Yarn Around at Clayton Community Centre

On February 7, 8, and 9, we gathered to build the Yarn Around installation at Clayton Community Centre in Surrey. This was the final phase of the Yarn Around project, completing a cycle of meetings with various local groups of yarn crafters that started in May 2023.

©Valérie Laporte

In the fall of 2022, Marnie Perrin of the Surrey SPARK Festival approached us with a proposal to create a project to deepen connections between generations, involving people of 55yrs+ to share their knowledge. The Festival was successful with funding from the New Horizons Program of the Government of Canada, allowing us to create a project spanning a year. Thanks to a first iteration of Yarn Around at the Roundhouse in 2016 and 2017, we were well prepared to imagine a larger-scale community-engaged project for Clayton Community Centre. 

In May 2023, we invited members of the Guilford and Chuck Bailey yarn crafting groups to be part of our performance Tricoter [pronounce Tree-Ko-Tay, meaning knitting] at Surrey SPARK Stages where we presented a special version of the performance for babies and their caregivers. Tricoter is performed for an audience sitting in a circle, as if we all pretended this was a knitting circle. As we danced with the yarn and the infants crawled in to explore, this time, we had actual knitters supporting us. They were invited to work on their project and it was wonderful to see the warm interactions between the families and the knitters. Because they were 55yrs+, it was special to unite many generations in our circle.

Alongside our Tricoter performances, we held Yarn Around workshops during the entire festival. We could not have done it without the contributions of our fabulous volunteers. We played with yarn, had drumming sessions with knitting needles, and read books about yarn and knitting. Thank you Surrey Libraries for providing books and lists throughout the project at all our events!

Concurrently, the Surrey SPARK Festival invited Germaine Langan to assemble a special space for Indigenous fibre artists at the beautiful Surrey Arts Centre courtyard. This is where we met moccasin maker and beading artist Elizabeth Walker and star blanket maker Kelly White who were able to also present their works at our closing event on Family Day. The May weekend presentations also included the amazing author Wanda John-Kehewin. Check her website or look for her books through the Surrey and Vancouver libraries.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

During Culture Days, our team held more pompom making in the Clayton Living Room, had a yarn parade, a storytime by librarian Sheri Kling, music throughout by Sacha Levin and Annie Brown, a movement workshop exploring the movement possibilities inspired by yarn and a drumming workshop. Percussion musician Sacha Levin asked participants to invent a rhythm and made the parallel between a rhythm and a stitch – she asked participants: “What’s your stitch?” Before entering in a fun call and response percussion game involving everyone.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We continued the project through the fall, by offering a drop-in program on Saturdays at Clayton Community Centre. A small group of recurring participants met weekly in the Clayton Community Centre lobby, also called the Living Room, and experimented with various “yarn bombing” ideas.

Shama and granddaughter, fall drop-in participant who became a dear friend.

Consultations with artists Diane Park and Jude Campbell, along with the support of Peggy Leung and Sarah Gallos, allowed us to create an impactful plan for the space while keeping in mind safety and installation considerations.

We agreed on creating a call to yarn crafters to create 40-inch scarves of any width. We would provide the yarn for them so that they would be in a specific colour palette. With their donated creations, made at home or in yarn crafting groups, we would build the Yarn Around installation. 

Our Fall drop-in participant Shama created all the detailed pieces that sparked the installation so wonderfully, with crocheted flowers, bells, spirals, and more.

Peggy Leung played with textures and created pieces that added volume and dimensions to the work. Children created pom poms that can also be seen on the installation. Watch a close-up video here :

Heading into the end of year holiday season is a busy one for any yarn crafters. Many create special gifts for loved ones. Many groups and individuals are busy creating warm items for the homeless or supporting some people’s healing journey. The Chuck Bailey group knits over 80 scarves and toques to give away to a local charity every year! 

Come the beginning of winter, and knowing that we only had one month left in our schedule to create most of the needed materials, we conservatively planned to cover 8 feet on one of the columns, hoping for perhaps a second one, covering an additional 5 feet. We were faced with challenging weather, and the cold-flu season. Some of the yarn crafting groups did not meet often in January, making our visit somewhat difficult to organize! We were concerned we might not have enough materials. Thankfully, we discovered The Clayton Fibre Shed and many members of that group jumped on to support the project. Members of the Clayton Library Knitting Group and the Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre group knitted many pieces just during the last week before the installation! A drop-off box was made available at the Clayton front desk and, to our amazing surprise, we realized we had enough materials to cover over 35 feet ! 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Friday, our favorite technician, Dave Brownell, came to the community centre to lift the giant “socks” we had assembled directly on the column. After resolving technical issues, they were pulled up with the electric scissor lift.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Seeing so many yarn crafters inspired me to start knitting. I tend to keep myself overly busy with multiple dance projects and also by cooking for my hungry teenagers. Over the Winter Break, I was able to knit a scarf, with generous contributions from my daughters. This is, for me, a great step in learning to slow down – although not all knitters would agree with me 🙂 Knitting can start filling all the minutes of your life if you let it happen! 

When I created Tricoter in 2016, I was a mom with young children, dreaming of knitting. Instead, I created a dance with yarn. This dance has been performed over 150 times all over Canada in all kinds of settings for all generations. Dancing with yarn and being around knitters helps me remember my grandmother who knitted so many mittens, hats, and socks for me.  After all these years of dancing with yarn, I am finally starting to knit myself. I am learning that knitting and working with fibers and textiles tricks my restless mind into being productive while providing rest and rejuvenation. While my hands are busy, I can focus a little more and listen carefully to those around me. 

On Saturday February 17th, we presented our piece Tricoter within the installation. It was a gift to all who contributed and also to all who appreciate the vibrant colours in the Clayton lobby.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Over 425 people came to the event to celebrate family day. Just before the performance, actor Sarah Roa animated a great storytime in our circle, it was perfect! After the performance, musicians Sacha Levin and Annie Brown played and many danced in our circle! We learned a couple of fancy new moves from children. Peggy Leung with the support of Jude Campbell, tended to the busy pompom-making station and many returned home with their creations.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Diane Park recalled an interaction with a child: “I’ve been thinking a lot about it since, especially the deeper impact that Yarn Around and Tricoter have on viewers. One of the best examples was a girl of about 10 with whom I briefly spoke at the pom pom table – she was making a bright yellow pom pom, and said she loved all the colourful yarn and this made her want to learn how to crochet. I said that Peggy might be able to teach her if she could wait until it was less busy. She said she might do that, but then said that her Grandma crochets and that maybe she’d ask her to teach her! Amazing!” 

We’ve heard that the installation might stay on until September! We’re overjoyed. We had initially planned for it to stay up until March 7th but the centre has received so many great comments that they will keep it up longer! Our dream is for the installation to be installed at other locations and spark joy in many more hearts!

Thank you to everyone behind the scenes to make all these moments happen. Thank you to the Clayton Community Centre team for supporting this project, including programmers, front desk staff, technicians, instructors, and building service workers. 

To sum it up, here is a comment mentioned by a Clayton Fibre Shed member after visiting the installation with her son: “ My 3yo loved checking out each column wrap. He was so happy to see it he even gave each yarn wrap a hug ” 

Congratulations everyone! Thanks for your contributions! And Thanks to the City of Surrey and the Government of Canada for your support in this project.

All the photos titled “Clayton Family Day” are by Pardeep Singh.