As Queen City Fibre Festival nears, what’s the importance of fibre crafts?
Brianna Redlich, owner of Yarn Over, Regina’s fibre and crafting store, has organized the first ever Queen City Fibre Festival. Redlich wrote that, “there seems to be a lack of fibre festivals in Saskatchewan,” and hopes to fill that gap in order to develop a larger fibre community across the province.
The festival will take place on September 30 at the East View Community Centre from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. There are upwards of 20 vendors scheduled to attend the festival with names that include Forest and Fringe Yarn and Knitting, Prairie Fibre Shed, Olive Park Yarns, and Knotty Girl Fibre Art. Admissions to the festival will be by donation; this includes cash donations to Carmicheal Outreach or a yarn donation to Angels 4 Warmth, a local charitable organization that provides winter gloves, toques, and other essentials to those who need them during the harsh prairie winters. More information about the festival can be found on Yarn Over’s website at yarnover.ca.
There has been an ongoing movement of artists, fibre craftspeople, and passionate crafters reclaiming the fibre arts. While stay-at-home orders were in place, people had to develop new and creative ways to keep themselves busy and entertained. Naturally, learning new crafts was one of the ways this was done. According to Dr. Tonie Kim, there are mental health benefits from knitting and crocheting and “the repetitive motion of knitting induces your body’s relaxation response, lowering your heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension.”
Moreover, because knitting is repetitive and takes a certain level of concentration, it might enable “a person to distract themselves from and restructure patterns of thinking that may contribute to anxiety,” said Kim. This, perhaps, was especially helpful during the pandemic which was a period marked by the exacerbation of mental health impacts.
Knitting and fibre arts can be traced back in connection with past social crises. In an article for the Canadian Red Cross, Anna Teehan points to the way their “chosen hobby played a part during history.” During the World Wars it was common in Canada for small booklets containing knitting patterns to be distributed. An uptick in home knitting was used to manufacture necessary items during the wars. This was no small undertaking; the Halifax women’s History Society estimates approximately 750,000 volunteers knit 50 million items during WWII alone.
Earlier this year, media coverage reported that young people in Toronto have taken to crocheting for mental health in a downtown bar. Nigel John, also known as Legin, came up with the idea to blend crochet and jazz music to engage a whole new demographic with fibre arts. His company, Legin Knits, is working to close the generational gap observed within fibre arts and artists by teaching young people to crochet. In addition to crochet, his teachings focus on mindfulness: “So aside from just the art and the creativity, you know [I’m] talking about health and mindset and just different things that I embrace in my everyday life as well.”
The uptick in young fibre artists seems to be shared globally. The online community hub LoveCrafts reports a rise in young men crafting, with over a third taking up needle crafting. In a 2021 Guardian article, Ola Ogunlolu from Lagos, Nigeria explained how he became a knitter. “Nigeria tends to be quite hot most of the time, so who is going to be making a chunky blanket or sweater?” What Ogunlolu found was a thriving community of crafters with similar interest. For Ogunlolu “the process is…therapeutic. A lot of things I make don’t have utilitarian value, but the fact that I made them gives me joy.”
In a similar trend, young people have been adopting practices of “craftivism” as a method to mix fibre crafts and political and social activism. For Ogunlolu, this meant knitting as a means of contributing to the larger discourse of Black Lives Matter. “I had to say something. Some people said we should keep crafting separate, but I felt it wasn’t enough to retreat into this sunshine world and pretend the real world wasn’t happening.”
This age-old tradition of fibre crafts traditionally marketed as “an elderly White lady thing to do,” said Vincent Williams, a Black needlework artist who was frustrated with the lack of representation, is being reclaimed and diversified by young people and craftivists.