The Pagosa Fiber Festival supports the rural way of life

Where can you take the entire family for a weekend of activities that are fun, educational, provide a variety of tasty food and cost a mere $1 for adults, with kids under 12 free?

Try the eighth annual Pagosa Fiber Festival, to be held this weekend in Town Park. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

If you are interested in taking a fiber arts workshop, a list of opportunities appears later in this article and you can drop in at the community center on Thursday and Friday (May 28-29) and register for your choice.

The annual festival-sponsored Navajo Rug Auction will feature approximately 200 rugs and experts ready to talk about the different attributes that determine price. The rugs will be on display Saturday at the community center from 10 a.m to 4 p.m; registration is from noon to 5 p.m when the auction will begin.

The annual Fiber Arts and Handspun Yarn Competitions invite participation from fiber artists throughout the region. They can submit their entries on Saturday from 9 a.m to 10 a.m in the vendor tent. Judging begins at 10:30 a.m. Prizes and ribbons will be awarded. With these events, spectators will see the ultimate in creative and beautiful garments, and home accessories and yarns.

The livestock tent offers special activities for kids as well a variety of animals to enjoy. In the vendor tent, participants will find all kinds of wonderful handmade fashions and home accessories to touch and possibly purchase.

Drawings will be held throughout the two days, allowing visitors to go home with prized hand-crafted articles of every description. Proceeds from ticket sales will benefit Wright’s Alpaca and Fiber Animal Rescue as well as provide workshop scholarships in 2010.

Fiber Arts workshops are offered Thursday and Friday at the community center. Drop-ins are welcome. The list of workshops is long and varied: World of Color-Yarn Design by Inspiration (Ruth Baldwin); Crochet a Silk Flower Neck Warmer (Tina Valles); Knitting with Beads/Japanese Kuhmihimo Braiding (Judy Ditmore); Wet Felting a Hat (Lois Burbach); Two/Handed/Two Color Knitting (Diane Braun); Long Wool Spinning (Diane Braun); Navajo Weaving Boot Camp (Mary Walker); Beginning Spinning (Linda Smith); Wet Felting a Nuno Scarf (Lois Burbach); Yarn Dyeing (Pam Ramsey); Needle Felting a Bear (Kim Perkins); Sculptural Knitting of the Southwest (Ellen Sibelius). Information and applications are available online.

The educational value of all this effort and activity is clear. Fair-goers have an enjoyable opportunity to learn about a variety of fiber animals and the wonderful and useful products made from their fiber as well as how to work with the fiber In addition to the educational value, the festival Web site,, reminds us that the Fiber Festival supports:

• the efforts of a growing cottage industry involved in fiber-related businesses — spinning, weaving, knitting, felting, crochet, etc.;

• the efforts to preserve a rural lifestyle and landscape by providing the small livestock raisers a venue to promote their product.

The best way to understand these ideas is to examine the lives of a couple of people who have been involved with the festival for several years as vendors: Brenda Wanket and Nancy Wilson. Both women are a part of the “growing cottage industry.”

Brenda lives the “rural life style” because she love it and Nancy’s goal is to relocate to this rural area as soon as possible.

Nancy Wilson has been a vendor at the Pagosa Fiber Festival since 2005 and she loves it. She and her husband, Chris, are so drawn to Pagosa Springs that they will move from Camp Verde, Ariz., as soon as they find the right property for their 16 llamas, three alpacas, six Shetland sheep and themselves.

Before Camp Verde, Nancy and Chris lived in Phoenix. In fact, it was when they lived in central Phoenix in 1988 that they began acquiring llamas. It was during a backpacking trip to Colorado that they realized how useful llamas could be to lighten the load; despite a complete lack of livestock experience, very soon they had two of them in the backyard. To exercise the llamas, Nancy and Chris would load them into their van (to their neighbor’s amusement) and take them out to the canal banks for walks where amused runners and walkers would comment on the “interesting looking dogs” they were walking.

Nancy had an “aha” moment shortly after getting their first two llamas. “There’s fiber on these animals; I need to learn to spin!” And so she did. One class in how to spin and a second one in how to spin alpaca and llamas fiber, specifically — this last one from the well known teacher and author, Chris Switzer — and Nancy was on her way to creating fiber artistry.

With an educational background in textiles and clothing, working with animal fiber was a natural next step. Nancy’s learning method? “Spend 15 minutes a day spinning and then stop; that way you make some progress before you get frustrated and your brain continues without any effort on your part to process what you have learned.”

Once they decided to breed llamas, they moved out of central Phoenix to Camp Verde in central Arizona. Here Nancy shears her own llamas and alpacas but outsources the sheep shearing. Shearing she learned by doing and she does it inside the trailer with hand shears. This method has its advantages and disadvantages — the critters can’t go very far but Nancy often finds herself bruised from rather forceful encounters with the trailer’s sides.

Since she also works full-time in the Human Resources Department at the City of Sedona, Nancy must forgo processing her own fiber: instead, she sends it to Mountain High Fiber Ladies in Pagosa Springs for processing into roving ready for her to spin. Often she will have the fiber blended with wool, mohair, or soy silk to get more interesting effects.

An avid knitter, Nancy enjoys using her handspun yarn for lovely one of a kind hats and scarves. She also enjoys dyeing the fiber, most recently using a crockpot as her vat. She is a member of both the Mountain Spinners and Weavers Guild in Prescott, AZ as well as the Verde Valley Weavers and Spinners Guild in Sedona. She also is a vendor at several other fiber events including the Farmer’s Market in Camp Verde. She loves coming to Pagosa any chance she gets, but the festival is always an extra special occasion.

A look now at someone who is exactly where she wants to be. The best day of Brenda Wanket’s life occurred in August of l994 when she, husband Craig and their two children moved to Pagosa Springs. Five acres, horses, chickens and rabbit! To put that in perspective, one has to understand that Brenda’s love of animals began almost the day she began; as a little girl she was the savior of every dislocated baby bird and every abandoned mouse. In the 4-H or FFA, it was Brenda who took every orphaned lamb home and kept them in bed with her so that she could feed during the night.

Soon, five acres was not enough so Brenda went looking for more and found 40 acres which she named Leaning Pine Ranch. At about that time she discovered the Pagosa Fiber Festival and discovered a whole new world of fiber animals. Animals that were not only fun, but could produce a usable product. Her fuzzy lops didn’t produce enough fiber so she got angora rabbits with whom she spends hours grooming to keep that very fine fiber in its best condition.

Brenda’s own words best explain this dedication, “There is nothing more satisfying than harvesting the fiber, and spinning it up into yarn and knitting a garment out of it.  The Angora fiber produces a fuzzy ‘halo’ in the yarn.  I have searched all fibers to see what blends the best with the Angora and I finally discovered Alpaca.  I recently bought several fleeces and blended them, and the feel is the softest yarn you will find anywhere.”

Then came the Scottish Highland Cattle, which she met at her Dad’s ranch in Allison where their owner had leased pasture for the winter. That winter, Brenda spent quite a bit of time hanging out in the middle of the “fold” — the name for a group of these cattle. They were docile, which she liked and they had this very interesting long hair. It did not take her long to get some of it and learn that it would work very well for rug making.

The first acquisition was two young heifers and since then she has acquired several more, including, Stetson, the bull. Her daughter Bethany has put the Highlander fiber to work mixed with Navajo-Churro wool to create several rugs.

In the spring when the Highlanders are shedding, Brenda spends hours combing the fiber off of them. They love it and push each other out of the way to get combed. This effort also prepares them for the show ring where they have won several ribbons.

Next came Angora goats, two of them, Nanny and Peaches, who spend the summer with a friend and the winter with Brenda. The goats love rabbit food and are busy producing mohair curls which Brenda and daughter Bethany plan to incorporate into the weaving of rugs. Brenda recently bought a loom and will soon join her daughter in weaving rugs.

In her spare time, Brenda works at the Mountain High Fiber Ladies Mill where she must resist her desire to buy all the fleeces that she works with. She says, “It is inspiring to take dirty fleece, clean it up and send it through the process to find the luxurious end product.”

Brenda concludes her story thusly: “My life has evolved from wanting to be surrounded by animals to fulfilling that dream. I love this life style, and finally I am where I belong.  I love all of it, from spinning the yarn to making hats, scarves, baby items, and felted items.   I really enjoy spending time with my animals and if given the chance to just stay home and tend animals, that is what I will do.”

Photo courtesy Nancy Wilson
Closed inside the trailer with Nancy, Mocachino has nowhere to go while he is relieved of a year’s worth of fiber. Visit the Pagosa Fiber Festival this weekend to see a wide variety of fiber-related exhibitions and displays.

Photo courtesy Pauline Benetti
Ellen Sibilius of Ellen’s Wooly Wonders in Durango teaches a different way of weaving on a triangle loom. Instructional displays will be a big part of this week’s Pagosa Fiber Festival.

Photo courtesy Pauline Benetti
Wanda Couzens-Smith of D & W Fiber Farms in Monte Vista introduces children to the art of weaving — just one reason why the Pagosa Fiber Festival is a family event.