The diary of a fibre camp weekend

Posted by Sylvia Olsen on

Friday, September 9, 2016: A few dozen women, spinning machines, knitting needles and baskets of silk and merino and alpaca, hand woven tea towels, “Praise the Lord in the days of your youth” is painted over the door of the dining room at the Salvation Army Camp Sunrise in Gibsons, BC. It’s the Sunshine Coast Fibre Camp. I’m looking forward to a weekend of relaxing, communing, learning, touching and deeply feeling the beauty and energy of the women who work with wool and their stunning creations.


It didn’t start out as well as it promises to be. I thought if I caught the eleven o’clock ferry I would arrive early enough. I thought I could drive through Vancouver in less than an hour and get a mid afternoon ferry from Horseshoe Bay to the Sunshine Coast. I was wrong. Cars were lined up at Swartz Bay for two ferries. I caught the one o’clock, which meant my quick Vancouver drive was in late Friday afternoon traffic. It took me one hour just to get through the line-up for the Dease Tunnel. Lucky I had my knitting on the front seat. In between the tiny fits and starts of going forward I was able to change the needle size three times and figure out the best way to knit a scarf I had been working on. Most people would think that was unsafe but it was garter stitch and we were going exactly 1 mile an hour, who needs to look?  

I’m worried that the plastic cover on the cot isn’t going to breathe. I’m imagining tying myself up in knots in Tex’s purple sleeping bag. I can’t remember the last time I slept zippered in. Someone snores in this bunkhouse.  

Saturday, September 10, 6am. There was no need for sleep anxieties. Memories of church camp put me to sleep easy. I’m up early enough to be the first in the communal bathroom. I think I’ll go for a walk and check out why the place is called Camp Sunrise.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, cookies at tea-time—who would think there was such good food at church camp? Twelve women attended my workshop. They had great stories and caught on quickly to the colour work.

One woman told us about a baby sweater that she knit for a Home Ec assignment in high school—then all three of her children wore it. Another woman couldn’t get her family to wear her knitting—no one wanted it. Finally she knit a sweater for her daughter—a long expensive alpaca sweater that the girl promptly shrunk. While she was still stinging from the wasted time and money, she did what all mothers do; she gave her daughter a second chance and knit her another sweater. This time the girl learned her lesson about washing wool. The sweater become her favourite so to reduce the chances of messing up when it gets dirty she turns it inside out rather than risk washing it too often. Sometimes sweaters are ugly enough that they make us fall in love. One women said that when she first got to know her husband he was always wearing a sweater his mother had knit for him. It was two sizes too big with sleeves that flopped down around his fingers making him look like a seal. “I think that’s why I fell in love with him,” she said.

I’m still feeling jet lagged from being in Ottawa earlier in the week. I’m struggling just to be where I am. It feels like I need to walk one step faster to catch up with myself. My brain is scrambling to think about the words I have already said. It’s not the best condition to be in when you have to pack and travel and teach and give coherent presentations.

Note to self: this happens every time you return home from the east. I'm not sure I can blame the face on jet lag.

There is talent everywhere. The other two teachers Jessica Silvey, a cedar bark basket weaver, and Kim McKenna, a spinner and dyer, gave great talks this evening about “Our creative journeys so far.” I was the third speaker. As I listened to myself speak I realized how deeply the fibre of my being has been coloured and spun and knotted by my experiences around making wool and knitting and how those things have been so tightly wound up in the reserve, the sweater shop, and the family.  

In such a beautiful setting with such wonderful women making exquisite yarn into amazing fabric I was moved to think about women across cultures and throughout history who have worked with their hands. Not privileged women who do it for pleasure but survivalists, who are struggling to keep their families alive. It was sobering but also invigorating. There was so much strength and smarts and resilience in the room. There were so many women who are enriching their lives and the world through making beauty like women have always done.


Sunday, September 11, 3:50 am. Tex’s sleeping bag is comfortable. The air is fresh in the room. I had a great sleep—short but good—hopefully long enough to give my head time to catch up.

Thank you Dianne, Doreen, Janice and Kim, the Fibre Camp Committee. You did a fabulous job of organizing the weekend. Sorry I have to leave mid morning but I’m hoping I can get home in less time than it took me to get here.


Some of the photos are mine...others are from Cathalynn Labonte Smith...thank you thank you. 




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