Master weaver Parmely Daniels holds up a length of woven cotton in his aged hands.
"See how the light shines through the fabric?" he asks. "No streaks, no spots, no lumps, no bumps. The selvage is even, the lines are straight -- this is quality weaving."
Standing in his South Arlington studio, Daniels carefully runs his fingers over the 9-foot-long cloth that he describes as a library of weaving designs. Nearly 70 patterns are blocked out on the purple and white material, ranging from dainty to bold, from smooth to nubby, from intricate to simple.
Each design is original, the creation of Daniels' youngest student -- 17-year-old Karin Scharfenstein, a quiet, intense junior at Arlington's Yorktown High School.
"When I pick my students, I look for a spark in them -- something that will make them truly creative weavers, and not just good weaving technologists," Daniels says. "When Arlington sent me Karin, I knew she had that spark.But first she must learn to handle a loom. When you start on the piano, you don't start with sonatas."
Scharfenstein came to Daniels through the Arlington schools' Fine Arts Program, a handful of "creative enrichment courses" offered each semester to supplement an arts curriculum recently depleted by a shrinking school population.
"With fewer kids in each high school, you get a situation where you can't find enough students in any one school to take a course on, say, weaving," explains Larry Bohnert, Arlington's fine arts curriculum specialist. "But if there are enough students among all three high schools interested in the subject, then we can get them together after school at one of the community centers and run the course."
A pottery course in West African pitfiring, dance coursed in jazz and ballet and mime sessions are just a few of the courses offered this year.
One of the fine arts courses introduced Scharfenstein to weaving.After working with Scharfenstein, her teacher recommended her for the Gifted and Talented apprentice program.
"These (courses) are our seedbeds," says Sylvia Moffett, coordinator for the Gifted and Talented Fine Arts Program. "From here, and occasionally from regular art courses, we identify our most talented students in the arts. These we nurture through our apprentice program."
Although that first course was Scharfenstein's first exposure to weaving, it was not her first exposure to master craftsmen. Her father, a cabinet maker from Cologne, West Germany, does custom design work in his Arlington shop. "And he tells me of my grandmother, who was a very fine weaver for the family," Scharfenstein says.
When Scharfenstein went to her first interview with Daniels, she admits she was nervous. Despite a long waiting list of students, Daniels snapped up Scharfenstein after that first discussion.
Scharfenstein now spends several hours each week with the 78-year-old Daniels, a vigorouss, quick-witted master who divides his time between weaving, writing, teaching nearly 70 students and traveling to Ireland to work the famous Donegal weavers.
The first lessons Daniels taught were the history of the loom.
"He described the simple harness loom he saw the Navajos using in the early 1900s, when he first learned how to weave," Scharfenstein said. "Then I leaned about the counterbalance loom, and finally, the floor loom."
The next step was to design on paper -- Scharfenstein was assigned 20 designs right off to bring back to the next week's lesson. Later, when she learned how to "tie up" a loom, she reversed the process. Now she can analyze a piece of material and figure out its pattern.
Daniels says it is important to learn the "paper pattern" process before allowing a student to move to the more complicated tasks of working a loom.
For instance, as Scharfenstein explains, the pedals on the bottom of the loom are pushed down in an order that already has been worked out on paper. By following a particular order on the pedals, a weaver produces a particular design.
"It's like playing an organ," Daniels says, "change the order and you change the sound. But first, you need your sheet music -- your design pattern."
Scharfenstein now is working on the loom as well as designing.
"At this point, Mr. Daniels spends two hours each week teaching me the different weaving methods -- honeysuckle, broken twill, graduated twill -- and I go home and work out my own designs using what he's taught me," Scharfenstein says. "Then I make up some samples."
She brings out a herring bone textile for Daniels' scrutiny. "My parents say the colors are -- unusual," she says timidly.
"Yes, yes, it really grabs you, doesn't it?" exclaims Daniels as he unfolds the gold, brown and black shawl. "The design is vertical and the colors are warm -- this is just what a shawl should be."
Scharfenstein credits the school art program with the opportunities she has had with Daniels.
"Sometimes," she says, "I think about what would have happened if I'd never signed up for that weaving course. None of this would have come to me -- learning from Mr. Daniels, using a loom, knowing that I have a talent for weaving.
"I'm still just beginning, just an amateur. But I know what I want to be. I want to be a weaver."