Thursday, May 20, 2010

Central Kentucky crafters look to expand sustainable fiber industry

Two entrepreneurs in rural Washington County, Kentucky, are hoping to promote and expand the county's sustainable fiber industry by creating products from alpaca and sheep. Shawn Malloy of Sunshine Alpacas of Kentucky and Norma Jean Campbell of the Campbell Farm Wool Art Center also hope to "educate others about the crafts and their potential economic benefits," reports Katie Pratt of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

"There's a synergy of working together with the whole set of fiber people in the state," said Rick Greenwell, the county extension agent for agricultural and natural resources. "When you've got more products to sell, you're going to attract more people to the area." Malloy, right, and his wife moved to Kentucky from Maine two years ago, and the couple processes "fiber for farmers across the nation in their fiber mill, and they are developing extensive product lines from their own Suri and Huacaya alpacas," Pratt writes. Their products include yarn, woven fabrics and a teddy bear, right, named the Tucky Bear.

Campbell, left, secured tobacco-settlement funding through the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board to renovate her 1784 studio, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was once home to Revolutionary War Gen. Matthew Walton. The renovations helped provide a more useful space for her to teach community wool-arts classes. "Her wanting to share works out so well with the community, and it's not just in Washington County, we've brought people here from all over the state," Greenwell said. "It's just such a good example to teach people about value-added, Kentucky Proud and agritourism." (Read more)

As evidence of the growth of Kentucky's fiber industry, the first Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival was held on a beautiful weekend, May 15 and 16, at Masterson Station Park in Lexington, Ky. The heavily attended event provided a place to sell or purchase hand-dyed yarn, roving, weaving and knitting supplies, as well as live animals. Alpacas, llamas, and sheep were available to feed, pet, shear or buy. The festival also included classes for working with fiber, demonstrations of sheep shearing and competitions for the highest quality fleece and yarn.

The weavers, vendors and animal owners were generous and knowledgeable about their wares. Unique hand-dyed yarn, as well as locally-produced roving, were abundant. Chefs from Sullivan College cooked competitively which made the festival smell like a restaurant rather than a stockyard. The festival was held the same weekend as the Bluegrass Classic Stockdog Trials. Both dog-lovers and fiber-lovers found a place this weekend at Masterson Station Park.

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