Winter is for Stories*

I do love the smell of ink and was planning on some more printmaking over the holidays. Thanks to the extreme cold weather (-32ºC here in Calgary) and my determination to get some fresh air, another smell caught my attention. The smell of pure lanolin took me on a completely different tinkering session.

Knitting sample of hand spun yarn, resting on hand card. B. Wanhill. December 2021. iPhone X.

I purchased this lanolin from a Canadian shop a couple of years ago and I had forgotten about its magical properties to heal cut hands. Smearing it across cheeks, lips (and up one’s nose!) is a great way to fend off wind chill and frostbite. Some people think it smells like sheep barn and this (along with donning a beautiful sweater my mom knit in the ’60s) was exactly the sensory experience I needed to help me reconnect with family memories and return to a session in fibre exploration.

In this video Etienna Moostoos-Lafferty shares with us that winter is traditionally a time for First Nations people to tell stories. It was a time “to sit down and listen” as there was not as much work to do compared to the busier seasons of “trapping, hunting, harvesting, building and sewing.”

As I transform the fibre given to me from my mom – fibre that belonged to sheep she and my dad raised, fibre that was given to them by family friends, I am grateful for time to slow down, sit and listen. Sometimes the stories I hear are from memories I play back in my mind. Recently, I am contemplating stories I’ve heard while learning about Canada’s vast history of Indigenous cultures. And I am building a new story collection as I connect during this pandemic via phone with my family a province away or chat with my husband across the room; connect with people I don’t even know through social media or soon, back to the busy, chaotic, joyful personal story connections I make with my students.

For me, making things helps me make sense of a world I often don’t understand and gives meaning to who I am and where I come from. The stories I hear and think about are embedded into the items I make. Lately, I’ve been pleased that the items I make are filled with more peace and contentment.

Happy New Year and may the stories you hear and make this winter be peaceful and happy.

* Etienna Moostoos-Lafferty is an Indigenous education coach, educator and has been sharing her engaging resources with others. Her work has benefitted my students and myself in the elementary art room. You can find her on Twitter: @EtiennaLafferty


Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a human doing.

Omid Safi

I started a knitting project at the beginning of the holiday. I’d actually planned to finish three hats for friends – belated gestures of holiday goodwill to compensate for my less festive mood prior to the break. I don’t need to remind you of the year we have all just been through.

The hat pattern I chose contained a few cables, yet that did not seem difficult. I was looking forward to finishing this off fairly quickly while practicing my new found skill of continental style knitting.

Halfway finished, I realized I had followed the pattern incorrectly. I ripped out the stitch work and started again. Shortly thereafter, I realized the way the yarn was organizing itself within the pattern was not presenting the colouring in a very flattering way. I ripped it out, changed the hat pattern and continued on.

I figured out that the way I was working the purl stitch was really hard on my hands, so I searched YouTube for a better way. Found it. Also found a crazy but effective new way to tension my yarn.

Yesterday, I lay the half finished hat (which has taken me the whole holiday to make – never mind three) on the counter. The light hit the colours in such a way that I knew the person I will be gifting this to will enjoy it.

I was able to be flexible with patterns of work and thought, let go of expected outcomes and in doing so, have begun to enjoy the process of knitting.

Best wishes in the coming new year where we will all need to continue to adjust our life patterns. Find small joys in the process of figuring out what works and what does not. Enjoy the being and not just the doing.

Cascade Unicorn 220 Superwash Wave. Pattern: Skyping Beanie by Halldora J. Photo: iPhone X by B. Wanhill

Who for what?

In the new year of 2014, I started this blog to document my practice as a visual artist outside my profession as an elementary art teacher. The spur came from a professional development session advocating building a “positive digital footprint.” My colleagues opened up Twitter accounts and a couple started WordPress blogs. I abandoned a personal gardening blog to begin what I vaguely deduced would be my foray into showcasing my skills in photography, drawing and printmaking.

On the brink of 7 years later, I have changed, the world has changed and currently the nature of my paid profession has changed. It has been almost two years of self reflection flecked with a high degree of distraction and melancholy. Focus on the positive has been spare.

Yet, one thing appears to have kept me from falling into complete creative and mental apathy: working with wool in the capacity of spinning.

Creating yarn forces me to work in the abstract. Spinning focusses my mind: pay attention to tension, listen to the sound and watch the movement of the spindle or treadle. See the formation of something new from raw or reused materials. I am realizing the potential of how colour and texture can play together. Play. Something absent from my years of haphazard and dutiful drawing and printmaking work. Something absent from my natural instinct towards anxious thinking.

As I continue in this space, I will make room for this medium. I feel like it may help me more fully answer the question of “Who for what?”

Knitting sample of hand spun yarn, resting on hand card, iPhone 6S.