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Through global travels, weaver-writers builds relationships

By Virginia de Leon

Like the tapestry she weaves using wool from the sheep that graze in her yard in Valleyford, Meghan Nuttall Sayres intertwines her experiences with those of people she has met around the world. 

Meghan Sayres
Meghan Sayres

Through tapestries, as well as through poetry, essays and books, Meghan delves into a myriad of issues — from ancient traditions and the nuances of culture to the value of diversity and the power of women’s voices.

A weaver and award-winning writer, Meghan is author of Anahita’s Woven Riddle, an historical novel for young adults set in 19th-century Iran.  The book explores the art of weaving while telling the story of a nomadic Muslim girl who weaves a riddle into her wedding carpet. 

The American Library Association named it one of the top 10 books for young adults last year.

In addition to writing books and weaving tapestries, this mother of three has gained expertise in international rural development through her world travels.  Through relationships she establishes, Meghan seeks to be an ambassador of peace.

In her trips and her day-to-day life at home in Valleyford, Meghan builds relationships to foster understanding among people of different countries, faiths and cultures.

“Although I celebrate the differences, I look for similarities among people,” she said.  “Too often, we focus on the differences.”

Especially on recent trips to Iran and Uzbekistan, Meghan sought to “reveal the richness of these cultures” through her writing, weaving and artistic ways of celebrating differences and commonalities.

Meghan’s openness to the world gives her the opportunity to reach out, make friends and see past stereotypes.

“It’s like being a child again,” she said, describing her experiences abroad.  “Traveling allows me a break from routine, I experience the unexpected.  Everyday I feel so alive, so in the moment.”

Wherever she travels, she feels a connection with people.  With each visit to Turkey, Ireland, Iran and other countries where she has befriended weavers, writers and others, she has immersed herself in their lives and cultures.

“Familiarity breeds understanding,” said Meghan.

She traveled to Turkey several times while working on the story that became Anahita’s Woven Riddle and traveled to Iran in 2005 to speak about it for the country’s first international children’s book festival. 

“In Iran, especially, because they’ve been painted as demons and part of the “axis of evil,” it’s amazing how quickly I’ve bonded with people there.  I met other writers in Iran and I realized that we were so much alike,” she said.

One of Meghan’s first trips overseas was to Ireland when she was 15.  While there, she and her sister and some friends went on a month-long bicycle tour of the country where Meghan’s grandmother grew up and raised sheep. 

Meghan returned many times and lived there with her family in 1998.

Her passion for weaving and writing began in 1984 with her first trip to Turkey.  During that eight-week tour of the country, she fell in love with Turkey’s oriental carpets and intricate tapestry.  

“I loved the idea of how the rug told stories,” she said, recalling the journey she took shortly after graduating from college. 

Her Irish grandmother instilled an appreciation for weavers’ work as they cared for their sheep, dyed the wool and spun their own yarn. 

“I liked the idea of creating something from nothing,” she said. 

Tapestry is a practical use of art, Meghan said. 

“Weaving a tapestry is like building a stone wall.  You have to build up your base constantly to create a certain image,” she described, adding that the weaving process not only creates something of beauty, but also can be meditative and therapeutic. 

“It gives you time to think,” she said. 

Over the years, she also became involved with Taipeis Gael, a tapestry-weaving cooperative in Donegal, Ireland. 

Her experience with weavers and spinners eventually led to another labor of love, Weaving Tapestry in Rural Ireland: Taipeis Gael, Donegal, a book of essays, oral histories and photographs of the work of tapestry weavers that was published last year.

Before moving to Spokane County in 1992, Meghan lived in Salt Lake City, where she worked as a recreational therapist. 

After establishing the Department of Recreation Therapy, Physical Rehabilitation Services, at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center, she left the field to devote more time to her three children and pursue her interest in creative writing.

Meghan continued to write after settling just south of Spokane in Valleyford, a rural community where her children had enough room to play and where her family could raise sheep.

When she’s not traveling and conducting workshops, she spends most of her time at home — writing, raising her sheep and enjoying the outdoors. 

In the evenings, she sometimes weaves for a few hours at her tapestry loom.  She uses yarn that she spins from her sheep’s wool with a wheel or a hand spindle. 

Meghan also dyes yarn by using plants and other natural materials—just like the weavers she met in both Turkey and Ireland.

Just as she has gained insights from weavers around the world, she has also gained understanding from various religions.

“All religions have something to offer.  Many of us are striving toward the same goal,” she said.

Meghan, who grew up Roman Catholic in Pennsylvania, became immersed during her mid-30s in Celtic spirituality—a way of being in the world that revels in nature and honors the sacredness of even the most ordinary moments of life.

Her exploration of the history, traditions and spirituality of the ancient Celts eventually sparked her interest in the Middle East and the Muslim world.

As she has observed the spirit and teachings of the ancient Celts continue to thrive in the British Isles, she also sees that the distant past in countries such as Turkey and Iran remains alive in the present.  This reality is evident not just in the old buildings, pillar stones and other physical remnants of history, but also in the ways people see the world and the traditions they continue to live out today, she said.

For example, in Ireland, people still leave devotions at the holy wells and sacred trees of the pagan Celts, which have since been transformed into symbols of Christianity. 

That practice is similar to a custom that’s observed at the Tomb of the Prophet Daniel in Uzbekistan, where people tie personal belongings to a tree, Meghan explained. 

Last fall, she went to Uzbekistan to travel by train along the ancient Silk Road.

“There is so much more than what meets the eye,” Meghan said, describing the mysticism surrounding people’s stories, rituals and lives.

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