Loops, Plies, and Binding? Oh, my!

We’re delighted to have Rachel Anne MacGillivray back at the blog today! If you’ve been intimidated to try to spin a Bouclé yarn, you are not alone! In today’s post Rachel takes us through her beginner’s attempt at spinning this type of yarn.

My first, finished skein of boucle, after a go in the dye pot

My first, finished skein of boucle, after a go in the dye pot

I’d like to share with you all my deep, dark, spinning secret.  *deep breath* Ok. Here goes… I’ve never spun bouclé.  I’ve never even ATTEMPTED bouclé before and it’s not because I’m not into texture. I LOVE texture! I love playing with different thicknesses and tensions when plying; I LOVE using different fibers together, wild batts, and throwing in add-ins.  I love spirals and coils and knopps and bibs and bobs and springs and things… but bouclés? Teeny tiny sweet little loops? I dunno, they were always overlooked by my pinch and draft. 

Maybe I’m being deliberately misleading here… I implied I don’t know why I’ve never spun bouclé but I can tell you exactly why: It’s intimidating. It always seemed very technical, challenging, and time consuming. Then, the bouclé issue of PLY came out and, feeling inspired, I decided now is the time. I would attempt the most mythical (to me) of yarn structures: The Bouclé.

 First thing I did was gather my resources (I’m a book hound and having new reasons to go leafing through books fills me with glee). 

After some research, I started to understand how bouclé works:

Two plies: one high twist, one low twist and spun in opposite directions, then plied together in the same direction as the low twist yarn.  Some fancy handwork to make loops from the high twist yarn, then ply it all again in the direction opposite the first plying to bind it up with a fine yarn.  Uh… simple…. Right?

 On to materials: Wensleydale top for the loops because it’s long stapled, lustrous, and gorgeous; a wild carded batt for the core; and a fine, commercial spun silk noil for the binder because, well, it was purple.  Instead of the batt, I should have used something easier to draft consistently so I eventually switched to BFL top.

 Books & research? Check.  Materials? Check.

 *inhales and holds breath for a minute*

 OK. Go.

My first loop!

My first loop!

I spun my first bouclé ply VERY high twist and fine, and did the core ply exaggeratedly slowly to add little twist to that ply.  After awhile I started to doubt my definition of low twist and gave the second half of my core yarn a more medium twist.  I didn’t dive in and fill bobbins with these because I wasn’t sure how they’d work out.

On to plying.

The first note I made? “Whoa. This is tough.” But you know, lots of things are tough, especially when you first start, so I gave my hands some time to settle into a groove and start to understand the new motions.  I found I had to go rogue from what the books told me in terms of how to move my hands and got into this funny trick of passing the bouclé ply from one hand to the other and pinching it with the core.  It worked for my hands and I just trusted my body and went with it.  Refining technique can always come later. 

Well, I tell you, I was starting to feel like bouclé was overrated when then, like a tiny, bright, shining star, my first bouclé appeared! My hands must have made the right motion and timing worked out and there it was: a perfect little circle sitting on top of my yarn.  I was delighted!  Also hooked. Definitely hooked.  That tiny loop stole my heart.

After my first round of plying, sitting on my bobbin. I admit, at this point I was petty skeptical.

After my first round of plying, sitting on my bobbin. I admit, at this point I was petty skeptical.

Let me clear – it was not all sunshine, rainbows, and perfect little loops from there on in. My medium twist core really wasn’t loose enough, but the barely spun core worked quite a bit better.  My bouclé ply was too fine and highly twisted so I tried thicker and looser. It worked better, but still not quite right.

As I practiced I got more loops and they are totally darling!  I let out a little squeal with each one that appeared, but I wasn’t loving the yarn as a whole.

I set it down for awhile, busy with life and not convinced I’d done a good job. Finally, I decided to come back to it and plied it with the binder. Well, if I have any advice here, it’s don’t wait to add your third ply! All of a sudden I was totally in love with my yarn! Yes, it needs some work and I’ll learn more and make it better, BUT something completely magical happens when you do the final ply. Everything seemed to bloom and standout, and say “hey, here I am! I’m a bouclé!”

(Technical tip: I did a slight spiral ply here and loved the effect.)

So, I can finally say I’ve spun bouclé.  Was it perfect? No way! Was my yarn even all that good? Probably not. But, that’s what learning is! Trying things, making mistakes, trying new things, and having thrilling moments that get you closer to what you want. It was fun, and challenging, and I’ll keep at it – letting those little loops shine their light into my life.


In love with all things Textiley, Rachel Ann MacGillivray teaches spinning & other things at the New Brunswick College of Craft & Design in Fredericton, Canada.  A farm kid, spinning and wool are in her bones (well, not literally in her bones, that would be just a bit too wobbly).  Oh yeah, and she loves drinking tea.  Like, a lot.

Public Demonstrations and Living Archaeology Weekend

Today we are so lucky because regular PLY contributor Christina Pappas is visiting us on the blog! Read on as she takes us on a virtual tour of Living Archaeology Weekend in Kentucky.

A notice board for rock climbers at the Red River Gorge.

A notice board for rock climbers at the Red River Gorge.

The Red River Gorge in Kentucky is best known as a destination for world-class rock climbing, but during the third weekend of every September it’s better known for something else. For nearly 30 years, Living Archaeology Weekend (LAW) has been held in the Red River Gorge. For two days, demonstrations teach about American Indian and pioneer technologies and lifeways, archaeology, and protecting cultural resources. Friday is reserved for school children, and this past year nearly 1,200 4th and 5th graders participated in LAW. On Saturday, the general public is invited to join in on the fun. Demonstrations range from atl-atl (spear) throwing to long rifle hunting and it’s hard not to learn something new. Most people don’t know how important textiles were in ancient and early historic lifeways, but a group of us at LAW are changing that.

Sunrise at the gorge the morning of LAW.

Sunrise at the gorge the morning of LAW.

This was my third year demonstrating ancient spinning and weaving at LAW. I’m still new to this method of  demonstrating and teaching; every year feels completely different. The weekend is a whirlwind of activity. My first year at LAW, I assumed this would be like any other event where I demonstrated ancient textile techniques. There would be some polite interest and a few questions, maybe a handful of folks who would want to dig a little deeper into the technique. LAW is anything but. On Friday, the school kids are an explosion of energy and excitement. I always start by asking them what ancient people would have worn thousands of years ago. Animal skins are always a standard answer and I love to see their astonished faces when I show them the soft fabric made from local plants used for clothing. I show them how to twist plant fiber into yarn and then they get to try prehistoric weaving. The boys usually become shy and let the girls take the lead. This year was different. My husband demonstrated the weaving and once the boys realized this wasn’t just ‘woman’s work’, they had as much fun, and success, weaving

as the girls.
My demonstration table at LAW. I have examples of different types of textiles, some plants used for fiber, and a rainbow of color from natural dyes. The colors possible from natural dyestuffs always impresses my visitors. Also note the adorable baby playing in the back.

My demonstration table at LAW. I have examples of different types of textiles, some plants used for fiber, and a rainbow of color from natural dyes. The colors possible from natural dyestuffs always impresses my visitors. Also note the adorable baby playing in the back.

What makes LAW really challenging is that you only have a few minutes with each group of kids. I have to summarize 40,000 years of textile technology and teach how to make yarn and how to weave in 10-15 minutes. It’s a bit exhausting but in the end it’s worth it. My demonstration breaks so many misconceptions for these kids. Ancient peoples wore clothing as vibrant and interesting as we do that told as much about them as our clothes tell about us. LAW helps these kids learn that the stereotypes about ancient peoples they have grown up with are often wrong. It

helps them to realize that people in the past were not much different fro m them, and I hope they begin to realize how much they have in common with different people today.
My husband Chris demonstrates a type of prehistoric weaving, twining, to school children. The boys always seem reluctant to try the weaving because ‘that’s what girls do’ but seeing a man take the lead on the actual weaving inspired them to give it a go.

My husband Chris demonstrates a type of prehistoric weaving, twining, to school children. The boys always seem reluctant to try the weaving because ‘that’s what girls do’ but seeing a man take the lead on the actual weaving inspired them to give it a go.

I’m not alone in my textile-themed demonstrations. Robin McBride Scott demonstrates basketry techniques that have been used since ancient times. A self-taught basketmaker, Robin has been demonstrating at LAW for 13 years. Like me, Robin has found that the kids at LAW arrive with a lot of misconceptions about the ancient past. She tries to get them to see baskets as tools and not just a decorative art piece on the shelf, how changes in the basket weave can change the strength and use of the finished object, and the role baskets played in our technological evolution.

JoAnn Oborski provides the historic textile perspective and has been a LAW demonstrator for 8 years. Since her retirement from nursing, JoAnn has immersed herself in learning about historic spinning and weaving. Accuracy is important, so she makes sure the tools and techniques she demonstrates are close to those used by early pioneers. The kids try their hand at carding wool and spinning with drop spindles. Small table-top looms demonstrate in miniature the basic mechanics of weaving but what always excites the kids is the great wheel. JoAnn brings a working great wheel with her to the Red River Gorge to demonstrate how it spins. The wheel is so many times larger than any of the kids and they truly delight in seeing how it works. I’m not sure how many spinners are born in her demonstration, but there is immense pride in every child when they proudly show off the yarn they spun with JoAnn.
A great wheel is the show-stopper for kids at the historic spinning demonstration at LAW. Most of the kids have never seen a spinning wheel in person, let alone a great wheel.

A great wheel is the show-stopper for kids at the historic spinning demonstration at LAW. Most of the kids have never seen a spinning wheel in person, let alone a great wheel.

LAW has become one of my favorite fiber-related activities all year. It is exhausting, but it’s always so much fun. Demonstrating at LAW has made me really think about what is most important for people to learn about spinning and weaving. When you only have a few minutes of a child’s attention, you have to make sure what they take away from you matters. Knowing that ancient people spun and wove and that the stereotypes are wrong is what matters to me.

Next year I’ll be back at the Red River Gorge with LAW. If you find yourself in Kentucky during the third weekend in September, you should join us. Who knows what lesson you’ll learn about the past!



Chris is an archaeologist by day and a fiber fanatic by night who is happiest when she can be both at the same time. She lives in Kentucky with her husband, adorable baby girl, and two crazy beagles.

Give-away: What do you think of PLY Magazine?

Hi everyone!

PLY Magazine has been around for almost 4 years now and it’s going pretty well, I think. We’ve spent some time learning how to make a magazine and then we spent some more time learning how to make it great, but we haven’t focused much on marketing and now it’s time!

The short of it is, our low-ad/good-quality paper/fair wages model relies on subscribers to pay the bills so we need more subscribers. Since people are doing more and more research before they commit to buy or subscribe to something, we need to show them this magazine is worth it! That’s where you come in.

We’re building a review page on the website. If you have a few minutes and would write what you think of PLY, either as a spinner, a teacher, a contributor, or any combination, that’d be so great!  

Feel free to post your reviews and endorsements here (with a name we can attribute it to) and I”ll extract them and build the page soon. 

Next Friday (11-11), I’ll randomly draw 2 people that gave reviews and send them 1 of 2 wonderful prizes. The first is the fiber from Melissa at Wild Hare Fiber Studio that we used in the gorgeous Traveling Hood designed by Jolene Mosley for the latest issue of PLY.  You’ll get 4 ounces of the colorway and 4 ounces of the solid so if you want, you can recreate this exact pattern, all you’ll need is a mysterious cloak and a wandering road.

The second random winner will get something secret, something from the PLY Magazine studio. I can’t say what it’ll be but if you’re a spinner, you’ll want it!

Thanks for all your support and we promise we’ll keep getting better and better

DIY Community

Today we have the pleasure of visiting with Rachel Anne MacGillivray, who is here to remind us of the importance of community and how to start your own if you haven’t got a fiber community nearby.

I have a friend, Anna, who’s a lovely and talented woman and, like me, has the Fiber Fever.  We recently spent a Sunday afternoon working together in her studio because  I had a project I wanted to make that called for some extremely chunky corespun.  The jumbo bobbin on my spinning wheel wasn’t up for the job, but Anna has a Country Spinner that she was all too happy to let me use.

img_3211She felted and I spun, and while we worked away we chatted, shared stories and happy silences, and all around enjoyed the satisfaction of being with someone who really, really gets what you do.  Oh, and tea.  We drank lots of that.

While I was there I got thinking about all the different people in my life who are also into fiber and the various groups I belong to, and how they all enrich my experience of making.  I don’t know about you, but often, after a long week, I have the urge to hole myself up in the house and just spin or fiber all of the hours away (ok, yes, occasionally I do this and love it).  But, just as important is getting out there and being with people while you make – building up and taking part in your personal fiber community.


rachel-country-spinningThere are the obvious benefits of course: talking, laughing, having fun, and the joy that comes with sharing.  Here are some other great reasons for building your own fiber community:

  • Resources: Have a question about a technique? Looking for just the right book? Odds are someone else has suggestions, tips, and lots of ideas for you.  More bodies = more heads = more knowledge!
  • Encouragement & inspiration: This is my favourite. ‘Nuff said.
  • Support: Be it emotional, moral, learning, or even financial (lots of guilds & groups have awards/ grants), having the support of a community goes a long way.
  • Sharing: Being part of a group can mean access to resources and events you wouldn’t otherwise have had by sharing things such as equipment, space, or booth fees at a sale. I belong to a fiber group that has a loom for any of us to use (in lives at one member’s house).  How cool is that?
  • More strengths & interests: Do you love to spin, but don’t dye? Maybe someone in your groups lives for wild carding but doesn’t spin.   Support each other’s businesses, or trade fiber for fiber/casseroles/craft beer.  A vibrant community is good for everyone! (I often trade handspun for knit socks, which my toes love!)
  • A reason to Make and push yourself: Days get busy & sometimes it’s hard to squeeze in making, but I love that when I have a meeting coming up it motivates me to sit and spin & try new things.  Sometimes that’s before my meeting and sometimes just during.
  • Laughter & companionship: I know I said it at the beginning, but it’s just such a great part of the whole thing! It’s wonderful to share the thing you love with people you love, but to share the thing you love with people who love it to, and grow to love those people?  Well… That’s just rosy.


anna-feltingNeed some help finding YOUR community?  Here’re some ideas to get you started:

  • Local: Look for guilds in your area (try spinning, fiber arts, knitting, etc).  Check out yarn shops and libraries to see if they have groups that meet.  Keep your eye open for “makerspaces” or other community centers and comb your local craft sales and fairs for spinners.  Don’t be afraid to ask where they hang out.
  • Regional: find regional retreats, seminars, festivals, fairs, and workshops with google, facebook, and magazines.  There are at least 7 annual fiber arts retreats in the Canadian Maritimes, and some have spawned smaller get-togethers for those who just can’t wait a year!
  • Internet: Get involved with an online community like Ravelry, Craftsy, or Reddit (reddit.com/r/knitting has spinning) or look for groups on Facebook.  Want a more localized one? Start a Facebook group for spinning in your region.  Instagram is also a great resource!

Don’t be afraid to start your own group; you may be surprised to see where it goes and who you meet.


Further Resources:

Interweave guild directory

Handweavers Guild of America, Inc local guilds directory
Have some other suggestions or ideas for finding community? I’d love for you to share them in the comments!



In love with all things Textiley, Rachel Ann MacGillivray teaches spinning & other things at the New Brunswick College of Craft & Design in Fredericton, Canada.  A farm kid, spinning and wool are in her bones (well, not literally in her bones, that would be just a bit too wobbly).  Oh yeah, and she loves drinking tea.  Like, a lot.

Where Did My Mojo Go?

Lucinda Williams - Yee Haw Industries

Lucinda Williams by Yee Haw Industries

In the words of Lucinda Williams,

” I think I lost it
Let me know if you come across it
Let me know if I let it fall
Along a back road somewhere…”

My spinning, knitting and fiber mojo has left the building. I think about doing things, I make plans to do things, I get things out and even fiddle with them, I pack things to do on my trips but I am not feeling it at all. The only fiber work that gets done is for deadlines, for paycheck work.

I’m not worried, just bummed. I’ve been here before and I know it usually means something is going to break out of my brain soon and I ‘ll know my next creative direction. I’ve watched other people do the same thing. It’s that tick, tick, tick, upward ride on a roller coaster before that first big drop.

My problem is, I am not a patient person. I want to know what’s next. Even as a process person and knowing this is part of my creative process, it’s hard to sink into it. But that’s what I have to do. Here’s what I do when I drop my mojo along a back road somewhere.

Don’t stop. I never stop trying, I don’t give up. For one I still have work to do which means I’m always spinning, knitting, weaving, fibering and writing and talking about it.

Dream. I’m a daydreamer and I like to dream outside. I watch bugs and wonder. I stare at horizons and fly. I float by on clouds or ride leaf down a stream.

Look and listen. I read, I watch, I listen. Books, movies, magazines, tv, videos, exhibits, music, plays, podcasts, I mainline input pretty randomly until my brain relaxes, then I start getting interested in specific things, wanting to revisit something I saw or heard or seeking out something new.

Follow my nose. I follow anything that interests me, anything. I research and try anything that causes the tiniest spark of curiosity in me. This is great fun and how I make connections to things that I’d never thought about putting together.

I get things out. I walk, dance, sing, cook, sweat, talk, laugh, play whenever the mood strikes me and sometimes when it doesn’t. Walking especially unhooks my brain.

Write it all down. I love to write. The physical act of writing soothes me, not to mention all of the pens and paper I have to play with. I keep track of every idea no matter how weird or stale, I have to get it out of my head before new things can pop in.

Stop fighting. Inside my head it sounds like this, “Now!”, “No, not yet”, “Now”, “No”, “Now?” “Nope”. On and on, until I stop fighting it and just give in to the ride.

What do you do to find your mojo?


Boucle cover autumn issue

What’s inside the Bouclé issue?

The Autumn 2016 “Bouclé” issue is busy making its way to various destinations around the world. Whether you’re a subscriber waiting for your copy to arrive, or you’ve been thinking of subscribing and you’d like a preview before you buy, today’s post is here to give you a sneak peek inside the issue!


Boucle cover autumn issueThe word bouclé is French for “buckled,” which makes sense because a bouclé yarn is bent back on itself, creating loops of yarn along the strand. This technique takes time to create and even more to master, but we think it’s a worthwhile endeavor! This textured yarn can be light, airy, big and bulky – all at the same time! Dig into this issue and brush up on your bouclé making skills with us!

Great Articles!

We’ve rounded up the a talented group of spinners and asked them to share their insights and experiments with us, and as always we’ve got a tip jar full of helpful hints from our readers, new information on the spinning SCENE, and how to keep your spinning body happy by Carson Demers! Take a look at what you’ll get:

  • Basic Boucle, by Jacey Boggs Faulkner  – Jacey’s introduction to this loopy, fun technique.
  • Boucle by Breed, by Michelle Boyd – Michelle experimented with 5 different breeds of wool to create a bouclé yarn from each and explain how the characteristics of the wool affected the outcome.
  • Binder and Core, by Amanda Hartrich – Choosing the main fiber for a bouclé yarn is just the beginning – in this article, Amanda explores the options with mixing and matching 4 different types of materials as binders and cores for bouclé.
  • faulkner12-webOffended Fiber: Woolen Prep for Bouclé, by Jillian Moreno – What happens when you deviate from the standards? Jillian finds out in her exploration of building a bouclé using woolen-spun wool instead of worsted-spun mohair.
  • The Convoluted History of Bouclé Yarn, by Patsy Zawistoski – How are telephone wire and horsehair connected to bouclé yarn? Find out in this article!
  • 2-Step Bouclé, by Melissa Yoder Ricks – Traditional bouclé is a 3-step process, and it involves the use of mohair. Melissa has found a way to modify the traditional technique and create a 2-step bouclé using other types of yarn & fiber; and now she’s teaching it to the rest of us!
  • Spin It! Pseudo Bouclé, by Amy Tyler – There’s more than one way to spin a bouclé, and in this article Amy puts a cable-plied twist on the topic.
  • Spin It! Differential Shrinkage Bouclé, by Maggie Casey – Differential shrinkage happens when some fibers shrink more than others when washed; it’s an especially large problem if you’re going to knit, crochet, or weave with two different fibers as it can warp the finished fabric of your piece. Abby has found a way to work around this problem, and she’s sharing it with us in her piece.
  • Spin It! Cloud Bouclé, by Sylvia French – Sylvia explains her technique for using mohair clouds to create a light and airy corespun bouclé.
  • Which Longwool?, by Beth Smith – Maybe you want to try spinning a bouclé but you’re fresh out of mohair (or it just isn’t your favorite fiber). So which wool should you choose? A Longwool breed is a natural choice, and in this article Beth gives us some options to consider.
  • nimetz5-webSpin It! Silk Bouclé, by Coleen Nimetz – Silk is often used as a core or binder for bouclé, but it might surprise you to learn that it makes a pretty interesting wrapper, too.
  • Spin It! Hemp Bouclé, by Kara Perpelitz – Inspired by a soap bag she purchased in a farm shop, Kara set out to spin a hemp bouclé yarn to create exfoliating texture for this handy accessory.
  • Spin It! Loopy Horsehair, by Maja Siska – After receiving a gift of horse tails, Maja decided to embark on two brand-new-to-her concepts: spinning horsehair and spinning bouclé.
  • Spin-D’Lay (Spindle Bouclé), by Amelia Garripoli – Yes, you can spin bouclé on a spindle. You can also climb Mt. Everest – but is it really worth it? Amelia offers an alternative that’s more fun to spin and still provides that loopy structure.
  • Spin It! True Spindle Bouclé, by Tracy Hudson – Still wanna try spinning a traditional bouclé on a spindle? OK, we’ve got you covered for that, too!
  • You Can Weave with That!, by Amy King – You can absolutely weave with bouclé – Amy’s got two different examples to show you!

Fantastic Projects

In every issue of PLY, you’ll find a handful of projects for knitting, weaving, crocheting and more – along with instructions for how to best spin the yarns you’ll use in those projects. Here are the projects from the Autumn issue:

  • mosley5-webSieve Cowl, by Brittany Wilson – This cowl is business in the back and a party up front – perfect for wearing with a jacket to keep you warm without a lot of bunching at the back of your neck.
  • Traveling Hood, by Jolene Mosley – You’re ready to go anywhere with this two-color, two-texture project.
  • Hemp Bouclé Soap Bag, by Kara Perpelitz – Exfoliate your skin and practice your spinning skills with this easily-giftable project.
  • Woven Bouclé Blanket, by Sara Lamb – A simple design showcases stunning yarns and optimal warmth.
  • Faux Astrakhan Winter Hat, by Patsy Zawistowski – Weave up a bouclé fabric and use it to sew into a warm winter hat.

Everything Else!

random1-webWe know that bouclé is a tricky technique to master, so in Tip Jar we’re rounding up the best tips from our readers to help you spin with success.  Scene is full of things on the spinning scene that you’ll want to know about including new books from Beth and Jillian, fiber festivals and fantastical retreats, and a brand-new magazine for men. And don’t forget to check out our Independent Spinner page to find all the details on the products featured in this issue!

If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that right here on our website! And be sure to pick up a copy of this issue if you don’t already have one (or it isn’t on its way to you)!

Rhinebeck Sweater?

I’m leaving for New York in less than a week. It’s the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival. I’m excited to see the festival. I haven’t been able to see the festival on my own terms for years and I’ve written myself a little schedule. I did leave some open spaces in case somebody wants to meet up with me for a snack or something.


Anyway, I’ve been thinking for many months that my favorite sweaters are looking a little ratty. My two favorites have been repaired several times. The one called Hiro has ripped at the neck a coouple of times and I just do a bit of a crocheted edge and put her back together. The one that I made from a Jacob fleece has gotten several holes and so I have started embroidering flowers over the holes; a sort of visible mending.20161006_080641_001

Those repairs are working but for crying out loud I need a new sweater. Yes I have other sweaters…but another one of my favorites, Tappan Zee, also has a hole that I have yet to repair. Hiro is about 3 years old, the Jacob is probably 4 years old and Tappan Zee is maybe 5 or 6 years old. Even without the holes and things I would still need a new sweater. And it’s not like I haven;t been spinning! Lots! But that’s all for weaving the next skirt.

So, anyway, I was digging around in my stash and I came across a cotton project bg from Cooperative Press. When I looked inside there was a handspun sweater that was well under way! I totally forgot about it. I immediatley remembered why I had put it aside. I was looking for a sweater with certain attributes a couple of years ago and my friend, Amy King, offered to design a sweater just for me. And she did! And so I started knitting but then I was a bit confused about an instruction on the left front…and I stopped.

20161006_081022I called Amy! She found her electronic copy! She answered my question. Now I’m moving forward. The body of the sweater is finished and I’m working on the first sleeve. But I have another issue. The yarn is made from BFL/Silk that was specially dyed for me – also by Amy King (Spunky Eclectic) I have no more to spin and I think the sleeves are going to be tight and I still have edgings to do…

After all of that explanation, here’s the question, if I knit faster, will it make the yarn go further?

Twist – A Fiber Festival with a Little je ne sais quoi

Guest blogger Sarah Jean Harrison returns to take us on a trip to the Twist Fiber Festival in Canada! This event is Quebec’s only fiber (fibre, if we’re being precise!) festival, and the only bilingual fibre festival in the whole country.

Are you planning on visiting Rhinebeck’s New York State Sheep and Wool Festival this year? Or perhaps you made the trip to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in the spring? Did you spin your heart out at Ply Away?

The rug hooking workshop at Twist gets underway. Credit: Sébastien Lavallée

The rug hooking workshop at Twist gets underway.
Credit: Sébastien Lavallée

If you’ve been to a fiber festival, you can imagine the intense of amount of work that goes into delivering a successful event. From organization to location, from logistics to communications, from vendors to visitors, all of these pieces must be pulled together into one, cohesive whole. And ideally that cohesive whole comes with a particular je ne sais quoi, a little extra something that gives a festival its personality.

How does a festival acquire a personality? The answer, I have discovered, often comes from a festival’s creator.

Twist – Quebec’s Only Fibre Festival

This August I visited Twist Festival de la Fibre/Fibre Festival, Canada’s only bilingual fiber festival, in St-André-Avellin, Québec.  Launched in 2011 by Amélie Blanchard, a hand-spinner and farmer raising cashmere goats on a small farm outside of St-André-Avellin, Twist is quickly gaining a dedicated following of fiber artists, vendors and attendees.

Amélie Blanchard the other woman is Fiber Artist, Heather Gwah Lightbody Credit: Sarah Jean Harrison

Amélie Blanchard with Fiber Artist, Heather Gwah Lightbody Credit: Sarah Jean Harrison

After a couple of years on her farm, Amélie looked around Québec and discovered precisely zero fiber events available within her province. While festivals were growing in popularity in Ontario and certainly in the USA, there was nothing available in Québec.

Amélie, like so many entrepreneurial fiber artists today, was unwilling to simply bemoan this hole in her local fiber universe – she had to do something. Her answer was Twist, a festival reflecting today’s modern taste in fiber and feeding the growing desire in Québec (and the world) for access to local fiber and the pursuit of textile and fiber education.

Starting a fiber festival, as Amélie discovered, was not as simple as it sounded. Launching the first Twist took a year and a half of research, planning and organization. At first, says Amélie, local business owners and potential sponsors were skeptical. “They looked at me like ‘who is this crazy yarn woman with this crazy idea?’”, she recalls. But her persistence and her solid research were undeniable.

: Many of Twist’s workshops and seminars are provided in French and English. Credit: Sébastien Lavallée

: Many of Twist’s workshops and seminars are provided in French and English.
Credit: Sébastien Lavallée

Eventually, the Twist team took shape, bringing Amélie’s friends and neighbors on board and drawing upon local businesses and resources to fill the multitude of roles and tasks needed to get the festival off the ground. Volunteer committees were struck, sponsorships were secured and quality vendors were chosen. In August of 2011 the inaugural Twist opened its doors with a foot-fall of 4,000 people over the weekend.

A Bilingual Festival

Amélie, who was born in Ontario to a French-speaking family, is a francophone with one foot in the English-speaking world. While some might see the challenges of holding a festival in two languages as a problem, Amélie has deftly turned this challenge into the festival’s defining characteristic.

Her vision for Twist was a festival that pulled French and English speakers together over their shared passion for fiber. All written materials, from programs to signage, are provided in both languages. Classes and workshops are often offered in a bilingual format, either with a bilingual instructor or via English and French sessions.

Two knitters working on the fly at Twist. Credit: Sarah Jean Harrison

Two knitters working on the fly at Twist.
Credit: Sarah Jean Harrison

Although St-André -Avellin is a francophone community, being only an hour north-west of Ottawa near the Ontario-Quebec boarder means that both languages are regularly heard in the streets and cafes. As an English-speaker with rudimentary French capabilities, I was welcomed warmly by the community and found the language barrier to be easily navigated. In fact, I left the festival with new francophone fiber friends, a handful of new French fiber-related vocabulary, and the feeling of being excited and inspired to learn more.

That je ne sais quoi

Wander around the booths and workshops and it quickly becomes clear that Amélie’s bilingual perspective is what gives Twist its je ne sais quoi. Her enthusiasm for bringing people from French and English backgrounds together over a mutual love for fiber makes for a lively and fun atmosphere that attracted 20,000 people this year.

Where else can you see folks acting out the word “soft” or clapping their hands with excitement when they discover they are both speaking about the same type of mouton?  Because ultimately, when it comes to fiber, we’re all speaking the same language.



Raised on a farm and living in the big city, Sarah Jean Harrison is a digital artisan who specializes in translating rural realities for urban audiences. Through storytelling, photography and web design, Sarah Jean supports farmers and makers in sharing their unique story with an online audience. Sarah Jean loves to connect and can be found on Instagram and Twitter at @peaceflaghouse and at www.peaceflaghouse.com.

It’s time for Spinzilla!

Amy Ross Manko is here to kick off one of the biggest events of the year for spinners: Spinzilla!

What are your plans for the first full week of October? My plan, and the plans of 77 teams of up to 25 spinners each, is participation in a fun event called Spinzilla. Spinzilla is a week of spinning for fun, challenging yourself and friendly competition. Last year’s teams were made up of spinners representing fourteen countries from all over the world, who come together for this annual event to raise money to support The National Needlearts Association’s initiative to bring the fiber arts to youth through the Needle Arts Mentoring Program. Spinners of all levels celebrate the joy of spinning yarn by hand, support local small businesses and aim to “spin enough yarn to reach around the world,” according to the Spinzilla website.  Spinning begins at 12:01am Monday, October 3rd and ends at 11:59pm on Sunday, October 9th in whatever time zone you are in. This week has traditionally been known as Spinning and Weaving Week, and Spinzilla is a great way to celebrate it!

This will be my fourth year on a Spinzilla team. Year one, I spun for a local yarn shop’s team and had no idea what I was doing as a new spinner. I made some yarn and had some fun, but didn’t really understand what I was doing (or why!) so I just kept spinning all week and felt pretty good about myself at the end of the week.

The second year, I joined Team KnitGirllls and spun my personal record of over 5000 yards in a week, and had a blast doing it, too. I was PUMPED and we were sure that we would win. At the end of the week when the final tallies were announced, we had lost to Team Fancy Tiger Crafts by about 800 yards of yarn. Literally one skein separated us from the first place team. We were devastated. We all felt we could have spun just one more braid and changed the outcome. We all vowed to increase our production by one braid for next year and try again. After all, it’s all in good fun and for a good cause, right?

The third year, Team KnitGirllls was determined to spin more than ever and finally win the coveted Golden Niddy Noddy (yes, that’s a thing… I’ve seen it and it’s MAGNIFICENT) for Leslie and Laura. We got to work spinning more yardage than ever and keeping our eyes on the prize! At the end of the week, I’d spun a new personal record: over 6000 yards of yarn. This HAD to be good enough for victory, right? Nope. Team Louet North America blew us completely out of the water with 271,607 yards! One of their team members spun over 48,000 yards herself. We finished in third place with just over 183,000 yards. This was definitely nothing to feel badly about, but nearly 90,000 yards less than the winner.

After that, I vowed that this year would be different. I’d remember what Spinzilla is all about and spin for fun and fellowship. No pressure. No numbers. No drive to win. I formed my own team here in our hometown and partnered with a local maker-space to host a registration party with a batt-making bar, spin-ins, wheel tune-up parties, “closing ceremonies” and a plan to just enjoy each other’s company and share our love of spinning with others.  This is what I’d been missing most alone in my living room, binge-watching reality television and spinning away. This is what Spinzilla is all about: sharing our love of fiber with other fibery folk.  Our team boasts both seasoned veterans and newbies, wheel spinners and spindlers and even a sixteen year old young woman!

Whether you spin “rogue” alone in your room, join a team (virtual or in real life) or watch from the sidelines, I can tell you one thing: Spinzilla is the most fun you’ll ever have making yarn and raising money to support the youth-mentoring programming of TNNA. Last year they raised $17,700 while spinning 5,246,497 yards of yarn.

Please visit www.spinzilla.org for more information or to register for a team. (Team PLY is full already, but there are plenty of other great teams to join!)

Amy Ross Manko is the Chief Executive Farmer of The Ross Farm and with her husband, “Scooterpie the Shepherd Guy,” and their son, lives on a 170 acre sheep farm in Southwestern Pennsylvania that’s been in her family over 120 years and is on the National Register of Historic Places. They raise ten breeds of Heritage and Rare breed sheep and produce natural, breed-specific yarns and roving from the flock.