Heleen de Boer still has the Mission tartan samples that were prototypes of the final design. None of these early samples look anything like the final creation. / Kevin Mills Photos

Textile artist teaches, creates in the back of a downtown Mission store

Mission Spinners and Weavers Guild thriving in the Loom Room inside Trendy or what Knot

Most days of the week, you can find Heleen de Boer doing what she loves to do, creating art in the Loom Room in downtown Mission.

Located inside Trendy or What Knot Yarns and Gifts, the Loom Room is where de Boer works, teaches and creates.

One of the founding member of the Mission Spinners and Weavers Guild, de Boer began her love of the textile arts as a young girl in Holland.

“My mom was always sewing for us and being the oldest, at five years old, I started knitting already. I liked it. I liked sitting behind the sewing machine making things I like to make, doing my own thing.”

As she became older, de Boer eventually trained as a teacher for tailoring and fashion design.

She worked for a boutique and did plenty of custom work, some of her clients were royalty.

“I worked for Queen Juliana quite a bit.”

It was her husband who convinced her to come to Canada.

“He always wanted to immigrate,” she said, adding they went on a trip to Canada in 1980.

The vacation began in Toronto and they travelled across the country, all the way to B.C. That’s when they decided that B.C. was the place to be. In 1982 they immigrated to Canada and eventually, in 1988, came to Mission.

De Boer quickly became involved with the arts council, had her own studio, participated in studio tours, became involved with UFV and offered spinning and weaving classes.

She emphatically says that what spinners and weavers do is an art form.

“I can never understand why some people don’t think of it as art.

“You put your thoughts into what you’re doing, whatever it is. If it’s an act or if it’s a painting or something else that you make, it’s your own thoughts and colour scheme.”

She added even people who use a pattern have to pick colours and fabric so it becomes that individual’s idea of how it should look.

“To start from scratch, basically, and to make something that people say ‘ooh’ and ‘ahhh,’ it gives you enormous satisfaction.”

In the 1990s, de Boer and six other like-minded Mission artists helped create the Mission Spinners and Weavers Guild. Meetings originally took place in members’ houses and then at the arts centre.

In the late ’90s the group started a project to make shawls, but had to come up with a pattern and colours.

They decided to do a tartan.

Three of the members already had family tartans so they decided to create one from scratch.

That’s where the idea for the Mission tartan was born.

First they chose some colours, blue for the water, dark green for the forest. Meeting after meeting they modified there choices.

“Starting from there, we did samples. They don’t look at all like what the Mission tartan became, not at all.”

Finally, in 2000, the group presented their tartan idea to the District. It was accepted and then registered.

“Then we heard, later on, that it can also become part of the archives in Edinburgh Scotland, but that would take a long time.”

In order to qualify for the official archives, the Mission tartan had to be a “working tartan” meaning it was used and seen in public. It had to be promoted and used.

They created blankets and ties, place mats and more.

It took 10 years but in 2010 Mission’s tartan was inducted into the archives

Only two of the 200 that applied were registered,” said de Boer. “Mission should be really proud of the tartan.”

What makes her even more proud is how the guild crated the tartan.

“We did it the old fashioned way. We did it without a computer. We did it by making samples and trying it out and all that.”

Today, the guild have grown from seven members to about 50.

“The Loom Room for us is a Godsend I would say.”

Lessons, for up to five students at a time, and other work takes place there. You can also find de Boer there, still working away.

“I do it because I love it. If you love something and you can create, and I see a piece of fibre or yarn or fabric, my mind is already thinking that would be nice for something – for this or that or the other – my mind is going already and I’ve had that my whole life.”

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