Artist in Residence

Posted by Sylvia Olsen on

In the early spring Maddy, from Custom Woolen Mills in Carstairs Alberta, asked if I would like to be artist in residence at the mill.

The train station/house at the mill 

She said they had a studio where I could stay and work and they would provide the meals and all the wool I could use. There was only one answer. 

“Of course.” A dream come true.


The studio and the bunkhouse

When we agreed on September I began setting the time aside. Pretty soon it seemed like everything was happening in September. Important housing meetings, Adams first sitting in the legislature, Jack’s 4th birthday, finishing an editing contact…oh yes and in June we decided September 2nd was the perfect date to get married.

“No problem,” Tex said. “We can pack on the 3rd and be in Carstairs by the 5th.”

Tex had to go back to Ontario to empty his house and pick up his things. The plans all made sense. He would drop me off and return at the end of the month to pick me up—a dream honeymoon as well.

Here I am. Upended but uplifted. I am in another world with only one task—create.

I have had seven months to decide what I would create. That means I have had several hundred ideas. I have ordered them, prioritized them, selected the best idea, changed my mind, reordered them, found new ideas, made new lists, prioritized them, decided on the very best thing, found new ideas, changed my mind. Okay. You get what I mean.

Reluctantly, almost begrudgingly I set aside dress, sweater, cowl…designs I want to create. I passed over the avant-garde art piece/wall blanket I have always imagined making. There was something I had to figure out rather than something I had to make and that, in the end, is always going to win with me.

I have been working with Custom’s single strand yarn—felting it in the skein and making an amazing product that we are using in Salish Fusion products. I will tell you more about that later. But I have been itching to mess in a similar way with their 6-strand and Prairie Sea Fusion. I wanted to make woollen rope for rugs, footstools, floor pillows, or whatever.


When I arrived at the mill Maddy explained that on September 30th there would be a party…music…food and a display of the things I was going to make.

“You will have something finished by then? Right?”

“Of course.”

I am going to make rope. But what am I going to make with the rope? Assuming that the rope is worth making something out of????

I decided to use the 6 strand rather than Prairie Sea Fusion because of the colour range

After spinning it makes a very consistent cord

I had to think about a finished product and an audience. Up until then I hadn’t got much past thinking about my experiment. Wonder if it doesn’t work?

I skein it and put the skeins in my improvised felting bags


Agitate for 22 minutes or so

Creative anxiety. It’s when I have to play ten games of Sudoku to silence the noise, open the channels, welcome the muse, feel the rhythm, and then it moves…and I get it.


Drying the felted yarn

Or is it freedom anxiety? The knot in my gut when I have real freedom to do what I want, when I want, how I want with only one constraint--to produce something.

In truth I love experiments. I love the creative process. The finished product is just one of the steps. Remember my wedding dress was an experiment. I had two months—only enough time for one try. It is what it is and I love it.

Ready to knit...something

Here goes.

More later.

For now some musings:


Sometimes stealing is good


I stole the time right out from under the nose of obligation

And I did it in the bright light of mid day

I said sure

I’d love to spend a month

The whole month of September in your artists’ studio

In Carstairs

In the Alberta prairie wheat fields

At your train station woolen mill

Doing nothing

Nothing but making stuff up

You will supply me with the wool

I will create

I will take the raw earth force

The dew, the red moon, the big sky

And on the first day, the second day, the third day

I will create

And it will be good



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