Friday, 31 October 2014

1 Colour + 1 Colour = Beautiful

I thought there were just two options when it came to fibre colouration: dye it or leave it natural. It never even occured to me that just like I mix my paints, I could mix my fibres and BLEND to create new colours. Did you know this? Am I the only that missed this memo?

When Wendy Bateman, Grand Empress of All Things Textile, starting demonstrating blending fibres on hand carders in Haliburton, I was spellbound. Two or more colours went on the carders and with just a few swipes magic was created. A whole new tone, shade, hue or value emerged.

Of course I tried to hide my delight and play it cool.
Just kidding. I practically started vibrating in my seat with pure excitement.

I love the depth of colour that fibre blending creates. The space and shadow between the variety of fibres allows for a richness of colour different from single dyes. So. Glorious.

Here's the trick with blending. Here's a few tricks I learned when it comes to blending.

1. CARD IT GOOD. My first few attempts with blending resulted in some streaky, bloby yarn because I hadn't adequately carded the fibres together. It's worth it pull apart the rolags and change direction when loading the carders. And then take a few extra passes when you think you're done.

2. PULL OUT THE SHORT CUTS AND PILLS. I hate that stuff. All those little bits make for miscoloured slubs in your yarn. Pull it out while the fibre is still on the carders.

3. CLEAN OUT YOUR CARDERS. As someone who can be a tad over-enthusiastic to get started at a new project (I hate to admit it but it's true), I forgot to clean my carders before changing to a new set of colours. This made for some rather odd mixtures emerging. While I normally am excited for unexpected results, when completing your OHS homework or working towards a precise colour, it is a serious pain in the tush to pick out all the wrong colour.

4. RECORD. RECORD. RECORD. Once again, as someone that enjoys experimentation and chance, recording my process isn't generally in the forefront of my mind. This is a big loss when I happen to create a colour that is truly awe-inspiring. I am training myself to write that s*&! down. Record your percentages and combinations. Take photos. Keep a wee bit of fibre as a sample. Hold back a bit of yarn. As much as I hate to slow down the creative process with record keeping, it is (sigh) worth it.

5. PULL OUT THAT COLOUR WHEEL.  Remember studying the colour wheel in highschool art class? Reacquante yourself with it. Take a look at what is complementary and analogous. Remind yourself of what hues, shades, values and tones are and how they are assessed. Try to figure out what colours are mixed to create that tone of lime green sitting across from you on the subway.

6. TOSS OUT THAT COLOUR WHEEL.  After you've hung out with the colour wheel for awhile and have memorized primary, tertiary and all other terms, start playing. The rules are great place to start but they aren't the whole journey.  Explore the terrain beyond the wheel.

Do you have any fabulous tips or tricks on colour blending? Share the wealth and post below!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Becoming a Master(ful) Hand Spinner - OHS Year 1

Meet Darlene. She's a spinning wheel. A Double-Tredle Lendrum to be exact. Made in Odessa, Ontario by a fellow named Gord Lendrum. She and I crossed paths this past August on the first day of Year 1 (of 6!) in my journey to become a Master Spinner (as in wool and not as in bicycles bolted to the floor in a humid gym with a trainer yelling at you to really “feel the pain”) with the OHS– Ontario Hand Weavers and Spinners (1). 

Didn’t know Ontario had hand-spinners? Prepare to be amazed. The growth in popularity of fibre arts is astounding. Just look around and you'll see people knitting all over the place. I love bumping into a fellow knitter on the subway. We quickly fall into a discussion of patterns and projects and favourite yarns. Eventually the topic of hand spinning emerges: do you spin your own yarns? We lock eyes. I trip over the words, "yes, I do". My fellow knitter answers back with a touch of breathlessness, "I've been spinning for years".  There's a sudden glint in the eye. Likely I have it too. We've just realized that we're both in the club. We're both SPINNERS. We have bags of fleece under our beds and small balls of fluff follow us through the world. Believe me when I say OHS is a breath away from becoming mainstream. 

You know I love local fibres and fibre producers. Meeting Darlene and pursuing my OHS Spinning Certificate Program is one part of desire to be involved in the cultivation of local fibresheds supporting a robust local textile economy. After 8 days in Haliburton I realized that I needed to share this process of scaling the heights of Spinning Mastery. I'm also hoping that if I keep writing about the process all y'all will keep me focused and moving forward, not to mention on time with my homework submissions. So consider this Season 1, Episode 1 of "Sarah Jean Goes to Spinning School".

Displaying SAM_1171.JPGTo give some context:  I learned to spin at Black Creek Pioneer Village back in 2007 and fell instantly in love with the whole process. I drop spindled all the way through my Masters in Environmental Studies at York University. Noting my infatuation with fibre arts, Pascal organized his family and mine and bought me an old beauty known as a Quebec Production Wheel, easily 150 years old, for my 31st birthday. Best partner ever? Yup.

Fast forward to 2014. A friend at my local Etobicoke Handweavers and Spinners Guild convinced me to sign up for Year 1 of the OHS Certificate. Looking at my old beauty I realized that she wasn't really up to the drive to and from the Haliburton School of the Arts

This is where Darlene comes in. She was a rental from Wendy Bateman, Spinning Certificate coordinator and Grand Empress of All Things Textile. Wendy is one helluva gal – she's been spinning longer than I've been alive. 3 days into my relationship with Darlene, Wendy quietly paused at my chair and mentioned that Darlene was for sale, less the rental fee. What a clever saleswomyn. By day 8 I couldn’t imagine my life without Darlene. She came home with me.

Darlene lives at the foot of my bed, in front of the low bench, perfectly positioned for a daily round of spinning whenever the mood strikes. Did I mention that Pascal is an awesome partner? He is. 

Now it's time for some confessions. After getting home from Year 1 in Haliburton, I have put off the scads of homework that I must complete this year. I am utterly overwhelmed by the level of expertise that will be grading my work and sadly underwhelmed by my own skill level. I have pumped out yards and yards of 2-ply in an attempt to improve my twist (I consistently underspin), regulate my grist (I still get some thick/thin), and successfully produce a balanced, 2-ply yarn (reaching for that perfect loop skein). 

Facebook is becoming the bane of my existence as I watch my sister spinners (the other gals at Year 1) produce beautiful, balanced products expertly displayed on black card stock. Sigh.

Deep down I want perfect grades on my perfect yarns, but reality says that is highly unlikely to occur. Accepting this reality is truly hampering my progress. I can’t get started because I want perfection but know I can’t achieve it, thus don’t want to start until I can get it perfect. What an exhausting loop of inaction. 

This is likely an excellent example perfection paralysis. I’m not moving forward simply because I can’t accept my imperfections. That’s a life lesson, eh? 

My new strategy is to talk to Darlene and remind her that she’s part of the team and thus part of the process. This takes the pressure of me as a solo creator and distributes the glory, and the blame. I know a craftsperson isn’t supposed to blame their tools, but it sure feels good to feel like Darlene and I are in this process of imperfect beginner-ness together. Regardless of the conventional wisdom that inanimate objects don't have a personality, talking to Darlene is helping me get over this perfection paralysis because she and I are in this together.

Alright. I'm off to spin.

1. Full disclosure: the program is technically the Spinning Certificate Program and not the Master Spinners Program. However, the program is 6 years in length, the same as a doctoral degree, so I'm going to give myself the prize of claiming Masters status if I make it through. I might even privately refer to myself as Dr. HandSpinner. We'll see how much ego boosting I need by the end.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Salsa in September

The last tomatoes of the season are hanging on the vine in my container garden. I have to admit it has been a little bit of a disappointing gardening year. I've had lots and lots of container gardening fails. Some from my over-exhuberance planting (ahem...over-crowding) and some from crappy, cold weather. But there are always the last tomatoes of the year and one more opportunity to make salsa. This is another Mary Murphy gem and likely the recipe I get the most requests for. It was even written up in a very cool DIY Canning 'Zine called CanIt! A Collection of Stories, Recipes and D.I.Y. Food Politics under the (slightly misnamed) "Sarah's Sexxxy Salsa". Enjoy!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Canning Season is Upon Us

Mary in front of Notre Dame, Paris, 2013.
It's been a cold, wet summer here in Ontario but us canners are dedicated to the art of food preservation. We know that pulling out a jar of homemade jam in February will help us through the winter grumps.

The requests for favourite Peace Flag House recipes are pouring in. Rather than a load of individual emails and messages, I've included the recipe for Cucumber Relish below. I can't claim a smidgen of credit for this recipe or any of our other favourites. They are all the incredible creation of Mary Murphy, my canning guru and Pascal's Mom.

This womyn is truly a canning genius and we're the beneficiary of her best culinary creations.  We love you Mary!

Monday, 9 June 2014

Remembering Self-Care: An Interview with Ian Elliott - Shiatsu Therapist, Yoga Instructor & Awesome Humyn

Pascal and I just finished our Spring teaching at Ryerson. In April we quickly wrap up the winter semester and plunge directly into facilitating “intensive courses” – a whole semester condensed into one very long week.  This spring we taught 4 intensives in 5 weeks.  We absolutely love this format, but by the fourth Friday we are completely exhausted.

During the intensives I struggle to hold on to my healthy practices of self-care.  Ten plus hours in the classroom everyday makes it difficult to fit in moments where I consciously rejuvenate myself.  Sometimes the thought of hauling my butt to the yoga mat is too much to even consider.  More caffeine becomes my substitute.  

This is when I really need to be reminded to invest in my well-being.  Looking around and seeing others choosing healthy practices and self-care is essential.  Even if I can’t find time for a yoga session, a Shiatsu treatment or a salad, observing someone else make those self-supporting decisions acts as gentle reminder that gifting myself with moments of self-care is both important and valuable. 

Ian Elliott:
Shiatsu Therapist,
Yoga Instructor & Awesome Humyn
This Spring Ian Elliott has been that example for me.  Ian is our local Shiatsu therapist and yoga instructor (recently accepted into teacher training at Octopus Garden!).  When our student load reached a 160 students this Spring, Ian was the person that reminded me that whenever I get back to the mat is a good time to get back to the mat.  When my body started complaining about too much time at my keyboard, Ian reminded me to stretch, to rest, to take breaks and to breathe. 

Because we all need folks like Ian in our lives, I decided that an e-interview was the best way to share this treasure of a humyn-being with you.  I hope our conversation below gives you one more person to recall when a gentle reminder to practice self-care is just what you need.  


First of all, congratulations on being accepted into Yoga Teacher Certification at Octopus Garden!  I just watched your IndieGoGo video and it touches on your life before yoga.  What did life look like for you then?

My childhood wasn't a particularly stable one - my parents divorced when I was quite young and the person my mother remarried suffered from alcohol addiction. I entered adulthood having little notion as to what gifts I possessed, nor how I could put them to use to both help others and to sustain myself.  I worked high-pressure, low-wage jobs that rarely suited my personality, smoked three-quarters of a pack of cigarettes daily, and was sliding toward alcoholism myself.  It certainly wasn't all doom and gloom - there were some happy moments in there, and somehow, I always maintained an outer semblance of good health, but on the inside I was falling apart.  Still, there was always some part of me that was trying to solve this inner puzzle.  I knew that real, sustained happiness is what was being sought, but I had few examples to learn from and no idea how to find it within myself.

Finding those examples outside of ourselves is essential and you certainly act as one of those examples for me.  I'm curious what drew you to practice yoga?

In 2003, I had what I like to call an emotional "breakthrough" (as opposed to "breakdown").  My life as I knew it came crashing down, and I had no choice but to rebuild it from the ground up - a healthy tree requires strong, deep roots.  Within the year, I'd begun to learn how to meditate.  In 2005, I attended my first 10-day Vipassana course, where attendees spend up to 10 hours per day in silent meditation.  When I returned to the city, I realized that my body needed something more - I was constantly aching in one place or another and had a lower back that would go out on me if I sneezed or coughed too hard.  At the time, I was living in Scarborough and working downtown.  My favourite place to spend time was (and often still is) in Kensington Market.  I noticed that there was a yoga studio at Augusta and Oxford named "Pure Intent" (sadly, now closed), and finally, one fateful day, I decided to go in and inquire about classes.  There certainly wasn't any burning desire to practice at the time, just a cautious curiosity.

It's refreshing to hear that there was no major epiphany or lightening bolt, just a growing desire to feel better in your body and the courage to walk into a yoga class.  What was that very first yoga session like? Do you remember how it felt?

My first class was a Restorative session, using lots of props: bolsters, blankets, straps and even folding chairs.  I remember that as my instructor, the late Jenna Morrison, asked us to focus on our breath, my body immediately began to release long-held stores of tension.  My mind was still filled with insecurities; having something to prove, wanting to be the best in the room, even though all we were doing was laying on over-sized pillows and breathing!  I also remember that despite my insecurities and accompanying attitude - or more likely, because of them - I was made to feel like the work I was doing was the most important work in the room.  That's a secret I learned from Jenna - every student should be made to feel that way about their practice!

It's a secret you've learned well!  I remember my first one-on-one yoga session with you. I was nervous, even though we'd already known each other for a few years, because there were no other students to hide behind.  But I quickly relaxed.  It did feel like I was doing really important work on that mat regardless of all my grunts and groans.  After practicing with you for the almost a year now, I can honestly say you're a fabulous teacher.  Which makes me curious as to why you want to pursue Yoga Teacher Certification?

I'm hungry for knowledge!  I view yoga as a lifelong study, which means I will always remain a student (in Zen this is called Shoshin, or "beginner's mind").  Better student = better teacher.  I'm also excited for the opportunities that certification will create for me.  While there are many accomplished, non-certified instructors out there, accreditation, especially from a reputable, respected school, opens a lot of doors.  One of my goals is to eventually host retreats outside of the hustle and bustle of the city, somewhere quiet and rural.  While that may be some years away, certification feels like a natural and logical part of that progression.

We should chat about the retreat idea in the future.  Hosting retreats is one of our down-the-road dreams and I can easily envision your teaching style translating well to a rural setting.  Of course, as your student I have my own perceptions of your approach to teaching (calm, balanced and gentle come to mind).  How do you understand and describe your approach to teaching?

I endeavour to teach with all of the joy, compassion and care that I've instilled in myself through various holistic practices.  
When I began yoga, I was anxious and in pain.  I carried a lot of fear, and fear causes the body and mind to exist in a contracted state.  From a teacher's perspective, this was actually a great start point.  It made it much easier for me to relate to the various conditions students bring to practice.  Very few people come to me saying, "I feel amazing, please teach me yoga!"   In class, we work toward the opposite of fear, which is expansiveness.  When fear is set aside, trust and an open heart take its place, and one can't help but want to explore this new found expansiveness through practice.
It doesn't matter if it's physical, emotional or spiritual balance that's being sought, as long as some benefit is derived from practice.  My hope is that students will take whatever it is that they gain from their time on the mat, out into their day-to-day lives.  This is the essence of yoga.

How true!  After a session on the mat I feel bigger and far less restricted in multiple ways.  It's a glorious feeling, and yet sometimes I opt out of the hard work of yoga and just lay down for a Shiatsu treatment.  I always appreciate that I can request either yoga or shiatsu and know there's no judgement coming from you.  How do you see your yoga practice intersecting with your work as a Shiatsu Therapist?

This is an area I am constantly researching!  With my shiatsu training, knowing where the meridians (the body's energetic circuitry, so to speak) run, I'm constantly aware of the internal benefits of a regular yoga practice - how certain poses are beneficial to certain organs, how you can take an active role in correcting imbalances in your body, the style and pace of practice that's best for any given day, time of year, etc.  Many of my shiatsu clients have become yoga students, having caught on to the fact that the two are mutually beneficial.
I'm also very fortunate that Scott Davis, one of the program directors at Octopus Garden (where I'll be completing my teacher training), is also a licensed acupuncturist who for some time has been finding many interesting ways to connect the two modalities.  Last summer with Scott, I completed a 5-day intensive that linked Traditional Chinese Medicine's 5-Element Theory with yoga, and I'm eagerly anticipating further exploration of this vast field of knowledge.

Speaking of constant research...I'm always searching for a better understanding of how exactly can we create and cultivate peace in our world: what actions can we take, words can we use and decisions can we make?  This is my on-going research into "peacing for peace".  Can you offer us any insights? How do you peace for peace?

I peace for peace by assisting people from all walks of life, in finding health and maintaining that vital connection to their own inner peace.  It's pretty hectic out there, so it helps to be happy and calm on the inside.

Interested in connecting with Ian? Click below!

(Full Disclosure: No one at Peace Flag House ever receives any reimbursements, gifts or kick-backs for our kind words.  We do accept good karma.)