August 14, 2013

About

Here is a little chunk of my life story, to explain how I’ve turned my varied interests into doing work that I love!

I grew up in Williams Lake, a mid-sized town in central BC. My sister and I were both pool-rats, those kids that showed up to every public swim, would be last to get out of the pool, and knew all the lifeguards by name. I taught myself how to do tricks on the diving board, and got my first certification at age 15, to teach springboard diving. I followed my sister’s footsteps in gaining all the aquatic qualifications needed to work as a lifeguard and swim instructor, but where she only worked for one season as a waterfront lifeguard, I moved into full-time aquatics for most of the next 17 years.

A year after finishing high school, I moved to North Vancouver to be in the big city, and started working for the North Vancouver Recreation Commission at Ron Andrews pool. From 1990 to 1999, I taught lessons two or three times a day, from preschool to adults and Bronze Medallion/Bronze Cross classes.

I had fun teaching a Deaf student in swim lessons one summer, so I started taking night classes in American Sign Language. After a year of night school, I decided to enrol full-time in the ASL and Deaf Culture Studies program at Vancouver Community College. It was a fascinating year-and-a-half, but by the end of the program, I had developed tendonitis in both wrists and would be unable to work as an interpreter without experiencing a lot of pain, so I returned to aquatics.

My time at VCC also included getting reacquainted with knitting. I had been shown as a child or teen how to do the basic knit and purl, but during college I picked up needles and yarn again, and started to knit during most of my lecture classes. I made a lot of bags and hats, often teaching myself a new technique (cables, colourwork) while working on a small project. I still managed to impress my professors with high marks on exams, even though I would knit through all their presentations!

When I returned to working in aquatics, I chose to be involved in something interesting and non-pool related at least one day a week. This included volunteering as a guide for school groups at the Vancouver Aquarium, working retail for a year at Fanny’s Fabrics, and teaching knitting classes at Knitwear Architects.

In September of 1999, I took a full-time position at the UBC Aquatic Centre as the Head Instructor. My job included hiring and training lifeguards and instructors for their swim lesson program, developing new levels to help their customers stay involved in aquatics, and leading staff to deliver the best lessons possible. UBC is a training centre for the National Swim Team, so I also had the opportunity to watch their daily dryland and pool sessions, and learn the latest on stroke mechanics for effective (fast!) swimming. While at UBC, I was able to continue pursuing qualifications to teach higher courses like NLS and WSI, and became a member of several committees overseeing aquatic recreation and training in the lower mainland.

Glasswork came into the mix as an artistic sideline. I’m a big fan of public libraries, particularly their New Books section, and I came across a big shiny glossy book called Making Glass Beads by Cindy Jenkins. I signed it out a few times over the span of a couple years, then decided in 2001 to take the plunge and try lampworking. The cost of taking a workshop was almost exactly the same as buying a kit, but after the workshop I wouldn’t have any equipment to practice what I’d learned… so I decided instead to spend my money on a starter kit and book, and teach myself! Once I got beyond the terror of lighting the torch for the first time… then there was the terror of putting the glass in the flame for the first time… then the terror of having the glass rod STUCK to the mandrel… and that was just the first night! <grin>

Over the next few years, I spent hundreds of hours on the torch, and my beads went from being murky blobs of gunk to multi-layered pieces of beauty. One of my favourite techniques is called raking, which produces patterns very similar to those found on marbled papers, but I also do a lot of florals, layered dots, trapped air bubbles, and organic designs relying on the chemical reactions created when different colours are combined on the bead’s surface. Friends, roommates, friends of roommates, parents of friends… other people became fascinated by my beads and wanted to learn lampworking themselves, so I got started teaching private lessons in glass beadmaking!

I left my full-time position at UBC Aquatic Centre in January 2006, to pursue self-employment. While taking a program at the Alliance for Arts and Culture called SEARCH, I realized that my true passion, that one thing that made me happier than anything else I did while working, was helping people learn things. I Love Teaching!! I love watching people get excited when they finally achieve something they’ve been struggling with, or when they realize that something they thought was going to be really hard and difficult was actually quite easy once they were given a few hints.

The SEARCH program helped me imagine my ideal working situation, and gave me tools to build it. One of our activities was to build a mission statement for ourselves, and this is what I’m working with right now: “I lead classes where adults of all ages, genders, sizes and abilities feel safe to explore their own creativity & self expression, and to rediscover the wonders of play.”

My current work includes teaching knitting and hooping classes every week, leading first aid and lifeguarding courses throughout each season, and spending a couple weekdays working at Three Bags Full, a wonderful yarn shop on Main St in Vancouver filled with glorious yarns and fibres in wild rainbows of colour!

That pretty much sums it up for me: along with continuing my own explorations in fibre and glass, I want to help you develop new skills in a fun, joyful environment that will let you feel safe to experiment, and dare, and succeed. Please contact me at christa@christagiles.com to set up lessons!

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