Farm Horizons, September 1999

Spinning yarns, not tall tales

By Andrea Vargo

Sitting around, spinning yarns (really), Wendy Lankki of Cokato and the other members of the Minnesota Prairie Spinners Guild produce woven crafts, not tall tales.

Lankki lives on a 200-acre farm north of Cokato, which she and her husband rent to Dahlco Seeds.

"I've been spinning for about four years and got into it because I was looking for a farm animal to put in the pasture that I wouldn't have to butcher," she said.

She and others in the area belong to the Minnesota Prairie Spinners Guild that was started in 1989 to provide a way for members to explore a common interest.

The group has members from Glencoe, Cokato, Hutchinson, St. Cloud, Foley, Lake Lillian, and Amboy, she said.

Lankki spins yarn from her own flock of about 15 sheep. She has a variety of breeds, because each one is noted for a particular fleece type. She likes the different yarns the sheep produce.

"I like my ram, he is a Romney. They have a medium weight, long staple wool that is very popular with hand spinners," she said.

Black sheep are a color she has had off and on, she said. Sheep are born black, but their wool turns sort of gray as they get older.

"The darker colors are more interesting, and you can dye them if you want.

"You can take gray wool and dye it green, and you get sort of a heather green. It is real pretty," she said.

In addition to the sheep, six llamas, four angora goats, and seven angora rabbits contribute to her stash of fiber.

"Raising animals for their fiber appeals to me because I am able to keep the same animal long-term, and the animal earns its keep by supplying me with a product," she explained.

"The process of turning the raw product into beautiful yarn is fascinating.

"There are so many options along the way, such as different methods of dyeing to produce various colors, deciding to produce felt or yarn, knitting or weaving the finished yarn into an article of clothing. It never gets boring," she said.

The process of turning raw wool, or any other type of fur or hair, into a usable product is essentially the same, she said.

The fiber is first soaked in soap and water several times for a least 15 minutes each time. Then it is set out to dry for a least one week.

Cleaning wool is a delicate operation. If you handle it too aggressively when it is wet, the fibers will felt or mat together, said Lankki.

Dry wool is then carded. This is a method of brushing or combing the wool so that all of the fibers are aligned in the same direction in preparation for spinning.

Any remaining dry debris in the wool is also removed in this process.

Spinning twists the fibers together into a long strand. The strands can then be twisted together again, or plied, to make a multiple-ply yarn, which will be stronger and more durable than a single-ply product.

After spinning, the finished yarn can be woven, knitted, or crocheted into a variety of articles of clothing, for instance, socks, sweaters, or mittens, as well as things like afghans, shawls, or table runners.

The sheep do more than provide wool for Lankki. They help keep the pasture at a nicely mowed level.

The angora goats produce a fiber called mohair, and the angora rabbits' fiber is called . . . angora, as in angora sweaters.

Lankki is also in the process of producing some yarn from hair from a neighbor's standard poodles.

The spinners' guild meets monthly at the Kimball City Hall, but the members also get together at other times to learn natural dying of the wool or felting techniques, said Lankki.

Members demonstrate spinning and weaving at various festivals and community events.

Lankki was one of several spinners this year at the Howard Lake Community Expo, the Prairie Arts Festival in Lester Prairie, and the Central Minnesota Farm Show in Hutchinson.

"There is a market for handspun yarn, as well as the finished knitted or woven product," said Lankki.

Meadow Muffins is the name of a country craft store at Lankki's home, where handmade yarns, other crafts, honey, and fall produce can be purchased every weekend in October.

To find out more about the guild, call Roxanne Sladek, Hutchinson, 320-587-7394; Mary Lou Bintz, Cokato, 320-286-3246; or Mary Garoutte, Glencoe, 320-587-8722.

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