From Farm to Fashion & Beyond: How Fiber Arts are Making a Comeback

Photos by Charity Maness/Fall River County Herald Star

LEFT: Fiber artist Judy Cox holds a rug she wove from the fiber of one of her llamas. RIGHT: Laurie LeBar holds Strudel, one of her German Angora rabbits that she will shear soon to spin the fiber for use in felting or rug hooking. 


By Charity Maness

HOT SPRINGS ¬– As the world changes in leaps and bounds, some people find that going back to simpler times is not only a creative outlet but a fast evolving art form.

Use of fiber as an art form dates back thousands of years and currently can be found in Art Galleries around the world as well as right here in Hot Springs at the Riverfront Gallery.

According to River Front Gallery co-owner Chance Whelchel fiber arts are fast becoming an integral part of the art world. With Riverfront Gallery’s current fiber art display being of wool felted rocks crafted by local artist Joyce Payton.

“These are not only aesthetically pleasing,” said Whelchel, “but some have of these art pieces have also been purchased for people to hold while going through chemotherapy; they are comforting.” Given the softness of the fiber and the weight of the stone, comfort is an added benefit of the art.

Yet fiber arts encompasses a vast array of creative creations, all beginning with fiber.

Local crafter and lover of animal husbandry Laurie LeBar of Oral utilizes fiber in a variety of different art forms from felting to rug hooking. Yet most recently she has taken a hop into the world of angora fiber with the recent addition to her family of German Angora rabbits to produce her own fiber for her crafts.

As a past rabbit 4H leader LeBar is enjoying the relative simplicity of raising rabbits for fiber, “they produce a lot of fiber and I don’t have to deal with outdoor vegetation.”

Cleaning raw fiber for spinning is a daunting task taking hours of work picking out vegetation, washing multiple times to remove dirt and bugs and finally carding to remove any remaining dust and small particles. Seemingly the only worry someone might have working with caged or house rabbits is the occasional dust bunny in the fiber.

“What got me into fiber arts is the enjoyment of the animals,” said Lebar. “I gave away all my angora goats, alpaca and Llama and I miss having the animals and this is so much more manageable for me and I want to go back to spinning all my own fiber.”

Now with her rabbits, aptly named Strudel, Gretel and Schneider, LeBar looks forward to venturing into even more fiber arts such as weaving, needle felting and more.

LeBar can shear her angora up to four times per year with a possible yield of one pound per animal per shearing. Yet, realistically, “if I get 12 ounces I’ll be really happy,” she laughed.

Fiber is just one benefit of LeBar’s mini homesteading lifestyle. “I dehydrate, can, and more,” she said. Often seeking wisdom from those who could exist, if need be, only going to the market once a month. “They are walking encyclopedias of information.” 

Judy Cox of Buffalo Gap also enjoys all aspects of fiber art and began spinning fiber in the early 1980s but soon discovered that “finding fleeces to buy became tedious” so bought her first llamas in 1990.

Now 30 years later Cox is still raising her own llamas for fiber. 

“Did you know that llama fiber is 7 times warmer than sheep’s wool?” she asked. “It’s hollow like a straw and that’s why it’s warmer.” 

“They are so calm and calming to be around,” she said pointing out that llamas are often used for therapy, much like equine therapy, but admits that her true joy is the “fun working with their fiber.” Cox spins her llama fiber to weave rugs, knit sweaters and sell locally at Fall River Fibers.

As a self taught knitter, Cox has mastered even the most difficult patterns and designs, “and this was before YouTube,” she laughed. Now she shares her fiber wisdom with those seeking to learn the art of knitting by teaching classes at Fall River Fibers, from the creation of custom socks to the intricacies of Entrelac, and beyond.

While the art of spinning fiber often evokes a mental picture of an aged lady sitting before a fire, a large wooden spoked wheel casting shadows on the wall as it revolves again and again magically creating yarn, the reality is, spinning is no longer your grandma’s game as both young and old the world around are delving into the luxurious world of fiber arts.

“Spinning is absolutely therapeutic,” said Cox. “It is the most calming thing to sit and spin, working with the fiber.” Cox has also ventured into spinning dog hair as well as fur from other animals with great success.

The art of spinning natural fibers to create ropes has been dated back to the Upper Paleolithic era; 10,000 to 40,000 years ago.

Spinning plant or animal fibers for use in clothing, ropes, and more is a worldwide phenomenon with even the most remote indigenous peoples active in the art.

On a trip to Peru years ago, Fall River Fibers owner Terry Slagel noted that the indigenous woman could often be seen walking while spinning with their drop spindles, a technique of spinning dating back thousands of years, long before the advent of the spinning wheel which gained popularity in the 13th century.

The drop spindle is composed of a tapering rod or spindle and a round disk or whorl. The rotation of the spindle twists the fibers and the yarn or thread is wound around the spindle as it is spun. Drop spindles are still in use today by all walks of life.

With Slagel’s love of all forms of fiber art she promotes the fiber experience daily at her store.

“I teach spinning and weaving and carry a nice collection of locally produced wool and fiber,” she said, but in reality she is more than a store owner, she is a promoter of all things fiber creative, “I will help anyone with a fiber arts questions,” she said, “or I will find someone who can help.”

If you would like to learn more about fiber arts visit Fall River Fibers or stop in on a Friday morning when Fall River Fibers holds an open fiber gathering- Fiber Friends - every Friday from 10 am to noon. Bring your project, your questions, or just your love of fiber and join other fiber lovers.

Fall River County Herald Star

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