The locavore movement brought us the term “farm to table,” which points to the many benefits environmental, social, culinary, and economic – of eating food from local sources. The Denman Island Christmas Craft Fair has plenty of local food products to take home or eat on-site, but it goes much, much further: alongside the home-grown yummies we find clothing, jewelry, baskets, soaps, salves, toys, and more, all originating from Denman Island farms.
It’s time to coin a new term: “farm to home.” And the Denman Island Craft Fair can show us how this is done.
Fabric artist Barbara Pryl (known to her friends as Basia, pronounced Bah-sha) is one of Denman’s “farm to home” rising stars. The starting point for most of Basia’s gorgeous knitted, crocheted and woven creations is her flock of sheep, which graze her farm on Northwest Road. The back-story of her hats, mittens, and scarves includes the many hours she spends tending her flock and shearing, washing, carding, dying, and spinning their wool. That stylish shawl or those funky fingerless gloves you’ll see at Basia’s craft fair table trace their existence back to the Denman soil and water that keep her sheep happy and healthy.
Basia traces her love of working with wool back to her roots in Poland: “During World War II my Grandmother used to knit and crochet shawls and sell them on the streets in Warsaw just to survive. She had to walk 20 kilometres a day just to get there and back. During the occupation my family moved from Warsaw to a small town. I was born there. I started learning about wool from early childhood. One of my aunts taught me knitting; another taught me crochet.”
At five years old, Basia was crocheting tiny dresses, hats and even, she remembers, umbrellas for her dolls. She loved it, and as she grew up, her fascination grew. However, she didn’t find the chance to explore the full spectrum of yarn arts till she moved to Denman Island six years ago.
“I’ve been dreaming about spinning since I was 14, but never got the chance to even touch a spinning wheel till I moved here. I had to move to Denman to make my dreams come true.”
Once on Denman, Basia found a community of mentors, teachers and supporters in Denman Island’s extensive community of fabric artists. “There’s so much talent here to learn from. And people are so generous. All you need to do is ask,” she says.
Basia says that fulfilling her childhood dream has been every bit as wonderful as she hoped. In the past four years, she has learned a host of skills for taking wool along the “farm to home” journey.
“It’s a very long process that connects you to the seasons of the year. In late Spring, there’s shearing. In the summer, there’s washing because you need the heat to dry the wool, in the winter when it’s time to stay indoors you spin and knit. I love that you can start with a pile of dirty fleece and transform it into something beautiful,” says Basia.
Basia’s pieces vary in texture, colour and pattern. “No two pieces are the same,” she says. As well as pure wool from her own farm, she uses silk to add light, colour and texture, Buffalo wool for its softness and strength, and acrylic for headbands to avoid itchiness.
Originally published in The Denman Island Flagstone, December, 2016
photos by Fireweed