Publishers Notes: This is the type of post that I really enjoy publishing. There is something very satisfying to me when featuring an artist that has decades of experience and knowledge. I feel like I could sit with Lynn Ross and listen to her talk for hours. But, we are separated by many, many miles and so for now, a blog post will have to suffice. I hope you enjoy getting to know more about Lynn as much as I did!
Spin Artiste (SA): I can only image your fiber story is long and deep; please tell us about it.
Lynn Ross (LR): My fiber story started with a red plain knitted coathanger cover which I made at age six in primary school in Kilmarnock, Scotland. I then knitted scarves, gloves and socks. I also learned basic embroidery stitches like chain stitch, which I later incorporated into my weavings. I continued to knit after we emigrated to California when I was 12, adapting the fibres to the new climate.
In 1968 I went to summer school in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and totally fell in love with weaving. A year or so later I moved to Sweden with my husband and baby. My friend’s mother was a weaver and she agreed to give me lessons on a small table loom. I was hooked. I enrolled in a summer course at Handarbetets Vänner in Stockholm, a spinning course in flax and wool, and natural dyeing at Skansen and never looked back.
I bought an antique wooden rug loom for 100 kr.(around $20 in those days)and wove every spare minute while I finished my MA in linguistics at Stockholm University, taught English and raised my daughter on my own when my marriage broke up.
SA: You are a Scotswoman through and through, but I know you spent some of your childhood living in different countries. How has your upbringing influenced your art?
LR: I spent my teenage years and my twenties longing to return to Scotland. When I finished my degree in Sweden in 1975, I came on holiday to the Isle of Arran, which I remembered from my childhood. At that time there was a resurgence of craft as part of the back to nature movement. I shipped myself, my daughter and my loom over, rented a cottage, met my second husband, had two boys and built my weaving studio. I then translated (literally) what I had learned in Sweden and adapted Scottish traditions into what I would now call fusion weaving.
SA: This is a simple question, but I can’t resist asking a remarkable fiber artist like yourself: how would you describe your artistic style and how has is developed over the decades?
LR: I suppose my artistic style could also be called “fusion”. It reflects my long-standing love of art and architecture, years of travelling and visiting museums and the limitless possibilities for designing with yarn, colour and texture.
SA: Your weaving pieces have a strong connection to nature and its rugged landscape. Would you say there is any connection between the great outdoors and your woven masterpieces?
LR: Absolutely. Living in such a powerful place as Arran it is inevitable that my weavings would be influenced by what I see and feel around me. For example, I tend to look at the sea on a bright summer day and think “that would look great in shades of indigo-dyed silk”.
SA: There also seems to be a significant association between your art and particular life events. What is it about life occasions that inspire you to create?
LR: During my life, major relationships and events have addressed and influenced what my weavings expressed.
SA: Speaking of event-inspired work, I adore your woven piece called “California Storm.” Can you tell us a little bit more about the story behind it, and its connection to the feeling and details of the piece itself?
LR: This is a perfect example of that association. I returned to the US in 2008 to celebrate my 60th birthday with family there and drove with my younger brother just after New Years from Seattle to California in what turned out to storm force winds. The whole trip symbolized the upheaval I experienced as a teenager living there after the emigration. I tried to express that in my weaving. I’ve written the whole story on my website www.lynngrayross.co.uk. The yarns were chosen to represent the feeling of the stormy landscape.
SA: I know I have asked a lot about your weaving, but you are so much more than a gifted weaver. As a expert knitter, how have you balanced both of these fiber art forms over the years? And what has one art form taught you about the other?
LR: Knitting for me is very logical, one stitch at a time. It seems I’ve always known how to do it. Until I learned to spin my own yarn I followed patterns. That didn’t work for handspun yarns because of the variation in yards per inch and I suddenly became a knitwear designer garment by garment. My husband was a printer so the next obvious step was to publish how-to booklets. The basic technique is documented on my website www.patterns.on-arran.com and can be used for any yarn.
Cloth weaving, on the other hand was a skill I had to learn step by step and it took me a few years to really understand the logic and adapt patterns creatively. When I began to weave rugs and tapestries, I knew I’d come home. With simple equipment I could explore the magic of spinning and dyeing my own fibres and be as creative as I could be.
SA: And your creative genius doesn’t stop there. You also wrote a book! Can you tell us about your book, and what was the process like writing it?
LR: In my book, I tried to document my weaving journey and encourage others to start on their own. I also tried to explain how to pass the skills on so the knowledge will not be lost. Writing it was a joy because I could see how much my ability to weave had become an integral part of who I am, although maybe it had always been there.
SA: You recently shared that you just started knitting again after a four year hiatus, and we are so glad to hear it! What has it been like to get back into the art, and how is your comeback goal of creating a new version of the “Galway Shawl” pattern going?
LR: Stitch by stitch I finished my shawl and it’s perfect for our early spring weather. I bartered a pair of my handknitted socks for a course on promoting my work on-line. Unfortunately I broke my shoulder a couple of weeks ago, so that will have to wait.
SA: Please, tell us about your studio.
LR: I have to talk about my studio in the past tense because due to the breakdown of my second marriage and my recent long illness, I had to give up my purpose built studio, which was a dream in a former period of my life. My Swedish loom is in storage waiting for the person whose body fits it well. Now I live alone in a gorgeous little detached cottage with my baskets and custom built shelves from my studio holding all my textile books, notes and photos. And, of course my laptop for sharing.
SA: What is your favorite weaving technique?
LR: Finnish double weave, without a doubt. I loved the challenge of learning the technique and used the technique for effect in my tapestries.
SA: Some of our readers may not know that you are an international fiber art instructor. What has your experience been like teaching in the UK, Europe, and the United States?
LR: Basically, the same. It has been very exciting for me to see the cultural differences, be it in Estonia or California. It’s been up to me to make my students aware of their own level of skill and how to develop it with my fine tuning.
SA: Looking back over your years of creating textile curricula for schools and teaching countless pupils the art of fiber, what would you say your students have taught you?
LR: How to keep explanations and designs as simple as possible and allow each person, child or adult to develop their own path in using them.
SA: I love this; you once said, “We can pass so much on from our creative experiences while we are alive.” What do you hope to pass on the to next generation of fiber artist?
LR: That there’s no such thing as a masterpiece; each piece is practice for the next one, and that mistakes are there to learn from not to discourage us – as a student once said to me, “if you don’t make mistakes you don’t make anything.”
Words of wisdom.
SA: Lynn, thank you so much! You have inspired me in many ways and I am sure others reading this feel the same.
Readers, if you are up for more good fibery goodness reading this weekend, pop over to take a look at the post Suzy Brown aka Wool Wench wrote over at Fiberygoodness.com with some great examples of what to do with your textured yarns.