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Featured Artist: Amelie Blanchard of La Chevre D’oeuvre and Twist Fibre Festival

by The SpinArtiste on July 13, 2014

ABTF - Amelie at the Wheel, 2Publisher’s Notes: This week’s Featured Artist is not only an artist in her own right, she is a fiber event organizer powerhouse! Amelie Blanchard is both a working shepherdess at La Chèvre d’oeuvre AND the creator and producer of the Twist Festival in Quebec, Canada. I was fortunate enough to meet Amelie in person a couple of months ago at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival and now Amelie is giving us a behind the scenes look at her fiber story and how the Twist Festival came to be. Take it away, Amelie!

Spin Artiste (SA): As we like to do, let’s start out talking about the origins of your fiber life

Amelie Blanchard (AB): It’s quite recent actually, I learned to spin in 2010. In 2008, I went from documentary producer in Montreal to owning a farm in St-Andre-Avellin, Quebec. We named the farm “La chèvre d’oeuvre”. I started reading books on goat husbandry, I got interested in various breeds, and one that stuck out of the crowd was the cashmere goat. What? Cashmere comes from goats? So I bought a few and then had to figure out how to harvest and familiarize myself with this fiber. I joined the Canadian Cashmere Producers Association which in 2010 organized a workshop led by Dr. Joe David Ross (Sonora, Texas) to identify and classify cashmere. The workshop was held during fiber Week in Old’s, Alberta. It was a revelation to me. I got to spend a lot of quality time with fellow producers and many fiber enthusiasts. I knew nothing about spinning. But when I met all these spinning fanatics on a “cashmere to shawl” night, I was instantly hooked by the sharing, the passion, and the knowledge. I just knew that when I flew back home, I HAD to learn to spin. So that’s where I caught the spinning bug. And a local friend, Marguerite, showed me the ropes.
ABTF - YarnsSA: How has being involved in fiber art changed your life?

AB: It’s completely changed my life. Art has always been a big part of my life, my studies and interests. My fifteen year career as a documentary producer consisted of writing contracts, building budgets and orchestrating the best creative fits to make films. Although I loved my work, I believe that on a personal level, I lacked some form of escape or creativity. Getting a farm really brought me back to the basics from learning to build new forms of creativity from the ground up. When I started spinning, our local group would organize a shearing weekend during shearing season, and I would get loads of free local fiber. Washing wool…Oh, wow…I really enjoyed that…Going from urban to rural, playing with raw material, hands on lanolin. With a couple of years experience now, I grasp more and more how sensible agriculture impacts the quality of the material we work with, an important aspect in the fiber art process.

ABTF - HSYSA: How would you describe your own artistic style?

AB: I’m still working on my style, but my intuitive spinning tends to go for hand dyed bold colors, making fun color associations and playing with textures. I definitely like dyeing saturated neon colors. I love all spinning techniques, but I could Navajo ply all day.

SA: As many of us know, you are the organizer of the Twist Festival in Quebec. Tell us a little bit more about the festival and how you got involved.

AB: When I started spinning and started being really obsessed with anything fiber, there was no major fiber event in Quebec. I wanted to create my dream fiber festival right here in my little town, St-Andre-Avellin… why not? A completely naive undertaking that took a year and a half to prepare. Orchestrating an event from the ground up was a true challenge. I wanted to take my own concept of fiber festivals to a whole new level, making it a space for creativity and inspiration. Showing off what the new generation of contemporary artists was creating. While doing research, I attended a Pluckyfluff camp, and met Lexi Boeger. And what a great supporter she was, giving me a lot of helpful cues and hints. And she agreed to come and teach at the first edition.
ABTF - Twist - Entrance

I also wanted to make “TWIST”, a bilingual event, a language barrier-free space for sharing. So I founded a non-profit organization to produce the event, and built an amazing team to surround it. Without the programming committee and an amazing team of volunteers Twist would have never seen the light of day.

SA: What is the goal or mission of Twist Festival?

AB: Create an inspiring space for fiber enthousiasts. Promote natural fibers and agriculture.
Twist is: amazing vendors, creative workshops given by internationally known fiber artists, a textile art exhibit and lots of fiber-y activities for kids.

SA: What has been the most challenging as well as the most rewarding aspect of organizing the Twist Festival?

AB: The most challenging was the first year, creating a rich program, convincing people to get on board, and getting the much needed funding. But once the mayor of the town gave her full support, the community really started to get into it, then artists, then vendors and sponsors.
The most rewarding? The day of the event, seeing it all come together, a lineup at the door, knitters and spinners from all over, and finally meeting all the people I had been in contact with during the preparation. It’s a pretty awesome feeling.

ABTF - Amelie with GoatSA: How has your experience with the Twist Festival influenced your own personal fiber art?

AB: It has influenced me to think outside the box. Just let my creativity flow, and not care about imperfections.

SA: Working so closely with the fiber art community in Quebec, what would you say is the community’s greatest need, in terms of growth and sustainability?

AB: The community’s greatest need is to have access to quality local fibers. In Quebec, we are just starting to think of sheep as fiber animals. Most farms are meat operations, so the quality of the fibre is not generally the first priority. But slowly, we are starting to have access to nice fleeces, and more and more breeds. Fiber artists and farmers growing sustainability together.

ABTF - StudioSB: Tell us about your studio space.

AB: My husband calls it “Fiberland”. When I go in there, I get completely lost. It’s a small white space, and an educational tool when there are visits at the farm. Along with my carder, wheel and rigid heddle loom, I have a small display of photos of works by artists that inspire me (Christien Meindertsma, Elodie Antoine, Stephanie Gorin, Michelle Snowdon).
I’m a hoarder probably like most fiber people. I have quite a collection of yarn cones.

SA: What is your favorite wheel?

ABTF - Amelie at the wheelAB: I am extremely happy with my Majacraft Aura. I’m tempted by Ashford’s Country Spinner II. I also want to get a vintage Quebec wheel, to spin fine cashmere.

SA: When and if you have a few moments to spare, what are you most likely to do?

AB: Lying down with my goats, washing wool, carding or spinning.ABTF - Spinning

SA: If you could describe Twist Festival in one word, what would it be?

ABTF - LocksAB: Inspiring!

SA: If I were visiting Quebec, where would be the first place you would take me?

AB: St-Andre-Avellin of course:) (which is in the Outaouais region – a really beautiful place) and then Charlevoix, by the St-Lawrence river, where you can go whale watching, do great kayaking and eat some of the best cheese.

SA:  All things I like to do…I can’t wait to see all of this in person!!  And, readers, via La chevre d’oeuvre, Amelia is going to give one of you 2 yummy ounces of cashmere cloud!!!  In order to enter the drawing, lets give Amelie some Facebook love for her farm page, L’chevre d’oeuvre and the Twist Festival page.  Multiple entries for liking both pages!  Deadline to enter is Sunday, July 20, 2014 at 5 pm EST.  Best of luck to all!



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