Wearable art made on the farm: Ruth Gonzalez cozies up with two local fiber farmers.

Author:Gonzalez, Ruth
Position:Buy local
 
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Mountain women have long used their creativity to produce beautiful things from resources readily found on their farms. And today, modern mountain farms raise all sorts of fiber-producing animals whose fibers can be used to create yarn or felt for rugs, clothing, hats and crafts.

Julie and Dan Wilson's picturesque farm (Jehovah Raah Farm) is one of the oldest working farmsteads in Haywood County. On their 30 acres, registered Shetland sheep, llamas, alpacas, and Angora goats roam the green rolling pastures; all of the animals produce soft to super-soft fleeces. Heirloom Scottish Highland cattle are also pastured on their farm; their long coarse hair is suitable for rug yarn. But, Julie and Dan's three Angora rabbits have the silkiest hair of all.

In springtime, Julie sheers the animals (don't worry, it's painless). She then sends the fleeces to a fiber processing company where they wash and card (comb) the fiber into long, fluffy strips called rovings. Julie hand-spins the rovings into skeins of luxuriant yarns, most of which are not dyed. Shetland sheep, whose fine, soft wool is even suitable for baby clothing, have eight distinct fleece colors that range from light grayish-brown to black. If you find wool scratchy, Julie suggests trying the finer wools (like Shetland) that have not been factory processed. The softest fibers--especially mohair (from Angora goats) and angora (from Angora rabbits)--are usually spun into a foundation of Shetland fibers to create a stronger, loftier yarn.

Julie produces two types of yarn: homespun and novelty. Homespun yam is very popular for its slight irregularities and handmade qualities. Novelty yarn has a silk strand or commercial eyelash yam added to the base fiber while spinning. It's very decorative and a favorite of scarf makers.

Julie also teaches spinning. She taught Sandy Melton to spin in 1994, the same year that Sandy and her neighbor bought seven Angora goats. Within 10 days, they had 17 goats, and her herd was on its way. Nowhere Branch Farm (Sandy's farm) in Madison County, is now home to about 56 registered Angora goats. It only took a couple of years for the goats to noticeably enrich Sandy's 21-acres. Neighbors thought she had fertilized the pastures, but it was the manure the goats left behind that greened everything up.

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Angora goat fiber is very soft and shiny. Sandy creates a lustrous, durable yarn by blending her mohair with local domestic wool. Even though Sandy...

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