Don't mess with a soprano  

Threads of connection

Tension – I mean real, gritty agitation, mixed with soap, water, and unwoven wool. 

Chaos? No. It is a unique fabric and a new way of life for nuno felter Diane Goossens.

Diane’s world was a corporate one. If it were not for a chance encounter with two felters at a Christmas party, she might still be working for Interior Health in their organizational development department.

In 2012, she decided to leave the corporate world and pursue something more creative. She quickly became a leader in a relatively new field – nuno felting. 

She didn’t see this shift coming, but now can’t imagine doing anything else. 

Nuno felting bonds loose wool fibres onto a sheer fabric, such as silk or gauze, which creates a versatile, lightweight fabric. She now makes haute couture nuno felted clothing.

Her love of fabric and sewing came from her mother and grandmother. 

Her Belgian grandmother, Amadina Legein, apprenticed in an atelier, a workshop run by an haute couture fashion designer, at the age of 13. 

You can see this family history in the welted pockets and exquisite finishings prevalent on Diane’s creations today.

Diane, along with four siblings, grew up in Otterville, Ont. on a tobacco and fish farm. 

Her parents valued education – two brothers became doctors, her third brother farmed the homestead, and her sister is a speech pathologist in New York. 

Diane received a bachelor’s degree in physiology, majoring in human nutrition, and a master’s degree in education, enabling her move to the Okanagan and work with Interior Health and the Child Mental Health and Substance Use Collaborative. 

After changing careers, she spent the next two years immersed elbow deep in suds and soap, classes at the Ponderosa Fibre Arts Guild and workshops around the world. 

She was driven by a desire to provide pieces of clothing that were beautiful, but not expensive, for corporate women.

It was only natural that she would find like-minded felting colleagues and use her organizational skills to join the Art Felt Collaborative's two co-founders, Alice Pallett and Violet Racz, along with Amy Bradshaw and Judith Mueller in 2014.

These ladies have racked up an impressive list of accomplishments and exhibitions in a very short time:

  • 2015 – FELTED – Lake Country Art Gallery: curated show exhibiting felted banners of natural coloured wools. Featured wearable art such as Diane’s binary code dress and scarf.
  • 2016 – SURFACING – Salmon Arm Art Gallery: created a large piece representing surfaces from the depths of the ocean to the sky.
  • 2016 – Won the Applied Arts and Okanagan Arts Awards for their collective work.
  • 2017 – Designed and made the awards at the Okanagan Arts Awards

She has also been busy with personal accomplishments during this time, too:

  • 2018 – “Hold Dear” papal hat and black seedpod jacket displayed at SHRINE – Canadian Contemporary Felt Exhibition, Felt Feutre, juried shows in Vancouver and Cornwall, N.S.
  • 2019 – MID RENO BLUES – shown at Art Walk and Summer Solstice fundraising gala.

She thinks of herself as a conceptual artist; she gets an idea and lets everything build from there. 

As I sat in below-freezing weather on her outside porch – thanks COVID – I was treated to some of her concepts up close and personal. Although I was freezing on the outside, I was warmed and delighted seeing her mid reno blues and binary code dresses among other gorgeous designs.

Her mid reno blues dress came about in the middle of home renos. She described the frustration – it was a chaotic mess; wires and paint swatches everywhere, inside wall surfaces exposed.

“Everything was on the outside before being hidden – the imperfection,” she said.

I saw before me a white, nuno-felted sheath dress with seams on the outside, patches in different shades of white, a black chord sewn higgly-piggly on the outside. It was a perfect, beautiful and satirical dress that made me appreciate the frustration of any half-done reno.

Her binary dress was so luxurious in colour that I didn’t catch on right away. The slight bumps I rushed over, turned out to be nuno felted ones and twos, even the scarf had them woven into the translucent organza fabric. 

Her attention to detail is to be studied and enjoyed.

Diane has enlisted the help of her sister, Carol, who, in addition to being a speech pathologist, is a graphic artist. Carol transplants urban photos and artwork onto silk, which Diane then uses for the linings of her designs. A perfect combination.

Diane’s passion for felting has forged friendships with international felters and relationships as far as India. 

Nuno felting requires a fabric for the wool fibres to grab and meld with. Indian saris are the perfect fabric and since the silk doesn’t need to be new, buying used saris satisfies felters needs, while providing a source of income for women in India.

Admirers can see Diane’s attention to detail, collaborative nature, and whimsical spirit woven into each creation.

There is a vibrancy and lively humour that transcends all the water, soap, and scrubbing in her works. 

Diane Goossens is a creative leader and force to keep an eye on.


Songwriter's career meteoric

“If life is a journey — What is this life I’ve stumbled into? Where is it going to take me?"

Singer-songwriter Andrew Allen wrote those words in 2009 for the song, Amazing.

He was on the road, literally and figuratively, living those lyrics. Little did he know how his reputation as a singer-songwriter was soon going to explode.

His story begins in Victoria, where he was born in 1981. He was adopted by two teachers and moved from Fort Saint John to Quesnel to Vernon.

His musical education started in Grade 7 at school. He experimented with playing the piano, alto sax, and other instruments until he discovered the guitar in Grade 10.

All his spare time was spent with friends and their punk band, Liable Cause, in his parents’ garage.

“Nobody knew how to play,” he said, laughing. “I had very patient parents.”

I can imagine how popular the band was to their neighbours. They did free open mic nights and rarely got invited back, but did eventually learn to play.

In his early 20s, he was lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist of Martin, a four-person band that was convinced they were going to be famous, but soon disbanded.

Andrew moved to Vancouver and just lived for a year. He was a bingo caller on Carnival Cruises for a year before moving back to Vernon and taking a musical director position at East Hill Community Church for two years.

In 2008, he decided to go solo, hit the road, and ended up ping-ponging between the U.K. and here. It is easier, evidently, to get established as a reputable performer in the U.K. They don’t need to hear you on the radio first. 

He was a one-man band: booking, planning and promoting himself without representation.

“The only thing I wish I could change…” — words from the song, Sooner

As a performer, you long for someone to hear and discover you. While he was in Eastern Canada, he was approached by EMI Records, which invited him to Nashville to work with their songwriters.

There, his career arc was meteoric.

He co-wrote with Robin Ghosh — a renowned Pakistani composer-singer — Loving You Tonight, which was in the Top 10 for 32 weeks in 2010.

Soon Epic Records US took him on as an artist while Sony/ATV offered him a publishing deal. He is still with them, 10 years later.

He lived and worked in Los Angeles from 2013-2015. He wrote more than 200 songs a year and also wrote his way onto the recording artists Who’s Who list.  

“I wrote all the time.”

H worked with Megan Trainer and wrote for Carly Rae Jepsen and Ryan Stewart, collaborated on projects for Maroon 5 and The Band Perry, wrote the song, Together, for the film, A Dog’s Way Home, wrote songs for Italian superstar Marco Mengoni’s quadruple Platinum album, Le Cose Che Non Ho. 

He has written singles for German, British and Korean pop sensations. This list goes on and on,

How does that happen, 200 songs a year? 

He said he is methodical and sets specific times for composing, organizing and planning. It doesn’t matter what comes first, the words or the melody but he does prefer to work the chorus before the verse. He will use whatever instrument inspires him and voice memos audible ideas.

You and I — the title of the song he wrote, and taught, in Ethiopia

In 2015, he became friends with the organizers of Canadian Humanitarian Organization for International Relief. 

“They invited me to compose and teach a song to the students they work with in Ethiopia. I was there for two weeks. 

“It was a beautiful experience, and I’m definitely still involved with the organization. They provide after school programs for the most at-risk youth in Ethiopia,”

"It’s all going to be alright" — from the song, Loving You Tonight

During his time in California, his daughter was born and he decided to move back to Vernon. 

“Although it is a better headspace, you are definitely not as connected.”  In L.A., he would often attend a function, get introduced to someone, and bam, he was working with them because you were all there. 

Through the darkest nights and the brightest days — from the song I’m In Love With You

He loves to perform more than anything else. Before COVID, he enjoyed 70-80 days a year on the road performing. He longs to return to it.

You’ve done a lot, what is the most memorable performance? 

He told me that he was performing in Vancouver and he was ill and couldn’t sing. He apologized to the audience and they sang all his songs back to him. Unforgettable.

I’ll teach you how you deserve to be loved — from the song, Deserved To Be Loved.

I teach a lot of girls popular music and it is so gratifying to find a composer who understands how important words are in forming young minds. 

His messages are relevant and his music eliminates the ho-hum out of today’s pop sound.

He is a force that is only beginning and he is home grown in the valley. How lucky can we be?

Riding the winds of change

She breathes in the crispy morning air and enjoys the crunching of her footsteps along a narrow rut among thousands of pinot noir grapes ready to harvest. 

The sun promises a perfect day.

Tuscany?  California?

No, West Kelowna at Annabel Stanley’s homestead and vineyard. 

This is not a winemaking story, although it plays an integral part in this tale. Annabel is a natural fibre sculptress, mother, grower of vigneron grapes, and a sphere of optimism and light for those who know her.

This is the story of a woman who told me, “I don’t understand the word ‘I can’t.’” 

My kind of human.

Annabel was born in Worcester, England, to a family with significant history. 

Her father’s granduncle was Sir Edwin Lutyens, a distinguished architect who designed the government buildings in New Delhi and the cenotaph on Whitehall in London in 1919 for the First World War memorial.  Her grandfather followed in his footsteps.

Her mother, Bridget Lutyens, was a horticulturist and instilled a love for all things growing while her dad left the family tradition of architecture and became a teacher. 

Annabel studied horticulture and became a florist in London.  She was busy for four years non-stop with her famous clientele, Tiffany’s, Harrods, and even decorated the Christmas tree for the Duke and Duchess of York. 

“We used their ornaments along with ours,” she said.

Like a seed carried by the wind, she let travel take her to Australia for some much needed R&R, and met her husband to be, restaurateur Grant Stanley, there.

Landing somewhere, putting down roots, and then leaving while adding bits and pieces of who she was became the pattern for much of her life.

Marriage came in 1990 in Whistler, where she opened a florists shop and discovered skiing, which would become important to her family life later.

In flew the winds of change.

They moved to New Zealand and spent 12 years there, but a breeze of change still blew. Annabel worked for the Cloudy Bay Vineyard in the fields and learned propagation while Grant left the restaurant business and studied winemaking.

Their son, Francis, was born in 1997. Annabel opened a successful florist shop in Martinborough, Wairarapa and began weaving natural fibres out of necessity.

“I didn’t want plastic toys in my flower shop, so I began weaving.”

The winds of change, once again, carried them to Vancouver and finally to West Kelowna and their present-day vineyard in 2004.

This move was to be different. All her love and energy needed a different focus because Francis suffers from epilepsy and autism. When she introduced him to skiing, both their lives changed. He loved it and was the fastest Special Olympic cross-country skier at the Thunder Bay, Ont., National Games 2020.

Annabel started as a volunteer, then assistant coach until today she is the coach for the Canadian Special Olympics’ Cross Country team.

Her roots, as a weaver-artist are finding fertile soil here in the valley now that she has time. The material for her art grows among her grapes.

She grows pinot noir grapes for SpearHead Winery, harvesting more than seven tons of grapes last year. If you want to taste the captured sun, buy a bottle of Coyote Pinot Noir, Spearhead Winery, made from 100% of her lovingly tendered grapes.

Vines, once pruned, leave a mass of rubble just waiting to be turned into art.

She uses these canes to make sculptures. She uses nature, birds, animals, hearts and especially the sphere as inspiration.

Her favourite quote by Alex Lieberman encapsulates her interest in the sphere. “I consider the circle as the simplest, purest elements of visual research. The circle is common property for the two infinities, from the immense sun to the infinitesimal atom, above all the circle is the purest symbol because it is instantly visible in its totality.”

The sphere and other sculptures can be seen all around Kelowna. The Lavender Farm has several of her works on their grounds. Perhaps you would like to make one yourself. She is available for COVID safe workshops.

COVID, the stingy freedom buster, has, however, allowed the winds of creativity to soar in her mind. She has not stood still.

She would love to turn her homestead into a retreat centre where writers, artists, and creators can spend time, sharing, learning, and growing. 

She is working with Dogwood Nursery to create hidden magical areas for reflection along the garden path.

She is also hard at work on a secret project that she promises to reveal as soon as she can.

Though the winds have carried Annabel and her family around the world, she has never lost sight of her relationship to the soil.

“There is no original idea," she said. “It is how you adapt that idea to your style and your heart.” She is adapting.

To meet and spend time with Anne is to capture the sun and be warmed by its heat and perhaps a glass of wine. Ah!


Wool woos woman

I have a confession to make. I have a guilty, seductive pleasure that gets me into trouble.

This sensual indulgence eats up hours of productive time and leads me into unknown places and introduces me to strangers.

I love wool.

Yes, the baa-baa-black-sheep kind. My addiction is knitting. I love spending hours solving intricate puzzles that I hope I can wear or give away.

I have wandered down dark alleys in strange towns — just like Alice did down her rabbit hole — searching for knowledge or that prismatic skein of wool. 

Last Wednesday, my obsession took me to the Rotary Centre for the Arts (RCA) to meet members of the Ponderosa Fibre Arts Guild, which was formed in the 1970s and has been growing ever since. 

Its mandate is to share knowledge and educate members and the public to appreciate fibre arts. 

I met Denise Oyelese, a wet felter, Deb McConkey, a spinner, and Linda Thomlinson, a weaver. No knitters on Wednesday, although the guild has some incredible ones.

Denise was my guide into the broader world of fibre arts.

Felt is considered the oldest known textile. It originated in Siberia and Mongolia during the First Century and was used for floor coverings, inside walls of tents, bedding, and illustrative art. 

Denise wet felts instead of dry felts.  

Dry felting uses a barbed needle to grab fibres and compact them. This is the felting method for making toys and animals. 

Wet felting uses water, soap and some form of agitation — not mental — to cause the fibres to open up and bind together.

“We are a clean group,” says Denise, who moved here from Regina 11 years ago.

She wears her art in the form of bracelets, scarves, clothing, and makes karma bowls, something she couldn’t have done when she was a rug hooker. She made the switch after a friend introduced her to felting.  

.“I love to repurpose used fabric,” she said, as she experimented with a new type of wool to see its bonding qualities.

She also works with used saris from India. She said it is not unusual for an Indian woman to have 40 saris and to keep them for many years. Denise collects ones that are old or damaged and uses them in her creations, creating a synergy between the old and new owner.

Fibre arts may be ancient, but they are constantly evolving. In 1992, Nuno felting appeared in New South Wales, Australia. 

Polly Stirling coined Nuno Felting from a Japanese word meaning cloth. This technique, which Denise loves, bonds loose fibres, usually wool, onto a sheer fabric like silk gauze, creating a lightweight felt fabric.  

On the other side, before you get yarn, you need to spin the wool fibres. Deb McConkey spent 18 years in England and learned to spin there. She said she really didn’t understand just how much cleaning and preparation wool needed before spinning. 

When she first started, she proudly made a sweater for her husband from wool she had spun. He went to the pub, which was very warm, and as he got hotter, the sweater took on the fragrance of a wet sheep. 

Opps! She has learned a lot about how to treat wool since.

The spinning wheel first appeared in India in 750 CE. If you would like to try spinning, the guild rents wheels and looms to new students to try before investing the money for one.

Guild members meet by Zoom these days, but the positive spin is they can afford to learn from the best in the world. It is much cheaper to hire experts to give a workshop online than it is to bring them to Canada.

Weaving has been around since the Neolithic times. Weaver Linda Thomlinson is getting her master weaver certificate from Alberta’s Olds College, which also offers a master spinning certificate.

Why weaving and not spinning or felting? Thomlinson felt weaving was more analytical than the crazy, creative type of art. Weavers weave brilliant eye-catching stacks of tea towels, which sell as fast as they can make them. 

These fibre artists keep as close contact with the producers, their local shepherdesses of alpaca and sheep, as possible. Linda gets raw wool from Carstairs, Alta., while Denise deals directly with a breeder in Ontario. Her favourite sheep is named Ebony and buys all the wool she produces each year.    

Once you get your wool, it is difficult to get it processed because there is only one local mill, in Salmon Arm, and it has a backlog of several months.

The longer I stayed, the more I wanted to see and buy some of the guild’s projects. Normally, the annual Christmas sale is the perfect place to buy these adjudicated items, but it was cancelled due to COVID. 

COVID has, however, not hurt their membership because registrations are up.   

For a girl with a serious addiction to wool, finding this group was like finding Mecca. I will definitely be joining in January.  

Felted karma bowls here I come.

To learn more about this guild or to join, go to www.ponderosaguild.org

Meeting and featuring artists in my column is what I love to do. If you know of an artist — any genre — please contact me with your suggestions. [email protected]

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About the Author

Sue Skinner is a singer of opera and musical theatre, a choral conductor and a teacher/coach of voice. 

She has travelled the world, learned many languages, seen every little town in Alberta and supported herself with music all her life.

She has sung at weddings, funerals, musicals, operettas, opera, with symphonies, guitars, jazz groups, rock bands and at play schools. 

Skinner has taken two choirs to Carnegie Hall, sung around the world, and teaches for Wentworth Music on Zoom.

[email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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