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Spinning in Norway with Silja Devine By Suzy Brown aka Wool Wench

by EBlack on January 31, 2013

Words from Suzy Brown: One of the cool things about living in Europe is the diversity to be found here. As a new European, I am still on my journey of discovery, and there are many places and countries I haven’t yet visited but would very much like to! Norway is one of those countries.  It is probably most well known for its cold and snowy winters, forests and natural beauty, as well as the possibility that Father Christmas hangs out there on his days off.

 Norwegian style, in my mind, goes hand in hand with those wonderful blue or red and white Nordic jersey patterns with the matching pompom hats and mittens that we love to wear on ski holidays to the mountains. So when I read a recent post on the Spin Artiste Ravelry board, written by Silja Devine of Kreativt Surrehue from Norway, I was surprised to learn that there are not so many spinners in that country, and that Silja spent her first three or four years as a spinner basically on her own. She must have been totally bitten by the bug! I asked her if she could tell us something about her experiences, how she got started with spinning, and how she kept herself going without having a local community of spinners for support and information. We extended this into an interview to share here on Spin Artiste.  I am sure you will find Silja’s story and her work as inspirational as I have, and I love her description of the journey she made from being a ‘lone spinner’ to initiating and being part of an active spinning community in Norway, one that also includes local fiber producers!

Suzy Brown (SB): Silja, can you describe for us how your discovered your interest in spinning? What got you started and why did it capture your interest so deeply?

Silja Devine (SD): I have always had a creative drive in me and I come from a very creative family. I learned to knit at 10, crochet at 12, I have education in dressmaking and tailor fitting clothes, I learned to weave when I went to school for my degree as an activity director. My first introduction to spinning was by an American audio podcast called “Stitch it” I realized that I was really intrigued by the spinning stories she told and went and did a Google search for Norwegian spinning. The first hit I got was for a blog by Tove Skolseg (http://www.bloggspinner.no ), a Norwegian fiber artist and she had spun some AMAZING art yarns. I knew then and there I had to give this spinning thing a try and I bought a drop spindle kit on Etsy in January 2008.  My first yarn was spun with some grey merino, and I was so afraid not to get enough twist in it for both the spinning and plying and it came out super stiff and was probably only good for scrubbing pots and pans.

After a couple of months, I borrowed my mother-in-law’s old spinning wheel that she had bought only for décor purposes many years ago. I spun my first two useable yarns on this wheel that was wonky and apparently put together with parts from several different wheels. In April that same year I ordered Louet s10dt from the only spinning store in Norway (http://www.spinnvilt.no) and then there was no turning back at all and I kept getting more and more extra equipment for that wheel in the years after. I mostly learned everything I know about spinning from YouTube and I knew a couple of other Norwegian online friends that started spinning at the same time as me. We kept in contact by Facebook and also learned from each other that way. Another friend had started a Scandinavian spinning forum called “Spinnerens hjem” (http://www.spinnershome.net) and I got to know some other spinners in the country there. After a while, a friend and I started our own Norwegian knitting and spinning podcast to spread the word about how much fun this was and we did that for about one and a half years. We also started a Facebook group for Norwegian spinners so that we could get in contact with other spinners in the country easily. The Facebook group has 160 members today (mostly Norwegians but also some Swedes and Danes) and it is a very active group with lots of brilliant spinners that are packed with knowledge of all thing spinning! I also learned a lot about different breeds of sheep, wheels and how to process raw fleece from a podcast called Yarnspinners tales (http://yarnspinnerstales.com/ ).

Spinning has also gotten me through some hard times when life in general has given me some challenges. Just sitting down by the wheel letting my thoughts wander off and at the same time seeing fiber magically turn into yarn between my hands…that is both therapy and meditation at the same time!

SB: It’s very encouraging, and inspiring, to learn that you now have a good sized group of spinners coming together regularly! How did you get your group established and was it easy to find each other?

 SD: After spinning by myself for almost 3 years I found out that there was an alpaca farm (http://www.enghaugen.no ) on the other side of town, and that the owner was also pretty new to spinning. We started talking online and did that for a while, and then I took a trip to see the alpacas and talk to her in person. She knew about a couple of other spinners that she had met in a crafts guild, and we decided that we had to put together a spinning group that met on a regular basis. Our first meet was in June 2010 and we were 5 spinners, today we have a group with 25 members. Some new spinners have heard about it online and by word of mouth and some learned about the group from spinning classes we have had at the alpaca farm. We meet on the last Sunday of the month and we always are at least 10-15 spinners, some come every month and some come on and off. We charge no yearly fee like many other guilds and we keep the group very informal. We have all kinds of spinners ranging from the traditional ones to the very adventurous ones! We also have a good range in age, the youngest being my almost 9 year old daughter and the oldest in the early 70s. In November 2011, a journalist made a story about our group that was aired on national TV, which got us a lot of new members!

 SB: I know that there is a wealth of knowledge online for spinners.   It’s been a great help to me and also provides a kind of global community despite distances.  I even joined the Online Guild this year, they run regular workshops and have an active group. What role has the internet played in your spinning journey?

SD: Internet has meant everything when it comes to my spinning. YouTube has been my first go to for learning new stuff and the internet has opened my mind to what kinds of fibers, tools and techniques that exist. It also has let me get in contact with lots and lots of spinners around the world and it has made me appreciate all those people who has taken the time to let other learn from them by creating videos and writing about spinning. The internet and especially Facebook has let me get to know many other spinners in Norway and Scandinavia. Ravelry is also one of my go-to places for inspiration, seeing what are made with different handspun and talking to other folks that are just as twisted as myself when it comes to yarn and fiber! I also joined the Spunky Eclectic fiber club (http://www.spunkyeclectic.com ) a couple of years ago to get to know more breeds (and get a surprise in the mail every month), and I have enjoyed that a lot! The internet has also allowed me to get hold of wool from rare breeds like Arapawa from NZ, Siroua from Morocco and several other interesting breeds. The internet has also made me appreciate the breeds of sheep that are more local to Norway more after seeing how interesting they are to non Norwegian spinners.

 SB: So many sheep and so much to learn about them, clearly we share an interest in the different kinds of fibers available and their backgrounds and history. So tell me more about your fiber passions! What are your influences and your favorite fibers and techniques?

SD: That is a tricky question! I love all kinds of fiber, every fiber has its own possibilities and qualities that makes them useful and wonderful for different things. I am one of those people that think everything can be spun; you just have to find the way to spin it! If I have to choose just one fiber to work with for the rest of my life, I would go with Polwarth, which is a fiber that is suitable for almost anything in my mind! But let`s just say that if the fiber is rainbow colored..I WILL spin it! Every rainbow colored fiber I see screams at me to rescue them from their current location! I am also one of those people that translates everything I see into fibers and yarns.

And when it comes to techniques, I like spinning “standard” basic yarns for knitting as much as I like spinning crazy art yarns just for fun, but my all time favorite yarn to spin is coils… coils, coils and even more coils! Coils in every kind of color, coils in different varieties… I just love coils! Did I mention that I really love coils???

I also dye a lot of fiber myself, some I use myself and some I sell to other Norwegian spinners. A few years ago I processed my first raw fleece, and that is also another thing I really enjoy to do. Getting the fleece washed and processed by hand and making something from that is a really awarding feeling! I just love it!

My biggest influences are Tove Skolseg that I mentioned earlier, who is an amazing Norwegian fiber artist! Lexi Boeger is also up high on that list, and I was lucky enough to be a part of her camp in Lillehammer, Norway in May 2010 and learned a lot! Jacey Boggs is also another huge source of inspiration.

 SB: Where do you find your materials and supplies? Do you have good local sources for everything you need or do you need to source your supplies (like for me) through some internet shopping as well?

 SD: I mostly shop for fibers online, I buy a a lot of different fibers from the UK at a shop called Wingham Wool Work (http://www.winghamwoolwork.co.uk ) that has a lot of different stuff from fleece, synthetics, plant fibers and more exotic fibers.

And I have this thing about rescuing fibers in need from various Etsy sellers.

When it comes to fibers that are Norwegian I have a cousin that raises traditional and modern Spaelsau and Dalasau, a friend with an alpaca farm, a friend that has just started with cashmere goats, people who have angora goats and angora rabbits. I have also gotten to know several breeders in Norway that have more rare breeds like blaesetsau, troendersau and the Old norwegiansheep. Along with the friend who has the alpacas, I run a Facebook page called “Kortreist fiber” (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kortreist-fiber/223751587743004 ) – Translated “local fiber sources” – where we post whenever we find out about new breeders in Norway, to educate spinners on where they can get hold of fiber here in Norway. Right now I am in the process of getting in contact with breeders that has some of Norway’s rare sheep breeds like Rygjasau, Steigarsau and Fuglestadbrogetsau.

As for equipment I mostly shop at the only Norwegian spinning store Spinnvilt. I like to have a place where I know I will get amazing service and that will answer all my equipment questions (even the really stupid ones!), and where I also know they will do whatever they can to help me if I run into some issues with what I have bought.

 SB: I think the internet brings us closer, but also I have noticed that a lot of people begin their spinning journey by learning from online tutorials and with the support of online groups. I think this is quite a revolution for our craft, making the skills and information very accessible for a much wider range of people; you no longer need to know a spinner or have access to lessons! I wonder where this is going to take the craft! Do you have a vision for the future of spinning?

 SD: WE CAN TAKE OVER THE WORLD!

Well, probably not take over the world but just doing whatever we can to get more people to wonder about spinning and hopefully try it out. That way we make sure to keep the history and tradition of spinning alive and not be forgotten!

I do however have a personal spinning goal each year! In 2008 it was just trying to figure out how everything worked with both dropspindles and my wheel. In 2009 it was trying to spin nice and even yarns with the perfect amount of twist. In 2010 it was spinning more art yarns. In 2011 it was to knit with more of my handspun yarn. That was really a challenge, because after all I had made these MYSELF and they could only be used for worthy projects! And now after 5 years I still think “Wow, I actually can make yarns!!!” In 2012 my goal has been to “spin in Norwegian” in the sense that I will try to learn as many Norwegian spinning words as I can, today I spin in YouTubeish and Norwenglish. I think being able to use the traditional Norwegian names for things will help me keep the historic aspect of spinning alive when I am telling others about it. We are keeping an old craft alive by doing what we do, and the history of spinning goes way back! In 2013 I will try to find new ways to use my art yarns and I have just ordered a knitters loom so that I can give weaving with them a try. I have had a couple of big looms before, but I didn`t have any room for them after I had kids so I sold them some years ago.

 SB: Tell me some more about the spinning world in Norway, I have always wanted to visit your country, and I would love to know something about what kind of fiber places, yarn stores, workshops or events I could attend if I am lucky enough to get there!

 SD: First I would say to come to Fredrikstad to meet our local spinning group and cuddle some alpacas and visit some rare sheep breeds! The County I live in is packed with history, from the Old fortified town (http://www.visitoslofjord.no/en/fredrikstad-and-hvaler/The-Fortified-Town/ ) to lots and lots of ancient rock art http://www.visitoslofjord.no/en/articles/The-Ancient-Trail/ ) and even more interesting stuff. Fredrikstad is about 40 minutes drive from the Swedish border, so you could easily squeeze in a visit to another country while being here

Next on the list would be going to Lillehammer to visit the Spinnvilt shop and meet Tove Skolseg and her husband Eirik Bruvik (another very talented fiber artist) who runs the shop. Also I recommend taking a class with them! In September 2011 I attended a weekend camp at Spinnvilt with 25 spinners from all over the country, I hope they set up another camp in 2013!

If you come to Norway, Oslo is also a great place for inspiration with lots of museums ; Vikings, textiles, art, science, and more.  And there is also Northern Norway, with reindeer, northern lights and Sami culture. Take a cruise with Hurtigruten (http://www.hurtigruten.us/ ) to see the fantastic scenery that Norway has to offer! There is no end to the inspiration you could get from a trip to Norway!

The Norwegian spinning scene is not the biggest when it comes to shopping and workshops, etc. but there are local guilds here and there. Shopping for fiber is mostly done online or directly at farms. Yarn shops you can find almost in every town, but they rarely have amazing stuff.

 SB: How do the people around you react to your spinning and fiber activities? Are handcrafts, in general, popular in Norway?

SD: Thankfully I have an amazing family that loves me and respects what I do and why I do it. There is a spinning wheel upstairs (the Louet) and one downstairs (my beloved Aura), there is a drum carder in my laundry room, and I have fibers and yarn stacked everywhere. They love getting handmade stuff, my almost 9 year old daughter started spinning at the age of 7 on a Pinkie; she now spins on the Louet. My 5 year old son loves to help me out with the drum carder. My fiancé knows that in order for me to keep sane I have to use my creative powers daily, and he is very proud of the work I do. He also puts up with a house that smells like sheep when I am washing fleeces in the laundry room.

My colleagues at work find the spinning fascinating, and I just discovered last week that one of them knows how to spin on a drop spindle!

Handcrafts in Norway is slowly growing, it is almost like it has skipped a generation.

Many from the older generations had to knit, crochet or sew for the purpose of keeping their loved ones warm in the cold Norwegian winters, and many never enjoyed it because they had to do it rather than wanted to. But we see more and more people taking up knitting and crocheting these days for the sake of enjoyment and most of my friends are crafty in one sense or another.

 SB: Would you like to share your Facebook page and online hangouts so we can drop by and say hello?

 SD: Both my blog and facebook is called Silja Devine – Kreativ surrehue (kreativ = creative, Surrehue = because I have a terrible memory and multitask like nobody else).

Blog: http://www.silja-devine.com

Ravelry: http://www.ravelry.com/people/siljadevine

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kreativtsurrehue

The Norwegian spinninggroup on facebook called “Råkknråll – spinnere”: https://www.facebook.com/groups/163850606973143/

Spin Artiste: Thank you both, Suzy and Silja — that was fascinating!  Personally, I am so glad that we are able to connect electronically.  Silja’s journey towards forging a local community is very inspiring!!

Readers, we have got a lot going on around here at spinartiste.com.  I’m getting ready to head up to Madison Wool this weekend for a The Snow Ball — a one day creative spin in and dance party — yes, dance party!  The Leather and Lace Yarn Challenge Collection is now on display at Wooly Belle in Vinton, Virginia.  Secret Stash kits just went out to two dozen plus fiber artists this week.   And, I’ve got some more answers to the question, “Can you spin this?” waiting in the wings for you.  In the meantime, if you haven’t entered the giveaway for TWO pounds of fiber from The Yellow Farm, click here and get your entry in — a winner will be picked Sunday.  Till then, all my best, Arlene

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