Living As A Yarn Designer ~ Always Dreaming In Fiber, and Letting The Fiber Show Me What I Know…


“We are not here to do what has already been done.
I have little interest in teaching you what I know.
I wish to stimulate you to tell me what you
know.”

Robert Henri in The Art Spirit, 1923



This is the spindle of yarn, plied,
that was on 2 spindles at the top
of the last entry…

I love the Henri quote, and it speaks to me deeply when it comes to the process of designing a handspun art yarn. Other than one demonstration from a spinning friend who stopped by on a trip through town, I am a self-taught spinner, as well as being self-taught in all of the fiber arts that I do. I have a funny way of seeing the world, by most people’s standards, and when it comes to designing a new yarn, perhaps even stranger. I do not impose my will on the fiber, I let it tell me where it needs to go, who it wants to be with, and I go around the cottage picking up a little bit of this and a little bit of that, spreading it out on my long worktable and starting to play.

Play is of the utmost importance in designing unusual yarns, the child in you comes out to romp, like a little kid with finger paints, making a mess everywhere in a joyful round of tossing things about, spinning some yarns with bits of this and that as swatches, and finally picking up the few ingredients that will be needed to make the yarn. It’s like cooking. It might need more “salt.” There might be too few noodles. I can count the times on one hand I have created a plied yarn, but the above yarn knew from the outset it had to be plied. It was a surprise even to me.

I think in terms of color and texture. I dream in fibers, and might awaken thinking, “Silk! It needs that tussah silk!” And once again a-digging I will go.

I spin on old-fashioned hand-spindles, large ones, and almost exclusively 4″ whorls. The yarn I am spinning now started with 2 fibers that I fell in love with and then everything else fell into place. The fibers are a deep rose colored super soft and silky suri alpaca, and the most delectable fiber, like holding a fluffy cloud in your hands, E. Fresian Lamb in the palest pink and black, both from Homestead Wool and Gift Farm, which you can read about in the sidebar. (I have 2 adopted nephews there, Dalai Lama, and darling Cully, a Border Leceister. You can see their pictures to the right here.) I spun a little of these two together and they would make a beautiful yarn, but, but, I needed more. I pulled out a candy pink Coopworth wool blended with white silk and then had an aha! moment. Probably 2 years ago I purchased quite a lot of vintage ribbon, in silks, satins, velvet and lace. A HUGE spool of 5 inch coral-pink vintage lace was humming in the back of my mind. It is simply gorgeous, and, cut into thin strips it spins beautifully with everything else. I have just begun to spin this yarn and it will be in my next piece of wearable art. It will be just right.

I also realized a couple of things writing this piece. One is that I always wanted to paint but I couldn’t draw my way out of the proverbial paper bag. Oh I can doodle and sketch a little and make funny drawings, but I mean really paint. I love those oil paintings where the paint is so thick you can run your hand gently across the surface and feel the spikes and swirls the brush made, leaving the paint to dry in peaks and valleys. I need color, I need texture, but I am not a painter.

And then it came to me. I paint with fiber. I mix colors in the dyepot; I blend many colors of fibers to create one yarn; I create my own texture with different kinds of fibers and any kind of other element that might possibly work in this medium. I am a painter. I paint with fiber. My small canvases are the yarns themselves. The large canvases are the pieces of wearable art. I spin all of the yarns, with the exception of very fine yarns for trim around beads and so on for these wearable pieces, and as I’m spinning the yarns I’m designing the piece, and as I’m designing the piece my mind is skipping 3 steps ahead to the next yarns I will need to spin to create the piece. My mind plays hopscotch in no particular order.

And when this came to me my mind made a great sweeping circle back to my childhood and forward through my life. I had a lot of trauma as a child and didn’t like to play. I was a solitary child who spent her time hiding, reading, being with my animal companions, sitting under a huge forsythia bush writing furiously in my journals. I was a very serious child and adult and I didn’t like to play. To this day I don’t like to play games and don’t feel safe in playful situations. I have been a writer since I was that 9 year old poet hiding in the bushes, a professional writing since I was barely twenty. My life has been defined by my writing, studying, researching, my nose in books, and on the side I dabbled with fiberwork. But I would be in my 40’s when I started to do fiberwork seriously and I realize now that fiber has taught me how to play. Out of the darkness and into the light. With fiber all around me I am a little girl playing. At 53, I have learned to play.

I will always be a writer and I used to think that I was a writer who did fiber art on the side. It just came to me that somewhere in the last few years, very recent years, that something had flip-flopped. I am a writer and a fiber artist. I do both and I need both. I couldn’t give up either. They are 2 sides of the coin. The yin and the yang.

And so the fiber has taught me how to play. It has taught me what I need to know. It has shown me the way I need to grow. It has given me joy, given me peace.

There’s going to be a yarn with seashells soon, and one with beads. One with vintage velvet and one with cotton batik, every kind and color of wool imaginable, silks, lace and Cotswold curls. They are the swirls on my canvas, the ones I can touch and feel the texture. I finally learned how to paint. My brush is a spindle, and my fiber the paint. I love these paintings. I can even hang them on the wall.

Let your joy lead you. Learn how to play…

Maitri

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