With fabrics and felts, Fiber College forges friendships
Searsport — On an overcast Saturday morning at Searsport Shores Campground, Ellen Mason and Karen Weaver talked and laughed as if they’d known one another for years.
In reality, Mason said, the two New Hampshire women had never met before Saturday, Sept. 8, when Weaver visited Mason’s demonstration on various methods of dying yarns during the seventh annual Fiber College event at the Route 1 campground.
Throughout the event, which took place Thursday, Sept. 6, through Sunday, Sept. 9, students came from as near as Searsport and as far away as Ireland to participate in the classes, demonstrations and functions offered during the four-day celebration of fiber art.
While Weaver asked questions about how to obtain the richest colors for her yarns, she and Mason chatted like old friends — their laughter could be heard from the campground’s main road, which was situated about 50 feet from the dye tent.
Mason has been a dyer for 20 years, and Saturday she mentored the dye tent at Fiber College. Mason has taught her craft at the nation’s largest fiber arts event for three years, and she, like many of the instructors and students who spoke with The Republican Journal, said she looks forward to the event because she enjoys spending time with like-minded artists, sharing what she knows and making new friends.
“I leave lots of empty space in between classes because it’s so nice just to hang out and talk with everyone here,” she said.
“Isn’t this beautiful,” commented Weaver as she pulled strings of yarn from a crock pot. The crock pot held a warming purple dye that was quickly bonding to the formerly-neutral colored fibers of the yarn.
Weaver and Mason were among the hundreds of people who visited the campground to learn, be inspired and create their own pieces of art with the help of experienced wood workers, spinners, weavers, felt artists and knitters.
A few hundred yards away, Kathy Paul was teaching Monique LaRocque of Buxton how to spin her own yarn.
“I’m the wheel whisperer,” said Paul after marveling at how quickly LaRocque was catching on.
Paul is the co-owner of The Merlin Tree, a spinning wheel shop she and her husband Dave operate in Vermont. Kathy Paul teaches spinning, while Dave uses his woodworking skills to make spinning wheels.
Nearby, nine-year-old Lincoln Graf of Searsmont showcased a ball of yarn he just finished spinning himself. The boy credited his mother, Jackie Ottino Graf, with sparking his interest in fiber arts.
“Watching my mom over time inspired me,” he said as he settled back behind his spinning wheel. Graf said he also enjoys knitting and crocheting.
A short distance away, Dee Cote sat burning detail into a carved eagle’s head that he said would later become the handle for a cane that will go to a veteran. Dee Cote is the brother of master Maine wood carver Tom Cote, and the two have been creating art with wood by way of different methods for more than three decades.
Dee Cote said he often makes personalized wooden canes as part of The Cane Project, an initiative that unites wood craftsmen from across the country in an effort to offer handmade canes for veterans, free of charge.
It takes about 30 hours to make each cane, he said, and all of them carry markings showing what branch of service the recipient served in. All of the canes feature a carved eagle’s head, but Dee Cote said all are different depending on the craftsman who makes them. Some paint the eagle heads, others use stain.
“I’m the only one who makes mine with a tongue,” Dee Cote said as he showcased his current project.
Meanwhile, Dave Paul teamed up with wood turner Gary Kitchen of Oakland to replace parts of old spinning wheels and build new ones, and a bit further down the way, Bill Huntington with Hope Spinnery sat quietly knitting a pair of mittens.
Huntington said 2012 marked his second year teaching at Fiber College.
“We do shows as far away as New York, so it’s nice to have something nearby,” he said. “It’s just a nice, relaxed atmosphere.”