Simone LeBlanc is the only Fort Frances resident to join the recent cohort of the One Year, One Outfit (OYOO) challenge, producing clothing and accessories made from locally-sourced fibre. Her work will be featured at the Manitoba Fibre Festival later this year in Winnipeg.
“OYOO is a slow fashion journey,” LeBlanc said. “Slow fashion focuses on local sources, ethical practices, and the creation of long-lasting garments. By taking the time to really learn and understand where our clothing and textiles come from, there is a greater appreciation and mindfulness of the labour and resources that go into the clothing we wear every day.”
Based on the idea originating from Rebecca Burgess, OYOO participants were challenged to create three pieces of clothing, adornments or accessories made of fibre that was grown, woven, and sewn within their region.
The challenge started in April 2022 and ended May 5, 2023. This is the second year for the Pembina Fibreshed OYOO challenge. Participants had to be located within approximately 200 miles of the Pembina River in Manitoba.
As owner of Birch Bark Yarns, a small business selling hand-dyed and hand-spun yarn, LeBlanc had years of experience using local and natural fibres.
She challenged herself to learn more about the craft and became the only participant from Fort Frances.
“I thought I’d throw my name in and see what happens,” she said, adding that most participants were from Manitoba.
LeBlanc’s final contribution included five items: a wool tank top, a wool cardigan, a hat made of pine needles and basswood bark, a belt made of birch bark and ash wood, and earmuffs made from rabbit, wool, and birchwood.
“The OYOO participants met monthly throughout the past year via Zoom. This was an opportunity to exchange ideas and discuss challenges, show everyone any works in progress and encourage each other along,” she said.
LeBlanc started out by spinning natural black and natural white wool purchased from a producer in Manitoba and also cleaned and spun wool sourced from the Rainy River District.
“Meanwhile I also wanted to experiment with some unconventional materials, and that is how the pine needle hat came to be. I knew I wanted to do something with birchbark. I attempted to make birchbark shoes, with no success. Instead I wove a belt out of birchbark,” she said.
“During the year, I grew flax and began processing it into linen. I didn’t have enough to make anything significant with it. I plan to grow flax again and hope to have a linen garment in the 2024 challenge. I also experimented with basswood. The bark, after retting, turns into long stands that can be spun. I hope to be able to make a garment from this one day as well,” she said.
Describing the process of creating her wool garments, LeBlanc said that the tank top was made of naturally-dyed yarn, and the hand-spun wool was sourced from the Rainy River District.
“The wool tank top was knit with a combination of naturally dyed yarn purchased from indie dyer Sunflower Knits (naturally-dyed Pembina Rambouillet with marigolds, onion skins and fresh leaf indigo) and hand-spun yarn wool sourced from wool from Louise Bliss’s sheep from Emo, Ontario,” LeBlanc said.
“The second wool garment was a cardigan knit fair-isle style from roving that she handspun (Shetland & mohair) from Prairies Edge Farm as well as a bit of white wool from sheep from Angel Lows sheep, in Stratton, Ontario. The buttons were handmade with clay from my front yard and kilned in a pit fire,” she said.
For the hat made of pine needles and basswood bark, LeBlanc collected pine needles from her neighbours’ trees, using “coiling,” a common basketry technique, to shape the needles into a hat and brim. After, she said she “trimmed the hat with a ribbon made of basswood fibre, retted and then naturally dyed with beets to give it a pink hue.”
Creating the belt made of birchbark and ash wood required a bit of research and experimenting, she said. “I knew I wanted to do something with birch bark.”
LeBlanc decided to weave a belt using strips of birch bark, a common Finnish form of weaving usually used for making sheaths for knives. She harvested birch from trees cut from a roadway after a winter storm, and noted that the buckle on the belt is made of local ashwood.
Lastly, the earmuffs were formed from gifted rabbit pelts from LeBlanc’s sister.
“My sister naturally tanned furs from her domestic rabbits and gifted pelts to me. I cut and lined the fur with handmade felted wool to creat a pair of ear muffs. A thinly-planed piece of birchwood was soaked and shaped to create a headband for the ear muffs,” she said.
LeBlanc said her work will be featured at the Manitoba Fibre Festival, an annual event connecting local fibre farmers with the crafting community. “There is a curated fibre art show, workshops, and a wonderful market,” she said.
The festival takes place in Winnipeg on Sept. 8 and 9, 2023, at Red River Exhibition Place, gathering a community of “fashion activists” who encourage the production of long-lasting garments made from local sources.