March 10, 2010



— By

Staff Writer

manda Clark was about 12 years old when she saw a sign advertising weaving lessons, and convinced her mother to let her try.

You wouldn't think a centuries-old craft would have that strong of an appeal for a 21st-century girl, but Clark had always been drawn to the idea of designing and making useful things.

''I've always liked working with my hands and creating things, and I had seen a kid's loom in a catalog and thought it looked interesting,'' said Clark, now 18, of Standish. ''But I wanted to try the real thing.''

She started taking weaving lessons from Karen Smith, who has a weaving studio at her Shearbrooke Farm in Standish. Within a few weeks, Smith offered Clark an apprenticeship, the chance to learn for free while weaving things Smith could sell.

Today, Clark continues to apprentice with Smith and hopes to pursue a career in fiber arts or textile design. Which just goes to show -- you never know where learning a new skill might take you.


When it comes to old-fashioned skills such as knitting, weaving or rug-hooking, a lot of people these days are eager to find out. Whether it's the poor economy or a general movement toward sustainable, environmentally friendly living, more and more people seem interested in fiber arts.

Like Clark, they want to make useful things with natural materials.

In Maine, summer is a great time to start learning about fiber arts because there are many fiber arts workshops, demonstrations and open houses scheduled from now into the fall.

This weekend, Smith's Shearbrooke Farm will host the Natural Fiber and Textile Arts Retreat, presented by Saco Valley Fiber Artists. For $65, people can get instruction in basket-weaving, spinning, weaving, rug-braiding, rug-hooking, felting and a variety of other skills, plus visit the sheep and llamas that provide wool for such activities.

On Aug. 7-9, the Fiber Arts Tour Weekend will feature more than 100 farms and studios opening their doors to visitors from York County in the south to Aroostook County in the north. There will be demonstrations, workshops, studio tours, children's crafts and farm visits. Most activities are free.


Maine has a thriving fiber arts community, and opening up farms and studios is a way to get more people involved, says Christine Macchi, executive director of the Topsham-based Maine Fiberarts.

''We have at least 80 alpaca farms in Maine, plus lots of sheep farms, and that gives birth to all these craftspeople spinning and weaving and using the wool in various ways,'' Macchi said. ''Fiber arts embrace the idea of organic living, and I think people today want to get back to making things with their hands, getting closer to nature.''

The economy may be getting more people interested in fiber arts too, Macchi said. The idea of making things yourself, maybe even out of cast-off materials or scraps of fabric, is appealing when money is tight.

''At the end of last year when the economy was so dire, people doing craft shows were doing well, still selling,'' Macchi said.

Although Maine is filled with skilled fiber artists, Macchi says there are projects for people of all skill levels.

''Something like braiding a rug is very simple and doesn't take a lot of equipment,'' she said. ''So is felting, taking raw fiber and using hot water and soap to compress it and create felt, which can be used for gloves or a variety of things.''

Even weaving fabric, which requires a loom, doesn't have to be expensive or complicated, Smith said. You can buy a loom starting around $100, or make a simple one with nails and a picture frame. Then you can use your loom to weave simple rugs or place mats or napkins at first, and more detailed ones later.

''It's one of those things where people can make what they want out of it, do as much or as little as they want,'' Smith said.

Towanda Brown includes fiber arts lessons in the summer recreation program she helps run on Long Island in Casco Bay. The program has knitting lessons for children as well as classes on making fabric beach bags and baskets.

Clark says she's made a rug that matches the colors of her bedroom. She also makes a lot of scarves and table runners.

''I like the fact that they are practical, that people can use them,'' she said.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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Additional Photos

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Staff photo by Doug Jones Thursday, August, 02, 2007: Rug hooker, Susie Stephenson, demonstrates her craft. She is one of two Mainers who made it into Early American Life's Directory of Traditional American Crafts for 2007.

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Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette, Wednesday, June 23, 2004: Enyeto a Suri Alpaca whose wool is turned into yarn through a manufacturing process at The Fibre Co. in Portland.


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