Confession time. Raise your hand if you have a clean, wooly fleece that you need to prepare for spinning or needle felting. (I’ve just fallen over — both hands and both feet up in the air!) Wool preparation is an important part of the both processes and Fiber College is a great place to learn more about it. Betsy Alspach will be teaching Wool Combing for Spinning and Felting on Sunday, September 10 from 2-4 PM. Betsy loves to help others learn to tame that beautiful fleece into something perfect for spinning or felting. Let’s meet Betsy and then you can sign up for her class here. Betsy will also be teaching a rolling class (no need to register ahead of time) on Drop Spindle Making and Spinning. More information about rolling classes is forthcoming. Here’s Betsy!
Fiber College chooses a new theme each year. For 2017, it’s Re-Use, Re-Design, Re-Create. How do you incorporate any part of this theme into an important part of your life?
I re-use things on a daily basis most of which are pretty mundane but I think together add up to a lot.
I am always looking at cutting down on waste as well. My husband says I am the most practical person he knows but I guess being a New Englander, I can’t help it. Re-using, re-designing, and re-creating are fun challenges!
Tell us how you entered into the world of fiber and the fiber arts.
My grandmother taught me to knit when I was 7 or 8 but it wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties that something told me I had to learn to spin. I didn’t know anyone who was a spinner and there was no YouTube. I did know that at the Heifer International farm near us in Rutland, MA, there were spinners each year at a fall festival. I went to the next one, asked who could teach me to spin, and happily went past the point of no return. Years later I became one of those spinners and taught fiber skills to the residential volunteers.
Reusing materials can be great fun, exciting, or perhaps frustrating. How/What have you re-used as an artist?
It is easy to re-use spinning fibers because as long as the animals and plants are treated with respect, more will grow next year. I always say there is no need for waste in spinning. I use the water I wash fiber in to water my plants, put fibers left from combing and carding into the compost, and keep any yarn left from a project for scarves or afghans.
What’s the best piece of advice a mentor has ever given to you?
I was relieved when I took a workshop with Rita Buchanan to hear her say that spinners don’t have to worry about using technical information such as twist angle if they don’t want to. I am not a technical person but have no problem with people who find it helpful. My brain just doesn’t work that way. I use ratio to a certain degree but mostly depend on how I use my hands and feet to create the yarn I want. I look back at our predecessors who created beautiful items from yarn for their survival and I don’t envision that they had time to analyze it—they just did it. As I said, although it isn’t for me, I have no problem with people who do enjoy that side of it!
If you could re-design your life as a fiber artist, what would that look like?
In my best daydream I would be living in a cottage near water, have sheep, and miraculously have all the time in the world to do fiber activities.
How does your art recreate YOU? What does that feel like?
My art recreates me on a daily basis. It is calming and stimulating at the same time. My love of it encourages me to always be learning something new whether it is a technique, playing with colors differently, or learning anything else about fiber.
Fiber activities have such soul to them that is hard to describe. Feelings always well up in me that come unbidden. The activities are so very meaningful to me. I don’t quite understand it but I don’t know what I would do without them!
If you could go back in time, what might you change about your fiber journey?
I wish I had learned to spin as a child so I could have had more time doing it.
What’s the most important thing that you want potential students to know about you?
I have made mistakes in every part of the sheep to shawl process and they shouldn’t be hard on themselves when they are learning. Together we will figure it out and they will get it! And love it!
You can learn more about Betsy and her fiber at her Etsy shop. Betsy also has a blog. And you can sign up here for Betsy’s class Wool Combing for Spinning and Felting on Sunday, September 10 from 2-4 PM. Betsy will also offer Rolling Classes in Drop Spindle Making and Spinning. Stay tuned for more info about rolling classes!