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The following is a post I made a while ago on my Woolwench.com blog, and I am cross posting it here (with some extra details) because it is a subject that is important to me, and something i would also love to share a discussion of, either here or on our Fiberygoodness group page.

What makes a yarn creation ‘art’ rather than ‘craft’? Is craft art? Is art crafted? I could go in circles over this for quite a while! But it IS something I have put a lot of thought into over recent years, and it stems partly from the age old debate about ‘what is art’. Traditionally, spinners have been considered craftspeople, we have learned skills, techniques, and knowledge that has been gathered over years and honed into something we can turn into beautifully crafted yarns. Often what we craft as spinners is the key ingredient in something that IS made as ‘art’ – tapestries, weavings, art installations.. However, to my thinking, there is also a time when we can call our handspun yarns themselves ‘art’, I think there is a threshold we cross that moves what we spin from being a ‘craft’ product right into the realm of being ‘art’ in and of itself. I think it needs a few specific elements to take it beyond the skilful activity of crafting and into the expressive activity of making art. And it is of course as always, in the eye of the beholder, or rather for us, in the intention with which we create. I have identified three specific elements I believe ‘art yarn’ needs to have in order to be called art (and remember I view this as being different from ‘textured’ yarns,’themed’ yarns, ‘intuitive yarns’ or even ‘no rules’ yarns).

What follows is an overview of the approach I have worked on developing and solidifying over some years of spinning, from teaching art yarn workshops around the world, and as a result of my experience in co-creating and running the Journey to the Golden Fleece Creativity course (plus others) for Fiber artists at Fiberygoodness.com. I want to share this approach because inside it I have found some specific methods for taking abstract ideas, feelings, and notions and turning them into concrete, tangible expressions = art. I hope this is a useful approach for anyone wondering how to take their spinning beyond the craft and into something that reflects who they are and what is important to them, beyond making something wonderful to knit with and into making something that is unique, distinctively ‘you’, and that expresses something important to you.

My approach to spinning art yarns:

This is a threefold approach with three major requirements: concept (inspiration), design (construction), and technique (execution).

Concept

The yarn you are spinning is not just for the sake of spinning, for this yarn you are wanting to express an idea, a theme, or a concept in your yarn.

To do this, you want to fill your yarn with elements that reflect your theme (ie an architectural theme could be expressed in a layered defined construction in the yarn, or a softer, nature theme could be expressed through the use of un-carded locks and loose plies etc)

Think about how you can spin your theme ideas into your yarn, what is the association between each element of the theme and the specific elements you have chosen in the yarn design? (colour, fibre choice,  fibre preparation, spinning techniques). In order to create something expressive you first need a clear idea of what you want to say, what story you want to tell, your main concept and inspiration for this yarn.

Design

Your entire yarn design is driven by the concept that has inspired it, each element is chosen specifically and mindfully in relation to the underlying ideas that you want to express.This is where you make choices in terms of fibre selection and techniques in relation to the design that you are aiming for. How do you turn the idea of ‘wild’ into something you can spin? How do you turn the abstract idea you have into a concrete construction? Each element of your design reflects your own interpretation of your idea and theme. This includes your colour choices, your fibre choices, and the ways you have chosen to spin, your techniques.

Each element of your design is an expression of your idea. It is planned and imagined before you even get your hands and fibre to the wheel. I have found the activity of mind mapping to be an immensely useful way to design art yarns, I have adapted this for art yarn design to keep me focussed on the concept or idea being contained in the yarn, and making sure each individual design decision relates directly to the concept without becoming diluted with side-tracks or irrelevant additions. It is also a wonderful tool for helping me move from ‘abstract’ to ‘concrete’, from idea to something I can hold and spin. I include instructions for this in most of the art yarn courses we offer at Fiberygoodness.

Technique

This art yarn is your chance to show your mastery of your techniques and your control of the process, the amount of twist you add, the ways you have plied, the additions you have used to add to the design.  You are literally constructing your art yarn by layering your design ideas, techniques, and materials into one cohesive piece.

Artistic Expression and the importance of practice. Your art yarn is an expression of yourself, it is created from the harmony between you, your fibres, and your tools. Think of yourself as an artist! A musician! Your first task on the way to becoming a yarn virtuoso is to practice, a LOT. The goal is to become very familiar with the notes – the fibres, colours, add ins, and to master your instrument, your tools and spinning equipment, as well as the music you will play (your techniques). 

I liken this to being a musician, because as a fibre artist you practice and practice, you develop an intimate knowledge and understanding of your tools, your spinning wheel, how to ‘tune’ it to get just the right amount of take up and twist, how to prepare your fibre so you can play the right ‘notes’ to get fluffy or smooth, textured or traditional.. and then you also find that your familiarity with a wide range of spin techniques enables you to instinctively choose the ‘right key’,  the techniques you need to play your yarn symphony, to construct the melody and make the fibery music!

All these things simply require practice. Just as you cannot pick up a violin and immediately play like a virtuoso, you must also practice with your wheel and your fibre to gain the deep and instinctive understanding that allows you to play, to change the rules, and to explore. Practice is the key, when you do it enough, at some point it DOES become easy and effortless! 

This knowledge and mastery means that you become one with your wheel and your materials, you will instinctively KNOW how you can create the fibre music that is in your head, which fibres to choose, which techniques you need to express those ideas, and how you need to construct your yarn to get the results you want.

This is a kind of unconscious mastery that comes from much practice! Each yarn you spin becomes your starting place from which to continue on your practicing and experimenting. Your first task is to build up your stable of techniques to draw from later when you are planning your designs. Concentrate on learning as many spinning techniques as you can, really get confident with each one, so you can then branch out and start making your own variations on them, change around your fibre preps, try non traditional textures in traditional yarns, add in autowraps, locks, play around with every aspect of each technique and you will soon develop a deep knowledge of how that yarn works and how far you can take it!

You need a knowledge and understanding of different fibres and what they can do for you, and of different fibre preparations and how you can spin them. The basic techniques you need are: corespinning, lockspinning, auto wrapping, bulky. You also should know how to spiral ply with a thread, coil ply, and Navajo Ply. Once you have mastered these techniques you can start to PLAY with them, alter them, experiment with different fibres, add to them, try variations on them.

This is part of building your stable of techniques! When you come to making your deliberate art yarn designs you will have the confidence and skills you need to focus on the theme and idea you wish to express, rather than struggle with technique. With practice this is inevitable! You WILL reach this point and then you will have the freedom in your spinning and art yarn practice to really create art in your yarn! Then when you apply the three principles of: Concept, Design, and Technique to your spinning, you will find you are creating unique, expressive, and exciting yarns that you feel are a good representation of your artistic self.

 

As an example of ‘art yarns made using this approach I would like to share with you one of my art yarn designs, included in one of our Fiberygoodness ‘Yarn Recipe’ sets. This one was a set that Arlene and I both designed for, and was based on the words of Maya Angelou. Of my own designs the one I liked the most was ‘Brave’.

I hope my thoughts on this have sparked some ideas in your own mind, or maybe you have a completely different view of what makes art! This is the wonderful thing about art, it is so very subjective and we can and may all have utterly different ideas about what it is, and thats all ok. I would love to know what you think, how you approach your ‘art’ spinning in between your ‘spinning because I love to spin’ yarns that are not intended to express a concept but just be beautiful. Do you have a few special yarns in your stash that you were inspired to spin by something more than the fiber itself? Or would you like to challenge yourself to create some? What are your big inspirations and what stories would you want to tell with the yarns you make? Are your stories of the people you are making the yarns for, a jersey for your son, a hat for your mum? I know I often spin with the person in mind that I am spinning for, that too is inspiration and brings another aspect to your yarn that makes it unique. In the end, this is what we do, we make yarn 🙂

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6 thoughts on “Art or Craft? Becoming a Yarn Virtuoso

  • February 2, 2018 at 9:54 pm
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    Thank you Suzy. You have clearly articulated your thoughts well and I support your theory. It is the Concept that differentiates art from craft. I am still focussed on developing technique. I make decisions regarding Design but don’t feel skilled enough yet to consider Concept consciously.

    Reply
    • February 2, 2018 at 10:59 pm
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      The great thing Lyn is that all it takes is practice 🙂 Developing technique and then playing with each one till you know it inside out, sounds like you are doing it! I am also thinking that perhaps ‘art’ isnt the right descriptor, maybe more a kind of ‘unique expression of an individual’ thing is a better way to see it. I worry that ‘art’ is too.. excluding perhaps?

      Reply
  • February 24, 2018 at 7:32 pm
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    I am a fairly new spinner (and fiber artist), still developing technique, but I love the freedom and artistic expression I have found in color and texture. I recognize that I am still naive in my spinning knowledge, but feel like an artist because of the life of the fiber itself. There is a great freedom in this stuff that allows for creative expression no matter the skill level. I have found that part of the excitement for me as a newbie is knowing that the fiber will speak with a voice of its own. I am more of a scientist, watching the process and the creation as it develops and becomes an expression that I had the privelege of participating in.

    Reply
  • June 19, 2018 at 12:44 pm
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    Love the Maya Angelou poem and your cross pollination at work. I can see you diving in with Bravery’s arrow into your art, expanding your heart. Your words touch me. Thanks, I need that. Art is most often solitary like love in that it begins with the self but then must move, it must bloom.

    Reply
    • June 19, 2018 at 10:11 pm
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      THank you so much for sharing your thoughts Maryrose, I deeply appreciate your insights 🙂

      Reply

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