Hello and welcome to the beginning of my hopes and dreams and passion and life-calling.
My name is Demarus and I am a fiber addict that has finally found her place in the world.
I tend to want to tell my life story so let me just get it all out now so that later on I can write concise updates on this ambitious project. My heritage is a mix of Inupiaq and European and a teeny bit Comanche and Siberian Yupik. I was born in Nome Alaska to parents that were themselves mixes of Inupiaq and European, my father was from Wales and my mother spent her early childhood in the ghost town of Lost River. My extended family is huge, someday I'll draw it out and marvel at it all.
I grew up feeling as if every female member of my family knew how to sew fur, sew fabric, crochet, and/or knit. And also knew how to cook, clean, raise children, fish, gut seals, camp, and drive a 4-wheeler. And knew where the best places and times were for digging muzzu and picking sura, akpik, blueberries, cranberries, and wild raspberries. So I grew up feeling that because I am a woman also, I am capable of learning and knowing many things.
Both of my parents are artists and both made line drawings and carved walrus ivory. I grew up believing that I can use my hands and I can draw. I am a little proud of my fearless attitude towards crafts and arts. I'm not saying that I believe that I am able to make beautiful or good arts and crafts, but that I am able to at least try it and make something that functions.
We moved around often and if we didn't live near or on traditional Native land, we always searched out a powwow or gathering. My childhood was the pan-American Indian experience. When I was 13 we were living in arctic Canada and many local Inuit women made crochet toques with the word "Iqaluit" on the side and sold them. A teacher offered to teach us how to crochet after school in her home. I enjoyed crochet but for some reason I really wanted to learn how to knit. There was no one that could teach me, and if they were there I didn't know them. My mom made baby outfits out of yarn using a K-tel Knitter but it wasn't technically knitting so she couldn't teach me. She did own a copy of Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Needlework and my stubborn "I can learn how to do anything" self was already armed with yarn and a pair of metal knitting needles. The continental method suited me since I learned how to crochet first (with both methods yarn is held in the same hand) and I was able to do the knit stitch correctly.
Something went wrong when I purled and I didn't interpret the illustrations correctly. I didn't know that I was twisting the stitches and I tried to make a sweater anyway. My step-dad suggested that a sweater made with red and grey stripes would be nice. I didn't get past a few repeats of the stripes because the back section was just too wide and very stretchy (that's what happens when every stitch is twisted). This failure in function didn't stop me from continuing to crochet strange hats for one of my younger brother and calling myself a knitter even though nothing knitted came out the correct size.
Right before I began 9th grade we moved to Neah Bay, Washington because while we were in Iqaluit my mother read an issue of National Geographic that highlighted the Makah culture. What is unique about the Makah nation is they are the only Native American tribe beside the Inupiaq and Yupik to hunt whales. My mom loved the idea of being with people that also have whales at the heart of their culture. So we moved to Neah Bay and rented a house on Front Street and it's only very recently that I learned of a special relic that was in the attic above my bunk bed.
The Makah are also unique in their history of fiber arts. They wove sleeping mats, clothing and hats out of the softer inner layer of cedar bark. They kept a special breed of dog solely for harvesting fiber, keeping the dogs on an island or in caves to keep them away from other working dogs. They spun the fiber into yarn, sometimes mixing anything else that was soft enough to add - like feather down, and then wove the yarn into precious "dog blankets".
The Makah are also unique for having an amazing museum (most tribes have lost artifacts over time to grave-robbers), the result of a mudslide that preserved at least 6 longhouses in Ozette village and then erosion that occurred during the enlightened early 1970's, when the American atmosphere supported the novel idea of allowing a people to keep their artifacts. The mudslide preserved wood and fibers, including drop spindles, thigh spindles, and weaving looms. I vaguely remember looking at the looms during visits to the museum, at the time I was more interested in the replica longhouse and the sacred feeling standing inside of it.
After high school I started attending the University of Washington in Seattle and had many adventures in college and awesome summer jobs at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA. I still haven't finished my undergrad degree but I view my partial college education as very important. I do wish that I had known how my love for yarn would influence me now. If I had known then I would have chosen to study fiber processing. I would love to learn the technical side of commercial mill production. Instead I studied Environmental Engineering, a little Microbiology, and then found an interdisciplinary environmental studies program.
Even though I couldn't knit correctly I got a job in a small LYS (Local Yarn Store) when I was about 23-24 and my boss took pity on me and taught me how to purl correctly. I can't remember how I was doing it wrong before and I ended up creating my own weird way of creating tension with my thumb for purl stitches. Apparently it's very unique and interesting, famous knitters have even told me so. I got married and moved to Redmond, just east of Seattle, and started to raise a family.
My mother moved back to my hometown of Nome, Alaska and I started to visit her every summer after I had my first child. It's very important to me that my children have a connection to the tundra, the berries, the fish, and the people. At first during my visits home, my aunt and I would get excited if we saw a lone bull musk ox in a valley several miles out of town. Then the herds of musk ox started to learn that they were safer having their calves closer to town. One spring my mom called me, excited to have found qiviut (kee-vee-ute) on the tundra while picking sura. Qiviut is the very fine and warm undercoat of the musk ox and in yarn form it's worth about $90 an ounce. My mom had gathered about 10 pounds that first spring and summer.
I had heard about qiviut before and wasn't interested until my mom started gathering it. I suddenly wanted to learn how to spin it myself. The Puget Sound area is very supportive of fiber arts and I started attending fiber festivals hoping to buy a spinning wheel. I think my first drop spindle was purchased at the spring fair at the Puyallup fairgrounds. The first year that I went to Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival (OFFF) I was pregnant with my son and the hormones did not mix well with the frustration of trying to learn how to move your feet and hands at the same time. I ended up buying a Louet S17 kit because it was cheap and there was no sales tax in Oregon. Looking back it wasn't the best time in life to start a new hobby and having a newborn to care for did keep me from learning right away. I don't really remember how I learned since I didn't have any friends that knew how to spin. By the time that I took an introduction to spinning class at the Weaving Works in Seattle I already had the basics down.
I was visiting a friend named Nicole from Neah Bay and her mother Lawanda was watching me knit a cowl with qiviut yarn. I had just finished taking a qiviut processing class in Nome with my mom and the yarn and pattern were part of the class. Lawanda started asking me questions and I told her about the yarn and how I was learning how to spin so that I could make my own qiviut yarn. She asked if I've ever heard of Judith MacKenzie, a world-famous spinning instructor with books and DVDs published. I knew that she lived in Forks and hoped that I could somehow take a class with her or meet her somewhere. Lawanda told me about attending Judith's birthday party and how she knows her not as a spinner but as a friend. A week or so later I had a banquet ticket to the Madrona Fiber Arts retreat and at the end I saw Judith talking with The Yarn Harlot, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. With huge stars in my eyes I had an excuse to introduce myself and told Judith about talking with Lawanda. I gushed to Judith about my excitement about being near such famous people and she told me that they are just normal regular people.
Judith offered to help me with spinning and gave me her email address, but I was not confident with my spinning skills and didn't contact her until several months later. Sometimes I go through dry spells with hobbies and there was some kind of roadblock with spinning that I didn't realize was happening until I took a class that showed me what the roadblock was. Spinning worsted had been hurting my hands because I was clamping down on the fiber with both hands. My friend Lynda and I took a class together at OFFF last fall and I fell in love with the woolen technique of spinning. Woolens taught me that I can let go of the fiber mass, that there is an organic, intuitive, abstract movement within spinning that occurs without much control or work on my part. The fiber moves on its own, grabbing itself, flowing out of my hands. Suddenly spinning was fun again.
Mary is my best friend from high school and her parents live in Neah Bay. A year or more ago her mom, Lila, bought a second-hand Ashford Traveller. When she was a child her mother would spin yarn for knitting sweaters and she would help treadle the wheel with her hands while her mother spun. Spinning wheel mechanics were still foreign to me the first time that I saw her wheel and I also felt like I didn't know enough myself to teach her how to spin. The next time I saw her wheel I was able to tighten up some screws and bolts and figure out what little pieces were missing. I got to know Judith and we were talking about Canoe Journeys, she told me that she attended one year and her and her friend were so happy to see this revival in tradition and culture - she almost had tears of joy in her eyes. We talked about the dog blankets in Neah Bay a few times and she said she would like to see the Makah weaving them again. I think the blankets are a huge important part of regalia and potlatches and economy. The combination of a family friend's desire to learn to spin, travelling the American Southwest and seeing Navajo looms in person last summer, and hearing a spinning expert reinforce that the blankets can come back created an idea and a passion in me to help bring spinning back to the Makah.
And this is where this project comes full circle to me. Anything dog related has been my pet peeve and I believe it is because my parents had a husky that had a litter of pups when I was 5-6 months old. There are pictures of me next to the puppies and they must have climbed on me and licked me. I've always hated any by-products of dogs... but at the same time it's not that I hate dogs themselves, I've always been able to tolerate them because they are a part of life. And even with this deep, ingrained loathing of dogs that is a part of MY fiber and being, I will love the idea of spinning dog fiber because it's important and the work is greater than my history. Judith said that she thinks it will take years to bring weaving dog fiber back, and I'm okay with that because it will mean slowly getting used to working with dogs and dog fiber.
The reason why this blog is called Native Twist is because I have other fiber-related dreams. I would love to see a mini-mill in Nome to process Alaskan qiviut and create jobs and a much-desired product. I would love to own a weaving studio and serve tea and provide a place to work and meet with friends. I love the idea of teaching anyone that wants to learn how to work with yarn. I am open to combining anything fiber-related with anything Native American-related.
Judith, Lynda, and I have taught one class in Neah Bay and I will write about that soon. I'm excited for what lies ahead in this journey and thank you for joining me.