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Featured Artist: Alet Tienpont of Textielwerk Wol en Zo

by The SpinArtiste on April 13, 2014

AT - SelfPublisher’s Notes:  Less than an hour from Amsterdam, in Ouwerkerk, is where you can find a fiber heaven on earth known as Textielwerk Wol en Zo and, the beautiful, smiling face of its owner, Alet Tienpont.   There are some people who’s kind, generous personalities help to make the world a smaller place in the best way and Alet is one of them.  A feature on Alet  has been long overdue, but at last, here we are!  Enjoy…

Spin Artiste (SA):  Tell us how you got involved in fiber art, and what has your journey been like so far?

Alet Tienpont (AT)  Since I was a kid I was fascinated by fabrics, colours, wool and silk.  As a 5 year old little girl, I dressed up paper dolls with pieces of fabric and fastened it with ribbons and yarn. Later I got pieces of old white sheets and made my own design on that with paint and colouring sticks.

In the early 1970’s,  I became fascinated by spinning wool and dyeing with natural dyes, knitting sweaters, cardigans for the whole family and crocheting art items like masks for demonstrations against the government in our country who, at the time,  wanted to store nuclear bombs and weapons, etc.  It was the time of the Dutch Provo’s, a serious group of mainly students wanted to provoke the society by bringing social ideas like sharing goods and ideas about gardens for vegatables, shairing bycicles in the town, etc.

AT - Mixed Dyed FibersI was mainly raising up my children, spinning and weaving at that time and worked at a kindergarten where I introduced working with wool with  children from the age of 4 – 6 years old. It was a great time.  Finally, I worked my way towards in dyeing wool and silk, knitting and weaving but time was always a limiting factor.  I had my job, my family and friends and the spare minutes in between were filled by sewing clothes for the kids, some quilting and crocheting items for the house like curtains and cushions.

In 1996,  I started my fiber activities again after my studies education, a degree special education for children with behaviour and learning disabilities. Fibers, especially wool and the process of preparing fleeces before you can spin or felt with them, turned out to be a very educational and also relaxing and calming process for the children.  They got used to washing wool, the carder and the spinning wheel in the classroom.  The whole process is healing,  especially for children who are open for natural  and traditional activities like working with fibers. Some had a spindle and made yarns and we dyed the wool with food colouring.

Later, when I left education behind me I started my own business in wool, wheels, dyes, yarns, looms, and the like in 2006.

I consider myself an auto-didact, a self taught person, having taken workshops, masterclasses and private lessons in spinning, dyeing and felting.

Where we live now, in the southwest part of the Netherlands, near the sea,  we have a farm with sheep ( Wensleydale and Gotland Sheep or Swedish Pelt), horses, hens, dogs and a cat.

I have my own studio/shop and I love to work there.  I guess my power is in teaching people.  I educate them in techniques but most of all I like it when people discover their own skills and feel free to create beautiful things of which they never had dreamed.

 SA:  How would you describe you artistic style, and would you say it is a reflection of your personality or something else entirely?

AT - Shoes with Felted pieceAT:  My artistic style is related to nature with personal emotions. I love materials from nature, wool and natural fibers, wood, shells, stones, plants, metals, the natural colours in all materials.  I love all colours…depending from season to season, I love circles…the wheel of life.

I love the contrast of soft ( like felt) and hard ( stones or gems).

I like to work in a simple fashion, not too complicated, and I am always learning new things.

It really is a reflection of my personality.

SA:  I know you are from the Netherlands, which holds a rich fiber history. How has your culture influenced your work?

AT:  We, Dutch people, are a nation of traders.  We have always been. In the 17th century there was the foundation of the VOC, a trading company who owned a big fleet of sailing ships. They sailed to Asia with goods from here, selling them to countries in Asia and harbours they visited, buying goods from there like silks, china, spices, jewelry and so on and then selling them here.

It was big business and they expanded their trade all over the world, so people who could afford it bought beautiful silks and cottons, and other fine woven woolen fabrics.

The ones who couldn’t afford it made copies or made their own patterns, colours and style influenced by the exotic fabrics which became famous in our our national costumes.

The trade through Europe with small sailing ships over the rivers and Baltic Sea brought woolen and linen embroidered fabrics from east Europe, like Russia, Romenia and Hungary to our country and the Baltic countries where, especially in Sweden, the flower embroidery on woolen fabrics became famous in the national costumes.

AT - Felting 2Poor men’s clothes were made of woolen, homespun and woven fabric. The best woolens, “laken” came from our city Leiden and later from the UK or Belgium.  Until the synthetic dyes came, everything was dyed with natural colouring. We made a fortune with it!  Indigo and woad were already very well known and used with cochineal to make beautiful purple colors. They were very expensive!

In this tradition there are still enough people who keep the traditional patterns, dyeing techniques and fabrics alive. However, our commercial textiles made in spinning and weaving factories in the Netherlands disappeared at the beginning of the 20th century caused by the 1st WorldWar followed by competition from countries with low salaries.

I love the traditional patterns, fabrics involved with our history.  It is very much in fashion to use the patterns of the traditional costumes again in modern-day clothes, rugs, and interior design.  I love to work with these traditional techniques and colours. Centuries later they still have a strong attraction to me related to our history.

 SA:  In your opinion, how do you think fiber art has evolved in the Netherlands over the years and where do you see it going?

AT - Felting - BluesAT:  Like the ocean’s and sea’s life in a pattern of tidal streams, also fiber art has its tidal streams.  In the 1970’s, it was very much in fashion and common to spin, weave, crochet, making quilts and beautiful embroideries. The 1980’s were economically difficult years and because of that daily jobs were needed for salary. General opinion was that textile arts were dull and old fashioned and fiber artists endured a difficult period.

Fiber art dried up and it was only in the 1990’s and just after the millenium, people could afford more money for their hobbies in textiles.

The global financial crisis started in 2007/2008 and became the worst economical crisis worldwide and caused the collapse in fiber art in general. It was remarkable to see that felting became very very popular! I guess the reason for this was the fact that it was relatively new to most people and the ones who were good in their felting skills could make money by workshops and markets/fairs. Individual artists had a broke through and felting became popular as it still is. Hopefully the economy will start to recover, as we do need customers who buy fiber art and materials and equipment again.

There is a lot of inspiration and the common word is now “durability” and “improve your own textile art ideas”.  People want to express themselves again.   I think it’s a sort of strength after the economical crisis to show your identity in textile art. Creativity gets a new start again.

I guess that global shopping made possible by the internet and the fact that you can watch on the internet what is made by fiber artists worldwide makes it easy to jump in again and join!

A good example is the Journey to Golden Fleece Course from WoolWench aka Suzy Brown and Spin Artiste aka Arlene Thayer. Fiber arts become international!

Worldwide fiber artists show their spinning skills in making yarns and combine that with knitting, crocheting and weaving but what I think is more important, they inspire each other through Facebook and the internet.  Isn’t it fun to improve your own skills by sharing each others results??  For me this is very important, to share…. individuals who grow by working together…it has been proven by community working through the centuries…

My hope is that fiber art, or art in general, made together by individuals who create a community, gets  influence on the society and world we live in today…. the fact that working together making lovely art has his reflection on creating a more happy world for all of us…

A dream perhaps…I believe that it will come true!

 AT - Dyed Fibers - OrangesSA:  What does your average day in fiber look like?

AT:  As I have a business in it, that takes a lot of energy and time but also creativity. I am very lucky having a daughter who is working in our family business who puts lots of energy and time in social media, bookkeeping and sales.

In this way I can spend more time in my studio… and prepare workshops and make fiber art for myself,

I do a lot of dyeing, during the winter with the Landscapes dyes, an acid dye which is very user friendly containing  citric acid and a salt already and metal free.

In the spring, summer and automn I work with wool, sorting out fleeces, washing, fiber preparation which includes natural dyeing, the spinning and felting. I just started with my Majacraft dynamic heddle loom and my teachers in weaving are WoolWench ak Suzy Brown and Patty Poot.

I also have a Saori loom, a 2 shaft, and hopefully I will get more time to work on it.

I work with handspun yarns and commercial yarns and again, not only for myself but more for others as being a teacher in spinning and felting.

This spring I want to create a small dyer’s garden with woad and indigo, madder, weld and rhubarb.

We have walnut trees and beech on our land and I love to make prints with them on silk, wool, linens and cotton.

I have a friend who makes lovely prints with them on paper and creates books of them, binding them herself with leather.  I would love to try that once!

AT - Mixed Dyed Fibers with blues, oranges, purplesSA:   You seem to have a true passion for dyeing! Did you pick up dyeing easily, and would you say that is your favorite part of the artistic process?

AT:  Yes, I do have a true passion for dyeing…colours and materials are always in my mind…I did a class in dyeing the “Grand Teints”,  sustainable natural colours without the use of toxicants.

This was originally founded in France by law, the government set forth strict rules about what dyes and mordant to use for the upper-class ( madder, indigo, cochineal etc) on exclusive fabrics, which was very very expensive.

For normal people, farmers and others there were the petit-teints…mixes of several not sustainable dyes and a lot cheaper… it were the guilds, appointed by government who dyed the yarns. In Europe the guilds were very important and had a great influence on the society.

AT - Felting - Purple and BrownIn 2014,  West Europe has been overwhelmed by the importance of going back to natural dyeing, sustainable clothes and lifestyle. Natural dyeing is a true lifestyle, especially if you have your own plants in the dye garden. Sowing, nursing and harvesting your plants is so special.  You have to realise that weather conditions influences the quality of the dye stuff which is in the plants. Too much rain, too cold temperatures for example give less dye results on wool and other material.  I have more respect for natural dyeing using my plants as a result.

It is more easy to buy your dyes like madder, woad and indigo and you are assured that the results are good. With pre and after mordants baths,  you can have a rich scale of colours which I find fascinating.  It is time consuming but doing it gives me so much satisfaction!

AT - Felted Piece in Purple and Brown 2Dyeing with the Landscapes dyes in another thing.  They contain no pre-metal dyes and are good acid dyes in a range of 65 colours.

It is great to make your own dye register.   I am a big fan of Deb Menz.  I love to work with percentages and scales for my recipes but own the orther hand there is also the fun of dyeing out of the hand as I call it.

In a dye workshop I teach  people to work both ways but most important is enjoying colours.

Dyeing is absolute a favorite part of the artistic process!

SA:  What motivated you to move beyond just creating art to opening up your own fiber business?

AT:  It was the contact with people.  I can’t work just by myself. I am a team player and I want to share my experiences in creating art. Besides that my stash is really hugh!!

AT - LogoSA:  What would you say has been the most rewarding aspect of starting your business?

AT:  If you start a business it’s difficult to focus on a few items. You have to figure out what it is  important for you to focus upon.  In my case the spinning wheels and accessories,  the looms, and the dyes.  But of course also books ( too many), nice fleeces, luxury fibres etc.  It gives a good feeling to be independent with your own business and especially with good and nice feedback from customers.

For a year I have been an official dealer of Majacraft products and I am very proud on that.  I am very happy to work with them!!

SA:  I know you also make time to teach aspiring artists the trade. What has been your most memorable teaching experience, and what have you learned from it?

AT:  Mmm, that’s a difficult one… I was very lucky to have very talented young people for spinning lessons and I guess my enthusiasm gives them self confidence and possibilities to just go for it!!  I believe in peoples’ skills even though sometimes they don’t even know that they have them.  In them, I can see very easily their talents.

Teaching young people in fiber arts is special for me.  The reward for me is the hunger they have to learn more and the fact that they are proud of what they have made.

AT - Felting 1A few years ago, I had a student from Manchester UK. She studied fiber arts and was also a good tailor.  She wanted to learn spinning fibers to optimize her skills. She did a very intensive class here and bought a Majacraft Pioneer spinning wheel.  Last year she wrote me an email with lots of pictures.  It was an update of what she was doing and an invitation for the opening of her own shop in Manchester. She makes new clothes, very fashionable, from men suits and knitted elements ( from her own yarns), skirts, cardigans, pants, jackets.  I love that!!!

Last year a student of the Dutch Fiber Art Academy asked me to help with her graduation project.  Through mind mapping,  she came to her final results and learned some basic weaving. Her end product was a chair with a woven piece in it like an old fashioned chair that were used on the beach.  I love inspiring people and help them finding their path!

SA:  What can you tell us about your studio?

AT:  It is a great place to be…to work and a lot of inspiration can be found!  Eva, my daughter,  did a great job organising everything.  Thanks to her, it’s a cozy place to enjoy my products with a coffee or tea.  I’m a chaotic Sagitarius.  Customers love it, lots to see, to touch, to read, to discover….always fiber books on the table and magazines…and a cup of coffee or tea.  We can’t host big groups for workshops but it’s no problem.

If I look outside, I can watch my sheep.  If the weather is nice, we can open the doors and work outside…how lucky I am!

SA:   What wheel are you currently using to spin your masterpieces?

AT - HSYAT:  I love spinning on my Aura wheel..! It’s my friend.  There are never ending possibilities with this wheel…

A long time ago I started on my Louet S10, personalised it and could spin everything on it.  In the ’90s I bought my  Majacraft Rose but when the Aura was introduced I was overwhelmed by this amazing wheel, sold my Rose and bought an Aura.

For production yarns, I use the wool of the Zeeuws Milksheep, I like to spin on my Ashford e-spinner and the Hanson e-spinner.

SA:   I’m sure you have been to many exciting fiber events this past year. Which was your favorite event and why?

AT:  Yes, it’s one of the things I really like to do:  organizing fiber events! Last year we had an amazing event in Mennorode, Elspeet in the Netherlands with Jazzturtle aka Esther Rodgers and Wool Wench aka Suzy Brown. We had 4 days of teaching spinning art yarns spinning, both beginning  and advanced techniques and weaving on the Majacraft Dynamic Heddle loom.

It was great for us all that Esther came for the 2nd year.  We hosted her also in 2012!

AT - mennorode1Together with Suzy,  they form a great team.  Two very inspiring teachers and so excellent in their craftmanship, inspiration and creativity!!  All students picked up art yarn spinning and weaving so quick and enjoyed themselves so much.  Both groups were so enthusiastic.

I hope to host them both once again and quietly I do hope to host more fiber art queens like Lexi, Pat Old and you, Arlene.

SA:  I’d love to come and thank you, Alet, for including me in that list.   If you could change anything about your last finished piece, what would it be?

AT:  My technique in tail spinning and plying that type of yarn.  I love to do it, also because I can use the locks of my own Wensleydales and Gotland sheep, but sometimes the locks are slippery and I have to practise more….I’m much better in felting the locks.AT - Locks in shoes

SA:  Where would you take your dream vacation?

AT:  I guess I would need a sabbatical for my dream vacation….looking for sheep breeds, cashmere goats, giant yak’s, alpaca’s and suri’s all around the world, taking classes in fiber arts, natural dyeing and felting.  For sure I want to visit New Zealand…that’s a real dream..stay there a couple of months.

I was lucky to travel a lot in my life and I have seen so much of the world and other continents but never been there.. yes, that would be a dream vacation!!

SA:  Thank you so much, Alet! I hope to meet you in person and spend time with you and in your wonderful workshop the next time you have a big event.

Congratulations to Rachel Grow who won the $15 Gift Certificate to Hampton Artistic Yarns.  Happy shopping, Rachel!

PB - Spinner's NotebookThere’s been a lot of good stuff happening, fiber-wise, this week that I want to share with you.  The newly revised and updated “Spinner’s Notebook” by Pam Blasko and Ashly Ann Bartholomew is published and available for sale.  It includes a little something in there by yours truly!  It’s always exciting to be included in wonderful projects like this.  This is an amazing resource — unlike any other out there.  Check it out!

And, lastly, for now…over at Fibery Goodness this week, we did another live broadcast.  This time was super exciting and special because my friend, Christiane Knight of Three Ravens Fiber Studio led us in a workshop on spinning artistic yarns on a spindle.  It was a lot of fun and we learned a lot.  Link to the recorded version below.  See you in a few days, until then, my fibery best, Arlene

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