BY LAURA STANGEL SCHMIDT
Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
Sept. 4, 2013
Mary Donaty is a fiber fanatic.
To be more precise, it is the doe-eyed, fiber-producing camelid species, llamas and alpacas in particular, with which Donaty has been smitten since she was a little girl.
That these lovable creatures, which she has been raising for nearly three decades, also produce luxurious fleece is just a fantastic bonus.
Six years ago, Donaty dreamed up the first Whidbey Island Fabulous Fall Fiber Sale (WIFFFS) as a way to share her love of these exotic animals, and as way to help herself and other local fiber producers and crafters find a broader market for their bounty of top-quality products.
Every September since then, Donaty’s Paradise Found Fiber Farm at 4081 Springwater Lane in Clinton has played host to the annual event.
This year’s WIFFFS is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14.
Come rain or shine, fourteen vendors from Whidbey Island and northwest Washington will set up booths and tents brimming with fleeces, roving, batting, yarns and other materials for fiber artists and crafters.
Alongside those raw materials for the creative types will be loads of beautifully-crafted items ready to take home and enjoy. At the sale you’ll find items such as, scarves, blankets, hats and purses ─ some in beautifully subtle natural colors, others in a spectrum of hand-dyed hues.
“Compared to the rest of the world, raising animals for fiber is still a cottage industry in the U.S.,” Donaty said. Yet the range of animals Northwest fiber farmers raise is impressively diverse.
Take a leisurely drive around rural Whidbey Island and you can’t help but notice the abundance of llama, alpaca and sheep farms dotting the hillsides.
Diminutive and adorable alpacas produce downy coats of hair, which have an interior honeycomb-like structure that gives garments and blankets superb insulating qualities.
Frosen Acres Alpacas, Graydown Alpaca Ranch, Mulberry Hill Alpacas and Pronkin’ Pastures Alpaca Ranch are all represented at WIFFFS this year. In addition to their wide array of alpaca fibers and finished products, some of these farms also sell alpacas and baby alpacas, called crias.
The sheer delight of seeing a playful cria pronking high into the air is motivation enough for some to own an alpaca or two.
Linda Lee of Whidbey Woolies creates unique felted hats, scarves and purses from pet alpacas she keeps in her backyard.
Some of the participating farms specialize in different varieties of sheep.
Sweet and gentle Border Leicester sheep flourish at Jonasson Farm. Don and Linda Jonasson offer their sheeps’ long, shining locks of wool in natural and dyed colors and color blends.
Whoamule Farm raises registered Shetland sheep. Chris Lubinski offers wools in natural colors, which sport Gaelic names, such as musket, mioget, fawn, moorit and shaela. Lubinski often combines her Shetland wool with mohair and sometimes even dog hair.
At Windy Hill Farm, Joanne Martinis raises Gotland sheep, whose long, fine, lustrous wool is prized by hand spinners.
WIFFFS artists and crafters purchase the fleeces and yarns that these farmers produce and hand process them into gorgeous materials, garments and adornments.
Lydia Christiansen of Abundant Earth Fiber transforms local wool into batts, skeins and what she calls “accoutrements for your creative pleasure” for others to use in art and craft projects.
Dena Royal’s trove from Whidbey Isle Yarns, Gifts and Teas includes mohair locks, needle-felting kits and recycled wool treasures.
Of course, to create all this luxurious software, some hardware is required.
Dave Yocom handcrafts wooden tools for knitters and spinners, such as yarn bowls, yarn buddies, drop spindles and spinning wheel hooks.
This year WIFFFS offers three free classes to the fiber craft curious.
Chuck Armstrong of Evergreen Processing will talk about all aspects of fiber processing, from the animals grazing in the pasture to the wool leaving the mill.
For a more hands-on experience, two classes are offered for artists and crafters, or those who aspire to be artists and crafters, including Barbara Seeler of BJS Fiber Creations on how to use a drop spindle to transform wool fiber into yarn.
Carrie McLachlan of Rancho Amara will demonstrate how to needle-felt a cute adornment for a sweater or hat, as well as how to wet-felt decorative soap.
In the end, for Donaty, it’s all about the animals. Her beloved llamas and alpacas, as well as her pint-sized Pygora goats, are always eager to schmooze with visitors.
“I do this for the love of it all, and the rewards of caring for my animals and in return getting back their lovely fiber, which I can convert into something a perfect stranger wants to own and wear proudly,” she said.
For more information about WIFFS, including a complete list of vendors and class descriptions visit Paradise Found Fiber Farm here.
Laura Stangel Schmidt is a mixed-media artist and writer living in Langley.