Fiber Geek Questionnaire, belatedly

This questionnaire comes from Fiber Femmes, a fiber arts webzine which consistently has great content (if I say so myself, as author of one article in a recent issue).

1. Do you raise fiber, animals or plant, or are a fiber user only? If you raise animals/plants…what do you raise?

I don’t raise fiber animals or crops. Livestock is a huge commitment and I have my hands plenty full as it is!

2. What’s your favorite fiber & why? Which fiber do you like the least & why?

There’s no way I could pick one single favourite fiber! They all have different strengths and weaknesses and allures, and I’m prone to the wiles of one or another in cycles. And I could ask, favourite in what sense? To spin? To use as yarn? To wear? For utility purposes?

I absolutely love to spin blends of fine wool and tussah silk, which I produce myself, and I love the resulting yarns as well, which can be fine and strong, big and lofty, and anything in between. From fall through spring, I love to wear things made from those blends as well. But for all-around miscellaneous usefulness, I would have to rate cotton very highly. Cotton is a tremendous workhorse fiber, and most of my clothes are storebought, mass-produced cotton (jeans, t-shirts, that sort of thing). I sew almost exclusively with cotton, the exception being when I sew with silk. I use cotton towels, dishcloths, and rags; cotton pervades my life, even though I almost never spin it. In fact, I really don’t like to spin cotton — cotton and I are not at peace with each other in that respect. Whereas protein fibers, I feel, want to be made into yarn, it always feels to me like cotton does not, and it fights me every step of the way, succumbing to yarn form only when tricked into it.

If I were going to pick a single least-favourite fiber, I’d have to go with corn-derived plastic fiber, ingeo. Unpleasant to spin, impossible to dye, with a melting point that suggests structural failure is possible with as little heat as could be generated by being left on the patio on a hot summer day, ingeo is totally inexplicable to me. I just don’t get it.

Seriously, what is the point of this fiber? “Oh look,” the hype about it says, “A fiber from renewable sources!” Well, huzzah — now with extensive industrial technology we’re able to create a fiber from renewable sources, finally! Thank heaven! What would we ever have done without a fiber that grows back? What, do you think cotton or linen grows in fields every year? Or fleece-bearing animals regrow their wooly coverings? If you want a sustainable product, what’s wrong with a natural one? What are we trying to accomplish here with ingeo? A more expensive, less functional, and nastier-feeling variant of acrylic yarns which is somehow superior simply because it’s corn-based? Where’s the value in that? Give me a nice regenerated cellulosic if we’re talking industrially-produced man-made fibers, and leave the oddball plastics to non-textile applications.

3. What’s your worst habit relating to your fiber?

Hrmmm. Most likely it would be not finishing projects I’ve started, or as Pippi puts it, lack of project monogamy.

4. In what ways does your fiber habit make you a better person?

Habit? It’s not a habit, it’s a lifestyle. To be honest, I don’t really know; I’ve been involved with fiber all my life and although I realized in my teens that not everybody else was, it still never occurred to me until maybe 2 or 3 years ago that I might not have been. Other people not engaged in fiber pursuits? Okay, I can see that; me? Never occurred to me that such a thing was really possible. Might as well ask me how I’m a better person for being able to read, make change, tie my shoes, speak, or use silverware. I’m aware that there are people who can’t do some of those things (and I even know some), but I can’t really picture being one.

5. How would your life be different if you had to give up fiber?

Well, for one thing, I’d have to go back to working for The Man, and I don’t think that would make anybody in my life happy; although I did reasonably well with a computer career for a while, there came a point when I simply was no longer content to be “a resource” stuck at a point beyond which it was clear I’d never advance, performing mindless and repetitive tasks for people who had no idea what they actually were, didn’t care, and leaving absolutely nothing tangible done for years of work.

Fiber work is tactile, real, and provides eternal growth opportunity and challenge; and being my own boss, I make the calls, instead of resenting that they’re being made by middle managers who don’t even understand what’s involved in doing the work, don’t understand the product, and value nothing but their own progression through a world of intangibles and doublespeak.

If I had to give up fiber, and go back to that lifestyle, I think consequences would be drastic for my sanity, and as a result, for my family. There are many reasons why I quit my computer career, but simply put, it was destroying my life to work constantly at absolutely nothing. I had to face facts and recognize that my entire life has been largely about fiber, and trying to make it not be so was madness.

6. What tools, yarns, books or gadgets can’t you live without?

Tough question, that I could take in two polar opposite ways. In the most literal interpretation with respect to fiber, the answer is a good knife or a multi-tool, and a means of starting fires, because using those and assuming I can find some wood or bone and some fiber, I can build a textile enterprise. I can make the tools, get the job done, and teach others to do the same; I’m a human textile mill thanks to heredity and environment. Are there tools I would miss, and that I could not recreate? Absolutely — but the lack of those tools would not stop me from practicing the fiber arts.

I didn’t use a book to learn a textile or fiber thing until I was in my 20s. Early in my life, I was trained to learn textile skills from other people very, very quickly, in a largely illiterate environment where, as it happens, the textiles themselves were tools for communication, record-keeping, and so forth. Even now for most things, I’d rather look at the textile object as a reference, than a written thing about it — even for things which eventually, I did learn to do from books. Mostly though, I spent my childhood and young adulthood never passing up an opportunity to learn a textile skill directly from a human. That said, I’m adding “make a list of my favourite textile reference books” to my to-do list, because I do have a long list and there are absolutely books and publications I’d miss very much.

As far as yarn goes, I think it would drive me absolutely nuts not to be able to spin my own yarn, and to live a life where I truly had no option but to seek out mass-produced yarn and choose from pre-fabricated alternatives that don’t really do exactly what I want. I suppose I could live with only the products of mills to sustain me, but it would be like living on fast food, TV dinners, and takeout.

7. What was your first fiber project?

The first thing I remember was learning simple braids (3 strands, 4 strands, and 5-stranded flat like shoelaces) when I was 2 and 3 years old, playing around in the weaving studio my father had then. I don’t remember learning to do the 3-strand braid, but I do remember him teaching me 4 and 5 strands. At 3, I remember getting my first one of those potholder looms with the elastic loops, and my mother teaching me to use it, and at 3 and 4 I remember both of my parents teaching me to do inkle loom weaving. My first real finished object was a Peruvian jakima at age 5.

8. Do you have any fiber mentors? Who are they and why?

I guess the only ones still living and still really actively mentoring me are my mother, and Nilda Callañaupa. Although you could probably count “the entire town of Chinchero, Peru,” really. Why are they active mentors for me? Well… because they’ll hold me to things, judge me, critique me, and because they already know what I ought to be doing that I’m not, and they’ll argue with me about it all, and what’s more, like me, they know what would be said by the fiber mentors in my life who’ve passed on.

There’s also quite a list of folks who’ve known my parents since I was a baby, who worked with both of them or with my father, who have done (and still do) a lot to keep me on track and encourage me to go further. There are so many of these fine folks it’s hard to make a list.

9. Are you a member of any guilds? If so, which one(s)?

My membership’s lapsed since I moved, but I plan to reactivate it; Black Sheep Guild in California, who all but came and got me and wouldn’t let me go, a few years ago, and who’ve uniformly been incredibly supportive.

There’s a problem with a lot of guilds, in that many of them meet at times when someone with a day job can’t go; I think this causes a generation gap and cultural gap between certain fiber scenes, in fact.

I’ve often been hesitant to go become involved with guilds as well, because at one point early in adulthood I grew tired of hearing people ask me “Oh are you Ed’s daughter?” and I felt like a hanger-on or something. Since my father died (three years ago this week), it’s been tough in some respects because, well, I miss my dad; and so do a lot of people in the fiber world, and sometimes it’s just sad to end up talking about him. For the first couple of years, I mostly couldn’t handle the emotional load.

10. What’s the most exciting fiber project you’ve undertaken?

Every single one, at the start of it. None of them, by the middle. By the end? Usually about one a year.

I know, that’s facile — but it’s true. Looking back, I’d say that my most technically exciting projects have been the bag I wove when I was 13, learning Palma y Ramos in Pitumarca, work on documenting intersecting warp hair ties in Accha Alta, and chullu knitting. The largest project is Chad’s poncho, which is likely to take me all summer this year, if I’m diligent and lucky; otherwise it’ll be another year.

The most emotionally charged project is one I’ve undertaken, but not done, yet. For many years, my father spindle-spun tussah silk, with the intent that it would be woven by Sara and then made into a tailored sportcoat for him. But he died before he was done, and the course his illness took left him unable to finish many things. My mother gathered up all the silk he’d spun, some plied, some unplied, none washed and set, none measured, and sent it to me. I’ve got to finish it and get it to Sara. My progress so far has been to look at it several times, and move it with me to 2 new homes.

And the single most extensive, biggest, complex, and consuming fiber project I’ve ever taken on is without a doubt Franquemont Fibers. I expect it’ll take my entire life and never be done.

11. How many people have you mentored? In which fiber arts?

I guess it depends what’s mentoring. I’ve taught lots of people; really mentoring? I’d say 2 or 3 in “Abby’s Holistic Yarn Geeking,” and 3 or 4 in spinning.

12. Do you consider fiber crafts to be functional or artistic?

Yes, I absolutely do.

Oh, you wanted me to pick one over the other? I can’t; part of the thing that really speaks to me about textiles is that when well-executed, they are the ultimate marriage of form and function, one so brilliantly done that both elements can become completely invisible, utterly ubiquitous, and essential to our lives in ways most of us have never even really considered.

13. What, mainly, do you make? Do you keep, or give away, most of your projects?

I make all sorts of things. Anything that strikes my fancy, and anything I want or need. Ultimately, I give away far more than I keep. I almost never make anything that isn’t intended to be used.

14. Are fiber crafts an avocation or vocation for you?

Both, without a doubt — and a lifestyle and an identity.

15. How many people are you committed to being a mentor for in 2007?

I’ve no concrete mentoring commitments for this year at this time; I’m planning on putting really serious efforts into myself and my business this year, working up to some real teaching plans.

3 thoughts on “Fiber Geek Questionnaire, belatedly

  1. wonderful post, Abby! I really enjoyed the spirit evident in the post. And thanks for the link to Fiber Femes/

  2. I hope you’re not feeling too sad this week Abby. I know I miss my mum more every year, not less, it really doesn’t get easier, just familiar.

  3. I know your exact feeling about guilds because that’s my situation here. I work, they meet in the day time. I don’t drive at night when they meet at night. Whenever I go I get looks like “what are you doing here?” because I’m not a regular and never will be, especially with that greeting. And they’re all in their 70s and 80s and I’m young! (58) I think I’m just “that pushy American” to them and they don’t do many things I’m interested in.

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