For the Fiber Lover

Reader Contribution by Laura Berlage and North Star Homestead Farms
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Winter on the farm is that time of year when you can take a few breaths after the last of the late-autumn harvest has been squirreled away for the winter and the before-snow-flies list has been whittled down to wood-splitting and a few remaining livestock projects.  As the days continue to shorten, the focus turns inside to those projects that you just couldn’t quite get to in the harried pace of summertime and harvest season.

For me, that means nabbing some yarn and diving once more into the magic of making a beautiful and wearable object from materials that were once on the backs of the sheep I helped toss hay to earlier this morning.  The colorful wool dances beneath the crochet hook, punch needle, or shuttle. 

Summer holds the magic of growing things.  Winter holds the magic of making things.

And winter gives us the chance to think back on how summer went, what went well, and what could be better.  It’s a time for trying out new ideas before springtime hits and every extra moment is snarfed up caring for baby animals.  When people tell me they don’t like winters, I feel a pang of sadness.  Think of how much precious regenerative time they are passing by!

This last week at Farmstead, part of that stretching out into regeneration time meant taking a good look at how we organize the space inside the Creamery.  Mom and Steve had taken a trip to New England earlier in the month, and they’d come back with an exciting array of ideas, stories, and photographs from their excursions. 

I was especially interested in learning how other on-farm shops were presenting their fiber goods.  Because, just as we’re dedicated to fostering a strong and vibrant local foods scene at Farmstead, we’re also engaged in creating a soulful fiber shed (like a water shed, where the cycle goes around, only in a pasture to sheep to fleece to yarn to project cycle).

One of the neat takeaways from the trip was creating a space that was inviting to the fiber creatives of the area.  Vignettes of yarns in enticing color palates, displayed finished works for inspiration, space to lay out or work on a project, patterns and kits to get you started…all these and more helped us think about the spaces we have here and reimagine arrangement and offerings.

This sparked an evening marathon of moving almost every display and shelf and even many of the tables to transform the upstairs at Farmstead into a “Fiber Loft.”  Now all the yarns are together in a cozy and inviting setting, with a big work table for hosting classes, workshops, or projects-in-process.  There’s cozy sofa space, surrounded by rugs, hats, scarves, shawls, purses, and curious needle-felted farm animals.

Right now, the space is all prepped for tomorrow’s balsam wreathmaking class through WITC.  Ornaments, boughs, ribbon, wire…expectant for the students coming in the morning from as far as Rice Lake and Menomonie.  It will be a great chance to try out the new arrangement with a larger group of people.

It’s all part of reclaiming those traditional skills that families used to pass down each generation.  Making a wreath adds something special to the front door in a deeper way than buying one-of-a-thousand offered commercially.  You made it!  And even if it’s not perfect, it carries a memory, a story, your special touch. 

I learned many handicraft skills from my mother and grandmother—crocheting or sewing outfits and blankets for my toys, making gifts for family and friends.  As I grew and matured, so too did the projects.  Now I find myself teaching fiber arts and drafting my own designs and patterns so that others can partake of that magic of creating something special and unique from something as ordinary as yarn or balsam boughs.

Learn to Knit

The latest project in this field has been creating one-skein-wonder crochet kits from my own patterns.  A fun way to kickstart learning something new or gifting to a fiber-loving friend, it’s a warm way to say “yes” to bringing the magic of making something yourself to this winter’s season.

There’s something so endearing yet so true in the story of how one candle can light a thousand other candles.  The candle of finding intense joy in working with natural fibers was kindled in me by the women of my family when still very young, and now I’m offering that candle’s light to others. 

And yet, I’ll never really know how far those other candles will go.  Someone could take one of those new one-skein-wonder kits and give it to their granddaughter for Christmas, taking time to show her small hands the stitches.  That kit could turn into a hat or a scarf that the granddaughter might decide to give to her best friend.  That best friend could be enchanted by the gift and ask her mother if she could learn how to make something like it…and on it goes.

So, the magic is multifold.  Just as making your own gifts this holiday season creates that space where you think of the person you’re creating for, wishing them well, hoping a year of happiness for them.  It might be cookies, a sweater, or a collection of poems—whatever moves you to create, let it shine into the season.  The receiver will find an extra special value in knowing your hands and heart were at work for them, even if the gift is small by consumer culture standards.

The gift of time and heart will always have the greatest value.  And so, my hands return to the crochet hook, soaking in winter’s luxury of creativity time.  If you stop by, chances are I’ll be up in the Fiber Loft!  See you down on the farm sometime.

So much yarn, so little time!  Thank goodness winter is here. 

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453

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