Once upon a time in McMinnville Oregon, there was a wondrous weaving store: Robin and Russ Handweaving. It was a treasure trove of weaving yarns at reasonable prices, books (many of them published by the store itself), equipment, and at the center of it all: Russell E. Groff, avid handweaver, author, generous dispenser of weaving knowledge, and the store’s owner.
When I visited the store in the early 00s, it was late at night, about a half-hour before closing, I’d been driving for hours to get there and just barely squeaked in the door. Russ was working at his loom in the center of the store. He was weaving dishtowels in fine cotton. At that point, his health wasn’t good, he was on oxygen, but still weaving away, the tank hovering at his side like a faithful dog. And I thought to myself, “That’s a real weaver.”
We talked about his project, and he got me browsing cones of 16/2 cotton. I apologized for coming in at the last minute, and he told me not to worry about it. I browsed for a bit, made my purchases, and left, looking forward to my next trip down to Oregon.
Before I could return, however, circumstances forced Russ to close his store. I still saw him at conferences, selling his yarns and books. At ANWG in Tacoma, I bought some 140/2 silk from him, and was amazed to see him adding every order up without a calculator, quickly and accurately. I thought to myself, “That’s a realsalesman.”
When he was selling at Black Sheep Gathering in 2006, I was a very new podcaster. I screwed up my courage and asked if he’d give me an interview. The only time he had free was a few minutes before the booth opened. With his usual generosity, he agreed to share those with me. My gear was not the best, and a large fan started up in the room during our conversation, but hearing him tell stories about his life was a treat. You can hear them on WeaveCast 5.5 BSG Confidential.
So it is with sadness that I opened my email this morning to read that Russell E. Groff had passed away on January 3rd, 2010. He went peacefully in his sleep, ending a long struggle against the fibroid tumors in his lungs. It is a loss for the weaving world.
As fate would have it, yarn I bought from Russ is on my loom now. I look at the handwritten details on the cone’s label and feel a connection to a weaver who—for decades—shared his passion for handweaving with the world. I’ll be sad when this yarn is used up, but that’s part of weaving. Eventually the yarn runs out.
When the cloth is done, I’ll save a swatch along with the cone’s label and a bit of the yarn. It will go into my weaving notebook, which will be part of my legacy someday. And so it goes, the weaving passes down from hand to hand, as it has for at least 30,000 years.
I’m not sure about an afterlife. But if there is one, I imagine Russ—with all his determination and gumption—has found a way to weave.