Member Spotlight - May 2021
Heather was born and raised in Thunder Bay, in northwestern Ontario, Canada. She was taught to knit, embroider and crochet by her mother beginning when she was 5 years old, a good way to keep her occupied during the long winters in Thunder Bay! She learned to sew on a hand crank sewing machine when she was 6 or 7. At the age of 10, she graduated to her mother’s treadle machine when her mother got a new machine. She thought she had died and gone to heaven, she states, as she now had two hands free to manipulate the fabric, while she was sewing. When she graduated from high school, she was given a small portable sewing machine.
Following high school, Heather entered a three-year program in Thunder Bay to earn her Registered Nurse certificate. Her sewing machine went with her, and she made Halloween and Christmas costumes as well as fancy dresses and graduation clothes for herself and her classmates. After earning her Registered Nurse certificate, she went on to get a 2-year Bachelor of Nursing Science (BNSc) degree at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, with a major in Education and Administration. When Dan took a job with Caterpillar in Peoria, IL, Heather taught Orthopedic Nursing at St. Francis Hospital in Peoria for 2 years. She also taught Lamaze Prepared Childbirth there and was a breast-feeding consultant. When Dan got a new job in Montreal, Quebec, Heather continued to teach Lamaze and breast feeding.
It was while Heather and Dan were in Montreal that she learned how to weave. Irene Winslow, Dan’s mother, was a consummate artist and decided she wanted to learn how to weave. There was no place in rather isolated Thunder Bay to learn weaving, so she had a son-in-law build the wooden framework for a loom and visited Dan and Heather in Montreal to have Dan “find all the metal bits for the loom and make it functional.” As Dan was a mechanical engineer, he found that a wonderful challenge. (She thus also started Dan’s career as a loom expert). In the process, Dan thought that Heather would like to weave too. Heather was rather skeptical and thought they were both crazy—not understanding why anyone would go through the long process of setting up a loom to weave fabric when one could just go to the store to buy fabric. But Dan, being more prescient than he knew, persisted, being sure Heather would like weaving, and kept telling her, “You would really like weaving.” Finally, in self- defense, she took a beginning class through the community college in Montreal, and she was hooked. Dan was right, and she is still at it 44 years later.
In 1978, Dan and Heather moved to Sugar Grove, IL, when Dan was rehired by Caterpillar in Aurora. Heather started taking textile classes at Northern Illinois University in 1978-1980. It was there she met Sr. Denise Kavanagh. Through Denise she came to Fine Line and started working at Fine Line when it was founded by Denise in 1979. She was the first teacher at Fine Line besides Denise. Heather took over the textile department at Fine Line when Denise died.
Despite all of Heather’s skills and beautiful work in a wide variety of techniques, she does not consider herself an artist. She learns new techniques and designs projects primarily to learn something new that she is then able to pass on to her students. She spends the majority of her time researching, sampling and preparing classes. She loves nature and tries to interpret what she sees around her through the medium of color and weave structure. She specializes in handwoven clothing and sees her garments as three-dimensional sculptures that need to move and flow with the owner’s movement as she wears them.
Teaching is what has always been Heather’s passion. She has been involved with teaching all of her life—it is just that the subject matter has changed. She loves seeing a person grasp a concept or understand a structure and then be able to create her own design. She finds it satisfying and fulfilling, as well as humbling, to see a student understand a concept and be able to build on what she has learned.
Heather has taken a variety of classes over the years including kumihimo, surface design and some lampwork. She is currently taking garment drafting classes at Fine Line, and is really enjoying them. She wishes she had had access to garment drafting classes 50 years ago as it would have been so useful over those intervening years in creating handwoven clothing.
One hope that Heather has for the future of Fine Line is the ability to create a dormitory for speakers and students who come from a distance to teach or take classes. During this past pandemic year, more students have taken classes via Zoom, and she would wish for those students to be able to experience Fine Line in person.
Heather is grateful to Denise and Fine Line for the opportunities she has had and the confidence given to her from those opportunities. Denise gave her the opportunity to teach in 1980 and continued to encourage and support her as she began to expand her teaching range and to write her book. Besides that, she is also grateful for the support and encouragement of Dan over the years.
Heather is especially grateful to all the hundreds of students she has taught over the years. Their enthusiasm and dedication inspired her. It was all the questions and comments she received from her students that forced her to evaluate and re-evaluate her teaching and the projects she taught. Her students were the ones who motivated her to research and become more proficient in every subject she taught. She has grown, thanks to her students.