Friday, December 10, 2010


December is the month of anticipation. First, we have the build up to Christmas Day then the build up to New Year's Eve. When I was a child, it seemed an achingly long time. It began with the preparation of the christmas cake, the checking of the outdoor lights and making of lists. Then there was the shopping, baking of cookies and decorating that seemed to go on forever. The buying of the tree and wrapping of presents meant the big day was coming fast. Even the purchase of the turkey was a significant milestone confirming the few days left to wait. Then a sleepless night followed by a day of mad sugar induced frenzy and it was all over. Of course, my parents still had the aftermath to deal with, the inevitable turkey soup to make, tree needles to vacuum up and lights to take down. Some where along the way I became the parent and continue to perpetuate the cycle. Now when I reflect upon it, I realize that the rituals leading up to the big day were probably more fun than Christmas Day itself.

So, what has any of this to do with fibre arts??????

With every new piece there is a long period of anticipation. It starts with the inspiration. You see something that sparks your creative side and you start to imagine how you might use the colours, shapes or textures in an expression of your own. New and old ideas merge in your head. The desire to see your idea in the flesh starts to build. There is a hint of Christmas music.

Research is your next step. This may involve consulting books. It almost always involves playing with your stash plus visiting stores. Many designs are thought of, discarded or put on the shelf for another day. Your idea starts to crystallize. As this happens, there is a greater sense of urgency to do something with it.

What you do next depends upon your fibre art interest. A weaver would create a yarn wrap or set up a sample. A tapestry artist might draw a cartoon. Spinners and knitters might produce a small sample. I think of this as the baking stage.

Now you are ready to commit. For me, that means making the warp and dressing the loom. Seeing the warp on the loom is a milestone for me, like buying the Xmas tree. If I like what I see, I can hardly wait to start the weaving. Putting weft to warp is like opening the presents on Christmas Day. I love watching the pattern emerge and my design turn in to reality. If it is a short piece, the euphoria continues until it is done.

If it is a big project like the cape in the picture, then I go through the turkey soup phase while weaving the yardage. However, I always have the promise of New Years Eve to keep me going while I put the pieces together.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Show Time Part Two

This entry is mainly photos of our recent show and sale. I've started with the smiling face of John, one of our cashiers. He is happy because of all the people who came to see and purchase our work.

Next we have Jens who has just finished demonstrating spinning using his beautiful spinning wheel. Take a close look at it. It is the most beautiful wheel I've ever seen.

Then of course we had shoppers. There were so many craft fairs and shows in our area this week end that shoppers had a lot of choice. We appreciate those that took the time to come to our event. Many of them also took the time to leave comments in our guest book and to complement us on the display. Most found something to take home with them.

Myrtle was among the guild members who put on demonstrations of spinning and weaving while Mabel was busy at the sales desk.

Some shoppers took the time to sit for a while, have a cup of hot punch and chat with us.

Audrie check in to see the display. Her lovely colourful runner was featured in our silent auction.

Jo Swallow, weaver extraordinare, also came by to see how we were progressing and to bring us a donation of books for our library.

There were plenty of items to choose from. There were household items, unique clothing, scarves for every taste, sheep and snowmen, pillows and blankets and hats of all colours and sizes.

Amanda helped with the demonstration while her friend was busy making a warp. Amanda is weaving a scarf with some beautiful alpaca yarn.

Now the really big sale is over so we can all relax. No need to weave, spin or knit tonight. Unless of course, you made a commitment to have something finished by Christmas. You really haven't made much progress on it yet. You've got a lot of other commitments in the next few weeks. You wish you hadn't agreed to do it or you wish you had started it in October. For you there is no rest so get off the computer and get to work.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Show Time

Show time has arrived. We've had cold weather with snow off and on for the past week. Some of us have suffered through power outages, loss of phone services and no internet. Most of us have been anxiously checking the weather reports in the hopes that temperatures will rise even if it means rain.

Fallen trees and early morning ice didn't stop us. The set up crew arrived with the props and members arrived with their totes of goods.

Unpacking the totes is like opening a surprise package. Lovely, imaginative items pop out. It is a slow process as you have to admire the design of one piece, marvel at the colours in another, feel the softness of this one and ask the artisan how they made that one. You also covet some items and wish you didn't have to hand them over to the set up crew.

Every sale is different. You don't know what items will be submitted. This year we have a lot of pillows. Some years it seems everyone is inspired to make bags. Tea towels and scarves may be standard but how many will show up and what colours will they be. This makes the job of the set up crew interesting and difficult.
How do you display a wide variety of items so they don't clash?
Here is Pat setting up a display of scarves.

In this photo Sylvia is setting up a table display.

Judy is measuring up a jacket before it goes on to the display rack. It is one of many tops our members created.

Linda is about to light up the entrance to the building if she can untangle the lights or is it the warp from hell that has engulfed her?????

If you came (come) to the sale and like what you saw then thank the ladies pictured above (along with some male relatives that we shouldn't forget). They've been working since August to create the props, plan the display and promote the sale. What may look like a mad scramble at the end is really an organized scramble.

Happy shopping! We hope you found a treasure to take home and if not well, there's always next year.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Really Big Show (and Sale)

November has become the month for craft sales. All the red and green yarns disappeared from the stores sometime in October and they have been transformed into Xmas themed crafts that are soon to appear at a craft fair near you. Visions of Santa are even appearing in our weaving.

Our guild show and sale also takes place in November. This year marks our 14th annual fibre arts show and sale. The event has changed from its humble beginnings as a table in a general craft sale into a stand alone event. It is the only major show in our area devoted to fibre arts.
This year, "Elegant Threads" runs for 3 days from November 26th to November 28th.

Our annual show and sale is an opportunity for members to showcase and sell their work. It is an opportunity for members to get the affirmation we need to continue producing and improving. Like other artisans, we love to talk about our craft and to get feedback. That is almost as important as selling (but let's be realistic, the best feedback is still a cheque). Oh, we get encouragement from eachother but there is no validation like having someone purchase that special piece you made. It is even better if they have a story to go with the cold hard cash, "my daughter loves these colours", "it's a surprise for my wife",etc.

Setting a price for a piece is always a struggle. Few pieces would ever sell if the "minimum wage" was used in the calculations especially for items made of hand spun yarn. Few of us think of weaving or spinning as work but we do want people to appreciate the time and skill required. On the other hand, there is a limit as to the value any sane person would put on the "one of a kind" or "hand made" aspect. Design, workmanship, materials and uniqueness all play a part in determining the value.

We've changed the display this year to accomodate an increase in the number and variety of pieces. The 40 members of our guild have a wide variety of interests so you can expect to find elegant accessories, fine linens, whimsical felted items, wearable art, cozy blankets and items that are just plain fun. Our set up is going to take a little longer so we have delayed the opening of the show until noon on Friday but we are staying open until 8 pm that night.

What we haven't changed is the relaxed atmosphere that includes an opportunity to chat and take in demonstrations. Secretly, we are out to educate the public on the finer points of spinning and weaving and to draw those with a latent desire to play with yarn into our web.

"Elegant Threads" takes place from November 26 to 28th at Rotary House in Qualicum Beach. (See our events section) That weekend is shaping up to be the Qualicum Beach Artisan Extravaganza with several events involving about 300 artisans. The events are taking place at various venues around Qualicum Beach. There will be a shuttle bus to take people from one venue to another. We hope folks will plan to make it a day in Qualicum Beach and plan to spend part of the time visiting with us.

Rotary house is situated at the corner of Beach and Fern in downtown Qualicum Beach. It is about halfway between The Old School House and the Civic Centre. Look for our sign near the long white building.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fall Fibre Works

Everywhere you look these days you will find nature sporting fall colours like these mum's in my garden. Time to get that loom set up or pull out those knitting needles.
Working with fibre is one of those comfortable arts involving activities like baking or woodworking or drinking sherry that just go better with cooler weather. Wheels and looms just seem to call out for more attention as the days get shorter.

Natural fibres like wool, mohair and alpaca are more appealing at this time. They attract us like the handspun yarn attracted the two ladies in this photo. Maybe the crisp nights and dark mornings inspire us to create cozy blankets or that warm scarf or sweater in anticipation of winter. Or maybe it is just too wet and cold to work in the garden so that we can justify playing with fibre without guilt.

For a lot of us, the fall means getting ready for our annual show and sale at the end of November or working on Christmas gifts or both. Tea towels are a favourite item.

The annual show held in Qualicum Beach is our largest show of the year, but this year many of us have enjoyed putting on public displays and demonstrations. Our latest display was in the beautiful recreation centre at Craig Bay. We had a lot of great questions about spinning and weaving and even had some novice weavers working on the guild's loom. The demonstrations included, needle felting, cardweaving, spinning and harness loom weaving. The intricacies of spinning were explored by a number of the attendees.
Jen's helped to add a European flavour to the event with his collection of rugs. One is featured in the 'member's works' photos.

We hope that people who are interested in fibre arts will drop in to our show and sale in this November. Like all artisans, we love complements and questions about our creations and the scarves in this photo look much better in real life.

Friday, October 1, 2010

What is your style?

I am always intreged by the variety of items at the Guild's monthly "show and tell". Some pieces are amazing but I know that I would never produce something similar because it is "just not me". Other pieces inspire me to push my work a little further than I would have on my own because they appeal to my sense of style.

We all work with fibre, either as raw material or yarn, but our finished pieces can be quite different.

We may end up with a colourful pair of socks, a needle felted butterfly, a woven scarf, towels, a runner or rug.
Some pieces emphasize tactile properties of the fibre or yarn. They cry out "touch me" or "wrap yourself in me". Other pieces are based more on a visual design. They ask the viewer to "look closer, see the detail". The differences go beyond simply a interest in structure or texture. Even if we use the same technique we can produce items that are refined and subdued, exhuberant and colourful, homey and comforting and so on.

Our creations reflect our individual interests and style rather than the latest in fashions or home decor. That is a good thing according to Pamela Ballantine, the speaker at our September meeting. She reminded us that we do our best work when we use colours that we like. How true! Put an ugly (to you) warp on the loom and it will sit there haunting you like an evil spirit. When you do get around to working on it you just cannot wait until the whole process is over. Not the way to do your best work!

Pamella also gave us a great tip about "finding your style". This works for both fashion or home decor. If it is home decor that you are interested in forget the myth that people decorate their homes using the same colours that they wear. To build a picture of your decorating style, go through several home related magazines and cut out pictures that you like. Once you have a pile of pictures, lay them out together and look for the common elements. Those elements are the basis for your unique style.

If you love blue (red, yellow, etc) but need more help with all the possible variations try looking through house paint chips. They are a great tool for evaluating different tints and tones. If you are serious then get a paint chip fan from your favourite paint supplier. A little colour research before you shop might help to keep your stash under control. But then again, that odd ball colour that you bought by mistake might lead to a whole new creative experience. Or at least, that's what I tell myself.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

How I Spent My Summer

In the ancient times of my youth, it was common practice to have students returning to school write an essay about what they did during the summer. So, in keeping with that practice, this entry is about events of the previous two months.
Most of us have taken some kind of break from weaving, spinning or knitting to enjoy the glorious summer weather. We may have travelled and left looms and spinning wheels at home or quite likely, since we live in "paradise", we hosted vistors and relatives. For some of us, this has been a particularly busy summer organizing the Vancouver Island Fibre Arts show and Fibre Fiesta fashion show.

The Qualicum Weavers and Spinners had a busy summer with public demonstrations and displays. The guild participated in the Summer by the Sea, street market in Parksville in August, the Oceanside Art Gallery show in July and the Lighthouse Community Fall Fair in early September. We had many positive comments about our displays and demonstrations.

It is always amazing to see how a group of spinning wheels attract small children and men as well as women. The children like to stroke the raw fibre and watch the magic wheel transform fibre into yarn. The men seem fascinated by the mechanics of the wheel itself. The wheels also invoke favourite memories for some.

We also had good fun and food at Judy's barbecue. It was nice that we included our long suffering companions who help when we need that strong arm or special tool and who tolerate our ever increasing stashes of yarn and fibre.

Summer is also a time for gathering inspiration. The ocean provides a multitude of ideas from colour schemes based on sand and water to the shapes of shells and sea weed. Gardens are another source of inspiration with bold colours, the subtle variations of green and contrasting shapes. Even bugs can inspire.

You may have found inspiration in another piece of art that you saw on your travels. It might have been a picture, a piece of pottery, a sculpture or even architecture. Hold on to that inspiration (better still take a photo) and use it to design your next project. How about yarn that reflects the colours in a picture, a scarf that reflects the textures of sea weed or a design that is based on the shape of a building?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tools of the Trade

Handspinning and handweaving have evolved from a necessity to a labour of choice. It is a hobby for some and a form of artistic expression for all. The tools that we use have evolved as well. The primative spindle evolved into great granny's walking wheel then it was reborn in the 60's and 70's as the Indian head spinner. Back then, we created thick and often lumpy wool yarn that screamed handspun. Coarse woven ponchos that weighed a ton were in style along with macrame belts and tie dyed cloth. Some people still associate hand weaving with these styles.

We've come a long way since the 70's. Today's spinners have a better understanding of fibres and how they can be blended, dyed and manipulated. New fibres, both natural and synthetic, became available. Styles changed. Finer yarns became popular. Equipment changed. Spinning wheels became compact, portable and efficient. We learned a thing or two about ergonomics and that had a positive effect on equipment and on our legs and backs.

Now we can create fine plied fibres using natural and synthetic materials. We can add softness, shine, texture, amazing colours, sparkle and spring. (Think about deliberately overspun yarn.)

Weaving also evolved. We developed a better understanding of how yarns behave and how cloth can be manipulated. New yarns continue to come on the market. Loom designs also changed.
The answer to "What kind of a loom do you have?" often defines the weaver's interest, although it is not uncommon for a weaver to list a number of different looms. Looms are like cats, once you have one it seems to attract more. For hand manipulated weaving, such as tapestry or "pick up" techniques, tapestry looms and rigid heddle looms are more popular today than the home made frame or box looms of the 70's. The new looms tend to be small in size, portable and flexible.
Harness looms have tended to become more complex with 8 plus harnesses even for a table loom. As with spinning wheels, the trend is towards lightweight, compact looms that are easy to store or transport. Check out the looms at your next workshop. Texsolv heddles and plastic components have replaced the metal fittings typical of a "Dorothy" table loom. Soon you won't hear that familiar clunk from changing harnesses.
Some of the more serious weavers are going high tech. Computer assisted floor looms make it possible to work with more than 16 harnesses without loosing your mind. Imagine trying to remember the treadling order without one! My 12 harness Leclerc loom is enough of a challenge for me.
There is a loom for everyone whether your passion is texture or pattern, free flowing or structured. Thank heavens we are not all the same.

Sometimes simple is still the best choice whether it is a drop spindle that you can take anywhere or an ancient inkle loom for making a strap.

Design software is one tool that I just love. No more drawing down a pattern on graph paper. Now I can test various design options and eliminate the truly bad ones without lifting a pencil. "Fiberworks" has given me the freedom to go beyond recipes. Software is great for structure and colour but the yarn still surprises. I still can't wait to see what happens when I weave the first few inches of a new project.

The recent popularity in copper pipe tapestry looms reminds me that often the tools we use are also a labour of love for the people that make them. A loom or a spinning wheel made of fine maple, ash or even walnut is at the very least comparable to a fine piece of furniture. Some spindles rival small sculptures.

Some items are a labour of love of a different kind. It might be that copper pipe loom,warping board or spool holder that was made for you. It is more than a tool. It is a statement of support. For me, that special tool is the set of reclaimed maple shuttles that my father made.