Immersion in Fiber

I’m all about preparations. Not only is a well-prepared endeavor likely to be more successful but also less stressful! It means more availability to be fully in the moment during the adventure, knowing that you’re ready.

This commitment to preparedness meant that the stash of supplies for my “Punch Needle Rug Hooking: Birds of the Northwoods” class at North House Folk School in Grand Marais, MN started accruing two weeks in advance. Class was going to be a long ways from home, so no running back for upholstery thread or other supplies. By the time we were ready to depart, the Prius was completely stuffed with all the accoutrements of a well-designed class.

But even though this small town tucked up along Minnesota’s north shore is far from pretty much everywhere, its folk school has become a pilgrimage site for fiber arts makers. This year marked the 10th anniversary of Fiber Week—an immersive experience with a wide variety of classes running throughout campus, along with lectures, showings, demonstrations, and community events. This was my first experience of Fiber Week, and I was ready to commune with sheep and wool lovers of all types.

So often, our lives can be fraught with distractions. Just as we settle into an experience, the phone rings, bleeps, or pings, and we’re carried off in another direction and lose our focus. The beautiful part of coming to a retreat (especially when it means traveling away from the usual routines of home) is that you can purposefully shed those distractions to focus solely on something of interest to you.

That was precisely the experience I was looking forward to enjoying during the long weekend, as well as purposefully nurturing for my students in my punch needle rug hooking class. The two-day intensive had been two years in the making, and now it was finally happening. My own class, with my own classroom, here at the folk school—surrounded by yarn and art and fiber lovers. Talk about hygge (hoo-ga)!

As I settled into campus, I was especially interested to learn the stories of the different individuals attending—their backgrounds and inspiration. Some had small flocks of fiber animals at home, while others lived in cities but loved fiber culture. I think reputation got around that I was the farm girl on campus—85 sheep being a bit larger than a backyard project.

The night before my class featured the annual “Show and Share,” where anyone could bring a recent project or two. We laid them all out on long tables, then went around the big circle for introductions and brief descriptions of the work(s) we’d brought. There was embroidery and weaving, stitching and dying, spinning and felting, knitting and knotwork, printmaking and collage, and more. Together, these works created a textured rainbow of love, time, attention, tradition, and innovation. Every story had an element of what the maker was exploring, learning, or expressing.

I’d brought a few of my finished punch needle tapestries to share. Since I was the new instructor on campus, and this was their first Amy Oxford style punch needle rug hooking class, this was a great opportunity to show the ability of the medium to represent naturalistic forms, shading, and depth. I wanted to showcase that punch needle rug hooking could be far more than “coloring” with yarn—it was a process that could bring an image to life.

Because fiber arts often have a repetitive element to them (which is also what makes them so relaxing once you master the technique), working on our pieces together in the class offered stretches of time to discuss and explore these subtler aspects—bringing conceptuals from fine arts training (perspective, dimensionality, color theory) into a field often classified as “craft.” Sadly, craft often gets misconstrued in current Western culture, so let me untangle that yarn for a moment.

Every artist knows she must work on her craft—honing, learning, building new skills. Craft is the doing of the process. It’s technique. Craft is the building blocks of the projects. Even designers need to have a knowledge of craft in their field, so they don’t imagine something that simply cannot be made manifest through the desired medium. Folk schools are all about nurturing the culture of craft. Craft is essential—if we don’t keep it alive, no one will know how to make these unique objects anymore!

But here is the point, craft is not specific to a medium. Painters have to work on their craft. Actors have to work on their craft. Fiber artists too. The thing—a painting, a play, a textile—comes out of the process but is not itself a craft. Obviously, this word has been badly abused! Artistic expression can burgeon forth no matter what the medium, and I wanted to offer that option to my students. Yes, they could color in the lines if that was their happy place, but if they wanted to learn how to add depth, life, and a sense of movement to their piece, I was all over facilitating that learning moment.

And that facilitated learning is coming right here to Farmstead Creamery Feb 28-29! I’m repeating the punch needle rug hooking immersion class on our farm, and there are a few spots left. Please call for last-minute registration inquiries. I’m already preparing for the exciting two-day adventure, unleashing creative expression through fiber arts immersion. And if, like me, you also love birds, it’s a perfect combination. This week, find your inspiration and empower yourself to immerse in it fully—whatever the medium. I’m sure that a glowing sense of hygge will follow. See you down on the farm sometime.