Festival a feast high in fibre

Published in the Gulf Islands Driftwood | July 31, 2002 | Circulation: 4,200

David-clippings 1x3c

Lorea Tomsin watched in bemusement as Gerry Wolff chased one of her sheep around the tiny pen at the Farmers’ Institute on Sunday as part of a fibre festival sheep-shearing demonstration.

The sheep scrambled to get away, knocking over a bucket and causing three more sheep to panic.

Wolff, like other people at last weekend’s fibre festival, got a little feel for the textural world of fibre. When he finally caught the sheep, Tomsin, a sheep farmer from Sidney, told him how to get the sheep onto its rump for shearing.

Wolff pulled the sheep in, took hold of its hind leg, and swung it around so it was sitting calmly between his legs.

“It’s a science,” Tomsin said. “The trick is you just have to be smarter than they are.”

Tomorrow’s Traditions, a fibre festival organized by the Gulf Islands Spinning Mill to promote natural fleeces, brought out the collective wisdom of the island’s active textile industry, with everything from sheep-dog trials and farm tours to a fashion show and knit-in.

Many people considered Saturday’s Elements of Nature fashion show at the ArtSpring gallery a highlight of the weekend, with models showing off a parade of garments made with natural fibres from specific breeds of animal.

“What was really nice was that some of the designers were asking, ‘Can we see other fibres? Can I see some alpaca? Can I see some mohair?’” said festival organizer Susan Berlin. “Which was exactly what we wanted to accomplish.”

Several models exhibited stunning work designed by 26 different women, with 15 of them living on Salt Spring.

Pieces ranged from flowing scarves to woven jackets, colourful matching felt hats and vests, and sweaters and dresses spanning the most conservative and risqué ends of the fashion spectrum.

The full-house crowd responded with enthusiastic applause and frequent “oohs and aahs.”

Although Saturday was very quiet at the Farmers’ Institute, by Sunday the grounds were clustered with people eager to learn more about the fibre industry.

Berlin spent much of the day in the exhibition hall with the seven-woman “sheep-to-sweater” team, who spun and knitted for hours to make a sweater.

At 9 a.m. that morning, the team was handed a large bag of sheep’s wool (a mix of Suffolk, Dorset and Cheviot fleeced) and was given eight hours to knit a wearable garment for someone to buy in a silent auction.

While Berlin fed washed fleece into a small carding machine to prepare it for spinning, the spinners and knitters behind her chatted happily as they pumped the pedals of their wooden spinning wheels.

“We’re having fun and that’s the main thing,” said Bev Lillyman, one of the spinners. “Normally spinning is very quiet, reflective work.

“But when you get a bunch of women together, you get a bunch of chatting too.”

The women beat the clock and finished the grey sweater before 5 p.m., when it was sold by silent auction to Steve Grayson for $275.

The money went to support the spinners’ and weavers’ guild in providing a weaving program at Greenwoods intermediate care facility.

On Saturday, the Victoria band Virgo Rising performed workers’ songs from the Industrial Revolution, when the textiles industry was turned on its head.

Although the crowd was small, the four-piece band played on in the sweltering heat, surrounded by pastoral calmness of the Farmers’ Institute grounds.

It seemed the musicians, dressed in archaic garb, changed instruments almost every song. There were guitars, a flute, vocals, a harp, drums and a wooden stringed instrument called a bass zither.

The zither, perched on wooden legs, was played somewhat like an auto-harp – but from a distance it looked more like old-school turntables (as in 18th century old-school).

Tomorrow’s Traditions also featured an international alpaca fleece show, judged by Alberta alpaca expert Jill McLeod.

Berlin said the next fibre festival is being planned in two years, when it will take place in the spring.

Carol Williams, who attended the festival events, said she was very impressed with Tomorrow’s Traditions.

“It would be neat if there were more people who would see it,” she said. “It was so wonderful. I think the word will get out.”

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