Putting a spin on art

North Carroll Public Library offers colonial spinning and dyeing technique classes

January 14, 2007|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,[Special to The Sun]

Kris Peters stretched sheep's wool across wire teeth protruding from the face of a wooden paddle. Then she picked up a second paddle, placed one on top of the other, and brushed them together back and forth.

"I try to use the type of tools and equipment that colonial women used," said Peters, a Spring Grove, Pa., resident. "It helps me appreciate and better understand the efforts of 18th-century homemakers."

Peters, 60, was cleaning the debris from a piece of wool, sheared from one of her sheep.

The process is one of several techniques Peters teaches in a colonial textile program that she will present Feb. 3 at the North Carroll Public Library in Greenmount.

The program includes a discussion about the history of spinning and natural dyeing. She also does a step-by-step spinning demonstration where she shows how to spin angora, mohair or other wool.

The presentation is designed to build interest in the art form, said Claudia Hanner, the children's services supervisor at the library.

"Kris is carrying on a tradition that has been around for hundreds of years," said Hanner, who met Peters in the 1980s.

"Spinning and natural dyeing are art forms that I would hate to see disappear. Kris is very knowledgeable, and the younger generations need to know how earlier generations lived. They need to see things like how dye was made using mud."

Peters was first exposed to weaving in 1955, in Sweden, when her mother, Jean Lancaster, took lessons. Peters enjoyed watching and listening to the sound of the looms.

However, she did not learn the craft until the 1970s, when she enrolled in a five-week, noncredit, enrichment class at Williamsport Area Community College, where she learned to weave on a frame loom.

"As soon as I put the yarn and the loom together, I felt like I had come home," said Peters who makes items such as scarves, shawls, afghans and socks.

"I felt like I had done it before. Working with yarn and color filled something empty inside of me."

In 1976, she said she attended a class where she learned to spin and make natural dyes for her yarns.

"I was fascinated with the colors," she said. "I was interested in the way things were mixed to make a certain color."

She learned which weeds, nuts and bark to pick for making dyes. She also learned that some things do not always create the colors that she thought they would.

"I learned more about the fleeting nature of dyes," said Peters, who earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts history from Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa., in 1967.

She also earned a master's in library science from Clarion University in 1989.

"You have to make enough dye for your entire project on the first try. It is physically impossible to duplicate an exact color. The colors you get when you create natural dyes are rarely what you think they will be. It is always a surprise."

There is no true green, she said.

"Just imagine your front lawn when leaves fall on the grass," she said.

"The grass was green, but after you rake the leaves it has that yellowish tint. You have to create green by mixing yellow and blue."

Red hues are the hardest colors to make, she said. Bloodroot and the cochineal insect are used to make red dyes.

"I use the cochineal as an example, because supposedly the red coats worn by soldiers in the American Revolution were dyed with the dye from the insects," Peters said.

"So it is an item that would have been used by colonial women."

The other part of her program includes the history of spinning, as well as a demonstration on her Castle spinning wheel - a surprise gift from her husband.

When she spins, she makes it look simple, said Tilly Dorsey, the owner of DAFI Alpacas in Butler.

"Kris is a master hand spinner. She can spin anything," said Dorsey, also the owner of Three Ring Farm.

"She can blend alpaca with mohair, or mix silk and alpaca. And although silk is tough to work with, when Kris does it, whatever she makes turns out beautiful."

Dorsey was so impressed with Peters' prowess on the spinning wheel that she has invited her to do demonstrations at her farm. Peters also gives demonstrations at events such as the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, Dorsey said.

"Kris stands out from the other spinners because she spins with such ease and grace," Dorsey said.

"I struggle to spin, but my yarn is not consistent. Kris spins gracefully and fluently. She is fascinating to watch at work."

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