2018-03-22 / Life in Leelanau

FROM BARN TO YARN

Fiber artists knitting together a warm future in Leelanau County
By Jen Murphy
Of The Enterprise staff


DIANE KIESSEL, owner of Leelanau Fiber and Dragonfly Valley Fiber Farm, stands with her alpaca. Depending on the breed, alpaca are typically sheared once each year or two. DIANE KIESSEL, owner of Leelanau Fiber and Dragonfly Valley Fiber Farm, stands with her alpaca. Depending on the breed, alpaca are typically sheared once each year or two. The fiber arts are alive and well in Leelanau County.

Many local artists celebrate the process of creating usable fiber from animal fleece, as well as making wearable or decorative items from the fibers.

The owners of Leelanau Fiber in Suttons Bay, Diane Kiessel and Demarie Jones, are among them.

“It’s like the farm to table movement,” Kiessel said. “People like to see the whole process.”

Jones especially loves this process because of the link it provides to the source of the fibers.

“I love all of it because it’s just getting back to the roots of clothing — kind of like eating organically — and knowing where your clothing comes from,” Jones said. “It’s peaceful. It’s rewarding to have the animal, and rewarding the animal gives you a product.”


LEELANAU FIBER owner and fiber artist Demarie Jones spins natural fiber that has been cleaned and carded. Once spun, the fiber is suitable for working on knitting, crocheting or other projects. LEELANAU FIBER owner and fiber artist Demarie Jones spins natural fiber that has been cleaned and carded. Once spun, the fiber is suitable for working on knitting, crocheting or other projects. The duo offers classes at its store “in anything fiber art,” including spinning, dyeing and knitting.

Both Kiessel and Jones own fiber-producing animals, including Angora goats, sheep, two breeds of alpaca and Angora rabbits at their farms in Suttons Bay. At Dragonfly Valley Fiber farm, Kiessel raises Angora goats and two breeds of alpacas, both for fiber production.

Angora goats can grow an inch or more of mohair each month, so they typically require shearing twice a year, in spring and fall.

“I have 16 goats and can’t shear them all at once, so I have an order I shear them,” Kiessel said. “It depends on who is expecting (babies), who isn’t, what the weather is like. Here in northern Michigan, shearing animals too early isn’t a good thing. They get cold.”


ELMO, an Angora goat on Diane Kiessel’s Dragonfly Valley Fiber Farm, peeks out under the fence. Once sheared, Elmo’s fleece will most likely be used as doll hair. ELMO, an Angora goat on Diane Kiessel’s Dragonfly Valley Fiber Farm, peeks out under the fence. Once sheared, Elmo’s fleece will most likely be used as doll hair. Once the fiber has been processed, Kiessel said it can be used for a number of products, including doll hair, quilt batting, home insulation, felted goods or yarn.

“I know how to do all of it, but it’s very labor intensive,” Kiessel said.

Labor intensive is putting it mildly.

Jones said it takes between 12 and 20 hours to process just one fleece that will create about three pounds of roving. To put that amount into perspective, that’s about two sweaters’ worth of yarn.


FIBER ART takes many forms. This basket, created by Empirebased fiber artist Cathy Boissoneau, includes natural fibers as well as handmade wooden buttons from an artist and friend of Boissoneau’s. FIBER ART takes many forms. This basket, created by Empirebased fiber artist Cathy Boissoneau, includes natural fibers as well as handmade wooden buttons from an artist and friend of Boissoneau’s. The fiber collected is harvested regularly as their animals are shorn or combed, and this fall the two will introduce their own unique blend of fibers on their own yarn label.

These one-of-a-kind natural fiber blends are attractive to fiber artists. An artist will select a particular yarn (or roving) for different qualities such as weight or texture, depending upon use.

One such artist is Cathy Boissoneau from Empire.

Boissoneau said she has worked with fiber in some form or another her entire life.

“There are so many different types of fiber arts that I have gotten involved in through the years,” Boissoneau said. “I’ve sewn since I was a young child.

“Thinking back, I have to attribute that to both of my grandmothers. My maternal grandmother gave me unrestricted access to clothing scraps, needles and thread. I made doll clothes by hand.”

Her paternal grandmother helped her develop her skills in knitting, crocheting and rug making.

Since that time, her work has expanded to include weaving baskets and rugs, needle-punching pillows and creating custom-dyed fabrics through a process called “echo printing.”

Echo printing involves tightly wrapping a natural fiber, such as silk, with fresh or dried foliage then simmering in a solution of water, walnuts and bits of rusty metal. The result of the strange-sounding process is a beautifully dyed and often textured piece of fabric.

Other than creating special hand-dyed fabrics, Boissoneau enjoys repurposing materials she finds at various resale shops. She said she searches for old sheets, shower curtains, tablecloths and clothing made from wools and flannels.

“I get excited about re-purposing and mixing different types of mediums,” she said. “For instance, I can’t tell you how many things I’ve repurposed from different types of wools. I get very excited about being able to re-purpose fibers, things that would perhaps be discarded.

“I recently created a whole series of crocheted baskets. They were crocheted and had some strips of wool and flannel from clothing that I picked up. It created a beautiful basket.”

The variety of Boissoneau’s work is astounding.

One thing that gives her pause, however, is the overall investment an artist has to put into a finished product.

“I don’t know how much individuals really understand the value of locally-produced goods,” she said. “An artist truly needs to get genuine joy and satisfaction in what they are creating. They cannot be solely financially motivated.”

“I had at least 35 hours invested in a 5-foot rug I recently completed,” she said. “And at least 15 yards of fabric. That was a gift for a family member. I don’t know what I would have tried to market that for.”

Boissoneau then explained that she netted 33 cents per hour for a recent project once she factored in the cost of materials, which included some locally hand-dyed fibers.

“I have a great appreciation for other local fiber artists — those who are producing goods and fibers. I understand what a labor of love that is.”

Like Kiessel and Jones, she loves every bit of the creative process. And she wants to share it with others.

“I genuinely love teaching and encouraging others to get their creative juices flowing,” Boissoneau said. "It’s so satisfying to take raw materials and transform them into something that’s both visually appealing and functional. I hope to have more time to devote to teaching in upcoming years.”

For newcomers to the fiber arts, taking a class is a good idea.

Kiessel also recommends lots of practice for beginners.

Those interested are welcome to attend free knitting lessons at Leelanau Fiber the first Saturday of each month from 1 to 3 p.m.

From mohair to mittens

Creating usable materials from raw fiber is a process. Animals like goats, sheep and alpaca produce fiber that is harvested through shearing.

Following is a brief outline of how raw fiber is processed.

Step 1: Shearing

Depending on the animal, shearing will occur once a year, twice a year or maybe once every two years. The fiber shorn from Angora goats is called mohair; fiber shorn from sheep is wool; fiber shorn from Angora rabbits or alpaca is simply referred to as fiber.

Step 2: Scouring

Fiber from an animal is generally not squeaky clean, so it needs to be scoured or washed to remove dirt and natural oils.

Step 3: Carding

This step can be done manually or by machine. Either way, wire brushes are used to comb the fibers. This combing process is called carding. After combing, the fiber is twisted into loose, long strands called roving. Some artists will dye and use roving for their textile art, while others prefer a spun fiber.

Step 4: Spinning

The roving will be twisted into a tight rope, which binds the fibers together and creates yarn. A blend of different fibers will create different qualities that may vary in color, strength and texture. Fiber artists will often seek out particular qualities based on specific needs.

Step 5: Knitting / Weaving

The final step of the process. Yarn can be knitted into a variety of products, including sweaters, hats, mittens, scarves and more.

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