Meeting the Makers


While I hear it’s snowing inches and inches in Saint Paul, I’m here visiting my sister, Maureen, in Iowa City where it’s still fall. I’ve been taking advantage of my last opportunity this year to collect leaves to press and keep for winter eco printing. Before I left home I laid out two silk scarves and a felted hat and simmered them in black walnut dye and brought the packages here to Iowa City to cure and dry. Yesterday as we unwrapped them it felt like opening a surprise gift. You never quite know exactly what you’re going to get.

Friday morning, while browsing in an Iowa City yarn shop, I learned about Fae Ridge Farm – a sheep farm not far from Maureen’s house. Saturday we drove out there and I was thrilled to discover, nestled into a converted ice house, a beautiful abundance of lovely hand-dyed wool batt. Janette Ryan-Busch, the owner of the farm, had not only dyed the roving but is also an accomplished eco-dyer. She had several three-ring notebooks filled with color swatches she had dyed using plant material. The array of colors and shades was a revelation to me! She had kept careful notes on what each dye bath had produced and had experimented with various fabrics. Janette offers summer retreats on learning to eco dye and is planning to begin offering regular open lab dye sessions. If only I lived closer! But you can be sure I’ll be there next summer for one of her retreats.

After spending my small fortune on wool batt for felting and flax and  roving to try out as surface texture, Maureen and I went out to visit the sheep that had graciously grown the wool I had just purchased. In the pasture a black and a white alpaca resided as well. At first they all perked up and looked my way but once they discovered I had nothing for them to eat they wandered off to a safe distance. It was a beautiful sunny day and standing there looking over the countryside near my hometown I felt so joyful. I love how felting has connected me with a handful of sheep farmers and has taken me out into the countryside to search out unique wool and has enabled me to meet the producers, human and animal, of the fibers which I use. And as one thing leads to another, felting has led me to eco dying and printing and yet another way to welcome nature into my city life.

This winter I’ll plan my dye garden for next spring and research and plan ahead for spring wool harvest festivals to attend. I’ll dig out those leaves from between the pages of heavy books and continue to try my hand at creating art from wool and eco dyes and prints, bringing back a bit of summer and fall. And when I look out upon the cold and snow I’ll try to remember standing in that Iowa field on a sunny late autumn day, near the sheep that gave of their wool so that I could make beautiful things which bring joy to others.