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Fiber Frenzy

Geneva Miller for Art Matters!

5 May 2011

Farmers across Western Oregon are turning livestock loose on newly ripe pastures. As the fields dry, wooly creatures shake off the winter wet. In the spinning room, fiber artists revel in the textures, colors, even the scent of fleece.

Star Castle Fiber Mill and Farm Open House

Barbara Simpson in her home at Star Castle Fiber Mill and Farm, Coquille

Barbara Simpson in her home at Star Castle Fiber Mill and Farm, Coquille. Image by Geneva Miller.

Saturday, May 21, 10 AM to 4 PM

56778 Fat Elk Road, Coquille, Oregon

(2.5 miles from Highway 42S)

541-396-6416

starcastlefarm.com

In an era of ready-made clothing and mass produced textiles, it’s easy to forget there are still spinners in the world. “People are always amazed,” said Barbara Simpson, owner of Star Castle Fiber Mill and Farm. According to Simpson, visitors to her mill gaze at the mid 20th century equipment in wonder, and say, “Tell me more about this process. Show me.”

Together, Coos and Curry counties boast approximately one wooly ruminant for every four human residents. So fiber arts entrepreneurs are a boon to the regional economy, not just weavers and knitters.

On the short drive up Fat Elk Road to Star Castle, visitors enjoy a picturesque view of the south bank of the Coquille River. This time of year, the riparian habitat supports a host of birds, from local egrets to migrating flocks of ducks and geese. Simpson specializes in alpaca, fiber once reserved for Peruvian royalty. She also processes llama fiber and sheep wool. The electric carders and spinning machines in her mill were recycled from commercial mills in North Carolina. Her operation is overseen by a small herd of alpaca who greet guests with a shy but curious gaze. Inside her home, Simpson spins and weaves by hand. She first learned to knit, crochet and sew as a child, so young that she doesn’t remember a time when she wasn’t proficient in fiber arts.

Spring is a busy time of year at Star Castle, though Simpson wouldn’t have it any other way. “We’re so busy right now, it’s a little bit crazy,” said Simpson. “We’re also trying to get our farm put together after the long wet winter.” She looks forward to the annual open house, Saturday, May 21. Tour the mill, join the spinning and knitting, share in the pot-luck. As Simpson puts it, enjoy “a good day out doing something different.”

Wild Rivers Wool Factory 3rd Annual Birthday Open House

Cindy Schaumburg at Wild Rivers Wool Factory, Langlois

Cindy Schaumburg at Wild Rivers Wool Factory, Langlois. Image by Geneva Miller.

May 28, 29, 30, 10 AM to 5 PM

48443 Highway 101S, Langlois, Oregon

541-348-2033

wildriverswool.com

“I’m a survivalist. Wool is the most durable fiber on the planet,” said Sandie McDonald. It was a chilly, damp mid March afternoon on the coast, easy for McDonald to express her appreciation for the age-old fiber that has kept mankind bedded and clothed for centuries. “I always come back to wool because of its incredible versatility.”

This month, McDonald and her business partner Cindy Schaumburg celebrate the third anniversary of the Wild River Wool Factory retail shop in Langlois. McDonald and Schaumberg have created a demand for regional wool produced by ranchers and hobby farmers in Coos, Curry and Del Norte counties. Their hand spun yarn, made with either drop or foot pedal spindles, is guaranteed perfectly matched and uniform for up to 1800 yards—enough for an adult sized sweater.

Debbie Stewart, felt artist for Wild Rivers Wool Factory, in her studio at Debbie's Hair Station, Bandon

Debbie Stewart, felt artist for Wild Rivers Wool Factory, in her studio at Debbie's Hair Station, Bandon. Image by Geneva Miller.

Schaumburg reports the yarn simply flies off the shelf as fast as they can spin at Wild Rivers. McDonald says she loves the smell of dirty, fresh shorn wool, since the scent evokes the future product. Schaumburg finds herself lost for words, explaining the sensory experience of dyeing wool. “When you make felt with different colors, it’s amazing,” she concluded with a sigh. And their enthusiasm is catching. Wild Rivers Wool features work by fifty five local artisans who sort, pick, and card; spin yarn, knit crochet and felt—all by hand.

Memorial Day weekend, visitors to Wild Rivers Wool Factory can look forward to “three full days of cake, refreshments and hourly door prizes,” said Schaumburg. Inspired by the sunshine, she also reports that she and McDonald have put the shop through a rigorous spring cleaning. New yarn displays make for easier access to the products, and finished works by local artisans enjoy even better displays.

Geneva Miller is a freelance writer. She lives on the southern Oregon coast.

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