in Handspinning (COE-S) examination took place in 1981 while the first COE in Dyeing (COE-D) examination took place in 1996. A separate handbook of basketmaking requirements was also developed and the first COE in Basketmaking (COE-B) examination took place in 1997.

Dagmar Klos: Wool Throw, 2002. Wool, 8 harness twill, 34" x 72". Dyed with fustic, logwood grey, pomegranate, madder, cochineal, cutch and indigo.
Klos image of COE project
Photograph Copyright by Dagmar Klos

HGA offers its members a self-directed program leading to certificates of excellence in dyeing on two levels: Level I: Technical Skills in Dyeing and Level II: Master in Dyeing with Specialized Study. Level I must be achieved before the work for Level II will be evaluated. Work submitted for Level I may not be submitted for Level II. The certification process is not a competition and mere completion of all requirements does not constitute excellence. Every applicant's materials are evaluated according to accepted standards of superior dyeing. Examinations are held in the spring of even-numbered years. The next COE in Dyeing examination will be held in the spring of 2010. The Dallas Handweavers and Spinners Guild of Dallas, Texas will host the examination event.

Jennifer Lee Chou: Untitled, 2004. Silk organza, Japanese Itajima (clamp & fold), 20" x 80". Dyed with cochineal, madder, fustic extract, logwood extract and indigo.
Chou image of COE project
Photograph Copyright by Jennifer Lee Chou

A mentor is provided to aid all applicants. Mentors are knowledgeable volunteers, whose role is advisory only. They are familiar with the handbook requirements and knowledgeable about dye processes. The mentor responds to questions from individuals about the requirements in the COE handbook, terminology, or procedures, offers advice and encouragement, and treats all communications with confidentiality. Mentors are not involved in the administration of the COE program or with the examination process.

Pamela Feldman: Wild Rose, 2004. Churro wool, four selvedge tapestry rug, 61" x 30". Dyed with madder, cochineal, indigo and weld.
Feldman image of COE I project
Photograph Copyright by Pamela Feldman

The COE in Dyeing Handbook sets forth all the requirements for the certification process. Requirements for Level I are divided into three parts:

  Part 1: Dyeing Procedures and Theory, requires written discussions on safety precautions, equipment, and terminology; photographs of the dye space, and tools used by the applicant with a discussion of their use; written discussions and tables about synthetic dyes and chemicals, natural dyes and auxiliaries; and written descriptions of dyeing techniques.
  Part 2: Design, requires written descriptions of design elements, principles of organization, and color definitions; preparation of a color wheel of ten or more dyed segments; and twelve graduated sets of dyed samples.
  Part 3: Dyeing Techniques, requires written work and fifteen individual samples or sets of dyed samples. Samples must include both synthetic and natural dyes, and techniques must include resists, painting and discharge. A finished project is also required.  

Parts 1 and 2 account for approximately 30% of the total score for Level I while Part 3 accounts for approximately 70% of the score. Two examiners work independently to score each applicant. Their scores are then averaged to obtain the total score. A total score of 85% or more is required for successful certification for Level I and leads to a Certificate of Excellence, Level I: Technical Skills in Dyeing.

Patricia Martin: Boxed 12-Step Color Wheel, 2004. Rayon yarns dyed with fiber reactive dyes placed in a handmade box using a gradation of black to white on the cover.
Martin image of COE I color wheel
Photograph Copyright by Patricia Martin
Martin image of COE I project
Photograph Copyright by Patricia Martin

The purpose of Level II is to emphasize individual development and study in dyeing and to demonstrate that the applicant knows how to research and develop an idea and bring it to fruition. The applicant is required to present an in-depth study in an area of his or her own particular interest in any dyeing-related field. Three reviewers provide counsel to the applicant on the feasibility of the intended study, based on a submitted outline. Written work for Level II should provide an explanation of how specific activities, prepared samples, or preliminary studies relate to the stated objectives and major works. Three to five major pieces showing the outcome of the specialized study and in-depth research are required. Level II is scored Pass/Fail by the examiners. Both examiners must agree in order for the applicant to pass. Passing results in a Certificate of Excellence, Level II: Master in Dyeing with Specialized Study.

Pamela Feldman: Landscape I, 2008. Churro wool, four selvedge tapestry rug, 60" x 29". Dyed with madder, lac and indigo.
Feldman image of COE II project
Photograph Copyright by Pamela Feldman

HGA offers a bibliography for the COE in Dyeing that lists citations which can be useful when completing the handbook requirements. The bibliography is available on the HGA Web site at http://weavespindye.org/pages/coe-d_biblio.html.

One of the strengths of the Certificate of Excellence program is the tradition of having local fiber guilds from all over North America host the examination stage of the COE program. Closer ties are formed among local guilds and HGA as a result. Local guilds benefit by sharing in the many opportunities for learning through observing professional quality work completed by applicants, and through meeting and networking with internationally know experts who serve as the examiners. HGA benefits from having a local guild provide a structure for the final phase of this important HGA program. COE Administrative Guidelines are available which provide the host guild and other members of the COE examination process detailed information on the specific responsibilities of each participant and timelines for the event. The COE Program Chair—the HGA Board person responsible for the COE program—recruits the Host Guild and works with them in the selection of the Host Guild Chair and Registrar. Working with the COE Policy Committee member for dyeing and HGA's Executive Director, the COE Program Chair selects the Mentor, Reviewers and Examiners for the examination event. The Program Chair also attend each examination as the HGA Observer to oversee the process of the event.

Two examiners are selected for each examination. Qualifications might include previous experience with the COE program or handbook, demonstrated skill and knowledge in the field of dyeing, reputation as a well-known and respected educator, etc. A COE recipient is often selected as an examiner in those categories having recipients at the Master level. Examiners for the COE in Dyeing examination have included Betsy Blumenthal, Karren Brito, Dr. Sara Kadolph, Linda Knutson, Pat Slaven, and Michele Wipplinger. During the examination, two submissions are evaluated each day. The examiners work with scribes who enter their comments into score sheets on laptop computers. Examiners have access to reference materials and Ott-Lites. The examiners come well prepared for the examination and work long hours to thoroughly evaluate all the work. Days often last over 12 hours. The examiners are thoughtful in the comments and provide the applicant specific feedback on the quality of their work for each requirement. To retain anonymity and confidentiality, each applicant is identified only by an assigned number. The only person at the examination who knows the identity of each applicant is the Registrar.

In 1998, Debbi Cooper of Commerce Township, Michigan became the first recipient of a Certificate of Excellence, Level I: Technical Skills in Dyeing. Dagmar Klos of Chicago, Illinois received her Level I certification in 2002. In 2004, three applicants received their Level I certifications: Jennifer Lee Chou from Naperville, Illinois; Pamela J. Feldman from Chicago, Illinois; and Patricia Martin from San Luis Obispo, California. In 2008, Pamela J. Feldman received the first Level II: Master in Dyeing with Specialized Study certification. Her specialized study was titled Over-dyeing and Under-dyeing with Indigofera tinctoria.* These recipients are artists, teachers, lecturers and authors. They used the COE in Dyeing program to challenge themselves to learn more about dyes and the dyeing process. They acquired a sense of personal accomplishment and have become more confident in their work.

Successfully completion of the COE in Dyeing program requires a broad base of knowledge about dyeing and a high level of technical skills. The hope is that COE in Dyeing recipients will be able to translate that knowledge and skill into the growth of their own work and to mentor and educate others in the field. HGA is proud to be part of that process.

The COE in Dyeing Handbook is available from the HGA on-line store at http://www.weavespindye.org/?loc=4-00-00 or by contacting the HGA office at 1255 Buford Highway, Suite 211, Suwanee, GA 30024, (678) 730-0010. The HGA Web site also contains information about the COE Program, a listing of articles about the COE program published in Shuttle Spindle & Dyepot and lists of COE recipients and specialized study topics at http://www.weavespindye.org/?loc=6-00-00. Information about upcoming COE examinations can be found in the Update section of each issue of Shuttle Spindle & Dyepot.


*In current issue of Shuttle, Spindle and Dyepot (Summer 2008), there is an article written by Pamela describing her COE II project.