My sheep owner friends, Joan and Dave Ellison, host a semi annual “Fiber Day” at their farm in Pelican Rapids, MN. This is one of my favorite events, so it was disappointing when it had to be cancelled in the spring of 2020, and again this fall, due to the pandemic. Fall Fiber Day would have been today. In lieu of actually attending this year, I am writing about it and sharing photos from previous events.
On Fiber Day, old and new friends are invited to come to the farm and work on their projects, try something new, dye yarn or fiber, visit with other fiber enthusiasts, and share food. Some of the attendees are also string musicians who might hold an informal jam session.
My mom met Joanie when she was the speaker at an event about 15 years ago. I was learning to spin, and was excited about this new connection to sheep and wool. The first time I went to the Ellison’s, I brought my daughter, who was about 11 at that time, to see the new lambs. Living in the city we didn’t have much opportunity to visit a farm, so this was really cool. I was enthralled. I have been back to their farm many times since and have the same response every time.
I have gotten to know many talented and interesting people at Fiber Day, which has made our recent move to the area easier. There are folks who come regularly, but always new faces too. Most bring a project to work on, but some are just observing. The die hard fiber enthusiasts stay all day, some people stop by for an hour. There is stimulating conversation, a variety of crafts going on, new things to watch or experiment with. Usually there are materials and instruction for a project to try in case you didn’t bring something of your own, or want to try something different. One time there were silk scarves to dye, often there is a felting activity.
Some fleeces from the Ellison’s sheep are sold to hand spinners. Many are sent to a mill to be made into roving and yarn, in their natural color or dyed first. Following are photos of the yarn and roving for sale at Fiber Day.
If the weather is nice, the back deck is crowded with people working on their project, chatting, and comparing notes with the other attendees.
Everyone brings something to share for a potluck lunch.
Large pots of water are heated over an outside fire for dying. Many colors of dye are available. Wool fiber and yarn for dyeing is on hand for purchase, or you can dye something you brought with you. There are people around to help.
I always bring my spinning wheel and a knitting project to Fiber Day. Usually I take advantage of the opportunity to use the Ellison’s “picker” and big electric drum carder. After a fleece is washed, it has to be “picked” and carded in preparation for spinning. Picking is fluffing out locks of fleece while also removing bits of hay and debris. This can be done with your fingers, but that is very labor intensive. The picker is a tool with sharp points that can accomplish the task much faster. You push the fiber in one side, swing the part with the sharp points back and forth, and the picked fiber comes out the other side. This tool is sharp and dangerous if you get your hand in the wrong place at the wrong time. One time a sharp point caught on my shirt and made a tiny rip. I was bummed because I really liked that shirt, but also lucky it was only a small rip and not a gash in my chest.
I own a drum carder but it is narrow and manual. The Ellison’s drum carder is wider and electric, so I often make batts for spinning when I am at Fiber Day. The wool in the photo below is the natural color. Other times I have used the drum carder to blend different types and colors of fiber.
One time Joanie had an outdoor weaving project set up in the yard.
Another time someone organized “human lace”. The ladies were instructed when to put their yarn over or under which other yarn. Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of the finished product.
It is not unusual for attendees to have a music jam session during Fiber Day.
Most of the photos here have only women in them, but a few men do show up. Dave Ellison is there assisting where needed, and in the music photo above. A few husbands accompany their wives, and there is an occasional man interested in the fiber activities.
On a normal day at home it is hard for me to carve out a chunk of time for my fiber related projects. At Fiber Day I have left behind my other responsibilities, and I can focus on what I really want to do. This year Joanie encouraged folks to email her with their pandemic projects so she could share them via her mailing list. That is a good alternative, but I miss being there in person. For today I will have my own Fiber Day, giving myself permission to ignore normal daily tasks.