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Arts fair’s teaching moments
September 16, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez

Frank Marquez/Gering Citizen Two of Barb Netherland’s alpacas, Toby (left), and Touche, grab a few bites to eat while visitors see up close one of the sources for material at the Fiber Arts Fair at the Scotts Bluff County Fairgrounds Events Center over the weekend. Barb and her husband Gary own and manage Alpacas at Two Creeks in Mitchell.

At the Fiber Arts Fair on Sunday, the second day of the eighth annual event at the Events Center on the Scotts Bluff County Fairgrounds in Mitchell, Izzy (short for Isabelle) Anderson was busy teaching Angel Lindstrom, 13, and her younger sister Rachel Lindstrom, 11, of Upton, Wyoming, about the finer points of felting.

The fairgrounds show featured scores of exhibits, workshops and at least one demonstration of how even the hair of a dog can be useful.

It was a first time for the sisters. “I like it. It’s fun making something,” Angel said, as her sister Rachel sitting across the table from her embarked on making potholders. Their handmade creations were among the hundreds, if not thousands, of useful items that started as mere fiber.

Just a few booths away, Brittany Wells, of Mitchell, was teaching Justine Wilkinson, 9, of Scottsbluff, how to weave. Using blue and white thread, Wilkinson said the already long cloth would be measured and eventually cut up into kitchen towels.

Wells, who has been weaving as a hobby for one and half years, said she learned how to weave by taking a class at Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins (a skein is essentially a ball of yarn), “from there, I learned a lot on my own from reading books.”

While helping Justine to manage the shuttle (a block-shaped tool that transported the thread to the woven product), making adjustments and scrutinizing the 18-inch loom, Wells reported that most of her material comes from the Brown Sheep Company, Inc., in Mitchell.

Among several household items, she has proudly woven, not just dish towels, but scarves, a blanket, a window valance, “or pretty much anything, including a Nebraska Huskers lap blanket,” on request.

Meanwhile, Justine’s older sister Jessica sat at the felting table with Anderson, both of them making felting balls. Anderson, owner of Kicks with Knits in Glenrock, Wyoming, held up some of the ornaments that sat on a nearby display table, items she made into decorative chicken heads or beads.

“It’s an easy project to get kids involved,” said Anderson, who has been felting for 16 years, and got started by attending a fiber arts fair “just like this one.”

She held up a flower that was made from her dog’s hair, a Sheltie, adding that he was no longer with us, and making it felt as though the item was a valuable remembrance. She’s used other fibers such as wool, angora, and mohair.

“All you do is mix the fiber with water, soap, and agitate it a little bit,” Anderson said. Surprisingly, the fiber bonds together and the ball takes on a firmness. “That’s all it takes,” Anderson said. “I always wanted to do felt work. My father was an artist. And originally, I studied to be a nurse.”

Across the road, in another building that housed livestock, visitors at the arts fair could see up close such natural producers of fiber: goats, rabbits, and alpacas. Jana Schwartz, of Minatare, helped to set up a place for the live animals, cordoning off exhibits for five different breeders.

Schwartz, part owner of family run business Prairie Sky Foods, and an assistant with the 4-H program in Scotts Bluff County, explained the variety of lops rabbits, one of which she petted and showed to curious visitors. The broad faced floppy eared rabbit twitched its nose while Schwartz showed how to pluck its loose fur. “It’s called molting,” she said. “It’s fur that would have been shed anyway.” The rabbit looked relieved and seemed to wait for more plucking.

Barb Netherland and her husband Gary brought seven of their alpacas to the exhibit. They own a business called Alpacas at Two Creek in Mitchell. In her retirement, Barb took up raising the docile creatures, and has now bred 29 of them. She showed how the fiber goes from its raw state, just off the animal, to something people can wear as clothing, a stocking hat on display was something made by one of her family members. Barb revealed that the “prime part of the alpaca is the lower back, which is called the blanket; the leg and neck hair are seconds. The rest is considered scrap.”

She pointed to a ball of fiber made from scrap; the item now seemed commonplace at exhibits. “The birds will use it for nests,” she said of the aptly named “bird nester. They can also be used as dryer balls. It takes care of wrinkles, and it also helps clothes dry faster because the balls soak up the excess moisture. There are all kinds of uses for animal fiber.”

As visitors of this year’s Fiber Arts Fair discovered.
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