Passion for Fiber Arts
by Kathleen Schwartz
Few people have a passion they can experience full-time. Even fewer find two passions in a lifetime. A rare few weave two passions of different spectrums into a profession. Kate Larson is such an individual.
Her journey, from growing up on a rural Delaware County farm to traveling the world learning and sharing her art, has been circular in nature.
“For me, it’s the arc in my art,” Kate says. “I moved back to my family farm. My sheep graze in a field that my great-great-grandfather cleared the trees from.
“The grass that grows on that land is feeding my sheep. I help my sheep give birth, to give lambs that produce fleece that I turn into my art.”
Kate has always loved sheep, has always been intrigued with them. At Purdue, she studied animal science first and became interested in soil chemistry, spending her free time in art museums and reading books.
“While I was finishing up at Purdue, I bought some yarn and some needles, and I taught myself to knit. I started taking spinning classes, and I just knew that was what I wanted to do,“ remembers Kate.
Once her mind was made up, she sought avenues for learning.
“It’s hard to learn on your own. I started taking classes in Morganstown,” Kate says. “I found a wonderful mentor that really helped inspire me to learn more.”
She traveled to take more classes and studied under different hand spinners and knitters. Kate even traveled to Estonia.
“I have a combination of studying under different people, but also a lot of self-study,” Kate admits. “I really learn the best by doing it myself and experimenting with different techniques.”
Fiber art pulled all her interests together – sheep, science, agriculture, ecology, art and culture.
“I traveled to all these wonderful places and learned about how they use the landscape to create art and all the things that they need to live,” Kate remarks. “What I love most of all is sharing that with other people, watching them make it their own, as well.”
Ten years ago, Kate returned to her family farm.
“I really wanted to pick my own breed of sheep. I wanted an animal that really did well on grass, receiving very little grain,” Kate explains. “I am a fairly small person, so I wanted a sheep that was more my size. So, I chose Border Leicesters.”
Her flock today numbers 50 and supplies plenty of wool to use in her creations. Besides her husband, she seeks help from a shearer – a collaboration that works for both.
“I have a wonderful shearer, Lisa Truman, and I am lucky to say, I have a shearer who is also a hand spinner,” Kate says.
After shearing comes preparing the wool. Using both traditional and modern dyes, Kate creates a wide variety of colors. Indiana’s native black walnut provides a deep rich brown, and synthetic dyes allow for any color desired.
Once the yarn color has been chosen, the spinning begins. Using her own wool, as well as others from across the nation, Kate creates the yarn that knitters seek.
“I am very interested in ethnic textile traditions, and those are always evolving and changing,” Kate adds. “What I like is interpreting older techniques and traditions with my own wool. Transforming those older techniques and mixing them with mine, making it very much my own.”
When asked about spinning wheels, Kate says, with a twinkle in her voice, “Often, people tell you they multiply in the dark. I have four. My husband and I built an intentionally small home – I can have only so many wheels.”
Early in her career she started selling home-spun yarn and knitted items. “I quickly found in order to make a living, it was best for me to write and teach others about what I do.”
Kate has produced DVDs on hand spinning and a 2015 book titled The Practical Guide to Wool. She also invented a creativity binder for spinners to fill with their own creative fiber ideas. All these and more are available on Kate’s website.
“I feel a lot of spinners I know don’t think of themselves as artists,” says Kate. “They are creative, and they have the raw materials. Whenever you do that creative work, it makes you an artist.
“I have been on a mission for a few years to make crafters feel more empowered in their work and assure them that their work matters – to take pride in their art.”
To accomplish this mission, she offers classes and workshops on her craft. Kate will be appearing at the Jay County Fiber Arts Festival on March 10th and 11th at the Jay Community Center in Portland.
Teaching seems to come naturally to her. This past year, she traveled to 14 different festivals in 10 states. When she’s not on the road, you can find Kate teaching at the Trading Post in Pendleton.
“It’s a wonderful experience. It is a collaborative share of ideas. Teaching is creating, and creating is teaching. So, to me it is the arc of it. I get to feel I am effecting positive change in the world,” explains Kate.
What does the future hold for Kate?
“I see myself with more sheep,” she says. “I hope that I keep growing as an artist and a teacher, and continue to travel.”
We hope so, too. The world needs artists who combine their passions with their ability to instruct and mentor others.
Kate Larson Textiles