If you visited Fibre-East last summer, one of the first things you would have seen after entering Redborne College was an exhibition of all the entries in the spinning and weaving competitions. Twenty individual spinners and weavers between them submitted 80 entries which showed just how colourful and varied both fibre arts could be. Janet Ellison was so impressed by the entries that she contacted the vendors to see if they would donate some prizes. Thanks to their generosity, all the placed entries were awarded some truly beautiful prizes. The entry forms for this year’s competition are now available on the Fibre-East website here so we thought it might be interesting to chat with the overall winners of last year’s weaving and spinning competitions to find out more about their weaving and spinning backgrounds.

‘Best in Show’ in the weaving competition was awarded to Linda Embling. We caught up with her recently for a chat.

Linda Embling, winner of the overall 'best in show' in the 2015 weaving competition.

Linda Embling, winner of the overall ‘best in show’ in the 2015 weaving competition

Tell us about your passion for the fibre arts.

In my family, textiles have always been important. My grandmother was an amazing weaver until illness forced her to stop. My aunt created lace and my mother knitted. I was surrounded by all this as a child but it wasn’t until I became an adult that I became truly addicted. At first I wanted to recreate historical fabrics and was frustrated by not being able to find the right colours so I began dyeing my own with plant dyes. The next step of course was to spin my own yarn. For me, the wonder of fibre arts is being able to see a project through from the very beginning to the end. I love to work with raw fleece, taking it through to a finished item or garment, knowing that my hands did it all. I use a lot of tools inherited from my grandmother and working with fibres help me feel that connection to her and to Sweden where I am from.

Linda's winning entries.

Linda’s winning entries

How long have you been spinning and weaving? 

I learnt to tablet weave about 20 years ago as part of Viking re-enactment. It was such an easy and inexpensive way of weaving and creating bands. I first learnt to spin about six years ago on drop spindles and two years ago I got my first spinning wheel. Around the same time I also began weaving on a rigid heddle loom and I’m now the proud owner of an eight shaft loom.

Glowing colours in Linda's Navajo plied yarn.

Glowing colours in Linda’s Navajo plied yarn

What made you enter the competitions last year? 

The first year of competitions I wanted to enter but was too scared thinking that I wasn’t good enough so last year I decided that even if I wasn’t good enough it would be a great challenge to enter and give it a try. I went for all the classes I could enter and just had a lot of fun. I was so excited at the thought of seeing my entries on display. I secretly hoped to win a rosette to bring back to guild. When I saw my entries displayed and saw that I had actually placed and even won in some classes I could just about burst with pride. I was utterly elated. To then find out that my tabletwoven band had won overall first in the weaving categories was just amazing.

Linda's prize winning tablet woven Viking belt, made from silk and hand dyed using weld, woad and madder.

Linda’s prize winning tablet woven Viking belt, made from silk and hand dyed using weld, woad and madder

How did you decide what to enter for each class? 

This was quite tricky but I tried to play to my strengths and to do things a little differently. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not. I made quite a few different skeins for the spinning entries and asked my friends to help me judge which they liked the best. The weaving was easier, I loved the trim and the colours (I have never quite managed to get that lovely shade of lilac again using woad and madder) so thought that would be perfect.

Was the judges’ feedback helpful?

I thought the comments were really positive and even when they pointed out what could be better, that helped me look at my work and think critically about how to improve.

Another view of the beautiful Viking belt.

Another view of the beautiful Viking belt

What did you learn from the experience?

To be proud of myself and believe in my own skill. I also learnt that using thick and thin wool as a weft gives lumpy selvedges – not a good idea!

What advice would you give anyone thinking about entering the competitions this year?

Don’t be afraid to give it a go. It’s a challenge but you have nothing to lose. It’s great to see your work on display and working on the entries can really help you push yourself. The competition display last year was wonderful because it had such an amazing variety. I can’t wait to see the entries this year and of course I have started to work on my own.

Linda's winning skein of art yarn.

Linda’s winning skein of art yarn

‘Best in Show’ in the spinning competition was awarded to Helen Kurtz. This is what she had to say about her competition experience.

Helen Kurtz,  winner of the overall 'best in show' in the 2015 spinning competition.

Helen Kurtz, winner of the overall ‘best in show’ in the 2015 spinning competition

Tell us about your passion for the fibre arts.

I have always enjoyed making things, right from childhood. There was barely room for me to fit in my bed with all the soft toys I made!  I can’t remember when I first learnt to knit, but I would imagine I was about 7 or 8. I  still have a couple of garter stitch scarves with wonky edges that I knitted for my teddies. It was the summer that I took my O-levels when my interest in knitting really kicked off. I wanted something to do over the holidays so my Mum suggested I knitted myself something. I think she was expecting me to knit a scarf. Of course, I chose something really complicated – a picture jumper with loads of intarsia that was popular back in the 1980’s! I ploughed my way through that in no time at all and that was the start of my knitting journey. I knitted my way through university and dreamt about having my own yarn shop! But real life stepped in and I became a teacher. Work took over and I lost touch with knitting until 2007 when I was on holiday. I happened to walk past a yarn shop and was totally seduced by some beautiful yarn in the window. I dragged my husband inside, emerged with a couple of skeins and haven’t looked back since then. I find knitting a real stress buster and try to do a little, even just a row or two, every day.

A shawl knitted from Helen's handspun singles incorporating colour

A shawl knitted from Helen’s handspun singles incorporating colour

How long have you been spinning? 

I was keen to learn to spin very soon after starting knitting again. I loved all the indie-dyed skeins of yarn and had visions of spinning my own yarn and dyeing it! I took a spinning class at my local yarn shop where I learnt to card fleece and spin the rolags. The results were truly terrible! I think that I was so desperate to be able to do  it well that I was very tense; the ‘yarn’ I produced was so lumpy or thin to the point of snapping and had either no twist or was so tightly twisted that it wound back on itself! Totally unknittable! (Of course I know now that this is absolutely normal when you are beginning to learn how to spin!) I felt disappointed and didn’t try spinning for another year! The results were slightly better the next time so I decided to buy a spinning wheel. It then sat there unused, gathering dust, for almost another year as I was too anxious about producing anything less than perfect yarn! A bit silly really because if you want perfect yarn, then buy something that’s been commercially produced! Five years ago, I spotted a spinning weekend with Victoria Magnus (from Eden Cottage Yarns) and decided to book a place. I watched Victoria spinning in such a relaxed way on the first evening and it was truly a light bulb moment! Something clicked in my brain, and my hands and feet started to do what I wanted them to! I could spin! I quickly discovered that I prefer spinning commercially prepared fibres rather than starting off with raw fleece. I love colour and also the addition of luxury fibres such as silk or cashmere, and am always excited to see how a particular braid of fibre ends up looking when it’s spun.

A skein of prize winning Navajo-plied yarn

A skein of Helen’s prize winning Navajo-plied yarn

What made you enter the competitions last year? 

I entered a couple of skeins of yarn in the first  year of the spinning competitions and was amazed when I was awarded a 2nd and 3rd place. I hadn’t expected anything at all. The comments from the judges were so helpful and I tried to follow their suggestions, from how to add twist more evenly in my spinning  to how to present skeins better for competition. As soon as the competitions were announced for 2015, I knew that I wanted to show how my spinning had improved from the previous year.

How did you decide what to enter for each class? 

I printed out an entry form and looked at all the classes to see what I would be able to do. I focussed on the categories using prepared fibres as well as the categories for garments made from handspun yarn. I chose these because I knew that I could use yarn that I had already spun to knit something and wouldn’t have to spin all my entries from scratch. That way I wouldn’t be under too much pressure to get things done in time. I also wanted to challenge myself to spin something completely new – some art yarn. I had taken a spinning class at Fibre-East 2014 with Sarah Anderson and had especially enjoyed learning how to add beads to yarn. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to spin and then ply a whole skein with beads.

A skein of Helen's art yarn with added beads.

A skein of Helen’s art yarn with added beads

Was the judges’ feedback helpful?

Very! Both years, the comments have been really positive and made me feel good about my spinning as well as giving me pointers about how to improve.

What did you learn from the experience?

I learnt not to be afraid of experimenting a little with what I do and to also not try to spin all new yarn for every entry. It doesn’t have to be perfect, you can still learn a lot in the spinning process. Seeing all the amazing entries displayed at the entrance to Fibre-East last year was so inspirational. It was fun to see how other people interpreted each class and I took away lots of new ideas to try out. I was so proud when I found out that a couple of my entries had been placed and then winning the overall best in show with my handspun shawl was the icing on top of an extremely delicious cake!

The handspun shawl that won 'best in show' for Helen

The handspun shawl that won ‘best in show’ for Helen

What advice would you give anyone thinking about entering the competitions this year?

Do it! You have nothing to lose! Spinning regularly to prepare your entries really helps you improve and you never know, you might well be a winner too. There are lots of different categories to choose from, whether you prefer spinning from raw fleece or prepared tops, so you are bound to find something that appeals to you and perhaps gives you a challenge. The buzz of seeing your work exhibited along with those of the other entrants is great as well! I cannot wait to see what the entries are like this year and have already sent off my form!

A beaded shawl knit from laceweight handspun yarn

A beaded shawl knit from Helen’s laceweight handspun yarn

So has reading about our previous winners inspired you to have a go too? I do hope so! You can find the entry forms here. You have until the end of April to get your form submitted and all entries must be received by the end of May. So what are you waiting for?! Please enter and let’s make the spinning and weaving competitions in 2016 the biggest and best yet!