There was a rumour not long ago that a yurt was going to be assembled within the eight walls of the Art Gallery Osoyoos. Sadly like most rumours, this one wasn’t true.
But, if the Desert Sage Spinners & Weavers Guild had their druthers, the hand-felted yurt that took four months (working one day a week) to make would have enjoyed pride of place at their current “Fibre Arts” show at the gallery.
As the guild’s Jen Allgeier explains, the yurt was constructed — quite a number of years ago — as a kind of team-building exercise for the guild.
“I think any group after a period of time starts developing little factions here and there,” she explains, adding the yurt idea turned into a hugely successful group building activity.
And really, it’s no wonder the yurt was conspicuously absent, when fully assembled it can fit 40 people standing up inside. Surely 40 people alone within this gallery would be a feat of spatial proportions.
This particular Okanagan version of the traditional dwelling of Central Asian nomads is quite special, she says. Each of the roof panels is an ode to the local vineyards across the four seasons, and side panels play on the continuity of the hike and bike trail passing orchards and prominent features like the N?aylintn (McIntyre Bluff).
The project did have the purpose of unifying, and to understand the significance, it’s important to understand the vast spectrum of artistic pursuits that exists within the guild. The guild’s name may single out spinners and weavers, but there’s a whole lot more. It’s not just about spinning fibre into yarn, and it’s not just about weaving on a loom. The guild encompasses anything remotely related to the craft, including knitting and felting, for instance.
It also includes those who produce fibre that they and others artists use to create finished products. Allgeier, for instance, gave up knitting years ago after she discovered the joy of producing mohair, which is yarn made from the hair of the Angora goat. Her goats now provide her with the wool and take care of her weeds too.
“A lot of people don’t like mohair because they find it scratchy. It’s got quite a fuzz on it, but for me, I like mohair for two reasons: one it has a sheen like silk so that when you dye it you get that sheen, and secondly, it’s just warm and cozy.”
She has a mohair blanket at the show, light as anything, featuring beautiful colours. The blanket has about 700 grams of the mohair in it, or roughly 14 skeins of wool which weigh about 50 grams each. With mohair she explains, it’s important to not make the weave too dense, because it is so warm and it also offers better insulating properties when woven or knitted in a less dense manner.
Allgeier estimates it would have cost nearly $600 to purchase the wool. One of the problems for those producing their own wool is that they need to have it processed in a woolen mill, and these are getting increasingly hard to find. Although there are two in BC with a third opening in Vernon, she prefers to send hers to one in Carstairs, AB.
The exhibition features spun and woven fabric items ranging from clothing to art items to tapestries in a multitude of colours and textures.
She also highlights that the guild’s mission statement is to teach and aside from regularly meeting at the Oliver Community Center one day a week, September to June they also hold workshops for both members and non-members. The guild also has four communal looms which they use for group projects.
When she first moved to the area and got involved in the guild, there was roughly 25 people, she says. “When I first joined, it was probably three of us under 50,” she says with a laugh.
“Now there’s more, a lot more people retiring so there’s sort of starting back into these things and we’re also having people move to the area from the lower mainland where there’s huge guilds and they’re bringing their expertise and what they’ve been doing there.”
She notes that the biggest sub-group in the guild are the knitters and adds that it’s interesting to watch the waxing and waning of what’s popular over time.
“Now knitting is taking off again with people in their twenties to fourty year olds.” She says the pandemic is likely responsible for part of the upsurge. “Young people were doing it because they were home with young kids and what not.” The cost of daily life has gotten expensive and that’s also responsible for an upswing in people creating their own items with natural fibres, she says.
The choice of fibre also changes over time, with the most popular now being bamboo. Flax (which is where linen comes from), cotton, silk, corn and corn husks and even banana fibre is used today in addition to the more familiar goats, sheep and alpacas. She says the natural impulse for members of the guild is to practically try anything.
And if you pay a visit, keep your eye open for a cheeky take on the former king of fruit in Oliver. Originally known as the Cantaloupe Capital of Canada, there is an ode to the melons that used to grace the fields with one of the guild’s members creating a felted bra that, well, looks just like cantaloupe melons. “People look at it and go . . . ‘is that what I think it is?’,” she laughs.
The show runs until Saturday, May 20 at the Art Gallery Osoyoos, located at 8713 Main St. in Osoyoos.