Can Design Students Bring Innovation to Canada’s Wool Sector?

17 May 2023
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The hallways at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, British Columbia, are jammed with a most eclectic cast of characters.

Along corridors that must make sense to someone—but certainly not a first-time visitor—the bright white walls, concrete floors, colourful installations, art displays, and students combine into a blurring kaleidoscope. Peering through large windows, I see the normal presentation boards and slideshows common to all universities, but there are also rooms with abandoned mannequins stacked in corners, walk-in kilns with racks of fired pottery, and a cavernous space filled with welding equipment. Students gather around work, crowd over schematics, hide themselves away in studio corners. There are inspiration walls, prototype furniture, and some things I can only begin to guess at.

Hélène Day Fraser, Associate Professor at the Ian Gillespie Faculty of Design + Dynamic Media and co-founder of the Materials Matter Research Centre, grins over her shoulder at me. She is rooting through a box, “looking for fasteners.” I don’t even know what that means, exactly.

“A-ha!” she says, holding two wonky-looking ovals in front of my face. A quick twist and a snap and suddenly, the black, apron-like thing she is wearing is hitched up gracefully on her shoulder, creating a goth Highlander effect. I’m clearly in a place where unorthodox thinking and creative problem solving are cherished.

We are here to talk wool. Specifically, I am here to speak to students about the raw goods—fleeces that have been skirted but are otherwise completely unprocessed. For the next seven weeks, students will get up close and personal with these completely average fleeces gathered from farms in Alberta. The fleeces are laid out, heaped and jumbled, complete with vegetable matter (VM) and a few second cuts dribbling on to the floor.

Students filtering into the room wrinkle their noses at the smell. Unboxed, the natural state of the fleeces is immediately apparent.

All photos by Tara Klager

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About Tara Klager

Tara Klager is a first-generation regenerative fibre farmer raising endangered and heritage breed sheep hard against the Rocky Mountain foothills in Alberta, Canada. With a passion for the land and a firm conviction that her role is to safeguard and steward the amazing place she gets to call home, Tara, and her husband Bob, have worked to build community with a wide range of representation - from LGBTQ2+ to Indigenous organizations to fibre enthusiasts and members of the public, Tara provides a place and framework to encourage discussion and interaction between a variety of groups and people. Whether you're interested in animal husbandry and welfare, endangered sheep breeds, the variety of practices that go into regenerative agriculture and how you might apply them to your own context or fibre and all its possibilities, Tara invites you to the homestead, a world of people, place and permaculture. Welcome to my frontier!

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