Wow, there IS something new under the sun!

New Instructional Website Goes LIVE, at a Computer near You.

This past February, a new experiment was launched in the hand-crafting world; a new website which offers online instructional videos on traditional skills. Not new, you say? Seen that already, you say? Au contraire!

This new endeavor, named Taproot Video, is a co-operative of instructors from across the world, not the more typical corporate model of online classes. Founded by instructors, it is managed by instructors, and benefits instructors, and students alike. The co-op members film the classes that they have been offering at national conferences – for decades in some cases – classes that they have taught and honed to excellence. And being solely in control of the quality of the video class, the instructors can be proud to put their name (indeed their reputation) on the DVD or streamed class. Says Marilyn Romatka, folk art instructor and a member of TRV, “Our collective strengths, as teachers, as business people, as creative and passionate artists, are our greatest asset.”

Traditional folk art skills are the inheritance of uncounted generations before us. Modern life is not conducive to passing these skills down through the tried-and-true grandmother-to-granddaughter route. Selected skill conferences (weaving conferences, beading conferences, ceramics conferences, woodworking conferences, etc.) are the modern equivalent and are widely popular; the creative drive in people is strong, and will find an outlet. Taproot Video aims to be that outlet, quality classes available at the click of a mouse, anywhere and whenever the customer chooses.

Every other online craft instruction site uses the corporate model. “TRV is a digital education outlet that is run by folk art and craft educators, not corporations,” says popular instructor John Mullarkey. “Our goal is to provide the best video education possible without the corporate hassles.”

The name ‘Taproot’ was chosen to honor this rich folk tradition history; just as a plant’s taproot drills deep, deep into the earth for nourishment and life-giving water, so our folk-tradition inheritance provides us with essential elements from the deep history, stabilizing us and supporting us in the chaotic, frantic modern world. “I feel that Taproot is on the right track by making it a co-op of like-minded artists who have a passion to see that folk lore skills are preserved,” says Joan Ruane, nationally acclaimed cotton spinning instructor. “Even if each one of us personally taught our skills every day of the week we still could not reach all that wanted to learn. This way we are putting these skills out to the whole world. What more could you ask for?”

The most exciting aspect of this new co-op is the chance it offers to build community, so important in our divisive world today. “It feels like being on Taproot will be more than just being a thumbnail among others on a web page with a price tag attached.” says Laverne Waddington, international expert on backstrap weaving techniques. “It will be about being part of a community... a connection between teachers as well as between our students... all of us creating together as artisans, rather than as vendors and customers.”

Carol James, instructor of sprang and re-creator of George Washington’s sash, states, “Looking at collections, it is clear to me that sprang was known, was definitely part of the textile tradition the world over into the early 1800s. With the Industrial Revolution, sprang was one of the many techniques lost to this industrialization. It is fascinating that the development of the internet provides the potential for reawakening and preserving such information!”

“I'm really excited about this project and its potential,” says John Marshall, who is planning to film (for posterity) the traditional Japanese textile techniques he knows, and the skills he has developed over a lifetime. “But even more important to me is to simply make sure that the information is shared in a Western context that may be digested by Western mind set. I think Taproot Video will be a very good vehicle for a good portion of what I am working on.” He adds with a grin, “I turn sixty-one this year. If I remain productive until around eighty, then I have only a little more than fifteen years to bring all this together and get it done.”

It seems that video is the up-and-coming way to teach. And streaming becomes more and more popular as millennial replace older students. Joan Ruane says “When I made my DVD, not so long ago, I thought that was it for years to come. Then bingo, DVD's are already going out of style and streaming online is the new wave.”

Will online streaming ever replace in-person instruction? Hardly. But the benefits of filming are clear to any instructor. “I have made videos in the past, and find them helpful in class,” says Carol James, “Everyone gets a front-row seat view of the technique. Participants have access to the information again, after going home.” She adds, “I find that the more information I put out, the more videos I produce, the more interest I get. People tell me they have never heard of sprang, so do not sign up for it. With videos, they get a taste of my teaching style, as well as a glimpse into the potential of the technique. I find that people are much more likely to sign up for my classes, having seen my videos.” Nothing spreads the reputation of an instructor like video, it’s a chance to have a one-on-one class with instructors whose convention classes usually fill up, and some students are left out and disappointed.

Kris Leet, published historian of Tablet Weaving, says “My first encounter with prehistoric tablet weaving was to be part of the revival of a technique, Icelandic Missed-Hole, that had been forgotten so completely that no one even knew it had existed until the bands were found and analyzed. It was a powerful lesson in how easily something that is well known can disappear, leaving no trace of its existence in the space of a generation or two.” She adds, “Much of my work has centered around, what is for me, the necessity of documenting and sharing what is known from the past before it disappears.”

Marilyn Romatka agrees. “I love teaching the attendees at the national conferences, but my heart truly lies with the high schooler and middle schoolers I teach. This is how we pass on the skills – get them into the hands of the next generation!”

Taproot Video is not limited to fiber arts, plans are in place to collect classes from any number of traditional techniques; woodworking, ceramics, adornment, painting. Some day in the far future, the site sees itself as an online repository for traditional skills. Slow, measured growth, with an eye toward quality classes, will rule the day.

The website went live in February 2017. Joan Ruane commented, “The launching of Taproot Video, it is so exciting, sort of like launching off into space!” Champagne corks were certainly flying in the homes of the founding members. Taproot Video will grow and mature into its own type of new-creature-under-the-sun. As Kris Leet puts it, “I prefer to work within a community of artisans, where each artisan is inspired and encouraged by the community, where we learn from each other, not just a craft but how to be better teachers. Taproot is becoming that kind of community and I can’t wait to see what comes next.”

Huipil detail; Todos Santos, Guatemala: discontinuous supplementary weft patterning