January is a time when people set new intentions, including learning a skill or committing to healthier lifestyle choices. According to Fibre Space volunteer coordinator and artist-in-residence Wendy Drummond, fibre arts can help achieve both.
Drummond said she believes the appeal of working with fibres is experiencing a resurgence. She said this is due to an increased awareness of the practices involved in making mass-produced clothing and the toll it has on the wellbeing of workers, the environment and economy, which resonates with visual artist and designer Haley Hunt-Brondwin.
“It all goes hand-in-hand with people being more conscious,” said Hunt-Brondwin, “about where they’re buying things, what they’re putting in their home and wanting to be more intentional with the things around them.”
Hunt-Brondwin, who moved to Powell River last July and teaches private weaving workshops for beginners, said she learned weaving from her grandmother as a child. The level of enthusiasm she has seen for her classes has reinforced her belief that weaving is experiencing a renaissance, she added.
“There’s a whole modern weaving movement,” she said.
According to Hunt-Brondwin, another aspect of the appeal is that weaving is a skill passed down through generations.
“Weaving is this thing humans have done since before there was even written history,” said Hunt-Brondwin.
Local fibre artist and business owner Roisin Sheehy-Culhane, who grew up in Ireland, said she has seen steady interest in her classes and workshops. She began offering felting and knitting classes in 2010.
“I teach beginners, but I really enjoy taking knitters to faraway places outside the box and developing their skills,” said Sheehy-Culhane.
The concept of knitting as a hobby is more of a North American idea, but growing up in Ireland it was essential to survival, she added.
“Living in Ireland you froze to death if you didn’t knit your own sweaters,” said Sheehy-Culhane. “It was never considered a craft; it was a necessity.”
All three artists agree there are health benefits to participating in a craft, especially in a social setting such as a group or workshop.
“It’s a therapy, it’s meditative and it’s kind of opening new brain cells,” said Sheehy-Culhane. “For the aging process, it’s fantastic.”
Hunt-Brondwin said she believes making things with your hands can be an antidote to the pressures of the modern world.
“Fibre arts are a counterbalance to fear, stress and disconnection,” she said. “It is literally about making connections.”
Launched two years ago, Fibre Space operates as a joint offering between School District 47 and Vancouver Island University. Drummond said the space is run completely by volunteers and everything from sewing machines, fabrics, books and instruction is contributed by those who use the facility.
“It is open most days on a drop-in basis and attracts all ages,” said Drummond. “We’ve had everyone from kindergarten to great-grandmas.”
Drummond said the level of expertise on hand at the centre is phenomenal and users of any skill level are encouraged to drop in.
“A lot of what happens is mentoring,” she said. “We tell people to bring something they’re working on, or struggling with, because the collective brain is here to help.”
Different skill sets on hand cover just about any fibre art imaginable, from weaving, knitting and spinning to crocheting and sewing, said Drummond.
“There’s usually someone here,” she said, “who has that experience to share.”