Publishers Note: I first met Kelly Agrue of Felting Sunshine a few years ago at the SWAY Guild’s Art Yarn Festival (coming up in just a few weeks!). We ended up sitting together and had a great time chatting it up. Then, the next year, we became accidental roommates which was a lot of fun too! If you don’t already know much about Kelly, you are going to find out that she is a heck of a talented artist. Her willingness to continually learn and grow is another one of her wonderful qualities as you will see in what she had to say for her interview. At the same time, Kelly is one of the nicest people in the fiber community and she’s taken a more than a few interesting leaps of faith that makes her fiber story a very fun read!
Spin Ariste (SA) : What can you share with us about your fiber story?
Kelly Agrue (KA): This question is an easy one to answer, and only because I just completed answering it for myself in module one of The Journey of the Golden Fleece. I actually came to the fiber arts through wet felting. It all started with a wool bowl. I kept running across articles that talked about fulling knitted pieces to create bowls. Once I realized I was a horrible knitter (I’m even a nifty Knitter flunky), I had to figure out another way to make this wool bowl. It was becoming a slight obsession! Some how, some where, I stumbled across a web link to a wet felted “vessel”, wrote down the supply list, started web searches for wool top, and was sucked into a whole other world! Well, I made that bowl and have made dozens more, seemingly bigger and bigger each time! I tried out ideas, had many successes, but just as many disasters ( I apologize to all of the sheep who gave up their beautiful wool for my escapades) and kept at it perfecting ideas, asking questions of experienced felters, and enjoying the creative process throughout the journey. When I bought my first drum carder to help blend colors, I was asked, “What kind of wheel do you have?” “Wheel?” I asked, “What do you mean wheel?” You see, I had not been exposed to spinning wool. And then it happened, I watched a lady spin wool at our state fair. I was mesmerized. I kept talking to my husband about how relaxing spinning seemed to be, and my husband being the wonderful guy he is said, “Well, then try it.” The next week I had ordered a wheel from a shop on Etsy. I think I was crazy as I look back on it….who in their right mind buys a wheel off the internet without ever having spun on any wheel? Well the answer would be,”Me!” I loved that little Ashford Kiwi. She helped me learn to be patient, she helped me learn what too much twist looks like, she helped me realize that everyone starts at the beginning. After about a year of spinning on her, I took her to SAFF to my very first spinning class. It was a core spinning class. I felt so awkward sitting there with my little Kiwi and her jumbo bobbin surrounded by the Cadillacs of spinning wheels. She spun like a champ, and I eventually added two more wheels to my collection: an Ashford Country Spinner and a Louet S10 DT.
What I have learned most about myself throughout this journey, is that I love to learn!
KA: Yep, I have what I call a little fiber farm. It started with a giant angora rabbit, her name is Piper and she is a doll. Then I purchased a male alpaca, Challenger, that had a problem with the shape of his ear, so the breeder did not want him used for breeding. Perfect for me, because I had no want, need, or desire to get into the breeding side of animals. He was agisted at a local farm with other alpacas. Again, perfect for me, because I’m sure my home owners association would not have looked kindly on a backyard alpaca! During that time, my husband and I had decided that we were going to buy land. We had the ups and downs of bidding wars and I just knew it was never going to happen. Then we headed out to a beautiful historic town about an hour north of where we were living, to take a blacksmithing course. That day, we found our new home. It was perfect, and I was afraid to say how perfect it was because we had been so disappointed the previous bids. So as usual I jumped in with 2 feet, and like magic, it was ours a little over a month in a half later. Now we have a little fiber sampler of critters: Piper our angora rabbit, 2 Nigora goat twins named Bonnie and Clyde, 2 Pygora goat twins named Mimi and Moe, 3 colored Angora goats, Billy, Chessie, and Annie and finally, 2 gelded male Alpacas, Challenger and Jack.
SA: It is great to hear you found the perfect farm, it sounds like a dream. You once said you are “taking a break from the grind” to raise a farm. How different is your life now that you are away from the grind?
KA: My life has changed dramatically over the last 3 years. I went from eating out and mall shopping as almost a hobby, to scooping poop, reading poop slides (thanks Kim), cleaning barns, trimming hooves, shearing goats, basically being a slave to the critters. And you know what? I have never been happier!. My husband and I land in bed exhausted but completely happy and content with our new life. We now surround ourselves with the things that make us most happy and keep our life as uncomplicated as possible. This year I did go back to work now that we have things settled here on the farm, and probably will continue teaching elementary school for another 3 years or so, that’s when my “baby” will be finished with college.
KA: My day starts pretty early. I am up and showered by 5:15 AM every day. I try to read emails and stuff while drinking a cup of coffee and then my husband and I head out to the goat barn. Hubby feeds our Great Pyreneese, Snow, and then we start feeding the goats. Thank goodness we have them stalled or I believe feeding time would be pandemonium! Once they are all fed and water buckets have been cleaned and refilled we clean out all of the stalls. Everyone is given fresh hay and then are allowed to run free in the barn until the pastures are dry. Then the alpacas are fed and watered. By then it is time for me to get inside and get dressed and ready for work. I head off to work and my oldest daughter who is in college will let the goats out to pasture once it dries before she heads to school or work. When I come home around 3:30, the goats will usually see my SUV and come running in from the pasture to greet me. This is the time I check on chickens, the garden, refill waters, and spend time playing with my crazy goats. Five o’clock is afternoon feeding time and if we are a minute late, they all start complaining! After that it’s pretty much free time until I put the goats in the barn for the night. The main barn is swept, waters are refilled, and hay racks are packed with fresh hay. The routine itself is quite relaxing even though it is all physical work, sometimes it can be a bit stressful if a critter is not feeling well, or has an injury, but I would not trade it for a thing- It’s my zen.
SA: Wow, what a busy life you lead, Kelly! Your commitment shows you truly love the farm life. You mentioned you have an array of fiberful animals on your farm. What are your favorite animals to care for and what animal produces your favorite fiber?
KA: My absolute favorite are the goats. They have the most fabulous personalities! They are so curious and find the darndest ways to get themselves into trouble! They are very similar to toddlers! The strength, curl, and luster that their fiber has, makes it a favorite of mine to work with.
SA: What have you found to be the benefits of using fibers from your personal animals?
KA: For me the biggest benefit is the lack of VM in the fiber. I spend a great deal of time making sure the fiber is free of most VM while it is growing on the animal so when it comes to shearing time, I can quickly skirt as I go and have fiber ready for the wash and be able to create with is as soon as it is dry. Plus, how cool is it that I can then get little goat kisses from them after shearing? Sorry, I’m slightly obsessed with these fluff balls! 😉
SA: It’s okay, I don’t blame you for being a little obsessed. With animals as lovely as yours, how can you not be? What is your goal when you sit down to create your spinning fibers?
KA: Each time I sit down to spin, the goal is the same. To create a yarn that inspires me. I do spin yarns for a specific projects, but my favorite spins are when I get to “play”, to push boundaries, experiment, and break some rules. I am infatuated with color and texture, and spinning yarn is the perfect way for me to incorporate those two loves.
SA: I totally agree, there is nothing better than playing with color and texture while spinning. You are also an extremely skilled felter! How long have you been felting, and what about the art excites you?
KA: Thank you! I stumbled into wet felting in early 2009. As I said earlier, it all started with a bowl! I have had fun looking for ways to incorporate wet felting with spinning and even weaving. I think of felting as painting with wool. I love using my hand dyed Merino to create with because I spend a great deal of time ensuring I have saturated colors that will not fade during the felting process and am able to get seamless color transitions. Once again as in spinning, it’s all about color and texture!
KA: I started giving local classes here at the farm a few months ago and have been happy with how they have been received. This past October I was given a chance to teach at SAFF in Asheville, N.C. (Thanks Pat and Lisa!). I am scheduled to teach 7 classes this year too.
I absolutely love to teach. My favorite parts were when students would say, “I can do that?” With a few basic rules, the possibilities of design with felt are limitless. I was blown away with the beautiful designs created in a shawl class I taught. The techniques were, nuno, using resists, and pre felts. Once the ladies understood the basics, they had access to pounds of silks, hand dyed merino top, hand dyed pre felts, mohair curls, and various other curly wools. The results had me amazed and so excited to see the variety of designs using the same materials, very much like your Secret Stash projects.
KA: I use an Ashford County Spinner for art yarns with larger yardages and my Louet S10 DT with the art yarn flyer for just about everything else. They both are great wheels and have allowed me to make just about anything my head can come up with!
SA: Nothing’s better than a few good wheels; the more the merrier! Can you describe your studio for us?
KA: A Fiber Explosion! Actually, it’s pretty organized. My main workshop is in a building on my property but not part of my house. My wonderful husband made sure I had electricity, an AC — a must here in hot Florida — water, and a beautiful deck on the outside of my shop to extend my working space on nice days. My second workshop space is actually a new dye station in part of our HUGE garage. It has all my dyes, a stove, hot plates, crock pots, and just about anything else I might need for dyeing. It truly has been a blessing to not have to dye in the kitchen anymore. My looms and wheels are in the house since I like to work on weaving and spinning in the evenings when everyone is settled for the night.
SA: Sounds like you have a little bit of your studio all over the farm. You can go anywhere and create! So, when you are creating, do you prefer working on one project at a time or are you a multi-project kind of gal?
KA: I have crafting ADD, so I usually have half a dozen projects going at any one time. They typically get finished on school breaks and then new projects are started and the cycle continues.
KA: Fiber arts are my therapy, from the animals to the finished project. Since moving to my little farm, I have not had a day without fiber! So, all I could imagine of a day with no fiber, is that it would not seem complete!
SA: Agree!!! And, so glad you found fiber because I love looking at your creations. Readers, Kelly has generously offered to giveaway her beautiful wet felted flowers to two of you! To enter, just leave a comment on this post letting us know that you’ve liked Kelly’s Facebook page. Deadline for entering is next Sunday, April 6th at 5 PM EST. Best of luck to all! Until next time, I hope you enjoy plenty of finery goodness, Arlene