30 June 2011

Fibre Week 2011

I am fortunate to live within reasonably easy driving distance of Olds, Alberta and to have a supportive family who cheerfully send me off to spend several days each summer at Fibre Week. There, I can be surrounded by beautiful fibre, meet interesting people who share my love of wool and wheels, visit friends I don’t see often enough, and attend classes that expand my knowledge and improve my skills.

This year, the first class I took was titled “Coils With a Twist: Beehives and Seashells”, by Caroline Sommerfeld. We made funky art yarn in bright colours: randomly spaced bumps shaped like beehives or seashells, depending on your technique (and your perception), strung between lengths of thinner yarn. Caroline is a fabulous teacher – happy to share her knowledge with the students, encouraging of all your efforts (“it’s art yarn! you can’t DO it wrong!”), and cheerfully dismissive of ‘conventional wisdom’ when it doesn’t apply. The dyed rovings have colour repeats that are too close together? Well, okay, so they won’t work well if you spin them up for a knitted item … but they are perfect for seashells and beehives, where short colour repeats give you really interesting effects. The yarn isn’t perfectly even? Well, go look at your local yarn store and find the most expensive wool yarn in there … chances are that it’s been made with a really funky construction technique involving uneven singles put together to produce textured yarn. See? You made the expensive stuff! Cool.

By paying attention to the things that matter (the finished yarn needs to hang together and not fall apart, and the little bumpy bits need to be tight enough that they don’t pill and fuzz) while otherwise throwing caution to the wind, we were able to create sturdy, mostly-balanced (or completely balanced, depending on a few variables) colourful, fascinating yarn.

I knit mine up into a headband.

The next two days were spent in a class titled “Designing Your Own Yarn”, by Dora Mushka. Dora is an Olds-certified Master Spinner who created this class to help those spinners not pursuing the master spinner levels (or not pursuing them at the moment) to build on the skills they have and learn to create different styles of yarn. Our class was provided with the most amazing array of colourful fibres and we experimented for two whole days, discovering what happens if you spin different colours together without blending them on carders first, then what happens if you do card them; played with dyed and blended batts and rovings and discovered the different results you can get when you spin them in different ways; used thick and thin yarns to create texture; and (my favourite of all), added bits of ‘yarn shrapnel’ to our fibre and made “garneted yarn” and “wild yarn”. Our garneted yarn started as a lovely soft grey batt, over which we sprinkled handfuls of cut up yarn bits of various colours, carded it all, then spun and plied the usual way. The resulting yarn was a lovely grey with specks of colour throughout – an effect that varies from subtle to stunningly bright, depending how generous you were when adding yarn bits! We also used shredded sari silk (plus more bits of coloured yarn) to make “totally overboard and bright” yarn, which was a lot of fun. By the end of the second day, our classroom looked like a bunch of kindergarten students had thrown a party in there – bits of coloured wool were all over the floor and skeins of bright and beautiful yarn were draped over every table.

The best part of the class was the fun and excitement of experimentation. As I so rarely work with coloured fibre I found the experience especially thrilling … my instructor and my classmates were generously tolerant of my frequent outbursts of “ooooh! it turns green!” or “whoa, coooooooooool … ” I am definitely going to be dyeing more batts and rovings, just because the process of spinning from multicoloured fibre is so much fun. I mean, yes, spinning is always fun, but when you get to watch the transformation of “lump of weirdly coloured stuff” into “beautifully patterned yarn that I couldn’t possibly have predicted based on the look of the batt” … well, that’s just too much fun to pass up.

Really organized students take index cards and attach little samples of each thing they made with a label explaining how it was done. I’m  never going to be that organized, and I’d probably lose the cards before I got home anyway. What I did was knit up a sampler scarf out of all the neat stuff we made in class – the completed one in the picture is the “What I learned in Design Your Yarns class” scarf, and the one on the needles is the coils & beehives headband pictured previously. From the yarn itself I can tell which technique I used, and our instructor kindly provided a handout with explanations of how, precisely, to do each thing we tried, so I can reference that if I end up being vague on the details later on.

Here’s another yarn photo – all of this is stuff I made in class:

Left to right we’ve got some beautiful stuff made from a blended batt that included silk (so very soft), the garneted yarn (subtle rather than wild), a cabled yarn (two 2-ply yarns plied together – it ends up looking like lucet cord, and is very strong), and some more seashell-and-beehive yarn.

Of course, just being here at Fibre Week you see all sorts of neat things. The level 4 instructor makes spinning wheels and assorted spinning tools as well as teaching – and he made this spinning chair. Enlarge the picture so you can see the carving in it … it’s stunning.

Coming here is a wonderful experience, and I am truly grateful that my family makes this possible for me every year. I’ve improved my skills and been able to visit with friends (I stay with my good friend Flannelberry who lives too far to visit easily, and we really enjoy having this week to hang out!).

I also discovered that I have an inner magpie longing for expression through colour and sparkle.

Who knew?

It’s been a blast, and I have thoroughly enjoyed myself. If you are a fibre artist and there’s an event like this near you, do yourself a favour and go for a visit. I was really  nervous the first time I came here – what if everyone else is really amazing and talented and I’m this useless rookie who can’t keep up? what if I get lost? what if my wheel isn’t the right kind? What I discovered was that everyone is here to learn – even the experts – and everyone is willing to share their ideas. I am glad I took the risk that first year, I’ve learned so much and met so many great people. Try it, you’ll be glad you did!


  1. thanks for the recap. admittedly i've never been and i'm not too far away either. i hope i can afford to go one day because it sounds like a lot of fun!

  2. Anonymous4:41 pm

    I have seen chairs similar. They were made for a violinist. The narrow back allows freedom of arm movement. Of course they were bare wood and in need of some decorative painting. ha!

  3. Anonymous6:48 pm

    Wonderful to read of your adventures in Olds - many many happy days of spinning and knitting ahead!
    Love your Mom - who will never be at this conference due to lack of skills

  4. Ashley - you should definitely come if you can make it! Even a one day class is worthwhile - that's how I started. And, you can camp in the parking lot if you have a trailer or motorhome which is really nice.

    Aunt Sharon I can see how the chairs would work for violinists too! I've also seen the old 'birthing chairs' used for spinning - though you don't need to hang onto the handles while you spin. ;)

    Mom ... they have beginner classes too, ya know! And you knit, they have knitting seminars that are really interesting!


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