Susan Rockwell got hooked at a sheep and wool festival in Burke, Vermont, back in 1981. It was there that Rockwell, then 36, took a 10-day weaving class and decided that is what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
She changed careers after attending law school and working in a prison in Chicago. Her family moved to Vermont shortly before 1980, and she started teaching weaving classes not long after that.
“When I learned to weave, I knew that was it. I was a weaver,” she said.
Rockwell, 71, likes the challenge of weaving. She likes figuring out how puzzle pieces of different patterns and colors go together.
“It’s very meditative and relaxing,” she said.
Rockwell, a weaving teacher at Fletcher Farm School for the Arts & Crafts in Ludlow, was presented with the Robert Frost Award at the biennial craft festival July 7.
The award is named after the poet, who was one of the first board members of the Fletcher Farm Foundation. The recipient of the award is determined annually by a vote of the board of directors.
“It’s all about honoring an artist who is also a teacher — someone who provides instruction and inspiration to others,” said Fletcher Farm board member Debi Orton.
Rockwell has been at Fletcher Farm for 25 years, making her one of the longest serving teachers at the school.
“She’s dedicated to our school, but she’s also very dedicated to her craft,” said Fletcher Farm Foundation board secretary Susan Chadwick.
Rockwell has won numerous awards for her weaving. She won Best of Show at the Vermont Weavers Guild in 2011. She has also presented at national gatherings of weavers and been to weaving events around the nation.
“She’s really a master at it,” Chadwick said.
There are about 70 teachers at Fletcher Farm who teach around 250 classes a year, from fine arts to photography as well as printmaking, painting, stenciling, felting, rug making and woodworking.
Teachers come from all over New England and as far away as Michigan. Fletcher Farm provides meals and lodging for both students and teachers.
Rockwell, who lives in Braintree, Vermont, stays at Fletcher Farm every summer to be near her students.
“She really invests in her students,” Rockwell’s daughter Shantida Oakhart, 32, said.
Some of her students come back to learn from Rockwell year after year.
Kathleen Pratorius, has taken Rockwell’s classes for the past 12 summers.
“She’s such a phenomenal teacher,” said Pratorius who is currently learning how to weave linen. “She inspires you.”
Rockwell has seen so many patterns, she can transcribe them from other countries, like Sweden. Rockwell specializes in double weave, a complex stitch that forms a two-layered cloth to make pockets and other details.
Rockwell is also active in the professional weaving community. She’s a member of Vermont Weavers Guild and Weavers Guild of Boston. Rockwell is past president of the New England Weavers Seminar, where she was tasked with picking instructors and classes.
“[Weaving] brings together people from all different socioeconomic levels,” Rockwell said.
Weaving is in Rockwell’s heritage. She learned to spin yarn from her grandmother. She then learned how to sew from her mother, a seamstress. Rockwell’s German great-grandmother was a rug weaver. Her great-grandfather from Sweden was a tailor. Her family also ran weaving mills in Massachusetts.
Rockwell still has her first project she made in 1981 — a wool poncho she continued using until a few years ago. Rockwell also designs her own clothes, like the reversible vest she wore when she was presented the Robert Frost Award.
“Your imagination is the limit of what you can do,” Rockwell said.
-- KATY SAVAGE