When Myra Schegloff was a graduate student of history at UCLA in the early 1970s, weaving was a hobby, a form of therapy.
The vests, overblouses, shawls and hats she produced in her Topanga studio showed vivid blues blended with striking purples and magentas. There were long, fringed shawls of creamy white and shaded gray. Weaving, she says, taught her something she couldn't get out of history books--an education in texture and color.
"It was as though I had put on new glasses," recalled the 46-year-old artisan, who had learned weaving in church classes.
At that time, Schegloff had no plans to leave the world of academia. But over the last 14 years, the artwork has become her life's work.
Schegloff's wares now sell at such tony shops as Contemporary Images in Sherman Oaks, Contempo in Westwood, Del Mano's in Brentwood and Boutique Allee in Malibu. Private orders arrive steadily and a couple of art agents from the East Coast have been seeking to represent her.
Sioux Ashe, a salesperson at Del Mano's, said of Schegloff's work: "It's beautifully done, good technically and perfectly finished. We're very selective about the artists we deal with."
At the moment, Schegloff is working on a 9 1/2-by-14 foot rug commissioned by an interior designer for her own home. Schegloff expects the rug to take three months to complete. She gets $25-$35 per square foot for her rugs--a price some artists here and in the East believe is "too low." Her garments usually sell for between $95 to $225 each.
Schegloff said she is happy to keep busy. There was a time when the trendy shops were not interested.
Like many other arts-and-crafts people, Schegloff also sells at community sales and fairs. She recalls past fairs when she doubted she would sell enough clothes to cover the entry fee. There were times when she would travel long distances to set up her wares and then sit for hours . . . and sit and sit.
But sales eventually picked up. In the meantime, some of the competition has fallen by the wayside. Weaving went through a period of popularity, like macrame, Schegloff said. But those who weren't serious weavers soon dropped out. After all, she pointed out, most people won't pay $1,500 to $2,000 for a loom and additional sums for materials for a short-lived hobby.
Schegloff knows of only one other weaver in Topanga. She laments the loss of many crafts people in the mountain area, which she believes has lost a community spirit that was once unique in the Los Angeles area.
"But now many of the crafts people have left. Property has become too expensive. They simply couldn't afford to live here any longer."
The loss of neighboring craftsmen is made even greater by what Schegloff described as the loneliness of weaving.
Such loneliness is one reason Schegloff has kept busy with community work. For nine years she organized Topanga Days, a once-a-year arts, crafts and miscellany sale in Topanga Canyon. She volunteered her time during a government-sponsored giveaway of surplus cheese in Los Angeles and was one of the first to offer help after the fire at the downtown library.
And there is time spent at home with her husband, Emanuel, a UCLA sociology professor, and their teen-age daughter, Naomi.
The rest of her days are spent weaving, with the radio on. The windows of her studio offer a panoramic view of the mountains. Schegloff works at the loom in bare feet.
"It's a lot easier to control the foot pedals without shoes," she said. "The bare foot is more sensitive."
That's another reason she became a weaver. Schegloff said she has always hated to wear shoes.