Beth Whitney talks about the “magic” of dyeing.
While some might agree it’s magic when they see the colours she creates, it’s really art.
Whitney hand-dyes wool fleece and colour-blends and spins the fibre into yarn that she uses for rug hooking and knitting. She’ll be demonstrating the skill at the eighth annual Fibre Art Festival and Sale at Covent Garden Market Friday through Sunday.
The festival brings together members of the London District Weavers and Spinners, the group Simply Hooked and the Strathroy Pioneer Treadlers to demonstrate their craft talents and sell their creations.
There will be demonstrations and displays of weaving, felting, spinning, rug hooking, lace making, sashiko (Japanese stitching) and basketry.
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This year’s theme is Updating Traditions of the Past — “applying modern textile techniques to fibre skills from the past and showcasing their relevance in today’s world.”
Enter people like Whitney and pal Kate Gutteridge.
Before their unique works are created, the material — either sheep’s fleece or spun wool, fabric or silk — must be given colour. Whitney and Gutteridge have worked at it for years.
Whitney has been involved in fibre arts most of her life. An aunt taught her to knit when she was eight, a craft she continued to hone through her adolescence and carried on after graduating from the University of Toronto with an English degree, working as a librarian and retiring six years ago.
It was when she came to London from Toronto to work at the London Public Library more than 30 years ago that she joined the local weavers and spinners group and began to explore all facets of the craft, including dyeing.
“We do it (dyeing) mostly to get colours you can’t buy in stores, blends and combinations that are unique,” explained Whitney.
For example, she might use dyes of orange and yellow, tie knots in yarn, dip it in one colour’s dye pot, untie the knots and dip it in the other colour pot “and now you’ve got a combination of two colours on one string of yarn.” It can be knit into a “unique and modern-looking” piece of clothing or item,” said Whitney.
Or, she explained, you can dye batches of fleece in different colours, then spin it and now you have multi-coloured yarn.
“These are very traditional arts and crafts,” said Whitney. “In the old days, if you needed a sweater for winter, you had to make it yourself. It was a very practical craft. Now, it’s much more satisfying as a creative outlet in this busy world of ours.”
Whitney agrees it’s easier just to go to a store and buy a sweater, but if you do it yourself, you’re not going to see anyone else wearing the same garment.
“Today, yes, we can go out and buy it,” she said. “But we like to take the time and do something creative and modern and then you’re not spending your time looking at a screen or doing the laundry.
“You can create things that are very unique, very different and very well made. I think there’s a deep-rooted need for us all to be creative. It’s very satisfying.”
If you go
What: Eighth annual Fibre Art Festival and Sale, by London District Weavers and Spinners, Simply Hooked and Strathroy Pioneer Treadlers
When: Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m. -3 p.m.
Where: Covent Garden Market mezzanine, 130 King St.
More information: Visit ldws.ca