Tag Archives: Olds College

An Exploration of the Desire to Make: Keynote for Olds College Fibre Week 2017

My name is Diana Twiss. I live in north east Langley in a one-hundred-year-old farmhouse on the Fraser River. For the last twenty-two years, I have worked full-time in the world of adult literacy and learning. This work takes me into the cities of Vancouver and North Vancouver. My commute takes an average of 3 hours a day four days a week. I knit on the bus and train as often as I can.

I started spinning in January 2000, and it saved me. That may sound dramatic, but looking back on where I was and where I was heading, it really did.

This is my story.

For as long as I can remember, I have identified with the behaviours similar to those of an artist. I draw, paint, colour, and design. I benefit from visuals and easily create them as a way to express myself.

But I never called myself an artist. In fact, I spent years calling myself a “wannabe” artist and once I fell down the rabbit hole of fibre arts, I called myself a “wannabe” fibre artist.

Leading up to the year 2000, I wasn’t well. I was working full-time teaching, mothering a crew of three dynamic children, maintaining a marriage (it’s a good marriage, but like any, needs attention), reconstructing the homestead site we lived on to reflect the heritage designation and doing nothing, absolutely nothing for myself. I didn’t have time, energy or mental space to draw or paint like I used to. My creativity leaked out in the clothes I sewed for my children, sweaters I knit and gardens we built.

I was usually a patient, loving person. Easy to laugh and optimistic. But I started feeling more negative about things, more gloom and doom, less optimistic, less patient and easy to anger. Every day was a struggle.

In my early years, I had spent hours a day doing art. I studied studio art in London, Ontario for two years before switching to the University of Guelph to complete a degree in fine art. While I loved my time in the studio, devoting myself entirely to painting or drawing, I never truly identified with the other student artists who were aiming to have studio shows and to sell their works in the Toronto galleries.  I was drawn to William Morris and the British Arts and Crafts movement, seeing how art, design, and beautiful, well-considered craftsmanship had been brought into the everyday. Functional art.  Fast forward fifteen years, a teaching career, three children, chickens, dogs and cats, and those ideas started to fade – and the sad, mad, and tired person took over.

One of my only creative outlets was knitting, and it was increasingly difficult to get natural fibre yarns at an affordable price. Reading the local newspaper (Langley Advance) I saw a small ad for the Langley Weavers and Spinners Guild and a phone number. I called the number. And the following month, I attended my first meeting.

I’ll never forget that evening. In a room full of women, mostly knitting and talking about spinning and weaving, there was a business meeting. And then there was an educational program. It was a slide show featuring the work of a local painter, focussing on her design elements and colour work. WOW.

A room full of grownups. Talking about art. Talking about art like it mattered, like it was something important and valuable. Something inside of me stirred and woke up.

I wasn’t alone.

I realized that evening, that somewhere along the line I started losing myself. And the first part of myself that I had let go was the artist in me. I had somehow accepted the message that doing art was a frivolity, it was an extra, if you had time and resources, a hobby. Other things were much more important.

But that wasn’t true. It was only after I climbed out of that dark time that I realized how dark things were.

When you have a creative spirit, you must honour and feed that creative spirit or it gets sick and withers, and eventually dies. Feeding a creative spirit is not a frivolous activity any more than exercising regularly and eating well are not considered frivolous (only-do-it-if-you-have-time) activities.

It is not optional.

That is why, for so many of us, the concept of “passion”, “having a love affair”, and “falling in love”, come up in the descriptions of our fibre work. We have deep and intense connections to our crafts. The desire to create is strong. And words like obsession, addiction, enabler are all regulars in our lexicon. These are important things to pay attention to.

In my guild (the Langley Weavers and Spinners Guild) there is a surprising number of young women, with young families who have recently joined. I am inspired by their work and their passion, and also reminded about that time – when I had very young children and great demands on my physical and emotional energy. I see the way they struggle to carve out time to create, and the amazing result that ensue.

They are doing it because they need to create to stay sane. To keep a balance in their lives.

When we engage in creative pursuits, are entire brains are activated in the activity. That is why it is so satisfying an experience. Three of the major networks in our brain are activated:

Source: http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines_theorypractice

The affective network – where our motivation and emotional desire to create exist and are maintained.

The recognition network – where the background knowledge, the stuff of what we are learning sits, as we add new knowledge, new experiences, this area gets activated

And the strategic network – the part of the brain that looks after the things we call “executive function”.  This is where strategic planning, designing, making decisions, setting goals exist.

You can see that for any project we embark upon, each part of our brain is fully activated. This leads to an increase in the production of wonderful mood enhancing neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin.

This is why the desire to create is so strong and if not maintained, we simply don’t feel right. Our dopamine and serotonin levels take a hit and we start feeling low.

So do what you need to do to keep your spirits high. And remember, feeding a creative spirit is not optional. It is not simply recreation. It is essential to keeping you mentally strong. It is a vital thing we do to honour the creative spirit that exists in all of us.

Thank you and have a wonderful week at Olds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be the Boss of your Yarn*

*In 2011 I attended a 3-day spinning workshop “Spinning with a Purpose” with Abby Franquemont at the Taos Wool Festival in Taos, New Mexico. Written on the whiteboard as a welcome was the workshop title along with the message, aka “Being the Boss of your Yarn”. I give full credit to Abby for this variation of her title. This is not an imitation or repetition of the workshop she offered. Hers was much more in-depth and moved along with our learning needs. Mine is more directed – is all about learning a set of skills and strategies that put you in charge of the yarn you want to make, rather than making the same default yarn over and over and over again.

Be the Boss of your Yarn is the final full-day class I’ll be teaching at Olds College this coming June. Here’s what I have in store:

This workshop is all about busting through “default-yarn” – that yarn you make over and over again despite attempts to do it differently. In this workshop you will learn techniques that will expand your yarn repertoire. You will experiment with and learn about the effect of twist on your singles and your plied yarns. You will also learn about yarn structure by making samples of soft singles, 2-ply, chained (Navajo ply), and cabled yarns. You will learn strategies for making the yarn you want. At the end of the day, YOU will be the boss of your yarn.

I’ve taught this class a few times already and it is a blast. What is the most fun is seeing the excitement and sometimes awe as people realize some fundamental elements they can change to alter the look (and function) of the yarn they are making. Some of us, when we learn to spin, develop a fear of too much twist, like it is a bad thing. Too much twist will make your yarn hard and other silly things. Well, that is true, however the margin of what is too much twist is much wider than you can imagine. And in the first part of this class, we set out to explore this.

We make a series of two-ply yarn samples, first putting a lot of twist into the singles and then alternatively, plying with a lot of twist and then in another sample, plying with as little twist as we can get away with. In the next series of two-ply yarn we make singles using as little twist as possible and then plying with a lot of twist and another sample plying with very little twist. Then we look at the yarn, and feel the yarn. We measure the angle of twist. The idea is to push the element of twist to both extremes so we can see what too much and too little twist looks and feels like.

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Then we do a bunch of other things in the afternoon, building on this knowledge and new found comfort with varying amounts of twist.

This photo is what was left over after everyone left the class at Fibres West 2016. Scraps of yarn that didn’t make it to the sample cards and other bits from various experiments. I’m looking forward to doing this again.

I hope to see you there.

 

Twist and Draft: worsted to woolen and everything in between

The third class I’ll be doing at Olds College during Fibre Week 2016 is Twist and Draft. The subtitle is “worsted to woolen and everything in between.”

Here’s an excerpt from the description:

Explore and experiment with a variety of drafting techniques from worsted to woolen. Learn when and why, and most importantly, how to use these different drafting and spinning techniques, from short forward draw (worsted) through to the long draw (woolen). You will also get some tips on fibre preparation to help you get the yarn you want for your project.

Expand your spinning repertoire so you have more choices in making the yarn you want, from strong, fine yarn for socks through to lofty, soft yarn for hats and sweaters. You’ll come away from this class knowing how to answer the worsted vs woolen question with confidence.

I have the teaching plan all sorted out and now I’m working on assembling the right materials to support the exercises. I have carded rovings of local Clun Forest and Suffolk to use as we start playing with the drafting techniques that are used when making woolen type yarn.

For the worsted portion I have combed top in BFL and Merino. I also have some Romney lamb locks, and Merino locks that we will comb as part of learning the fibre prep for worsted yarn. I wanted another wool to sample with and decided to use some California Variegated Mutuant (CVM) that I purchased at the Fleece sale back in October. It’s a beautiful colour and I have a lot of it.

To check it out, I combed up 16 grams of the fibre. What you see below are the results. Nine grams of combed top, simply beautiful and soft. What’s in the scale is the waste, or the stuff that is left over after combing. I usually make felted balls with it. But what if this was the only fleece you had to make all the knitted items for your family? If that was the case, you’d think differently about calling this waste.

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I decided to make yarn with it. I carded it into rovings on my Ashford carders. It was pretty messy stuff. Lots of short bits, some VM, and fibres of all lengths. No less, I soldiered on and got it done. After spinning the combed top, using a short forward draw. I changed bobbins and spun these rolags with a supported long-draw letting the twist get into the fibre and pulling back. I plied it the next morning using a centre pull ball. As I plied I pinched the bumpy parts so smooth them out a bit and try to make the yarn more even.

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Here are the two finished skeins before they were washed. On the left is the worsted: combed top, long staple length, spun with short forward draw. On the right is the woolen: hand carded, short fibres, supported long-draw. On the side is the true waste, doesn’t even weigh half a gram.

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I washed the skeins in hot soapy water and rinsed them in hot water. For the woolen skein I did two rinses, one in hot water for a few minutes, and then into ice cold water for a few minutes. While in this water I roughed it up and then back into the hot water. I finished it in the cold water. I squeezed water out of both and gave both some good thwacks on the side of the tub. Then I rolled them in an old towel and took them outside for their photo shoot.

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One of the things people don’t like about combing as a fibre preparation is the amount of waste. But if you decide to use the waste to make a different kind of yarn, you may just feel differently about it. I love the look of both of they yarns can’t wait to knit them up into wristlets.

Spindling 1.0 at Olds College Fibre Week 2016

The second full-day workshop that I’ll be teaching is Spindling 1.0.

Here’s the description:

In this workshop, you will learn basic spinning techniques for suspended spinning. These techniques will allow you to further explore making a variety of yarns with these noble tools. This class is for absolute beginning spinners, or for those who know how to spin with a wheel, but don’t know how to do it with a spindle.

In this introduction to the spindle as a tool for making yarn, you will also earn about the properties of wool as a protein fibre for making yarn. You will learn how to draft fibre, put twist into it, ply and set the yarn– everything you need to get you started on your yarn making journey.

I’ve taught this class several times. Sometimes it is a 3-hour class, sometimes 4-hours. Having a full 6-hour class is a true luxury and I feel blessed as an instructor and happy for the students. It gives us the chance to explore things just that wee bit deeper. To ask more questions, to play a bit more.

For a long time I’ve had a wonderful spindle maker create amazing spindles for my classes. These are top whorl spindles made by Dave Smith of Houndesign. Dave is now following another passion: music and leaving wood turning behind. Here’s a glimpse of these lovely tools.

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As a spindle instructor, one of the biggest frustrations is the tools people bring to the class. People who don’t yet know how to spin, especially spindle spin, often don’t know how to select the right kind of spindle. They often come to my class with really heavy, bottom whorl spindles, and then are frustrated that they can’t spin on it. Having good spindles on hand was key and was a big reason for spindling success.

So now I have to do this differently. I don’t have a spindle maker and frankly getting out of the spindle purchase and re-sale thing is fine with me. It is one level of detail I don’t need at this time. What I’ve decided to do is to have a class set of spindles that are good quality spindles. If someone shows up to my class with a strangely balanced or heavy one, I can offer one of mine on loan.

The spindles that I’ve played around with and have fallen in love with are TurtleMade spindles from Jen Kemery. They are gorgeous. Available in 26 colours it is difficult to choose just one. They are affordable ($20 Canadian plus shipping) and they work beautifully. I now own a class fleet. Everyone can try it out. They can learn spindling and can also learn how to work with a Turkish spindle at the same time. If they love these and want their own, they can order one from Jen. Win-win-win. Here’s a shot of the fleet. Aren’t they lovely?

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And a couple of close-ups so you can really see them. They are made on a 3-D printer and weigh between 34 – 36 grams. I think this is a perfect weight for an all-purpose spindle. You can spin fine singles on these and you can spin thicker singles too. If you drop them, and who doesn’t at any given time in the spindling process, you don’t have to worry about them chipping or cracking.2016-03-22 18.42.39

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On the weekend we had three of these spindles being featured at the Surrey Museum Sheep-to-Shawl, for our demos. Kids gathered around these spindles and wanted to try them out. They were drawn to the colours and the fibres. The process of teaching the kids a bit about spindling was doable because we weren’t worried about breaking a $20 polymer spindle. Happy to report that not a single one was broken or damaged in any way, despite being dropped several times.

Looking forward to featuring these at Olds College. Hope to see you there.

Wild about Colour: finally there!

I am going to be teaching 4 full-day workshops at Olds College in Olds, Alberta this year during Fibre Week 2016. As you can imagine, I am over the moon to have been asked, to have my proposals accepted and then to have the classes get sufficient enrollment that they are a go!

The first one up is called Wild About Colour. Here is the short description for it:

This workshop is all about making sense of those wonderful hand painted braids we are seeing everywhere. Learn how to make a series of decisions that will help you get the yarn and effect you want from the colours in your painted braids. In this full-day workshop you will learn some basic and advanced techniques for working with hand painted top. Colour theory will be discussed and practically applied throughout the day.

We will start with basic 2-ply techniques and move into the wondrous world of fractal spinning. After making several fractal samples, we will work on combination drafting and also learn how to make ombre yarn. Skills such as hand carding and Navajo plying will be learned along the way. At the end of this workshop you will be wild about colour and never again hesitant about working with hand painted top.

This is a newly developed class, and though I’ve been thinking about it for years, I haven’t actually had the chance to make it a reality, until now.

For the last while I’ve been puzzling over how to get the most learning out of a 6-hour class. How many exercises can people complete in that time? What number of exercises and which ones will help people understand the fundamental principles of working with hand painted braids and then be able to apply them in other situations?

What’s the best way to teach colour theory, so we don’t get bogged down in it or confused by it, but inspired? These and several other questions have kept me up at night. In the last couple of months, I’ve been experimenting with the workshop plan. I’ve put myself through this class three times already, as each time I tinker with the exercises, the fibre and the flow of the day.

There’s no spoiler alert necessary here, because I have decided that I am not going to tell you my plan, until after the workshop. I want the 12 participants to be the first to see what’s up and how things are going to roll out. All I will say is that there will be seven different lovely coloured superwash BFL colourways from Sweet Georgia Yarns, and 14 different colours of Corriedale top from Fibres Plus that folks will be playing with.

The photos below are some of the shots of my planning and organizing for the class. More about the other classes in future posts.

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