The first time I met Amélie Blanchard, she was in knee-high boots encrusted with goat droppings, beaming a smile that lit up the entire Petite-Nation region. This woman is a brilliant polymath, and is driven to succeed in every endeavour she sets her mind to. She’s also the founder of Twist fibre festival. I was delighted to catch up with her by phone, and to ask her about how she got started in the fibre arts, and what led her to start such an ambitious endeavour.
Amélie left a career in TV and documentary production to raise goats and to spin and dye yarn. Naturally, I had to ask her how she made that transition, since so many people dream of doing something similar, but don’t. “I was living and working in Montreal when I met my partner Sven, and started visiting his home out in the country,” she explained. “Up until then, it hadn’t occurred to me that there were alternatives to city life. I found out just how much I enjoyed the country, and Sven and I took a leap and bought a small farm.”
Soon after, Amélie and Sven visited a local sheep farm and were charmed by the owners, who sat by the fireplace knitting together while a diapered lamb wandered about. “That kind of husbandry, and peace, and creativity,” she recalled, “I just fell in love with it and knew that’s what I wanted, too.”
The couple started with two goats, and took courses on how to care for them. They started working on business plans for their farm. Amélie recalls, “It was then that I learned that there were goat species that made cashmere. This appealed to my love of soft, wonderful fibres, and got me thinking of where I could go from there.”
Describing herself as crafty, Amélie told me she’d found it difficult to get the hang of knitting, since she was left-handed. But learning about her goats and their fibre, she discovered another crafty outlet. “I discovered a wonderful fibre and spinner’s circle in Ripon, and found that I could redirect my fibre obsession to spinning yarn instead.”
So how did this neophyte farmer and spinner come to launch a fibre festival? Amélie explains, “I took the Olds Agricultural College fibre intensive course and learned how to identify fibres, and while I was there, I got to take part in a small festival nearby. Needless to say, I loved it, and wondered how I could start something like that in Quebec. So I spent a year and a half researching about who would be interested in being teachers, and how we could put a more modern spin on this ancient art.”
With modest funding, she was able sign on teachers and vendors for the first Twist Festival. “That first event was amazing, and every year, we’ve been able to add more fun and cool stuff. It was a challenge at first because the government doesn’t like to fund anything until it’s been established, but there was always someone, somewhere who believed in what I wanted to accomplish.”
The Twist festival attracts a diverse group of attendees who connect over the crafts they usually practice by themselves at home. “As a result,” Amélie told me, “the festival gives the opportunity for a huge group of loners to come together, and they all get really excited to socialize with one another! They share techniques they’ve learned, cool fibres they’re creating, vendors they’ve discovered.”
Covid-19 certainly put a damper on that social connection, forcing the cancellation of Twist in the summer of 2020. “It was devastating having to pull everything at the last minute after so much planning, but we knew we had to do something to keep people’s spirits up. So many people are feeling low because of the lockdowns, so we created an online virtual retreat instead. It was awesome! We had bilingual teachers, had virtual discussions and demonstrations via Zoom, and everyone had an amazing time. It’s been a great way to ensure that people can still connect, still have fun activities to look forward to. There’s always something positive we can do to keep the fibre love going, right?”
I think so, yes. And hopefully we’ll all be able to catch up at in-person events soon.