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The Adventures of two Fibre Artists.



Contributing Artists

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Collie Coinpurse

Several years back on one of my visits to the monastery I was brushing one of the dogs the nuns care for, a collie-mix, and as I emptied each brush I wondered how well it would spin. I brought it home and my first concern was whether this particular fibre would be best to spin in the grease because of it’s texture. It could be less manageable, tricky at best. Because it is a finer fibre, with little crimp it took some getting used to spinning. I had to spin it tighter than I am used to and I was not totally happy with the results, some places were over spun, but even more disappointing was the mud colour, void of anything resembling luster. So before investing too much time into a larger project, I have in mind to knit or weave an icon scarf for the monastery, I decided to try a smaller project, hoping after it is washed, the fibre, would offer something promising. In addition that particular dog that yielded the fibre journeyed beyond this life unexpectedly. The nuns acquired two more collies and have been bringing me fibre after each brushing, so I wanted to make something from the previous dog exclusively, before blending with the others.

Spin-off magazine featured an article on spinning dog fibre several months ago, which included a pattern for a beaded knit coin purse. I thought this would be something they could find a use for that would remind them of their recently departed companion, or it could be good practice. The biggest obstacle was stringing the beads. Because of the incongruity of my first effort at spinning this kind of fibre there were places where passing the yarn through the beads was a real struggle, still, as with any handspun yarn, it knitted very nicely despite the diversity in gauge. It’s amazing how yarn now matter how inconsistent seems to fall into place nicely when creating with it. The finished project was slightly biased due to overspinning but once sewn together, a zipper in place and blocked it kept it’s correct shape, not too bad for a first effort, but the real test, washing. It was amazing how much dirt came from approximately 50 yards, my guess, but what was so pleasing…was what emerged. Beautiful, unexpectedly soft, fibre.
I am constantly awe-inspired by God’s great wonders perceptable in fibre arts. How can anyone not contemplate the animal that offered it’s fibre and the miracle that is each animal that He gave for our use, and care.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Monastic Fibre Adventures

Several weeks ago I was blessed with what has become a wonderful tradition, my annual visit to Saints Mary and Martha Monastery, to spend a few days with my Godmother, the Abbess, Mother Thecla. On these visits I pack the essentials for spending a few days in contemplation and prayer, which includes reading material, usually something by the early church fathers, appropriate dress and of course something fibre to work on. It is no coincidence that I find it most natural to bring fibre projects to work on for a visit to such a spiritual, peaceful sanctuary.

Days at the monastery are filled with busy hands and quiet minds. The nuns are always at work, making liturgical wine and candles for various churches, meals for upcoming retreats and another of my favorite activities that, like fibre crafts, lends well to contemplation…gardening. I have always found having one’s hands in God’s earth, taking advantage of fresh air, sunshine and healthy exercise, that I am reminded of the many blessings God has given us, what better time to offer thanks to Him, our Heavenly Father.

Creating anything using the talents given us with materials of gifts offered to us to care for and use appropriately is, in my opinion, one of the more spiritual activities we can participate in. Spinning, weaving, knitting, embroidery, all these activities are conducive for meditation and prayer, and very therapeutic.

One of my more memorable moments of this visit was sitting in the monastery, spinning fibre while Mother Thecla prepared food for an upcoming Matuska retreat, listening to a cd I brought,
Sequentia’s beautiful efforts to offer Hildegarde von Bignen’s music 900 years later, and despite my chronic pain I commented to Mother Thecla that it was moments like this that I realize God’s great blessings. I felt at peace and as it is most times I am working with fibre, gardening, praying or enjoying Saturday Tea with my family, the pain does not matter. Peace quiets it all.

While there, this visit I asked Mother Thecla to pull down a spinning wheel she had stored high on a shelf in one of the storage buildings that contains a small store where they sell books and other Orthodox items with a bookbinding workshop in the back. We have been talking about bringing it out and having me try it out for several years but never got around to it. The wheel was given to her many years ago when a friend of hers passed but, as Abbess, she is so buy and never found time to check it out, let alone learn to use it. It was a handmade wheel and after oiling it I found, despite the years of storage it still worked. It needed some coaxing, at first the drive band kept slipping as the wheel was hesitant to keep turning, and the tension for the bobbin was a little tricky, but once these things were worked out, and despite some very minor warping of the wheel, it spun very nicely. Once it was apparent that this was still a functioning wheel I asked for some wood polish to bring the beauty of the wood, as well as the workmanship to light. While I polished, not only the wheel’s beauty shone but the artist’s, whom the wheel was made for, personality began to surface as well. I could feel her signature left on the wheel. With the oiling, cleaning and polishing complete I sat down once again to spin, it was if her talent augmented my own. The wheel was not the only gift given to the monastery, the owner’s talent was given with the wheel.

When Mother Thecla finished her duties in the kitchen I encouraged her to sit and try it out. I started her, as I do any student, treadling, getting the feel for a rhythm and to how the wheel wants to perform. Then after a few minutes of drafting demonstration she sat down and began spinning. She took to it with surprising ease, and little instruction. I suspect one of the contributing factors that allowed her to take to this new craft so easily was a quiet mind, free of some of the many anxieties most students come with who want to sit and begin spinning perfect yarn right away, frustrated when something that looks so easy can be so illusive.

It is my hope that this wheel, now taken out of storage, will continue to sing, spinning wool, possibly for the prayer ropes the nuns make, taking advantage of the previous owner’s , as well as the current, newer artist’s love, talent and spirituality.

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