FIBERuary is a celebration of all things fiber. I myself participate in a wide variety of fiber-related activities as a production weaver and a knitting teacher. I’m also a lazy spinner, an occasional felter and have dabbled in dyeing. Across all these fiberful activities the thing I love most is the community of other fabulous fiber fiends that make working with fiber so much fun. I could write about any of these communities, the spinning group that I have am lucky to be a part of, or of the wonderful dye party I attended last summer or about the joy of watching my knitting students learning not just from me, but from one another. But instead I am going to write about my weaving community, and in particular, about a wonderful, magical week-long collaboration I did with another young weaver, Kira Frech.
People often think of weaving as a solitary activity, and of course, it can be. But it needn’t be, and historically weaving would have been a community affair. I learned (in my time as an apprentice at the Vävstuga Weaving School) that in Sweden each village would have had a loom or looms in a sort of community center. Weavers would spend the winter cutting up rags which they would then weave on the community looms in spring (or whenever it was their turn). Weavers helped one another dress the loom and so many hands made light(er) work. Because of this Scandinavian tradition of cooperative weaving, students at Vävstuga learn to dress looms in teams.

Kira and I became friends when I was an apprentice and she came to Vävstiga for Basics, the pre-requisite for most other weaving courses there. Later, she returned for the Väv Immersion program, a 15-week course inspired by the weaving course Becky Ashenden had taken nearly 35 years ago at the Sätergläntan School in Sweden. We stay in touch thanks to the internet and earlier this year decided to create our own weaving mini-retreat and collaboration at my studio in Shelburne Falls. In 5 days we wound, beamed, threaded, sleyed and wove a 10-shaft satin damask block design and an 8 shaft pinwheel draft.



We each chose a project that was somewhat outside of our weaving norm and which allowed us to take advantage of each others expertise. I designed the pinwheel project in wool (for pillows!) with the knowledge that any troubles I had could be helped by Kira’s greater expertise in weaving wool. She designed the 10-shaft satin damask project in cotton and linen knowing that I spend a lot of time weaving similar block structures. We were thus able to support one another and felt encouraged to try new things.

Because we are trained, literally, in the same school of weaving, Kira and I were able to almost seamlessly move through the steps of setting up the looms together. It was truly magical. We worked together to solve problems along the way and accomplished more as a team than we could have flying solo. Here are some photos of us setting up the damask piece together.

Threading together:

Threading together and laughing:

Taking a break from sleying:

Once the weaving began our looms were booming and shuttles were flying and the studio just felt more alive. A few days later we were cutting off and packing things up so Kira could escape before a snowstorm hit. When she was gone the studio felt empty and I found myself wishing I could have a weaving buddy with me every day!

The bottom line is that weaving in community is so much better than weaving on your own. In fact, even Kira and I together could not have done this by ourselves! And that’s because we borrowed a pair of damask pulleys for this project from another local weaver, Elaine Palmer! It was only by all our powers combined that so much amazing weaving happened that week. I feel so grateful for my wonderful weaving community.

Happy FIBERurary.


Emily F. Gwynn is a handweaver based in Shelburne Falls, MA. She specializes in weaving heirloom-quality textiles for the home. Visit her website

Kira Frech is a handweaver and natural dyer based in Harrisburg, PA. Visit her website at

The Vävstuga Weaving School is located in Shelburne Falls, MA. While the apprenticeship program no longer exists, the 15-week Väv Immersion program is going strong and applications are being accepted now. For more information visit



First Year In Sheep (almost), and Then Some

It’s February, 2017, and there are seven young Finnsheep up in my barn.

They are currently about 10 months old: five ewes and two rams. Most of them have been here since they were 10 weeks old.  Seeing as they are my first ever sheep, it’s been a busy, educational, eight months for me – but to be fair, the education began a long, long time before the sheep arrived.

Reading through FIBERuary, I see that most postings are expositions on pretty specific topics concerning any-of-many aspects of fiber, written by people with loads of experience and practice and time in their fields.  I’m essentially a raw beginner, and I’m still surfing the waves of anxiety and doubt that come right along with the excitement of a new venture. I can tell you what setting up a fiber farm has been for me, so far, but I can’t tell you how it will go from here, or where I’ll succeed and where I’ll need to, um, try harder.  For folks wondering what goes into starting a fiber venture with animals, I expect that there are as many paths as there are people.  Here’s a little view of mine…

Almost three years ago, when we moved to Western Mass from the mid-west, I knew I’d be looking to set up with animals. Though I wasn’t raised in the country, in Minnesota we’d had chickens and horses and land, so I had experience with pastures, tractors, manure piles, frozen water buckets, and the like – enough experience, hopefully, to know what I needed and what I was getting into. We found a property that would be suitable for a small flock and also meet the requirements of the other (human) members of my family.  It was time to buckle down and learn what I needed to do.

I tried to learn in whatever ways I could. There were books in the library, books on my bookshelves, magazines and websites. I attended online webinar series (yay! Maryland Sheep&Goat!), fencing seminars, Sheep and Wool Festivals and the workshops they hosted, Jill and Jim H-L’s Sheep-in-a-Day class (yay! pragmatic and hands-on!), Sheep Growers’ Association days. I talked to everyone I encountered who had or had had sheep.  I got a spinning wheel and learned how to use it.

I tried to learn something about EVERYTHING, or at least it feels that way.  Sheep breeds. Sheep diseases. The structure of wool, the structure of yarn. Fencing types, pros, cons. Livestock guard animals. Fleece processors. Mills. Carcasses. Wholesale cuts, retail cuts. Parasites. Forbes. Electricity. Drum carders. Combing. Picking. Flicking. Sheep reproduction. Scours. Scouring. Netting. Deep bedding. Skirting. Hoof trimming. Hay. Rhododendron, Yew, Mountain Laurel. Antibiotics. SubQ, IM. Drenching. CDT. Selenium. Copper. Hi-tensile knots. Coating. Creep. H. contortus. On and on. And all the while, I knew that I couldn’t really learn husbandry from a book – that at some point, soon, I was going to have to jump in with both feet and make my mistakes and take my knocks.


Getting my infrastructure in place took up the second summer in Massachusetts.  My property had lovely hillside pasture, but no fencing or barn.  I know that a lot of people run their sheep with portable electric netting alone, but I chose to build a permanent fence –  wood posts, woven wire, electrified wires at the top and bottom – and it helps me sleep when the coyotes are singing their crazy songs. My son and I built the entire fence by ourselves, and that is a whole ‘nother story entirely – I can just say that it was a rich learning experience.

Structure-wise, all the sheep would need was a simple shed.  But, for me, I built a barn (had it built, truly), one with four walls and doors that close. So now there is a place for the sheep, and room as well to store equipment and hay. And all of us, the ewes and me, will be comfortably out of the wind and wet when lambing time comes.   Currently, the barn seems really big, but with luck my estimates were sound, and when my flock reaches its full number, the square footage will be just right – Goldilocks style.

So a year and a half in, I had a barn and a fence and a head full of info, but when it came time to choose a specific breed of sheep, I was adrift.  I’d collected an embarrassing number of fleeces and partial fleeces, trying to decide what I liked for handspinning, but nothing was clicking. Or if I liked the fiber, I was finding that the breed was too wild, or too big, or not suited to a Massachusetts climate, or something else that made them not right for my farm.  I’d ruled out Finns early on because I didn’t like the sound of “litters of lambs”. One of Finnsheep’s most notable characteristics is their propensity to birth multiple lambs: not just twins, but triplets, quads, and beyond. Despite my reservations, I ended up talking to a Finn breeder at her booth at Rhinebeck in the fall of ’15. She assured me that Finnsheep’s awesome mothering instincts more than made up for the multiples – Finn mothers love their lambs and will not only NOT reject them (which sometimes happens with other breeds), they are even known to steal other ewes’ offspring.  This breeder assured me that she didn’t put up with bottle feeding lots of orphans, or “bummer” lambs, and that the sheep did the work. The conversation peaked my curiosity, and soon I was collecting more fleece samples, this time from different Finn farms.

And I loved what I found. Finn fleeces vary, from animal to animal and farm to farm, but they are generally soft and silky, retaining both a good degree of bounce and often remarkable luster.  They come in colors – there is a broad palate of blacks, browns, grays and fawns, and patterns – solid, badger (light top, dark under), HST (head, socks, tail) & Piebald. For me, they were fun to spin and easy to prep – not a lot of grease and easy to wash, with fairly uniform staple length and consistency within each fleece.  Some samples felted very easily, others not so much, so there is variability in that, too. And beyond the fleece characteristics, I really liked what I found about Finns as a breed:  they are medium sized animals, naturally short-tailed so no need for docking, hardy in our climate, used as dual-purpose animals (fiber and meat), and known for their very sweet dispositions.  And all those darling babies.  It looked like a good match for a new shepherd who would be working solo and wasn’t getting any younger. I picked my favorite sample and placed an order with that breeder, and waited for my lambs.

From the time I picked them up in mid-June, it’s been smooth enough sailing, I think. I can’t say I was prepared for absolutely everything or knew what to do at every turn, but the sheep have been sweet and easy, and so far everybody seems well. We’ve gotten through vaccinations (oh no, needles!), de-worming (not so bad), learning about electric netting (only takes once), separating the boys from the girls (don’t wait too long!), putting them back together (no fireworks to speak of- seems sheep are discreet), and learning to love hay and put up with the dull days of winter. By late summer, I got a llama to serve as sentinel for the flock.  Chris took to his new job with surprising conviction, and the lambs took to Chris with surprising affection. As our strange February weather begins to hint at spring and the maple trees get going, the flock’s fleeces are big and thick and I’m looking forward to shearing day, even though it’s clear that I’ll need to get better at keeping the hay out of their wool (dribbly llama, indeed).  I’m wondering if the girls will be showing their bellies when the wool comes off.  They are young, but Finns are said to be capable mothers even as yearlings, so we’ll see. They certainly tell me they’re hungry enough to be growing lambs, every time I show up in the barn to feed them!

So I was prepared, to the extent I could be, and I am pleased, beyond expectation.  All along as well, I’ve been making mistakes: doing things wrong and doing ‘em over.  Small stuff, mostly, I think – I’m likely not yet aware of half the mistakes I’ve made so far. Hopefully none of them is critical.  And while I hope my sheep are pregnant, I’ll certainly be terrified if, and when, the lambs arrive in a couple of months. In other words, not every day is easy, and not everything is fun. I’ll be glad when I have several seasons of shepherding under my belt, and when every situation is not brand new, another test to pass. But I’m grateful to be learning so much, and to have great people and resources at hand to teach me.  I’m grateful as well that this education so far has only scratched the surface: it’s headsmacking to appreciate how much there is that can be known, and learned, and done. If I keep the right attitude I will stay satisfyingly busy until I’m dead.  It’s good to have goals.

One thing I wasn’t expecting was how taken I’d be by these animals’ temperaments.  I thought sheep would be fairly neutral: interested in grass, grain, and each other, tolerant (I hoped) of their keeper. These sheep are curious, friendly, and sweet as well: I get tail wags and zipper nibbles, they get their faces petted. I always have help with whatever I’m shoveling, or moving, or mending. I don’t know if this is sheep in general, Finnsheep in particular, or just my sheep especially. And for this, I’m not really concerned to find an answer. I’m happy to be these sheep’s shepherd, and I’ll look forward to their mentoring.  Here’s thanks to the sheep in the year that’s passed, and thanks to sheep in the years to come!

Marti Ferguson

Buckland, MA, February 2017




Professional Sheep Shearing Models
The subject of education and careers has been on the forefront of discussion in America in recent times. Young adults trying to find their way are faced with enormous decisions about where, when, and how to get started on a career path that will satisfy their goals. Some choose higher education, while others get started in a trade. From a very young age I knew that I loved working with sheep. I did many other odd jobs as a pre teen and teenager, but my passion was always with animal husbandry. In a way, I didn’t choose to be a full-time sheep shearer; one sheep at a time, and one new shearing job at a time, shearing sort of chose me.
At 18 years old, I too was unsure of where life would take me, and what I would end up doing to make a living. I was never afraid of hard work, and I had already been shearing sheep professionally for a couple of years. The important adults in my life had me convinced that shearing could be a good side gig, but would never be enough to live on. By my mid 20s I finally convinced myself and those around me that shearing was enough. The title “Just a sheep shearer” has never bothered me. Some people are a mile wide and an inch deep. If my skill set is only an inch wide, then I will keep pushing as deep as I can go. My interest in sheep and shearing has taken me to a hundreds of farms, in 15 states, and 3 foreign countries.
The profession of sheep shearing can vary quite a bit from place to place. The biggest factor is the size of flocks and how spread out the flocks are geographically. In places like Australia and New Zealand, where flocks are often enormous, the most efficient model is through contracting. Someone has to “organize the run”. It ends up being beneficial to both the farmers and shearers to have a middle man. For example, if a farmer has 20,000 sheep that need shearing, they would have a hard time finding the help for this once a year task. So they call a local contractor to sort out the details. Similarly, by working for a contractor, a shearer can count on steady work with plenty sheep. Contractors are often shearers themselves, so they understand the whole process. They will usually provide some amount of training, transportation, as well as lodging and meals. And when asked by the farmer, they also supply the wool handling help. Crews are sent out to jobs, and the entire process is efficient and seemless. Given the amount of sheep shorn in this manner, I would say most shearers in the world are employed by contractors.
In the western portion of the USA, flocks can be quite large, so a similar set up as just described, is used. But what about in the northeast where I am from? It’s an entirely different thing. Though a lot of shearers work together on bigger flocks, there is no middle man. There are pros and cons of people like me who are independent. The opportunity for learning is much worse. There are weekend courses which serve as a great introduction to shearing, but are nowhere sufficient for all of what a shearer has to know. The work load of coordinating and scheduling jobs is much more difficult. This means that skills like communication and customer service become very important, and adds a whole new dimension to the job. Also, with smaller flocks that are spread out, I spend lots of time driving. But I do enjoy the human aspect, and I wouldn’t trade the relationships I’ve developed with my customers for anything.
Aaron has just returned from Australia where he has spent time addig to his skills.  Do you need a shearer?  E-mail Aaro ar arronshearing@gmail.comImage may contain: one or more people and outdoor






Proddy Rugs and “Hooky” rugs

By Deb Palmer

I love all things fiber. I look forward to FIBERuary every year to see some things I may never have seen before, or learn something new. I am lucky to have been a knitter (from age 6), spinner (from 1981), and basket maker for years. I also love to make practical things most of all- I use everything I make for everyday life. Scarfs, rugs, placemats and most loved of all- hand towels.


One of the fiberarts I love is rug hooking. I have made many traditional hooked rugs, where you pull the cut wool strip up through a foundation cloth (usually linen with a very loose weave). I was given a rug when I was born, featured in last year’s FIBERuary blog, of Mary Had a Little Lamb. That type of hooking uses very fine, shaded strips. I love the look, but myself usually use a more “primitive,”wider strip for hooking. Like this:

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Even these traditional rugs (which are called “hooky rugs” in Great Britain, are fine compared to “Proddy” rugs, also known as Proggy, Clippy, Peggy, and even Bodgy” rugs in England, where in the northern area, they have been used for years and years to make a warm surface to have on the stone floors.  The Beamish Museum, located in County Durham, has a wonderful collection. They also sponsored a book titled “From Rags to Riches,” by Rosemary E. Allen.  The Beamish museum site can be found at:    Rosemary E. Allen’s book is available online ( .  For a  great primer on making them, from Gene Shepard, also available online ( Prodded Hooking for a Three-Dimensional Effect)  Proddy uses very wide strips of wool cloth- up to about ¾ of an inch, and the strips are about 3-4” long. A large hole gets made in the foundation (between threads of the weave) and the strip gets poked, or “prodded” through with a hand held tool. There are great videos and blog entries online for different methods. Just Google Making Proddy Rugs and you will find great pictures and instructions.

I make one of these every few years or so. I was taught to make them by Mary Jane Peabody, my friend in New Hampshire who has a wonderful blog, called “Mary Jane’s Rugs.” This is my favorite rug hooking blog. Here is a blog entry from her archives on finishing a very beautiful proddy rug:  Mary Jane taught me to make the rugs without a frame, using a proddy stick- she carves them out of apple wood, but you can use any wide shank-to-pointed stick or tool. There are many types of tools that people use or make. There are also several methods- either “prodding” them into the hole, where you work with the back of the rug on top of your lap, or pulling with a proddy grasping tool. Mary Jane lived in England and learned to prod there. What I love about her blog is that it is about the intersect of art, design, and rug hooking and rug making. Don’t miss it!  (

Not surprisingly, a cat will gravitate to these rugs like bees to honey. When I have been making them, the cat will get on my lap and try to stay on top of it, or if that isn’t possible, go right under it as I work on it!Displaying IMG_0329.JPG


Below is my most recent proddy mat. I made it for my daughter. It’s the second one I have made her. The first was for her cats, Hadley and Hobbs. They, of course, love it. Now, her desk has a cold spot on the floor where her feet are, and she took the cat’s rugs and moved it there this winter. The cats, however, did not like this, as they preferred its previous location in a sunny spot. (They were “hissed off,” as I say!)

So, I made her a new one for her feet, to save harmony in the home.  It is a style called “mizzy-mazzy” in England- a kind of confetti like effect. I used some yardage and some leftover fabric from previous traditional hooked rug projects, and some sale-bin polar fleece. (Weird, I know! But it lightens up the weight and gives it some glints that I find interesting in texture).

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Mine are quite utilitarian and simple. But really, there is no limit to design and color for these rugs. Like many of my projects, they are great users of upcycled materials. You can make beautiful ones out of wool clothing found at Salvation Army or Goodwill stores. I won’t get into the full instructions here- but they are easily found online. Cilla Cameron in England is a well-known rug hooker and designer who does lovely rugs. My friend Heather Ritchie, in England, ( has a wonderful site, and I just love her YouTube video (  Heather is a truly amazing artist and a wonderful human being. She runs a charity in the Gambia, in Africa, teaching blind people to make rugs, and facilitating the sale of them to improve their lives. It’s called Rug Aid.  Check it out!


You never really know where your art or craft will take you!








                                           THE LEAD LINE

Most sheep shows have one.  It is an event which shows the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep.  It usually involves children but can also include adults.  It also  involves a young Ewe or a Whether or other fiber animal.



A most well behaved Sheep great outfits

Contestants in most shows have to halter train their sheep or in some cases llamas or Angora Goats.  Not an easy feat in most cases.   The handler needs to wear an outfit made of wool.  Points are added for home made garments.  The garments can be woven, knitted, crocheted or sewn.


A well behaved Llama and handwoven garments

The contestant leads his or her sheep around a ring and points are given for appearance, handling , outfit and more.


What a great costume  and such a sweet lamb

This is a not to be missed contest as you never know what will happen when kids and sheep are involved.  Many times you will see a crowd of people chasing after a an unwilling sheep.  The wonderful lessons that a child learns can bee seen at the event.  I encourage all of you to be sure and catch The Lead Line at your favorite sheep show.


These pictures were taken at The Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair of 2016




Introducing Weaving

To those of you who are weavers or have skills in other areas such as spinning, painting, crocheting, pottery, etc.; do you remember what it felt it like to be new in your field?  This week four members of the Weavers Guild of Springfield had the chance to introduce some eager university students to the field of weaving.

When I was approached about doing this I was not sure that this would work and wondered why students requested this particular craft but quickly became convinced that it would be worth the effort.  As background, the Weavers Guild of Springfield has been volunteering and doing weaving demonstrations from its inception in the Fall of 1951.  At present, the Guild demonstrates weaving in Cummington, Northampton, Shelburne, Hatfield, and Conway to all age groups and our most cherished loom for this purpose is the 4-shaft metal Structo (images of some of this can be seen on

So began the prep for this adventure:

  • Limit the size of the group to 20 participants
  • Gather up at least 10 to 11 Structo looms (threaded and ready to weave)
  • Ask for assistance from a few Guild members willing to donate a few hours and bring items for display

The planning of the two plus hours – something that would be entertaining and able to produce something that the participants could have as a finished product.  It was quickly decided to let each weave a specified minimum amount of material and then use this as insert for cards.  The next big decision was whether to have embellishments for the cards or not.  We did decide in the end to have a small amount of embellishments available.

It was a success!  We started the evening with a brief discussion of weaving – to find out that none of the participants had ever woven before.  This is how a loom operates, this is how to throw a shuttle, how hard to beat, how to advance the warp, and how not to draw-in.  Quickly they began and continued on until enough fabric was completed for at least two cards each; other material was available so that additional cards could be made.  The intense concentration was a joy to watch.  Several of the new weavers were excited to change colors or add metallic to give their weaving an extra punch.

Pride with their finished cards and many thanks to the helpers were the exiting messages.  Speaking for the four mentors/instructors, we had a great time too.

Who knows maybe we were able to stir an interest enough to create a new weaver or two.










Winter  Newsletter

January 2017

Green Mountain Rug Hooking Guild has been around for many years.  The group offers meetings throughout the year, a newsletter to keep you in touch with events and classes.  And every other year there is Hooked in The Mountains.  It’s a rug hooking show plus a hooking in and classes.   Through the guild you can find people who will teach you how to hook in various ways, be it proddy, hooking with yarns, shading, hooking faces and animals.  Everything you need to know about hooking is contained within the members of the group. 


One of the best things about attending Hooked In The Mountains is catching up with old friends and meeting new ones.  You might meet up with them attending a Featured Artist or educational talk, attending a workshop, viewing all the beautiful rugs, shopping for the next project in the vendor area or having coffee and lunch in the café..

If you have checked out the Local Hook-Ins map on the Guild website, you know we have members spread all over New England.  It’s a great way to find a group to hook with if you are traveling or just want to visit and see what other folks are up to.. They include groups from Beaconsfield, Quebec, the Northeast Kingdom, North Hero, Hinesburg, Rutland, the Mad River Valley, Sharon, and Richmond..  Many people from Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire and New York attend meetings too.

A schedule of meeting held throughout the year.  My favorite is the summer hook-in.

Saturday Feb 4 Hook-in (no need to register) Tinmouth
Saturday April 22 Spring Meeting and Hook-in Berlin
Saturday July 29 One day summer hook-in Rutland
Saturday and Sunday

November 4 and 5

Fall Meeting and Hook-in Shelburne

Details about each event such as guest speakers, workshops, and accommodations will be posted on the website, via email, and in future newsletters as they become available.

Looking ahead….

Spring Membership Meeting and Hook-in

Saturday April 22

Capital City Grange in Berlin


Directions: Take exit 8 off I-89 (Montpelier exit). Take Dog River Road on your left and follow about 2 miles to the grange on route 12 (6612 VT-12). Plenty of parking and it has a handicap accessible ramp.

Speaker to be announced soon.

Register at

Check out the website for further information and about joining.  Everyone is so friendly and helpful. 

Happy Hooking