|Colorful dyed yarns on the Huntsville Guild’s display table.|
5th Annual Alabama Fiber Gathering
Why do you go to all the trouble of weaving a basket when you can get a free plastic bag at the store?"
That’s just one of the questions Daniel Hessler, Brindley Mountain Craftworks, says he hears often from those who don’t understand the art and tradition of crafting baskets from naturally grown Alabama vines and other barks and woods.
As one of the demonstrators at the Fifth Alabama Fiber Gathering held August 10 in Cullman, Hessler noted, while it’s important to continue to teach and pass on the old traditions, "I like the doing."
Using a variety of items "just growing like weeds in your yard or woods," Hessler showed how paper mulberry bark "is good for lashing," and how kudzu vine and wisteria can be used not only for lashing but for the "ribs" of different-shaped baskets.
"Whenever you make a basket, there are hundreds of ways to approach it," he explained, acknowledging there is usually no set wrong or right way to complete a project.
|Left to right, Daniel Hessler, Brindley Mountain Craftworks, demonstrated vining basket techniques. Some of Daniel Hessler’s vine baskets displayed on the Huntsville Fiber Guild’s table.|
Humidity, temperature and the items at hand can all make a project turn out completely different than what you had planned, but still beautiful and useful.
About 5 years ago, Hessler watched a man making split oak baskets at the Chicken and Egg Festival "and that started me thinking." A little later he attended a workshop at a local library taught by Crystal Kitchens and Hessler was on his way as a basket maker.
|Clockwise from left, Cindy Dolan from the Mobile Bay Guild, who traveled the longest distance to the Fifth Alabama Fiber Gathering in Cullman, sits behind her double-treadle spinning wheel displaying some of her art bats made from several different types of wool or hair fibers. Empire resident Intha Rafadin, Cullman Fiber Guild, demonstrated spinning Jacobs Sheep’s wool with her drop spindle. David and Vicki Dodd of the Desoto Guild, Gadsden, examine hand-dyed scarves from the Huntsville Fiber Guild.|
He echoed many in attendance at the Gathering who create a wide variety of crafts when he noted, "When I make a basket it just makes me happy."
Candy Dolan, who traveled the farthest from the Mobile Bay Guild, sat behind one of her double-treadle spinning wheels and told of her often unconventional ways of obtaining help in her craft. She and her husband love to attend estate sales.
At one she not only found a valuable spinning wheel for a bargain price but was also able to obtain a good quantity of silk, mohair, curly lock, camel, dog hair and other fibers to spin.
|Left to right, Crystal Kitchens, a member of both the Huntsville and Cullman Fiber Guilds, demonstrates continuous weaving on a rectangle loom which she crafted herself. Inset, Kitchens hands deftly wrap yarn on her rectangular loom.|
Since often there was not enough of one type to make a large quantity, she has been experimenting in spinning art bats, mixing colors and fibers for interesting yarns.
Dolan is working on improving her spinning by "pulling the colors better" so there is not as much "barber poling" (or twisting) of the colors.
|Birmingham Fiber Guild member Emily Levitan knits fine wool.|
She’s also worked on core spinning where a single spun wool is in a bowl at her feet then carefully plied with an art bat to make an inner "core" of wool which makes the spun yarn stronger.
Dolan is an "unusual spinner" in that "I don’t want to weave it or knit it. I just want to spin the yarn," causing several to note her yarn could be easily marketed to those who don’t have the time to spin all they need for their knitting or weaving projects.
The first spinning wheels were believed to have evolved from crude wheels in India up to 1,000 years ago with the idea being spread and refined as it spread across Europe. The early spinning wheels of United States’ history were often "walking wheels," where the housewife (or sometimes the husband!) walked many miles back and forth as the hand turned the large wheels to make the yarn or thread before knitting it into warm socks (wool) or weaving it into cloth for suits and clothing such as linen, flax, cotton and other combinations such as lindsey-woolsey.
Treadle wheels were developed, possibly as early as the 16th century, with Carol Kroll’s The Whole Craft of Spinning noting the majority of them were of the "Saxony type" with the wheel to the right side of the spinning mechanics and the treadle beneath the drive wheel. Parlor wheels with the spinning parts located above the drive wheels were also popular because they took up less space.
Intha Rafadin, from Empire and a member of the Cullman Fiber Guild, demonstrated spinning with a drop spindle, a method of spinning that goes back even further in history as being an easy portable way to spin without a bulky or sometimes expensive spinning wheel.
It is believed some forms of hand spinning were done as early as 12,000 years ago in North Africa and 15,000 years ago in Asia.
She enjoys spinning Jacob’s wool in its original color because she can make it as thick or as thread-thin as she’d like for whatever project she is spinning the yarn for.
|Left to right, Patience is indeed a virtue as Lyna Rizor, Huntsville Guild, shows a continuous welt on triangular and square miniature looms. Huntsville Guild member Christina Bailey and the small fashionable purse she wove.|
Noting she uses a homemade drop spindle and her wool cards "are actually two dog brushes," Rafadin is a prime example of not letting expense keep you from a craft you love.
While she has numerous goats and makes soaps and other projects from their milk, she is hoping soon to get at least one sheep for the wool, as she currently buys raw fleeces, then picks, washes and cards them before spinning.
Rafadin makes beautiful shawls on a triangular loom.
"I get into a zone when I’m spinning," Rafadin explained. "When I’m working at home, time stops for me. I’ll be spinning along and look at the clock and it will be 11 p.m. and I’ll wonder where the night went because I’m enjoying myself. It relieves stress."
Crystal Kitchens, a member of both the Huntsville and Cullman Fiber Guilds, was one of the kingpins behind the all day Saturday event held at the North Alabama Agriplex Heritage Center in Cullman.
"The purpose of the Cullman Fiber Guild is to encourage and assist folks who are interested in fiber arts. The fiber arts include spinning, weaving, dyeing, basket making, knitting, crocheting, felting, lace making, sewing and more," she noted.
"A fiber guild can help keep handcrafts from earlier centuries alive in the 21st century. We have to make an extra effort to learn and practice the handcrafts those before us used daily."
Kitchens says the Cullman Guild is currently still in its infancy. In 2009, the Alabama Fiber Gathering was held at Peinhardt Farm in Cullman and that summer she taught a triangle loom workshop. The following year several more workshops were held.
Those workshops just continued and grew into the current Cullman Fiber Guild.
In addition to the Cullman and Mobile Bay Fiber Guilds attending the Alabama Fiber Gathering, there were members from the De Soto Fiber Guild in Gadsden (which is said to have an extremely active tapestry group section), the Huntsville Fiber Guild, the Birmingham Fiber Guild, the West Alabama Fiber Guild at Tuscaloosa and others. Attendees were from Mobile to Tennessee.
Kitchens demonstrated weaving on a rectangular loom, which she made herself from wood pieces and finishing nails! She noted she often makes looms because when teaching workshops she may need eight to ten identical looms to teach on.
"They may not be pretty but they serve the purpose," Crystal laughed.
Other formal demonstrations were Bobbin Lace by Carol Timkovicj and twined bag on a frame by Lisa Williams and Monica Moore.
But informal demonstrations and projects were "all over the house" with Walter Moore, West Alabama Guild, making hemp rope dolls, Lyna Rizor, Huntsville, doing continuous welt on miniature looms, Emily Levitan, Birmingham Guild, knitting and many others.
Displays included hand-dyed yarns, aprons, fabric bowls and hand-dyed scarves.
Rafadin may have expressed the feelings of many at the gathering when she noted, "Projects come to me in my dreams sometimes. I’ll pull out the fibers I have on hand, card it and spin it. It may be a year before the actual project begins to take shape, but it is a wonderful process.
"It’s just something that is a part of me. It goes with me wherever I go."
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County. She can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com. Information on ordering her newly released book "Simple Times at Old Field Farm" is also available on her website. The book is a collection of Suzy’s articles, many of which appeared in AFC Cooperative Farming News.