Chris Liszak :: Teaching in the Time of Covid
Updated: Nov 9, 2021
This week, we are talking to our president, Chris Liszak about teaching felting during the pandemic. Chris regularly teaches felting at The Fibre Garden, her local wool shop in Jordan Village, Ontario. The shop is owned by Alan McLean and John Valleau, who are both wool lovers. They both spin and knit. John is the creator of THE DYEGUY™ hand-dyed yarns and fibres, done in his studio.
The shop is known for its wide range of spinning fibres, and outstanding selection of breed-specific wool roving. Alan and John are devoted to finding the best selection available for their customers. Fibre lovers will love the natural-coloured and dyed fibres, the choice of fleece and locks as well as their roving and batts.
Alan and John carry many natural sheep breeds at The Fibre Garden. Visitors will find alpaca, llama, camel, angora and cashmere goats, angora rabbit, bison, musk-ox, and even yak. They also carry silk, as well as plant, and man-made fibres, such as cotton, soy, ramie, bamboo, flax, nylon, and rayon.
Chris has been teaching wet felting and nuno-felting at the Fibre Garden for four years. She began after they moved to the larger shop in Jordan Village (Niagara Region, Ontario). Neither John nor Alan felted, but they’d noticed an increased interest in felting in the region. They were keen to carry the materials and equipment the new felters requested.
When Chris first visited the new shop, she recognized it had a great space for workshops—a large room at the rear with the gas fireplace. She began by developing some simple, beginner felt projects that could be completed in three hours, and soon the workshops were launched.
These days Chris is teaching new and repeat students. Over time, she has created many different kinds of workshops, such as a half day workshop, a two-day vest workshop, and even a three-day coat workshop. This workshop begins at the Fibre Garden, and ends up at Chris’s home studio, where she has have even more space with extra large tables.
The photo below was taken in one of Chris’s workshop in the days before the pandemic. Nowadays teaching is somewhat more challenging.
Tell us how the pandemic changed things?
When Covid closed us down last March, I had eight workshops fully or partially booked that were cancelled. I usually book about six weeks ahead. By the time Niagara allowed the Fibre Garden to open the doors to masked customers, it was summer 2020. We started planning workshops cautiously for September 2020, spacing the tables six feet apart and one person per table. This gave us a maximum of four students per class.
We ran classes from September to November 2020, and they were all full. Masks, distancing, no shared equipment, no food or drink, and lots of soap and water made it feel quite safe. It almost felt normal. But it did not last, as Toronto region, being one hour away, was having difficulty keeping Covid numbers down, the closures there eventually led to closures all over southern Ontario.
Now, mid-February 2021, we are just starting to climb out of lockdown. John and I are hoping to start workshops again in April 2021. You can find out what workshops are available through www.fibregarden.ca in the workshop section. The schedule will be updated by early March.
Tell us about The Fibre Garden
Meanwhile, the Fibre Garden has survived through lockdown thanks to the amazing customers who continued to order online, by post, and curbside pick up. But to be at the shop in person is such a joy. Mabel (the in-house welcoming canine) greets you at the door. The 130-year-old house with the creaky floors and stone fireplace and floor-to-ceiling fibre packages and yarns and spinning wheels is my kind of candy store.
Do you miss teaching?
I miss teaching. When it was taken away from me (twice) I felt a loss of connection with like-minded fibre friends. Teaching is exhausting and exhilarating at the same time, and I love the look of wonder on the faces of new felters when they finish their first felt project. You can see they are hooked, as I was ten years ago.
What have you being doing in the meantime?
I have been using my down time to create a few PDF workshops that I am now selling along with my finished felt on my website www.chrisliszak.com. I am also taking a few online workshops to develop my own skills and to feel connected to other felt makers and artists.
Thank you, Chris for taking the time to share with us your photos and experiences.