Tag Archives: spinning

The Land and Sea Project

I recently finished documenting a one year project conducted by Earthand Gleaners Society, entitled LAND AND SEA. Lead artists Sharon Kallis and Rebecca Graham, together with numerous local knowledge holders, lead a series of workshops and conversation circles investigating coastal traditions around net making and fish leather. Subjects covered included spinning nettle and flax, weaving nets, salmon skin tanning, stitching, and beading. Several walking tours of the Vancouver shoreline were given by First Nations facilitators, describing the deep history and traditions of this place. A final exhibition was mounted at the Roundhouse Community Centre in September 2018, which included the building of a coracle, an ancient boat design used by many cultures around the world.


Filming Nicola Hodges at Trillium North Park in Vancouver – photo Sharon Kallis


Spinning Flax at Trillium North Park in Vancouver


Rebecca Graham and Sharon Kallis launch the coracle in the pond at Carb Park, Vancouver

The resulting work is a 15 part series of short videos, each covering one facet of the project. These can be viewed on Earthand Gleaners Youtube channel.


Soil to Sky

This is a short film I just completed for EartHand Gleaner’s Society.

Planet in Focus 17th Annual Environmental Film Festival

My Short film “The Urban Cloth Project” will be screening at the Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival in Toronto on October 22nd, 2016 at Innis Town Hall at the University of Toronto. It will precede the feature “Frightened – The Real Price of Shipping” by Denis Delestrac. I’m very happy to be attending the festival, which runs from October 18th to 23rd.

Sheep to Sweater: Part 2

It’s the last day of 2012 and I have just finished my wool vest. Once I got going with the knitting, the process went much faster than expected. Penny most excellently drew up my instructions on the fly, at each stage measuring me, looking over my progress, and then providing me with easy to follow instructions on sheets of graph paper. I will publish these here shortly, so that any other intrepid soul can use them to make their own vest.


I was surprised at how much wool was needed for this project. In the end, almost all of the sheep fleece I started with was used. On Penny’s advice, I abandoned the idea of making a sweater with sleeves as there was probably not quite enough yarn.

I experimented a bit with trying to dye the wool once it had been spun and plied, but in the end I dyed most of it before I spun it, allowing more possibilities for mixing colours.

Dyed rolags awaiting spinning

Dyed rolags awaiting spinning

About 80% of the wool was dyed with walnut casings but as I ran out, I used tea, and (I confess) a little bit of commercial green dye (so the final result would match my eyes…)

Penny's step by step plans

Penny’s step by step plans

I used large (#14) needles which made the work go fast. I learned from numerous mistakes I made along the way and now feel much more confident with the whole process, especially after all of the generous guidance I have received. I’ve already begun another project, recycling wool from existing garments culled from thrift stores. Watch for “Urban Yard Harvest” in upcoming posts.

Nearing the end

Nearing the end

Sewing the two halves together

Sewing the two halves together



Happy New Year.

From Sheep to Sweater Part 1

It was bound to happen, that after spending so much time around people who spin and knit, I would finally give in and try it myself. Under the generous but firm tutelage of Penny and Karen, I dove directly into the deep end of the wool pool, buying an entire, unwashed sheep fleece from a small farm in the Fraser Valley, with the dogged determination to create a wearable garment from scratch.

Karen and I made the trip out to Langley, where we met the small flock of Clun Forest Sheep who kindly donated their coats to us for a modest fee. Armed with an economy sized bottle of dish-washing liquid, I set about my first task of cleaning the fleece.

My new fleece.

A strong but not unpleasant “sheepy” smell was soon wafting through my house, as fleece met hot water and the heavy coating of lanolin and grime was gradually dissolved. The dirtiest parts of the wool were separated and left to soak in what would later become a bucket of unfathomably horrific odors.

After drying, the fleece resembled a small cumulus cloud, hovering cheerfully in my front room, oblivious to the torments I would soon inflict on it. The carding process forcibly combs the fibers into alignment and transforms the amorphous fleece into an orderly pile of “rolags”. From there the spinning process begins, something I have found both enjoyable and contemplative.

Rolags and plied yarn

Partway through this process, I learned that I needed to ply my yarn, meaning twisting two spun lengths together to create a thick grade of yarn which is more stable to knit with than a “single”. My skill level at spinning has gradually increased and I am beginning to be able to produce a much thinner, even yarn. Interesting how this activity has been linked in several world cultures to the notion of fate or destiny. Metaphorically, threads and string are powerful images.

Using a drop spindle.

The natural dying process has been fascinating. I was enthralled by some wool that Joy had dyed using the root of a walnut tree to produce a rich brown. Later, I found out that all parts of the Black Walnut are rich in natural dye, and that October is the time to gather the nut casings as they fall from the tree. Sharon told me the location of some trees in the West End and I have now made several trips to fill my saddle bags with them. I found out quickly to wear gloves as they will dye skin readily, which doesn’t wash off for several days.

Gathering nuts in October

For days now, I’ve had a pot of walnuts on the stove, and more in the basement soaking. The smell is strong and reminiscent of fermented lime, which has helped to finally dispel the essence of sheep lingering in my house. The colour is powerful and varied. I’ve obtained rich gold, mahogany and dark chocolate browns, as well as some subtler shades of grey, using an iron railroad spike to “sadden” the colours.

Dye pot

At the rate I’m going, this sweater might not be ready until sometime next year. Penny calculated that I would need around a thousand yards of yarn to complete this project. I’m at around two hundred at this point and am considering changing the size of my yarn in order to cut down on the amount of wool needed. Penny has taught me to knit the two basic stitches, so in my down time, I’m practicing with some scraps of donated orange wool and a bag of vile-coloured yarn I got from Value Village.

Stay tuned for part two.

Newly dyed wool



In the fall of 2010 I began an eight month documentary film program at Capilano University, after having spent a year traveling.  I have been involved in the visual arts for my entire adult life, as a painter, photographer and educator and had made several short films, but this was the point when I decided to seriously start a new career as a film maker.

Silk production in Cambodia

During my first term at Capilano, I made a five minute film entitled “Threads” which looks at spinning and weaving, and touches on larger ideas that come from the history of cloth production. I had been inspired by a visit to a weaving school in Cambodia, where young people are taught to raise silkworms and produce finished silk items as a way of bringing skills and employment to a country still suffering from the effects of war and genocide.

I was assisted greatly by Capilano faculty members Anthea Mallinson and Ruth Scheuing, who I interviewed for the film, as well as several students studying in the Textiles program. It was also an early opportunity to work with classmates Marina Dodis, Derrick Daniels, and Bernardo Rodriguez  as part of my crew, and Jack Silberman as my knowledgeable and supportive faculty mentor.

Interviewing Ruth Scheuing, with Marina Dodis and Derrick Daniels

The  contemporary use ancient technologies, as a way of bringing hand-based skills back into everyday life and community are of great interest to me and have helped direct much of my activities over the last year. The growing interest in urban farming, locally made clothes, and the culture of DIY over rampant consumerism are a small sign of choices being made by ordinary people, living in times of great change.