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Featured Artist: Lynne Milsom of Llamas in the Raw Sanctuary with Great Giveaway!

by The SpinArtiste on October 6, 2013

Publisher’s Notes:  Dear Readers, grab yourself a nice drink and get comfortable for this week’s Featured Artist’s story is a great read.  You will soon see that Lynne Milsom of Llamas in the Raw Sanctuary has had an extremely interesting, adventurous life.  But, all along the way, her creativity is woven like a strong warp thread throughout!  Enjoy!!

Spin Artiste (SA):  Let’s begin at the beginning.  Tell us your fiber tale.

LM- Farm Life - collecting Tiva from neighbours fieldLynne Milsom (LM):  I had a rather peculiar upbringing and was taught to knit and crochet at an early age, and it wasn’t so much to do with developing creative ability as it was from necessity.  I remember being instructed to knit fingerless gloves for my father, when I was just seven years old.  I loved that feeling of being able to create something and from that time on it was in my blood and I developed an intuitive relationship with yarn to the point where I wanted to create designer garments for a living.  Reality however, gave me a resounding slap and I soon found myself as a single mother with two young daughters and a need to make more money than I knew how to make from knitting.  Having also been taught by my mother to sew, my own little girls mostly grew up in clothes that I made just as she did; throw a piece of fabric on the floor and start cutting!

Fast forwarding now through a decade or two of factory jobs, office temping and eventually climbing the ladder to be a high-flying, city girl in London, I returned to earth with a bump, when I met David.  We were ‘chalk and cheese’ at the time, but I was game for something different and allowed myself to be dragged into the mountains and accompany him to rock faces and sea cliffs around the British Isles, where he and his friends seemed to spend most of their time, apparently trying to frighten themselves ….or me, nearly to death.  And then another door of opportunity opened.  I saw the clothing they wore for climbing and mountaineering,  how much it cost and I heard myself saying ‘I can make those things better and for less money.’  That’s how I found myself in partnership with David, firstly making specialist outdoor clothing and then making ladies clothing in gorgeous cotton prints and as hilarious at it seems now, we had no idea what we were doing back then!

We learned to design and make the garments together.  We sold them at craft fairs all over the UK and finally, we opened a little shop.  Big ideas drove us to move to a big high street store where we added an organic coffee and smoothie bar, then an organic and vegan café and then an evening restaurant ….and …..and, it became a melee of people management and we were no longer doing what we loved.  We had an under-used, four thousand square foot factory unit, three thousand feet of retail space and six thousand feet of derelict church hall, which we called home and were renovating.

We were staunch environmentalists and became the hub of the regional ‘Green’ movement.  Unfortunately, we were city dwellers with too little time to truly walk our talk.  On the single comment by a Canadian customer in the café, who asked ‘have you ever thought of living in Canada?’ we sold everything and emigrated.  Just like that.  Actually, the decision happened overnight, but ‘just like that’ took about three years, including a year living in an RV in France and another year living in a gypsy caravan in the New Forest in Southern England, but that’s another story!

LM - Farm Life - wilderness livingWe found a spot in an empty field on the edge of a huge lake in a very remote part of northerly British Columbia.  We had no house, no power and no telephone and we were one hundred kilometers from the nearest town.  Getting to town involved eighty kilometers of rough gravel road, as well as a ferry journey.   But out in that wilderness, we discovered planet Earth and we met a llama and he restored in us a meaning to life and an introduction to the source of fibre.

SA:  You said, “[what] a joy it is to step further back in the process of clothing design and produce our own textiles.” Tell us what has been your experience moving from clothing design to farming, spinning, and knitting? 

In the rag trade, we loved working with natural fibres, but we were always concerned about child slavery, which we knew was rife in the textile factories of India and Morocco, where some of our fabrics were produced.  We demanded of our suppliers, details of the production and factory conditions, but assurances never truly assuaged that feeling that we were somehow contributing to poverty and slavery.  If only we could make our own fabrics!   We discussed it and created plans, but knew we were only blowing smoke rings. That was too adventurous even for us, who have danced through a great many smoke rings!  It was only after we had rounded up our third llama that fibre processing and textiles no longer seemed inconceivable.

LM - Farm LIfe - wilderness llamas in the snowWe never intended nor ever expected to become farmers, but by some psycho-organic process, known only to the Great Universe, we found ourselves stepping out of one life, living and working in a city centre as clothing designers and restaurateurs, to one occupying 240 acres, a herd of llamas, a lot of hay and four and a half hours rough drive to the nearest city possessed of more than one highway!  I cannot say that it gave us more time to spend spinning and knitting, because we were busy building, but it refocused our attention from business, employees and sales to finding out what really matters in life.

SA:  Lynne, I wish you could see me face when I read this the first time!  Just amazed at your story…What are some of the similarities you have found between the clothing design industry and your fiber art business?

LM:  People are still functioning through the same six senses they were born with and our individualism is demonstrated through our liking for certain colours, textures and styles.  To some degree, we all absorb style preferences from other people, but when you spend every day holding the raw materials of style in your hands, you find that it radiates its own peculiar energy; an essence of  what it can become.  I know that sounds a little whacky, but it’s your question, Arlene, which has helped me acknowledge that particular aspect of myself.  Thank you for the insight!

LM - HSY - art yarnIt is a curious feature of the human being; it likes to watch another of its species work.  Hahaha… Some people get a kick out of talking to people who turn their hands to artistic endeavours and someone, who can find a way of earning a living or at least deriving some form of reward from being watched, could be called an artist.  Although I had never thought of myself as an artist, by my own definition, that is what I have become.

I certainly derive the same pleasure from preparing the fibre and spinning a brightly coloured thick and thin art yarn as I did from sewing exquisitely polished hematite buttons onto a jacket that David and I had designed and made.  It’s tactile and it’s creative and most people still don’t understand that creativity is absolutely essential to human development and well being.  Without creativity, we are nothing but automatons destined to devolve and disappear!  Everything around you is there because someone thought of it and created it.

SA:  I know you have worked for a long time with David Chapman. What can you tell us about your relationship, and what would you say you are most thankful for in your partnership? 

LM - Farm Life - david and lynne - llama rescue sept 2013LM:  For twenty three years we’ve been married and we have worked together for all of that time.  We share dreams and aspirations and we never seem to tire of each other’s company, which is just as well, since living in the wilderness, we could spend weeks at a time without seeing another soul.  I presume we like each other.

Perhaps most importantly, we vowed many years ago, to allow each other the freedom to do whatever we felt was necessary to enrich our lives and evolve as souls and to assist each other in our endeavours.  Years later, we understand that it was in allowing that freedom that removed all limitations established by possession; we don’t own each other, we are each other and we always want what is best for the other.  It’s very convenient that we have similar tastes.  Gosh!  Did I just say that?  That’s a bit deep for this time of day.  Ask me another question before I start levitating!

SA:  OK!  Let’s try this – What sparked your love for llamas?

LM - Farm Life - TomBurke saved from meat factoryLM:  When we first arrived in Canada, our curiosity was piqued by a road sign that said ‘Llama Ranch.’  We then discovered that our ‘next door’ neighbour, ‘next door’ meaning about ten kilometers away, had a small herd of llamas and we fell in love with them.  One day we received a message from her, saying that there was a llama running wild who was about to be sent off to the meat auction, unless someone could catch him first.  We found him and caught him or rather he allowed himself to be caught and he strolled right into the trailer.  I cannot begin to tell you how much we learned from him, he was a ‘larger than life’ character and we named him TomBurke, after my father who had passed away a few days before and on whose birthday TomBurke came to live with us.

Contrary to the noises most people had made to us about llamas, we found that they didn’t spit all over us, nor did they kick and trample us.  They are strikingly individual animals that wear soft coats.

SA:  Tell us more about your work with the Raw Sanctuary and what you are doing to raise funds for the program.

LM - Farm Life - llama sanctuaryLM:  After TomBurke, we heard about more unwanted llamas and endeavoured to round them up.  Until a few years ago, llamas were fashionable and fetched huge sums of money.  When the llama market collapsed, a great many of these wonderful creatures were given away as pets or guard animals, to protect livestock on farms.  Sadly, the knowledge of how to care for them and handle them was lacking.  We have encountered a number of macho ranchers, who are used to rough-handling cattle and horses, but are terrified of their llamas and thus the poor animals have been neglected.  Marriage break-up, home repossession and death of owners are common reasons for llama neglect and it often falls to the realtor to do something with the llama that has been left behind on a farm.  The SPCA doesn’t know what to do with them, but since they learned of our existence, camelid cases are referred to us.

Yesterday we had to head off into the mountains in the North Okanagan to catch yet another llama, who ‘apparently’ escaped over a year ago, whilst the owner was moving house. She has been running wild ever since and the Conservation Officer said he was going out to shoot her.  She turned out to be really gentle and is now established in her delightful new home as guardian to a herd of goats and alpacas.

Llamas in the Raw Sanctuary and Fibre Arts Bootcamp work hand in hand.  FAB raises the money to support the llama sanctuary.  All of the money from running workshops and from the sale of our Mega Hooks helps fund the animal rescues. David makes them and has also created a series of ‘Build your Own’ plans for various fibre working tools.  So far he has drawn plans for an Indian Head spinning wheel, a fibre picker, a simple rag rug loom and most recently a tumbler for cleaning raw fibre.  It doesn’t pay all of the sanctuary expenses by a long shot, so we have to resort to begging or borrowing whatever we can to keep it going.  We’re always scrounging for building materials or pleading for discounts on feed or fencing, just to keep the sanctuary going.  It’s tough!LM - EQ - david with fiber tumbler


LM - Weaving - rag rug weaving on salish loomThe Llama Sanctuary is funded from generous donations from our followers.  Since most people are ignorant of the plight of llamas and they haven’t had the opportunity to meet and appreciate these wonderful animals, raising funds for a sanctuary that most people can’t imagine there ever being a need for is very difficult.  Mostly, we fund it ourselves.  Our days begin at about four o’clock in the morning, when we were work as administrative and marketing assistants for a client in London.  Our work for the UK finishes around 10am and then we start again at 4pm doing similar work for clients in Australia.  In between those hours we fit in our llama and fibre time.  David is also studying to become a veterinary homoeopath, so he spends a great deal of his time caring for the sick animals and learning to do it on a professional basis.

FAB has a two-fold purpose though, to raise funds for the Sanctuary and to promote the use of natural fibre and the fibre arts, about which we are passionate.

SA:   I love your idea for “Fiber Arts Bootcamp”. What can you tell us about the boot-camp? 

LM - Other -dyeing and soap felting workshopLM:  Fibre Arts Bootcamp stems from our passion to redirect attention from non-renewable, synthetic fibres, produced thousands of miles away, to all natural and locally made.  I believe that this is one step that we can all take to break this crazy habit we have developed of using precious Earth substances to transport things around and around the planet.  If we don’t turn to local production right now, our children will experience some very hard times and we will all be to blame.

Also, I know I will never get away to Camp Pluckyfluff, so we will have to create our own fibre festival for Canadians.  The idea of a bootcamp is to introduce as many people as possible to the basics of the fibre arts, which in the not so distant past, were necessities to daily life.  It’s frightening how far removed we have become from the knowledge necessary to feed and clothe ourselves and David and I firmly believe that if mankind is to survive the next hundred years, we need to rediscover those basic skills and to learn to use natural materials again.

LM - Knitting - mega knittingI’ve always loved knitting on large needles, but about three years ago, I started knitting with really big needles!  I loved it so much that I kept asking David to make the needles even fatter and longer.  I also thought that a hook at the end of the knitting needle might make using them much easier.  Since then, David has created a complete range of, what we now call ‘Mega Hooks.’ Starting at half inch diameter and going all the way up to inch and a half and four feet long, we send them all over the world.

These Mega Hooks make teaching so much easier. They are very encouraging for beginners to use, since the work progresses at a rapid rate, a small project can be completed within a couple of hours, without any previous knitting experience.LM - Fiber - raw llama

At the present time, the bootcamp runs workshops for just a handful of people at a time, in fact I prefer the small gatherings.  It is heartening to know that FAB has empowered people to tap into their creativity and I allow myself a little flush of pride once in a while, for making that happen.

SA:  What has been your favorite success story from boot-camp? 

LM - HSY - drop spindle art yarnLM:  I could say that all of the bootcamp students are success stories.  For instance, Shelle, who attended one of our first drop spindle workshops, now spins exquisitely fine yarns on a drop spindle and Julia, who late in years, finally learned to knit and completed her project in just one day or the three year olds who now spin, or nine year old Jared who took over the dyeing class with his enthusiasm.  In actual fact though, my favourite success story is my own in having the courage to start it in the first place!   I never considered myself to be artistic or even creative.  Having been used to training managers by standing in front of them and speaking, I am surprised at my ability to adapt to a less rigid method.  I love inspiring students to use their own imagination.  I see myself simply as a catalyst.  I bring the right chemicals together, stand back and watch all those beginners helping each other; I just offer help where necessary.  I have always believed that there is no wrong way to be creative and my students have proved me right.

SA:  We would love to know a little bit about the wheel you use; what can you share with us? 

LM - Other - video session - the making of a rugLM:  My favourite spinning wheel is a converted treadle sewing machine, which has caused quite a stir since publishing a video of it on YouTube.  It’s definitely not a silent, fold-away type and it’s not the kind of machine you want to move around the house very often.  It is heavy!   It does however, have a unique character, a huge bobbin, a one inch orifice and a cast iron flywheel that will carry the heaviest and thickest of rug yarns, as well as spin the finest yarns you desire.  I seldom have the desire for fine yarns now though, so most of my work turns out to be super-chunky or mega yarns.

I saw the wheel in an antique shop ten years ago and my favourite occupation is sitting out on the porch, looking out over the valley and mountains, with the llamas chomping and humming nearby.   We received so many comments and emails about the spinning wheel, that David drew a set of plans enabling people to build their own Indian Head machine and convert their sewing machine treadle to become an heirloom spinning wheel instead.  Those plans have become an all-time, best-seller in our online store.

SA:  What can you tell us about your studio?

LM - Studio - winter time studioLM:  I would love to tell you how my studio is bright and spacious and inspiring….. but it isn’t  ….yet.  My studio, if you can call it that, is little more than a converted mudroom albeit large by most standards.  It has one small window, which lets in very little light.  That is why I spend most of my time working outdoors.  The house is blessed with a spacious covered deck that looks down over the barn and corrals and a couple of paddocks.  There are always llamas around.  It looks out over the snow-capped, Monashee mountains and along the deep, forested river valley.  I suppose that’s my real studio. The indoor part is just for storage and making hot chocolate and in winter time I spread throughout the house, which is open plan, so loom, spinning wheels and tall flower vases containing the Mega knitting needles and jumbo crochet hooks are simply part of the furniture and décor.

It’s not my ideal house and plans are afoot to build a house to our own requirements; an Earthship; a sustainable and life-sustaining home built from earth with a glass front and an indoor greenhouse.

SA:   We adore your last entry in the Secret Stash Competition! What was the inspiration for the piece?

LM - FO - lampshadeLM:  A mooring buoy that was washed up on the beach.  I can tell that has stumped you!  Actually, I had been wanting a special lamp for my winter spinning corner in the living room and when I laid the Secret Stash goodies out on the table to see what I had to play with, the sunlight shining through the window gave me an inspirational whiff of lampshade.  Actually Arlene, you probably haven’t experienced the excitement of receiving the Secret Stash package in the mail and laying out the contents for the first time.  Perhaps I should do it just for you sometime!

I suppose it wasn’t the source of inspiration, but the mooring buoy turned out to be the perfect form upon which to wet felt the shade fabric.  The difficult part was the birdcage upon which to mount the shade.  David made the cage in the end, using a very intricate spiral of high tensile fence wire.  It was most entertaining to watch him wrestling with a giant Slinky, before he finally tamed it into a frame for the lamp shade.LM - Other - birdcage

SA:  You’ve been in a few Secret Stash competitions.  What would you say has been the most challenging Secret Stash Competition and why?

LM:  Oh, without doubt, Round 4 Secret Stash ‘A Lighter Shade of Pale,’ I think it was called, was the most challenging.  Removing colour and placing the entire focus of the competition on texture was a terrific idea, but that really demanded some deep thought.  I decided to do something I had never done before and create a fibre sculpture.  The result was really pleasing, at least to my eye, but photographing the sculpture turned out to be a nightmare.   In fact we spent half the night trying to photograph it and still couldn’t produce anything even remotely pleasing. To be able to capture the exquisite texture of fibre on film …or rather in pixels, required more technical know-how than we possessed at the time.   I don’t think it attracted a single vote, but I still love the piece, which also introduced me to crocheting with copper wire.

We both learned a great deal about fibre in that competition; more so than from any other single event and we also learned the necessity of creating a small photo studio for our fibre work.  Thank you Arlene!LM - FO - baling twine peacock - secret stash

SA:  My pleasure!  You did an amazing post on your blog, about dyeing. What is your favorite method of dyeing, and how long did it take you to master that art?  

LM - Other - dyeing workshopLM:  If I can find a way to avoid going into the kitchen and breaking out the dye pots, I will.  I’ll bet you didn’t expect me to say that but it’s true!  I will put off the process of fibre dyeing for as long as possible, and yet, once I get started, I really enjoy it.

My favourite method is dip dying.  Placing the finished yarn into a pan of colour and gradually lifting it out whilst changing or concentrating the colour in the dye pot.  It took a few sessions to perfect the means of suspending yarns over the steaming dye pots and to make it safe for our students.

SA:  I feel the same way about dyeing!   Are you more of a city or a country girl? 

LM:  I would never in my wildest dreams, have considered myself a country girl, but since living in Canada, you couldn’t drag me back to the concrete jungle with a team of wild llamas.  I’ve taken root in the soil and that’s where I’m staying.

I’ve learned to get my hands truly dirty and I have learned that many of my earlier values, living in the city, were worthless.  Simplification and learning to live with nature rather than trying to beat it into submission.  Yes, I am a country girl now.LM - Farm Life - shearing is a filthy job

SA:  Lynne, thanks for giving us that awesome peek into your world of fibery goodness!  I wish you were closer so I could see your animals in person…maybe someday…sigh..in the meantime, I’m hitting up your websites Llamas in the Raw Sanctuary and Fiber Arts Bootcamp hard.  

LM -EQ - size 67-megahooksReaders!!!  Lynne and David have a fantastic giveaway for one of you.  Did you notice the cool mega tools Lynne mentioned in the article?  They have offered a pair of Mega Hooks handcrafted by Daivd from Canadian Birch.  To enter, you much like their FB page — Click here to do that!  AND, you must leave a comment on this post letting us know that you did and lettings us know your preference for size:  Size 50 X 18 inch length; Size 35 X 18 inch length or Size 20 X 18 inch length.  Additional entries for sharing the post on Facebook, Twitters, etc.  Just leave additional comments letting us know that you did.  Deadline for entries is next Sunday, October 13, 2013 by 5 PM EST.  Best of luck to all!


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