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Program Overview

HGA Certificates of Excellence Program Overview

by Sandra L. Swarbrick


The Handweavers Guild of America, Inc. (HGA) provides a certification program for members of the HGA in four categories: handweaving, handspinning, dyeing, and basketmaking. The HGA has prepared a handbook of assigned activities leading to examination for certification in each category. Successful applicants demonstrate expertise by working through these activities culminating in certification at either one or both levels: (1) Certificate of Excellence, Level I: Technical Skills or (2) Certificate of Excellence, Level II: Master with Specialized Study. Responsibility for, and authority over, the Certificate of Excellence program rests with HGA Certificate of Excellence Program (COE) Chair as representative of the HGA Board of Directors.

Specific aims of the program include:

1. To assist the individual by providing guidelines for evaluating his or her skills.
2. To help guilds, study groups, and teachers by offering an educational program for study.
3. To assist institutions and individuals to identify and locate technically qualified fiber artists.
4. To encourage applicants to assemble materials that are useful in teaching the fiber arts and as references for further exploration.

Examinations are held every two years in each category. In even-numbered years the COE examination for Dyeing is in the spring and the COE examination for Handweaving is in the fall. In odd-numbered years the COE examination for Basketmaking is in the spring and the COE examination for Handspinning is in the fall. Information concerning scheduled examinations may be found in the "Update" section of each issue of Shuttle Spindle & Dyepot. This information will include the name of the hosting guild, host guild chair, registrar, mentor, application deadlines, and handbook edition being used for examination. Each applicant is responsible for obtaining and using the proper handbook and appropriate forms for the examination. Both may be verified and obtained from the HGA office.

A mentor is provided for each category to aid applicants. The mentor is a knowledgeable volunteer whose role is advisory only. All persons working toward the COE requirements, as well as those considering the program, are encouraged to consult the appropriate mentor when questions arise in interpreting directions, requirements, or terminology. Applicants and prospective applicants may accept or disregard the mentor's counsel. Since the mentor is not involved in the evaluation process, an inquiry will not effect the evaluation of the applicant's work in any way. The acceptance or rejection of work submitted for certification will be made only during the scheduled examination.

The certification program is not a competition. Mere completion of all the requirements does not constitute excellence. Each applicant's materials are evaluated according to accepted standards of superior quality. An applicant must receive a score of 85% or greater to receive the Certificate of Excellence for Level I. Scoring for Level II is pass/fail.


Any member of the Handweavers Guild of America, Inc., may apply for certification. All work must be done independently by the applicant without supervision. Applicants may take classes during the time that work for certification is under way as long as the applicant's work is independent of classes and/or instructors. For the basketmaking certification, baskets made from kits or from commercial patterns are not acceptable.

General Outline of the Program

Each handbook is arranged in a logical order to facilitate the applicant's progress and application of knowledge gained. Level I deals with technical skills for each category. In each handbook Level I is divided into three (3) parts. Parts 1 and 2 are designed to demonstrate the applicant's understanding of design principles and knowledge of materials and equipment and its use in the specified category. Part 3 is designed to demonstrate the applicant's knowledge and skill in producing a variety of samples based on specific requirements in the specified category. The purpose of Level II is to emphasize individual development and study in the particular category and to demonstrate that the applicant knows how to research and develop an idea and bring it to fruition. Work for Level I and Level II may not be submitted for the same examination and Level I must be achieved before work for Level II will be examined.

Level I in Handweaving

Part 1: Design Elements and Principles requires written material and construction of 7 examples of proportion, 1 color wheel, 10 examples of color schemes, and 2 sets of examples of color interaction. 
Part 2: Equipment requires written work demonstrating an applicant's understanding of typical handweaving mechanisms and specialized tools.
Part 3: Handweaving Techniques requires written work and 40 woven samples.

Level I in Handspinning

Part 1: Design requires written material with illustrations or photographs and 4 small handspun samples.
Part 2: Equipment and Fibers requires written work with illustrations or photographs, 5 handspun skeins, and four completed tables.
Part 3: Handspinning Techniques requires written work, 35 handspun samples, and 7 swatches.

Level I in Dyeing

Part 1: Procedures and Theory requires written work and eight or more photographs.
Part 2: Design requires written work, twelve graduated sets of dyed samples, the construction of a color wheel of ten or more dyed segments, and two completed tables.
Part 3: Dyeing Techniques requires written work and fifteen individual or sets of dyed samples.

Level I in Basketmaking

Part 1: Design requires written work, illustrations, 10 samples of color schemes, a hue/value chart, and a color wheel.
Part 2: Natural Basketmaking Materials requires five short essays with illustrations or photographs.
Part 3: Basketmaking Techniques requires written materials, illustrations, and 24 sample starts or completed baskets.

Level II: Specialized Study for all Categories

Each applicant is required to present an in-depth study in an area of his or her own particular interest in any aspect of the selected category. Work for the specialized study must demonstrate research in considerable depth. Requirements for the specialized study include written materials, illustrations where pertinent, and samples culminating in major works.

Four copies of a descriptive outline of the proposed research topic must be sent to the appropriate registrar for review after the initial fee payment but no later than the date the final fee is due to the HGA office. It is strongly recommended that the applicant allow sufficient time after the submission of the outlines to benefit from reviewer's comments and for completion of all work associated with an in-depth study. The registrar will distribute the outline to three reviewers who will provide counsel on its feasibility, suggesting modifications if advisable. The identity of the applicant will be unknown to the reviewers. Reviewers' comments are intended to aid the applicant in shaping a viable study of suitable scope for the COE program.

Applicant's Number

To retain anonymity and confidentiality, each applicant is assigned a number by the HGA office staff unique to that particular examination. All materials, including correspondence, application blanks, inquires, and submitted entries, are identified with this number only.

Submissions for Examination

All written work must be submitted in English. All written materials of more than a sentence in length must be typewritten or computer generated. The applicant may neatly hand print information on record sheets, drafts, and labels. Each handbook contains detailed information concerning the presentation and organization of all materials for submission. Instructions for submission of materials for examination are provided after registration for the program.


The HGA COE Program appoints two qualified people to act as examiners for each examination. Information concerning scheduled examinations may be found in the "Update" section of each issue of Shuttle Spindle & Dyepot. Written materials, samples, and photographs/slides submitted by the applicant will be assembled by the registrar for evaluation by the examiners. Throughout the examination procedure the anonymity of the applicant is maintained by the use of the assigned number. The names of successful certificate recipients will be published in Shuttle Spindle & Dyepot.


The HGA regards this undertaking as a service to its members and to the field of fiber arts. Every effort is made to keep the cost to applicants consistent with the cost of administering the program. These costs include printing, mailing, insurance, storage, handling of materials, and the costs incurred to assemble the examiners.

Program fees for participation in the Certificate Of Excellence examination are $300 total.


Applicants whose work did not meet the standards set for the requirements may resubmit to a future examination. Work for either certificate that is below standard must be resubmitted in its entirety. Not all of the work needs to be redone-only those pieces the applicant chooses to redo. The resubmitted work must, however, follow the format and requirements of the handbook being used for that examination.

If the applicant is reapplying for the Level II certificate, an outline of the topic to be studied must be submitted for review. The applicant may propose a previously submitted Level II topic or choose a different one.

Additional Certificates

Recipients of the Certificate of Excellence, Level II: Master with Specialized Study in a specific category may apply for an additional COE in that same category in a different area of specialization. It will be necessary to register for the examination of the new work for Level II and to submit an outline of the new in-depth study, but work for Level I need not be resubmitted.

Important Things to Remember

Applicants preparing work for submission should verify that they are using the proper handbook edition for the desired examination and confirm that they are using the appropriate forms to register for that examination. Applicants should carefully read through the handbook before beginning, contact the Mentor with any questions they might have, and remember to FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS detailed in the handbook.

Sandra L. Swarbrick, of Camano Island, Washington, is past Chairman of the HGA Certificate of Excellence Program. She served on HGA's Board of Directors for 9 years. She continues to work on the HGA Program as an advisor to the current Chair.

Order the COE Handbook packets. (Just click on HGA, then on Handbook, after entering the eShop.)







For more information about theCertificates of Excellence, please contact:

Handweavers Guild of America, Inc.
1255 Buford Highway, Suite 211 
Suwanee, GA 30024

Telephone: (678) 730-0010