Weaving her way into the fabric of community
Helen Thomas keeps her loom in what her grandchildren call her “Gran-Pad”. It’s a small space in her Sidney home where she continued a hobby she has enjoyed for years — and has shared willingly with many seniors on the Peninsula.
Thomas has only been in her house in Sidney for a few months. She moved into a new neighbourhood after living a large portion of her life in Brentwood Bay. She spent 11 of those years in Central Saanich volunteering her time and skills at the loom with the Central Saanich Seniors Centre.
“I taught people how to weave,” Thomas explained, “and helped other seniors with their projects.”
She said she didn’t do a lot of her own weaving at the Centre, instead acting as a mentor to others and helping establish an active, although small, group of people active in fibre arts.
“I learned to weave after my husband and I came to Victoria in 1974,” she recalled. “My husband gave me a small loom for Christmas in 1975.”
She called her experience with the group a good way to learn — both for herself and for her peers.
Thomas said she has always been involved in fibre arts in some form. One of her first memories, she said, was as a youth in Wales during the Second World War, being handed yarn “in the grease” at school in order for the students to weave socks for soldiers.
“In the grease”, she pointed out, means it was yarn that still had the lanolin coating on the fibre — it was pretty much fresh off of the sheep.
Thomas’ family moved into Central Saanich 25 years ago and found ways to volunteer her time and be involved with her community. For a time, she was a Girl Guide worker, having started with the movement in Northern Alberta, where she had lived for a time, before coming to the Island.
In addition to her weaving group work, Thomas also got involved with the extended care unit at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital. There she was a true volunteer, helping to feed seniors in care who could not do it themselves. She said she had gotten involved there after a friend went into the hospital.
“I felt that I needed to do something like that,” she said. “I was there to help a friend before they died and I ended up staying there as a volunteer for more than 10 years.”
Thomas is no longer volunteering at the Central Saanich Seniors Centre, since she moved into Sidney. But she said she is happy with the stable group of seniors who are still weaving there — a group she helped establish. They have a Facebook page these days and Thomas does keep tabs on them from time to time.
“They are great people up there and are doing very, very well. They don’t need me anymore.”
Thomas said, however, she is not done volunteering. She is looking forward to getting to know her new community and finding a place among other volunteers.
“One sometimes learns to depend on (volunteering),” she said. “It’s not for everybody, but I enjoy it.”
Thomas said being a volunteer means putting yourself out there and making a firm commitment to whatever it is you’ve volunteered to do.
“You have to show up, to be there,” she said. “There’s none of this putting it off and not showing up.”
Thomas said she has seen a lot of people volunteer their time and continues to see more and more people step up.
“My experience has been that if you want something done by a volunteer, you ask. People don’t always offer it.”
By asking, she said, you can find out what other people do have to offer. It’s a chance to learn from each other, she continued, and join together in a common interest.