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Featured Artist: Katja Bruells of Arresting Yarn

by The SpinArtiste on June 29, 2011

Publisher’s Notes:  One of the true joys of publishing Spin Artiste is the continual discovery of artists pushing fiber art into new and different directions.  Tonight we are going to take a look at the work of Katja Bruells of Arresting Yarn:  an artist who is definitely looking at what can be done with textured yarns differently.  I hope you enjoy getting to know Katja better as much as I have!

Spin Artiste (SA):  Hi Katja and welcome!  Let’s start with a description of your approach for your work.

Katja Bruells (KB): I create what I love, I love what I create.

SA:  That is so wonderfully simple and to the point.  I think a lot of us would express your feeling in a similar fashion…describe for us what your creative journey has been to date:

KB:  In my childhood my grandmother taught me how to knit and crochet. However, my creative journey as a fiber artist started in a train about four years ago. I met a woman near my age who was knitting a pair of baby booties. On the way home, I bought knitting needles and wool to knit my first pair of legwarmers.   During the following two years I knitted a lot.  I discovered Ravelry, and that made me try all kinds of techniques and patterns. There was so much to learn.   After a while I found myself surrounded by wonderful socks, hats, sweaters, cardigans, lace shawls and mittens. Warm clothes can be very useful in my home country, Germany.

About two years ago I started to spin my own yarn and I’ve loved knitting with it. I enjoy the process very much but I’m result oriented, too. Before I’d even start to spin the wool I visualize the finished piece I’ll knit with my hand spun wool. It might sound curious but I always spin “You-will-be-a-sweater/hat/shawl” thoughts into my wool.

About one year ago my husband and I moved from Germany to Chattanooga, Tennessee. We really like the area but the summer seems to start in April and ends in October.  It’s hot, hot, hot.  This is one reason I stopped knitting the clothes I used to knit. Who wants to knit a merino sweater surrounded by 90 degree Fahrenheit? Certainly not me.

Does it sound like a story that ends? Yes, maybe. But at the same time these circumstances opened a door to the most creative time in my life so far. Dyeing, spinning fibers, spinning art yarn and building frames for Arresting Yarn is such an enjoyment for me.

SA:  I think that’s great that you found a way to adapt your artistry to your circumstances…How did you learn how to spin and how did you learn how to spin textured yarns (i.e., “art yarns”)?

KB:  I learned the basic how to spin yarn from Christine, a hand dyer and friend in Germany. She sells her wonderful hand dyed wool, sock wool and hand dyed spinnning fibers (http://www.dornroeschen-wolle.de/). One time I visited her, there was a spinning wheel in the middle of the living room and I was curious how it worked.  She explained it to me, and gave me a handspindle and some roving to take home. Needless to say that I was hooked from the first yard I’d spun.

About one year ago I got the DVD “Sit and Spin” by Jacey Boggs of Insubordiknit (http://www.insubordiknit.com/video ) as a present. I highly recommend this DVD if somebody wants to learn how to spin art yarn.  Jacey is a great teacher and I’ve learned a lot. I would love to meet her someday.  I haven’t tried all spinning techniques, yet. It takes a while to get the feeling for spinning textured yarn and every time I spin I try to improve my spinning skills.

That reminds me of a little girl at the Chattanooga Sunday Market, where I display and sell my art work.  I was demonstrating spinning and she asked me: “Do you ever mess up?”  I replied,  “Of course I do. That’s why I have this sign.”   She and her mother burst out laughing as I pointed to my Arresting Yarn sign, that I built with the yarn I didn’t use for my pictures.  It’s not something you learn overnight and sometimes it happens that there is a huge permanent knot forming around your flyer.  My advice: Take some scissors and start over.

SA:  How did you come up with the idea of “arresting” your yarns?

KB:  On the one hand, I’m kind of result oriented because I’ve never spun yarn without using it.  On the other hand, I just love the structure of textured yarn. It’s so beautiful by itself that I didn’t want to knit with it because I was worried that the structure of the yarn would disappear in the knitted piece.  I’ve sometimes seen beautiful handspun art yarn that lost its wonderful texture in a finished object. That’s why I had the idea to arrange it in frames and hang it on the wall.

The name Arresting Yarn came up as I thought about the German phrase “Hinter Gitter bringen” (to put someone behind bars) because this was the idea I had in my mind. Who wants to have wild yarn just hanging around?  It needs to be arrested.  The word “Gitter” can also be squares and frames can be squares. As an ESL (English as a Second Language) speaker, the different meanings of words and grammar are very interesting for me.  Arresting yarn with its double meaning fits perfectly.

SA:  I love the idea that the wild yarn needs to be arrested!  What made you start building your own frames?

KB:  Actually there wasn’t the question whether or not I’d build my own frames. I wanted the entire product to be handmade on my own. Building the frames is a part of my art work that I really enjoy. Plus I like the smell of wood.

SA:  OK, tell us what it is about fiber art and textured yarns that attracts you to making them?

KB:  Handspun yarn in general is beautiful and full of character. Textured yarn has got even more character and excitement in it. I believe that we spin a part of ourselves into the yarn and that makes handspun yarn so unique.

SA:  Let’s hear more about your techniques…I’m especially interested in hearing more about the “arresting stunned yarns” technique.

KB:  Most pictures have a little movement inside because of the way I arrange the yarn.  With a needle felt tool, the yarn can also be pricked firmly on a piece of felt fabric, causing it to be “stunnned”.  I use needle felting for all Arresting Snips, which are very small pictures not larger than 4 x 4 inches.   I’ve already combined needle felting and a straight arrangement in larger pictures.

SA:  And, tell us about your “volcano” wool?

KB:  The volcano wool has its name because the mixture between the colors and the spinning technique I used reminded me of a volcano. There is orange and yellow that represent the fire and lava. The outstanding brown Halos are the stones that have been already cooled down, so life can start again. The blue and green colors represent new life and horizon. This is the imagery I used for the volcano pictures.

SA:  Great symbolism!    What materials do you like to work with and why?

KB:  I like to work with animal spinning fibers like Merino, Alpaca and BFL, felt and wood.  All these materials are natural but have different traits. I just love to combine them.

SA:  And what equipment do you use and why do you prefer it?

KB:  First there is my beloved spinning wheel, an Ashford Joy. It’s a wonderful wheel — compact, sturdy and just right for me. To spin the textured yarn I use the Freedom Flyer.  Having a Niddy Noddy is a relief because I could never find a back of a chair the right size.

To dye the spinning fibers I use Ashford Acid Dyes because the colors are brilliant and  easy to use. To fix the colors I use a microwave that I bought only for the dyeing process.

For the frame making I use a miterbox and a hand saw. I enjoy the workout that comes with it very much. Finally there are these small tools I need to craft the pictures, for instance a utility square, sandpaper, steel wire, staplers, hangers, wood screws, glue, and wood finish.

SA:  What’s on the horizon for your work?  What direction are you heading in?

KB:  I don’t know yet. However, the horizon of my work can only be limited by my imagination.

SA:  And, what inspires your limitless imagination?

KB:  That is not easy to answer and even harder to specify.  Basically, it’s the world I live in that inspires me.  Especially living in a foreign country is a wonderful experience for me.   It seems that even the smallest things are new, interesting, and inspiring.

SA:  I can’t even imagine starting over in a foreign country.  I know one of the things you’ve been lucky to find is a spinning group.  Tell us about your group

KB:  I’m very glad I found a wonderful spinning group. Sylvia Idom, a volunteer history interpreter, started it as a workshop for anyone who is interested. One time a month we meet at the Red Clay State Historic Area. We spin, talk and have a good time.

SA:  That is wonderful!  Now, to get a little personal:  tell us something about yourself that people might be surprised to know…

KB:  I come from a country where people drive cars very fast.  My husband says I’m a slow driver (I say defensive)  He likes to say that I’m the only person he knows who has flies at the back window of the car.  Did I mention that I really like the British car show, “Top Gear”?

SA:  Down to the last question…What is your motto?

KB:  Believe in yourself and the people you love.

SA:  Excellent advice!  So, my cyber-fiber friends, to see more of Katja’s work, check out her blog and online store and I can personally vouch that her pieces are even nicer in person!!  Till next time, I hope you have lots of fibery goodness in your life.

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