To learn more
• Fiber Guild of Greater Kansas City: KansasCityFiberGuild.org
• Weavers Guild of Greater Kansas City: KCWeaversGuild.org.“I provide enough wool for friends to buy and create beautiful things,” said Root, who has a degree in animal science. “I love the whole process of fibers because I can control everything, from my breeding program for the type of wool I want to end up with, to the kind of finish on the yarn I make, to dyeing.” Root, who grew up in Independence and raised and rode horses, is a self-professed avid animal lover. Her segue into fibers made perfect sense. “I was a veterinary technician and then was a resource teacher in environmental sciences for nearly 12 years,” she said. “The sheep were part of my work with students.” Root’s herd now numbers 50 or so, and some of the animals have lived other places. “This is their 10th location,” Root said of the Cass County land she rents. “They’ve lived in Bates City and Lee’s Summit and on the Kansas side, in Edwardsville and on the base at Fort Leavenworth.” Root shears most of the sheep each spring, but some breeds, such as the Teeswater, are thicker and require attention every 10 months. Each animal she raises for wool yields an average of 5 pounds of fiber annually. “The hand spinners in the fiber guild and other fiber artists want distinctive fleeces, which is what I raise,” said Root, who spends at least three hours a day with the flock. It’s 12 to 14 hours during lambing season. Root goes through a complex process to create yarn once shearing is complete. She washes the wool to remove dirt and lanolin; dyes and cards it; and spins it to take out the loose fibers. “From creative idea to execution, I guide each step,” she said. “I also remind people that the fiber I use is recycled — the sheep have worn it for a year before I get it.” Root perches on a hay bale, still cuddling the lamb, and surveys the scene. “The cycle of life I am part of every year is incredible,” she said. “The wool they grow that I get to make into art — well, that’s a huge bonus.”
Root carries two large bags of fleece harvested from her flock into a basement meeting room at Old Mission United Methodist Church in Fairway. Root has removed the dirty bits, so it is uniform and ready for hand spinners. Root will sell the fleece by the weight to members of the fiber guild at tonight’s monthly gathering. The room slowly fills up as other members of the fiber guild trickle in. Stephanie Smith is already seated. Her nimble fingers and the single knitting needle she holds are a rhythmic blur. An emerging pair of socks dangles from the flexible needle, gently swaying to Smith’s graceful movements. “I’ve made six or seven pairs of socks for others,” says Smith. “I thought it was time to make some for myself.” Earlier, Smith had assembled a display of knitting and fiber accessories culled from her personal collection: patterns, books and other tools of a fiber artist. As Smith knits, she nods her head toward the items piled on the table behind her. “I’ve taken most of the past two weekends to comb through my things,” she says, her eyes focused on the socks. “I asked myself if I would ever live long enough to do this pattern or that. If the answer was no, it was packed for tonight’s Swap and Shop.” Smith is a former president of the fiber guild, an organization established in 1975 that represents a diverse group of knitters, quilters, bead artists and others with interests in fibers. Members possess a wide range of backgrounds and skill levels, but the common thread is a passion for the fiber arts. A lone man joins the 30 or so women, many outfitted in fashionable scarves, hats and mittens that appear to be anything but off-the-rack purchases. Some clutch tote bags brimming with colorful and fluffy balls of yarn, needles of various sizes and original works-in-progress. One woman lugs a small wooden spinning wheel and sets up shop at the corner of one of four tables configured in a large square. She threads delicate-looking fibers through the contraption and begins to spin. The fiber artists casually mill about, catching up. At 7 p.m., Co-president Terry Kuehn, owner of Foxy Crafters, calls the group to order. The soft clicking of needles provides a soothing background noise as Kuehn ticks off the business items. “Let’s get through this before the chaos ensues,” announces Kuehn, referring to the Swap and Shop scheduled at the meeting’s conclusion. Each January and July, the guild hosts an informal session for buying, bartering, selling or bequeathing. One person’s castoff may be valuable to someone else. The 2014 slate of officers is read; Kuehn gently reminds members about the nonperishable food donations that are part of the fiber guild’s payment to the church in return for use of the meeting room. Scholarships are discussed, including one designated for a member to attend a conference or workshop. Community outreach, the organization’s website and next fall’s participation in the Renaissance Festival are additional topics. It is business as usual — until the crafters, knitters and fiber artists begin show-and-tell, listed as No. 6 on the evening’s agenda.
An animated fashion show of sorts unfolds. Fiber guild members around the table — and potential members on the sidelines — describe the pieces they are wearing, each made by another guild member or by their own hands. Shirley Ingerly of Kansas City has a scarf wrapped around her neck that she made flying to and from Oregon to visit one of her children. Now the 10-year guild member is immersed in a new creation. “This,” Ingerly says, peering at the length of yarn in her hand that represents a nearly completed scarf, “is eyelash yarn, and it will have a piece of mesh ribbon running through it.” Colleagues murmur their approval. Next to Ingerly is Marci Blank, whose handcrafted fashion business is dubbed Th’Red Head. “This hat,” she says, holding a half-finished item, “is made with glittery yarn and has lots of texture. That’s my thing.” The next fiber artist, Lorraine Stevens of Leawood, is creating a cowl scarf that sparkles like newly fallen snow. “It’s very short so far,” she says. Cheryl Goodwillie, a retired apparel construction instructor at Johnson County Community College and now the guild’s fashion forecaster, identifies the trendy scarf she’s wearing as one made by a member. “I purchased this at the Creative Hand Show and Sale,” she says, referring to the annual event held each November at Old Shawnee Town in Johnson County. Victoria Tramposh shares the white hat she is crocheting, balancing it on her fingers and lifting it up for the group to see. “I made three hats for my two daughters and my new daughter-in-law from Chicago,” Tramposh says, “plus five others, and I’ve given them all away. I plan to put a flower on this one.” Tramposh designs the patterns, sometimes blending them, and never uses the same yarn. “Lots of calculation is involved, including me trying on the hat numerous times,” she tells the group. Guild secretary Lauri Davidson, retired from teaching in the Raytown school district, handles a pile of cozy mittens she dumped from a bag. “I made these from 100 percent wool sweaters that I found while poking around a thrift store,” she says. Artists takes their turns, including Kuehn, who wears a cotton-blend sweater knitted from a pattern she tested for a woman living in Reno, Nev. Kuehn performs a quick twirl to show off the garment’s front and back. “I finished it and then tore it all out,” says Kuehn as the group collectively groans. “But for me it was 40 hours well spent, not lost.”
One item on tonight’s docket elicits contented smiles and congratulations. It’s a recap of the Creative Hand Show and Sale, which celebrated its 31st joint effort between the fiber guild and its sister organization, the Weavers Guild of Greater Kansas City, established in 1954. November’s two-day event featured 65 fiber artists and drew 1,100 eager shoppers to Old Shawnee Town Hall in Shawnee, where they could see fiber technique demonstrations and a fashion show. Creative Hand is a much-anticipated juried show and sale of art-to-wear by members who work all year creating treasures. The fiber and weavers guilds are almost self-sustaining, with members such as Root providing raw materials for artists who create quality pieces such as jackets, shawls, accessories, table linens, hand-spun yarn and more. The Creative Hand Show and Sale is a cooperative effort, with artists required to work a shift during the weekend and help in setting up and tearing down booths. It not only attracts holiday shoppers, but also other artists and those interested in pursuing fiber arts. Niki Fatout-Waltonen of Blue Springs, a member of the fiber guild, attended a Creative Hand Show several years ago. “I taught myself to crochet nine years ago when my son was born, learning from books, blogs and YouTube,” she said. “I sell my crocheted items, and a friend said I should check out the show.” Tonight, Fatout-Waltonen wears a long circle scarf she made from an original pattern. “What I saw at Creative Hand was an amazing presentation of creativity,” she says. “I knew I wanted to be a member of this group.” Part of the proceeds from Creative Hand support nonprofits such as Craft Emergency Relief Fund, Alpacas for Autism and Heifer International.
As the fiber guild’s agenda draws to a close, Kuehn announces the Swap and Shop. Members — including several newbies who have joined this evening — circle the room, browsing items, making deals, bartering. Some women continue to work on projects, and others seek advice on a problem they’ve encountered in their fiber art pursuits. Cindy Brendzel recently relocated to Overland Park from New Jersey with her husband. Joining the fiber guild was one of the first things she did. “Over the years, I was part of the New York City spinning and knitting guild,” says Brendzel, whose husband grew up in the area. “It was important for me to find this connection again here. I joined tonight.” A husband-and-wife team, Brian and Sharon Heimes, are also newly minted members. Brian is a neonatologist, and Sharon is a retired pediatrician. The couple raise more than 50 alpacas outside Bonner Springs — an idea born when Brian, a night owl, saw a 3 a.m. television infomercial in 2000. “The spot was about owning alpacas and the fleece that’s harvested from them,” laughed Sharon. “He was fascinated. We spent 10 years researching what we needed, and three years ago we bought our first animal.” Brian, who weaves, knits and machine knits for relaxation, grew up on a farm and thrives on producing something for people to enjoy. “We participated in Kansas Alpaca Farm Days and also the Kaw Valley Farm Tour last year,” he says. “It’s a great way to educate people about ... alpacas, how we shear them once a year for their natural fiber.” As the Swap and Shop winds down, guild members disperse as quietly as they assembled. Some drift into the night with their art or newly acquired treasures. Others, such as Root and the Heimeses, will soon be tending animals that are wearing some of the most fashionable fibers of the season, just waiting to be sheared, their wool spun, knitted and crocheted into beautiful art.