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Fiber fest shows home skills still spinning

The Sustainable Sheep and Fiber Community of Northern Minnesota brought wool growers and woolen goods producers together Sept. 10 in Park Rapids.

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Bruce Engebretson of Osage demonstrates spinning wool into thread during the Farm to Fiber Festival on Sept. 10, 2022 at the Hubbard County Fairgrounds in Park Rapids.
Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise
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The secret to warm, dry feet was among the data shared at the Farm to Fiber Festival on Saturday at the Hubbard County Fairgrounds.

“Our goal is to educate consumers, empower producers and help the public learn more about fiber arts and fiber animals,” said Alethea Kenney of Shevlin, president of the Sustainable Sheep and Fiber Community of Northern Minnesota (SSFC). “This fiber festival started because we wanted to bring the fibers that some of the local producers were growing to the attention of local fiber artists, who maybe didn’t realize that they could get some really nice fiber locally.

“Some of the producers were selling their fiber for 10 cents a pound to the shearer, and it goes on down the line. They didn’t realize, ‘Hey, people pay good money for fiber that they can use.’ They have different outlets for fiber if they like. So, there’s nice stuff to be sold directly to fiber artists and consumers and the public.”

Kenney said the SSFC holds events throughout the year, including opportunities to educate children about fiber techniques and animals.

Bruce Engebretson of Osage spent time during the festival carding wool and stretching it into thread on a spinning wheel while making himself available to anyone who needed their spinning wheels repaired.

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Engebretson said he has been practicing fiber arts for 40 years, starting around age 12 when he saw a demonstration at the State Fair and started experimenting with his grandmother’s spinning wheel.

“I didn’t really get good at it until I was about 15,” he said. “I had help from neighbors. I had a lot of good teachers. I didn’t teach myself any of this.”

To explain how spinning wool works, Engebretson noted that a pile of hair will blow all over your yard, but a pile of wool will hold together. “There’s little barbs on the wool that hold it together,” he said, aided by the twisting motion of the spinning bobbin.

Engebretson also weaves and knits, mainly to make socks, mittens and blankets for use at home. “I make a lot of socks for people who get sick,” he said, “because your feet get cold. That’s what I really shine at.”

He said medical patients really appreciate warm feet.

Compared to other materials, he said, “wool is warmer when it’s wet. It wicks moisture away, and it doesn’t keep you wet. And if you do get wet clothes, it dries itself on your body.”

Another property that wool has, he said, is that it traps air better than cotton. “The wool itself isn’t warm, but the air it traps is warm.”

Other exhibits included Trudy Delich doing drum carding, Margo Hanson demonstrating wet felting, Teresa Kukowski weaving on a peg loom and showing alpaca wool products and needle felting art, Linda Johnson-Morke giving tours of her Mongolian-style yurt (or “ger”) and leading a lesson on knitting with locks, and Karen Stormo making rope and a fiber art fashion show.

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Kenney herself whiled away the time, spinning dog hair with only a bobbin.

A foot injury prevented Kathy Belt of Park Rapids from doing her scheduled demonstration of a sprang loom. However, she explained that it’s an ancient technique producing a stretchy material, ranging from cloth to an open, lacy texture.

“Lately, I’ve been creating hairnets,” she said. “I’ve been doing historical reenactments, and a woman never went with her head uncovered if she was married. … And a hairnet keeps the hair out of the fire.”

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Related Topics: EVENTSAGRICULTUREART
Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at rfish@parkrapidsenterprise.com or 218-252-3053.
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