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Artist Babcock inspires prize at P.G. Fibre Fest

Yarn is already an elemental tool in so many forms of art - spinning, weaving, knitting, crocheting, sewing.
Local painter Shirley Babcock sits with her painting, which has been turned into a knitting pattern by Bonnie Leiphart and a cloth by Darlene Mullholland.

Yarn is already an elemental tool in so many forms of art - spinning, weaving, knitting, crocheting, sewing. So what's a few more?

Local aboriginal artist Shirley Babcock is already a creator in many forms - drums, cards, calendars, prints, originals. So why not add to the list?

Babcock has almost by accident become the star attraction of the first ever Prince George Fibre Fest. She is already one of the region's most applauded visual artists with a long and distinguished commercial art career. Thanks to her friendship with event co-founder Bonne Leiphart, she is now the toast of the fibre arts community, too.

A pair of images painted by Babcock have each been transformed into a knitting pattern and knitting chart, and both were used by wool master Darlene Mulholland to make a one-of-a-kind vest. The whole creative combination will be the grand door prize at the June 4 yarn festival.

The dominant image is an eagle head in profile and the secondary image is a feather.

"It was an evolving idea," said Leiphart. "Darlene was doing the knitting and when she was done the back of the vest she thought it would be too plain on the front so we talked about that with Shirley and the idea was added of having a feather for the front."

Transcribing her original painting into fabric form was a thrilling but ironic turn of events for Babcock. She may be a successful painter and she may be adventurous in pushing her comfort zones (she is currently turning her hand to pottery and carving) but she and textiles have never been close relations.

"I tried a scarf once," she said. "It got really big, then it got really skinny, then it got really tight. It wasn't for me. My mom used to make those Cowichan jackets, but I wasn't into fibre arts at all. I bought a sewing machine twice, and both times I sold them at garage sales. So it's not like I didn't try - I tried and didn't like it."

She was fine with taking directions from the experienced fibre artists in this scenario, though. Mulholland and Leiphart gave her instructions in how to paint an image that would effectively transpose over to the knitted form.

"I tried to make it simple with very little detail," she said, at the direction of the two knitters.

"She was so willing and eager to work on this with us," said Leiphart. "We talked with her about what makes for a good pattern. There would have to be distinct colour separations, large blocks of colour, and easily identifiable forms, so you see the picture as you knit and the details don't get lost."

From that comes the dotted grid image that makes a knitting chart, and the more descriptive knitting pattern document. These two items, once they are created, can be sold in stores or offered online to knitters who wish to make their own version.

Of all the things done to launch this first Yarn Crawl and Fibre Fest, said Leiphart, this was the most satisfying.

"Darlene and I were talking about what would be fun things to do for the festival, things to make it special. We are a small venue. The big cities don't have to do much to make it happen because everything they need is right there close by, but for us, we had to look at what was truly unique to our area, and one of them was native arts. What else is more definitive from this area and about this area? I've known Shirley a long time, I have some of her prints. I thought if we asked her about it, she would understand what we were trying to do and do something up for us. First we thought of the pattern and colour chart, and then we thought about putting that on a garment."

The two brainparents of this idea haven't stopped there. Babcock is also working on another genre-bending project for a local creator.

"I'm painting on a guitar for (local singer-songwriterand carver) John Rogers," she said. "He sanded it all down right to the wood, and I am painting a couple of orcas. I can't wait to see him play it. He usually plays acoustic guitar but this one is an electric. He carves a lot of orcas and bears, so he told me he wanted one of those to be the main image, and I was into orcas myself so that was easy to agree on."

Leiphart is also drawn easily in by music, so she is going to present a live performance of a new original song during Fibre Fest.

"I don't write a lot of songs but I do like words," Leiphart said. "Sometimes an idea will hit me. This is, I don't know, maybe a better word for it is poem, but it's called Talking Yarn Store Blues.It's about people who stroll past a yarn store and get sucked in."

To get sucked into the first Yarn Crawl and Fibre Fest, check out their Facebook page, the website or the story in the Thursday edition of The Citizen. The yarn crawl is a passport contest on now directing fibre arts fans to the various yarn stores of the region (prizes are up for grabs). The main closing event, Fibre Fest, happens 11 a.m. to 4 p.m at the Seniors Activity Centre at 425 Brunswick St. Those in attendance will be in on the chance to win the Babcock, Leiphart, Mulholland collaboration piece.