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From Prison Nurse to Master Weaver and “Success Unexpected”: Learn How This Quest Maker Achieved Her Dream

To me, Quest Makers are women in their 40s and beyond who’ve declared “now it’s my time,” and then set off on personal journeys to achieve their dreams. One such Quest Maker is Hilary Cooper-Kenny.
From being a nurse at a maximum security prison to becoming a master weaver, Hilary’s own next quest began in 2000, when she was 53. “Everyone has a dream. Crazy as a Loom Weaving Studio is mine. In a historic 1790 home located in the little hamlet of Kingsbury, New York, I have found my passion. I originally purchased the house for a place to set up all my antique looms. At some point, bringing the house back to life and the dream to weave became so entangled, I couldn’t tell them apart. I no longer knew where one ended and the other began; they became inseparable, interwoven.” On her journey, Hilary has come to find what Thoreau describes as “a success unexpected in common hours.” Here’s how:
At what point in your life did you decide to embark on your quest?
I wanted to weave my whole life, except I was intimidated by it. I did everything else–from hooking rugs to knitting, except weaving. I had been working for the State as a corrections nurse in a maximum security prison for 17 years. I was really discouraged with it and wanted to get out, yet I wanted my 20 years. Then I was asked to join a mental health unit at the prison but in a different environment.
At the same time, I learned about a basic weaving course being offered 90 minutes away. I agreed to take the new job as long as I could have the eight Thursdays off for the course. For the next three years I collected antique looms and even knocked down a wall in my house to build a makeshift studio.
Three years later I was at another crossroads and told my husband, “I cannot be a nurse one more year; I can’t do this anymore.” He told me to “do what you got to do.” During the same time, two things happened. My cousin, who was my best friend and like a brother to me, was dying of throat cancer. As I watched him struggle, I reevaluated my whole life. Then my husband Bill became gravely ill. I took early retirement and we left our home of 20 years, moved into the house he had grown up in and I found work as a per diem nurse.
Looking back, what’s one thing you wish you had known as you set off on your journey?
I had put off learning to weave because it was something so alien to me. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to do this. I wish someone had got me behind me when I was 12. Now my biggest regret is that I could have been weaving for the last 30 years. The thing that matters most to me is the thing I was afraid of doing.
Can you describe how you dealt with any obstacles in your path?
When we moved, I had no job and all my looms were packed away because there was no place to weave. In the spring I found this house where I now have the studio and knew it was the house. How was I going to convince my husband to buy it?
For three nights after finding the house, I didn’t sleep. I was sick. I kept thinking that for my whole life I had put my passions and my desires aside for my husband, my children, for paying for college. Now this was my time. I knew if I didn’t buy that house I would not forgive myself. It would have been the ultimate betrayal.
I really listened to my heart this time. I made an offer and put $1,000 down. Although my husband was upset, I explained to him that if someone really loved me and was at my side, he would support me even if he didn’t agree with me. And he did. Bill has done so much work to the house and has helped me so much.
After I had had the house about a month, he told me “I still think you’re crazy.” I replied: “Do you understand that this house makes my heart sing?”
He never, ever questioned it again. After a while, Bill admitted it was absolutely the right thing to do.
However, the biggest obstacle was keeping my focus in the right place once I opened the studio. In the beginning, I thought I would do most of my business with retail so I also sold other things like yarn and earrings. Yet something wasn’t right; I didn’t like the retail part of it.
My friend Sheila realized why and told me that I wasn’t letting my weaving be center stage. I had been trying to please everyone else. I stopped doing retail and being open regular hours. It turns out that most of my sales come from the Internet and I get to do what I love–weave.
What is the one essential quality that you’d tell women to pack for their own adventure?
It would be the courage to let change evolve at its own rate. There is a place that I call the dark hallway. All the doors are shut behind you and you’re not sure of the doors in front of you. That’s how I felt that whole first winter after buying the house and I wasn’t upset about it. I had the strangest calm and inner feeling it would turn out all right.
How did you make time for your dream?
I took early retirement and found work as a per diem nurse for 4 days a week. Then I dropped down to 3 days and for the last 2 years, it’s been 2 days a week. My goal was that by time I was 62, Crazy as a Loom would take care of itself and I could be done with nursing. That’s exactly what will happen this coming February.
What has helped you stay on your quest’s path?
The little successes–every time someone says “I love these rugs” or “You do beautiful work” or “You’re so lucky; you’re living the life I dream of.” That inspires me and makes it real. That reaffirmation makes me so grateful that I have had the opportunity to do it. I could also see my weaving evolving as I watched myself get better and better.
What’s been the secret to reaching your goals?
You really have to love what you do and really believe in it. If you love something, it sells itself. Sometimes you have to give it up to God. I am doing what I love and the rest has followed.
What’s the best advice for your quest that you’ve ever received?
The best advice came from my friend Sheila when she told me, “Weaving is what you do. Bring your focus back to what you love to do. People love to come here because it is about you and your weaving. Keep that in front of you.”
Is there a particular quote, a movie, a book or a person that has sustained you?
Yes, a quote from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. I even have it on my website:
I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
I feel that kind of success when I am sitting at the loom, listening to quiet music playing, with my cup of tea and my cats beside me. I realize that life is really good.
Do you have a new quest around the corner?
It all has to do with the studio. The house has four quiet restful bedrooms that can be booked by women who want to learn how to weave. Women can call me to arrange a weaving weekend getaway either for themselves or for a group.
I’m also building a labyrinth in the backyard. I’m clearing the land now. I want this to be a place where women our age who are busy working can get away from it all, relax and learn something new.
To learn more about Crazy as a Loom Weaving Studio and Hilary’s weaving weekend getaways, visit her website: .
© Michele M. Meagher 2008-2010
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