Friday, June 20, 2008


Its hard to know how far to go back to get to the root of my interest in creating with fiber. I could talk about sewing Barbie doll clothes at age 8, or making quilts for a local gift shop at age 21, or putting together the Canadian goose quilt for my community's library just as I was ready to leave my first husband. Sometimes projects like that really help to take your mind off your problems.
The beginnings I want to touch on are when I started to see myself as an artist. I was a special ed teacher by profession, yet always had this hands on approach to everything...making whatever I could imagine, dyeing my fabric for sewing, teaching students to create fun things, etc. etc. But, when asked, I was a teacher.
My last two years of teaching in Fairbanks, Alaska, were in a job share position with another teacher at a nearby middle school. My son had just graduated from high school and was off on his own, and I was thinking about retiring but wasn't ready to take the big plunge. So the job share thing was perfect. We would spend our summers in Refuge Cove, head to Mazatlan for a few months, and then I'd return to Fairbanks in the dead (I mean dead!) of winter for 5 months of teaching.
My classroom was out of this world: 3 double sinks, washer/dryer, 3 large worktables, a refrigerator and stove. I had a very busy job but usually found time each weekend to dye up a few pieces in my classroom for sewing at home. Often times I would stop by my neighbor's house to show her what I had made. One day Christine asked if I would show her how to dye fabric. I have to say I was a bit surprised as I hadn't seen a hint of sewing interest (knitting yes!) and I always saw her as one of those intellectual types (legal and school administration background), and I didn't think she was into messy things like dyeing fabric. Yet I was always eager for company so I invited her up to school one Saturday afternoon. Lo and behold - she loved it. That summer she e-mailed me pictures of dyeing sessions with friends, etc. She was hooked. AND her mother's old Bernina was now a fixture on her kitchen table. I knew the hook was set deep!
So before I knew it, I had come and gone from my summer and fall journeys, and was returning to my last half year of teaching (2004). Who should the school counselor be that year? Yes, Christine. She also was on her last year, and I should have known that she had other ideas about what we'd be doing together in those few months before retiring.
That very first cold, dark Saturday in January found us in our transformed "dye studio", and we never looked back. It wasn't long before friends joined us and it became a Saturday happening! Teenagers loved to pop in and try some tie-dye. Marge started dyeing scarves. Joanne hauled in tubs of second hand clothes to "spruce up". It was an exciting time for us and made the year fly by.
Around the end of April, Christine and I would ponder about "what's next?". We both were selling our homes, and leaving Fairbanks (she to Ashland, Oregon; me to the BC/Mexico connection). We had become such close friends and partners in our fiber quests. It saddened us both to think that this great Saturday experience would have to come to an end so soon and we'd each be taking off in different directions.
I remember the question arising one day: "So what do real artists do?" Followed by, "For one thing, they have shows. " And the next natural response,"Let's do one!" After all, we had a wealth of product from our weekend sessions. The next step for two retiring school employees was to exclaim "artists teach classes."
On that note, we planned a two day class (with 7 students) at the end of the year, and followed it up with a fiber arts show the following Friday night. We advertised in the newspaper under the First Friday Gallery Tour section, and invited all our fiber friends we had worked with or taught to also exhibit with us. Christine and Rick had already sold their house so they had lots of open space for displaying our creations. We named our show "Fibers of Friendship" which said it all. We served wine, cheese, and crackers for friends and neighbors on a beautiful June evening in Fairbanks. It was more than memorable.
Two weeks later, we both drove off into the sunset, leaving our lives and careers in Fairbanks behind. We both had gone from teachers to artists with the blink of an eye, and we never looked back.
And what became of the fiber of friendship I wove with Christine?
That's for another post.

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