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Featured Artists: Lexi Boeger aka Pluckyfluff and The Giant Skein

by The SpinArtiste on October 6, 2011

Publisher’s Notes:  Here it is.  The double feature post I’ve been wanting to write for soooo long.  Tonight we have not just the one and only Lexi Boeger answering questions on teaching and learning, but we also have an audio tape of the rare interview I was granted by The Giant Skein when I was in California last month.  I’m pinching myself in disbelief that the moment has arrived to be able to publish this content.

First up, is Lexi Boeger:  artist, writer, and teacher extraordinaire.  I’ve had the pleasure of taking weekend workshops twice with Lexi.  For a long time I wanted to feature Lexi on Spin Artiste but it took awhile for me to hone in on how to approach the piece.  Lexi is an amazing fiber artist who, through her teaching and written work, has made a tremendous impact upon countless fiber artists.  Therefore, I decided to focus the interview around her views on teaching and learning.  From my own experience, I’ve not only learned how to produce better and more “artful” yarn, but more importantly, I have found, through her methods, new levels of creativity within myself and a greater sense of confidence about myself as a fiber artist.  As I have gotten to know her a little better, I have also learned that she is a woman of courage, strength and great kindess.  I am a better person for knowing her.  I hope you enjoy getting to know her a little better also.

Spin Artiste (SA):  First off, Lexi, please describe your philosophy or approach to teaching.

 

Lexi Boeger (LB):  My philosophy regarding teaching is not to deliver top-down information but rather to teach students how to teach themselves. Of course, I supply a lot of information and instructions on how to do things specifically but that is not my underlying goal. My knowledge is limited in the scheme of things, and is just a starting point for students. You can not learn creativity, you can only discover it. And discovery is just a process of asking questions, trying things on your own and figuring it out. I guess I try to teach people how to let go of fear of failure and be brave enough to try new things without being crippled by an attachment to the outcome. Once people do that, then they can begin to grow creatively.

SA:  (laughs)…you just said so beautifully what I was trying to say in my introduction about the experience of being in class where you are teaching…how did you learn to approach teaching this way?

LB:  Well, I hadn’t really ever thought about that until you asked! Well, looking back I have always fallen naturally into teaching roles. Even as a kid showing my friends how to do things or in high school, I was never the best athlete on a team but I’d usually end up the captain. I think I have a natural ability to know how each individual needs their information delivered. I can adapt my communication to suit other peoples way of understanding things. I think this makes me flexible enough to get ideas across and to engender understanding, which is the basis of learning. I also have very fond memories of the handful of dynamic teachers I have had through out my life and I have great respect for the way in which they could inspire me to learn. I’m sure I took more than a few pages out of their books.

SA:  I’ve observed that being a student with you also — you are very inclusive of all the students and genuine towards everyone.  It shows through that you really like about what you are doing.  What do you like about it?

 

LB:  I love sharing knowledge. Every time a student ‘gets it’ I feel their excitement as if it were my own. I get to experience that ‘ah ha!’ moment over and over! I taught fly-fishing to women for years and it’s the same thing. Sharing in the excitement of having things finally click. On the same note, I also share in the frustration when it’s isn’t clicking. I don’t like that feeling and so it spurs me to work harder to make sure we work through it, together. It’s the empathy that makes it a meaningful experience for both teacher and student.

 

SA:  And, how has your approach to teaching changed from earlier in your career till now?

LB:  My approach is basically the same, but I have had to change up the projects and work that we actually do in class. This is mostly as a result of the fact that more people are coming into class already familiar with a lot of the styles and techniques that I emphasize. As opposed to years ago when the material was totally foreign. So flogging the techniques themselves to death doesn’t really help push the craft forward. What I focus on now is the creative process. Using the techniques as an opener but familiarizing the students with the tools to enable them to work out their own ideas. I have a few projects that help to get students looking at fiber as a medium to express their vision.

 

SA:  I’m so glad I had a chance to come see the new studio.  It is a spinner’s paradise!  Since you will be able to teach in your own studio, how do you predict your classes/workshops will change?

LB:  Don’t tell anyone….but hopefully I won’t have to travel quite so much! And I’ll be able to reach out to my own community more. My top priority right now is to get an educational outreach program going to reach school children and get them spinning.

SA:  Yes, hopefully!  And, coming out to Placerville was such a treat.  I can’t wait to come back.  I’m curious, what do you, yourself, still want to learn?

LB:  Oh boy….too many things to even begin to list! I have a curious mind and sometimes that is a hinderance to getting anything done. But to name a few: archery, weaving, canning and preserving, soap making, natural dying, meat curing, making rat-rods, fiddle, glass blowing, rope making, tracking…..and so on…

SA:  That is a heck of a list!  I think I will loan you my entire set of Foxfire books and we’ll do an interview again in five years and see what’s transpired…:-)  In terms of your books, you’ve inspired a lot of people to spin and to spin differently, but giving birth to a book is difficult.  What does writing a book mean to you and what did you want to go onto to say since “Intertwined” was published?

LB:  Writing has always run a close second to art in my life. I write regardless of whether I’m focused on publication. “Handspun Revolution” was an earnest attempt to just get the images out there at a time when the major craft and spinning publishers were ignoring my proposals (I self published it). I was very proud of that book because I saw it as a bit of a coup. “Intertwined” was a direct result of that first book garnering such a vocal and enthusiastic cult following. I can’t thank my editor from Rockport enough for her vision and for paying attention to what the indie scene was doing. They gave me an open, free platform make the book I really wanted to make. My next book is much more serene…just a elegant evolution of these ideas and what they look like in a spinning world which is much less confined.

Aside from craft books I am really focused on some novels I’m working on. I just completed a western- fly-fishing-romance-ghost-story which I’m looking for a publisher for and I have a couple biographies on the burner.

SA:  The novel sounds great and after visiting the part of California you live in, I can understand how you could be inspired to write something with those themes.  In terms of the classroom, what have you learned from your students?

LB:  Too much to list! In terms of technical spinning I’ve learned that spinning is not a ‘handed’ activity. Just because one person uses a right or left hand to do something doesn’t mean the person next to them will. Each person is totally different and their own brain-hand-eye coordination is unique. Iv’e learned to encourage spinners to switch hands anytime something doesn’t seem to feel right. Many struggles can be attributed to that. I’ve also learned that there are infinite ways to produce the same effect. Again it comes down to how each person is wired. Iv’e seen students come up with totally unexpected hand movements to make something work. I always keep those tricks in mind and if I see someone struggling with something I can offer some other ways of doing it, even though it’s not how I might do it.

In a broader sense, you could say that a student pretty much taught me everything. When I learned how to spin I happened to be very natural at it. I don’t mean this to sound like a brag, because I think in a way it was a hinderance, but I didn’t really struggle with it or make too many mistakes. My first skein spun and plied very smoothly and then I just went on from there. Not a big deal. I spun a lot of nice, even yarns. Very soon after learning I decided to teach a friend how to spin. She struggled a lot with her single, it was over-spun and then under-spun and plied in an irregular way. When she took it off the bobbin she was frustrated and disappointed with what she saw. I saw the most beautiful yarn I’d ever seen. To me the energy and form that that skein took was totally engaging. Her mistakes had transformed it from something totally predictable (like my first yarns) into something inspirational. That moment was an epiphany for me. I started exploiting common ‘mistakes’, and that just opened the door to the realization that if you don’t saddle the fiber with a pre-conceived plan for it it actually has a life of it’s own.

SA:  That is a cool story.  I think you would have found a lot to appreciate in my first yarns!!  Since that early time, you’ve had the opportunity to teach all over the world — what has that experience meant to you?

LB:  It’s been very touching for me to become immersed in foreign cultures only to find out that all spinners are kind of the same! No matter where I am I feel like to some degree I’m very familiar with the ladies (and gents) that I spin with.

SA:  I know you have two creative and darling children, what have they taught you?  

LB:  They’re trying to teach me not to be selfish. I am a single mom and am the sole provider for my kids. It can be a struggle as an artist to balance the demands of a family with the demands of your art. Both of those endeavors should be a full time job. The children remind me to just stop and pay attention to what’s happening right now, in this moment, in this space.

SA:  What has been the most valuable lesson you have learned in life thus far?

LB:  To be wary of placing expectations on things. Not to make promises. There’s no point in trying to see where your path is going, it’s important to focus on the steps you’re taking now and to do your best to put your foot in the right spot. I’m not saying you shouldn’t direct your life or have goals. I’m just saying that holding on to a plan can keep you from doing what you really should be doing. That sounds general and cliché, I know. But show me one old person who says their life played out exactly as they planned it.

SA:  How true!  As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, you have had an incredible impact on many spinners, how do you feel about having such an impact? 

LB:  I feel awesome about it!

….and very grateful. Grateful that people care about something I have to offer. It surprises me sometimes, but on the other hand, spinning is totally cool and fun and that’s what I am promoting. So people being excited is a really nice confirmation of that.

SA:  Thanks so much, Lexi!  There were a number of surprises in your answers for me — I’m hoping for a fly-fishing lesson sometime as well as eagerly awaiting the publication of the new book.  If you are interested in taking a workshop with Lexi (highly recommended), check out her schedule here.

Now, Dear Readers, we move onto the second part of this big, fat post.  Many of you may be aware that Lexi is the creative steward entrusted with what is believed to be the world’s largest skein of yarn aka “The Giant Skein”.  This amazing creation is made up of over TEN MILES of hand spun yarn and while The Giant Skein has done some travelling in its time, it is now residing happily in Lexi’s new studio.  While I was at the opening of Lexi’s studio last month, I was able to secure not only the first but the only interview The Giant Skein has ever given!  To make this even better, I have the actual audio to share with you…The Giant Skein speaks!!  Click on the link below –

Interview with The Giant Skein

To accompany the words and wisdom of The Giant Skein, please enjoy a few photos of my time with The Giant Skein as well as my time at the Yarnival last month.

Esther Rodgers and Ashley Martineau sealing the joining of their yarns on the skein with a kiss

The object of the Giant Skein's affection, The Cement Mixer Yarn

Sheep made from skeins of yarn at the Spin Glitz booth

Beautiful black sheep ready to be sheared from Namaste Farms

Awesome hats from "Girl with a Hook" Heather Lightbody

 

Fleece feeding frenzy after a shepherd showed up with a truckload of fleeces

Twisting The Giant Skein

 

Luscious grapes growing in the Boeger vineyards

 

 

 

 

 

If these pictures look like this was a fun event, well…it was!  Many fiber artists were in attendance for the workshop and as vendors at the Yarnival and I heard quite a few remark that they were very inspired as a result of the time we spent together. 

So, my Fiber-Pals, until next time, wishing you much fibery-goodnes!!

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