She’ll miss the daily interactions with customers from far and wide, answering questions about weaving and meeting new artists, like she’s done for three decades, but Elsa Brigden Elliott is retiring from the retail portion of the Silo Weavers in St. Jacobs.
She will continue to weave and sell her goods at fibre art shows, as well as have them for sale at the Silo Weavers, but is looking for someone to take over the retail business. She will retire effective June 1 after 37 years.
“I need more time to have a life outside of this because when you’re in retail you’re tied to it daily. Even when you go away you’re not totally away from it. So it’s semi-retirement. You don’t want to sit and twiddle your thumbs,” she said.
She’s been in the Village Silos since 1980 and began weaving in 1970.
Originally it was her and two others who started as the Silo Weavers. One partner left after two years and the other retired after 18 years, but they’re all still good friends.
“When we started, each silo was a different individual and I started in the upper two silos just with weaving. And then the longer you are here, people move to bigger spaces and you start incorporating other work that complements your own work. So, I’ve never lost the weaving focus. The weaving has developed and changed with the times as well, until it grew to what you see today with a lot of different people represented that I’ve grown to know over the years.”
She notes Mercedes Corp.’s Milo Shantz was the instigator, the one with the idea to fill the old grain silos on King Street with craftspeople.
Brigden Elliott got her start in weaving as a young teenager living in Mexico. She dabbled in it at school there, but didn’t really learn it until she learned how to set up a loom. She says Mexico was a great place to foster her love of textiles. Born in Ontario, her parents decided to winter in Mexico, which is how she ended up there.
She moved to Waterloo Region in 1975 and got her experience running a store by managing a Canadian craft store in Kitchener, before she came to the Silo Weavers.
“When we started we were doing a lot more work on the premises. We’ve always had a loom here, but with the number of people coming through and the amount of talking we do with people, I do most of my weaving in my studio at home.”
People are drawn to the Silo Weavers for a variety of reasons. There are those who are interested in the history of the building and there are those who are interested in the handmade work. She says she’s noticed in recent years people have a much bigger appreciation of the work. They’re also much more receptive to brightly coloured pieces, whereas when she started, people were mostly looking for goods in browns and beiges.
“More and more I’ve been doing one-of-a-kind pieces and people have grown to appreciate it.”
She’s been on the Quilt and Fibre Art Festival committee since the festival’s inception in St. Jacobs and she’ll continue in that role. She’s always hosted the contemporary show for the festival at the Silo Weavers. This year’s Quilt and Fibre Art Festival is May 23-27.
Diane Stewart will be featured as the contemporary artist at the Silo Weavers. This is her first year in the festival and many of her pieces are for sale at the shop.
She creates fabric compositions, which are tiny pieces of fabric layered on a canvas to resemble intricate paintings.
Even the meaning of contemporary has changed in Brigden Elliott’s time as a weaver.
“Contemporary meant more of a traditional quilt, but it was machine stitched and very quickly people started incorporating other techniques into the quilting and the quilting field really changed.”
When the festival added fibre art to the title, she was finally able to host artists for the show who weren’t quilters, which has meant she’s exposed more people to a variety of textile artists.
She’s had some interest in the business, but nothing is set in stone yet.
The shop won’t necessarily have a weaving focus when someone new takes over, but she’s hopeful the Canadian focus will continue.
“I hope it continues with a good, strong Canadian focus because it is quite a draw. I think the silos and the museums give that focus that Milo started years ago. And I think St. Jacobs would lose a lot by not having that focus.”