Sunday | April 26, 2015
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Crowd flocks to fiber arts festival

A fiber frenzy occurred Sunday at Aina Hou Animal Hospital in Waimea.

There, scores of people attended the second annual Fiber Arts & Farm Festival to learn about the animals being raised specifically for the beautiful fiber they produce and how Big Island residents spin, knit, felt, dye, crochet and weave that material into numerous goods.

The festival, sponsored by Ahualoa Alpacas and Kuu Home Alpacas, highlighted spinning and weaving, which are among the oldest and most useful arts, along with a variety of other crafts. It also showcased the vibrant community of the fiber artists on the Big Island. Besides watching the talented demonstrators in action, attendees were often encouraged to try or practice various techniques.

Many of the exhibitors took tremendous pride in carrying on ancient traditions and other craft work. Spinning is thought to be around 1,000 years old, and to have originated in China, while weaving is even older, dating back to the Neolithic era.

For Ahualoa Alpacas owner Jenny Brundage, the steady stream of visitors stopping by the festival was just another sign of the ongoing resurgence of heritage arts in a very high tech, digital era. She thinks people are not only interested in crafts, but also want to develop a deeper connection to the things they use everyday. They often find these arts to be a meditative, tactile and rewarding engagement, she added.

Christine Hustace of Kuu Home Alpacas was drawn to weaving because of the technical and analytical parts of it. She learned the art from her niece, but prefers spinning. Hustace now owns nine alpacas, three of which were displayed at the festival, and teaches students of all ages, including children, how to spin alpaca fiber into yarn. There’s a delicacy and intricacy to her work, as well as lots of love.

Having live animals at the festival was more than entertainment, Hustace said. The animals helped illustrate the various fabrics used in the different crafts and the entire process from the origins of fabrics to finished product. In the end, she hoped the attendees took away more appreciation for process that goes into creating the products we have and the people who put work into making them.

At one booth, City Slicker, a large, fluffy rabbit, sat contently on Cathy Perrins’ lap while she showed how to spin angora wool straight from the source. Perrins gently stroked or plucked strands of silky soft hairs from City Slicker’s coat and fed them directly onto a spinning wheel.

Perrins owns Hillside Farm Hawaii, a small backyard “micro-farm” in Honokaa. She imported City Slicker and five of his friends from Arkansas to the island in 2009. Perrins, who has knitted since she was a child, wanted the fiber, highly prized for its luster, softness and strength. She also wanted something that would eat the Guinea grass in her yard. For her, English angora rabbits have proved to be fantastic “micro-sheep.”

At her farm, Perrins currently has 23 rabbits, all of which provide fiber just like sheep three or four times a year.

Annually, these rabbits will produce about a pound of material. Each is capable of producing their own body weight of fiber every five years, she said. The rabbits typically live 10 years, she added.

Perrins explained to observers how these gentle, friendly rabbits typically go through a shedding cycle every 90 days and how the fiber doesn’t need to be washed before spinning. She collects the loose hair by brushing it out, plucking it or shearing it off. She transforms the fiber into hand-spun yarn, then blankets, hats, shawls and other products. She also sells rabbits and fertilizer. Perrins and her husband, Ross, use the income made from the bunnies to finance cruise trips.

What Perrins enjoyed most about Sunday’s festival is how it allows fiber artists to share their skills and know-how with others, as well as gave them an outlet to display and sell their handcrafted, locally made goods. She thinks there’s a lot of fiber on the island, but not everyone knows what to do with it. At this festival, connections and fellowship could be made.