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Featured Artist: Lisa Check of Flying Goat Farm with Fabulous Fiber Giveaway!

by EBlack on July 14, 2013

LC-FGF Lisa with Viola

Publishers Note: Hi Fiber Pals!  This week’s Featured Artist continues in the series of posts I’m running this summer about the fabulous vendors that will be in attendance at  Spin Quest in Front Royal, Virginia on Saturday, August 24.  One of the most fun aspects of writing this blog is being inspired by the stores of folks who are living out their dreams.  Lisa Check of Flying Goat Farm is one of these fortunate people.  Through many twist, turns, and locational transplants, Lisa has found herself living out her dearest desires on a majestic farm in Frederick, Maryland. She gets to enjoy day after day of care for her fiber friends (goats and sheep), teaching budding fiber artists, and spinning and dying to her heart’s content. Enjoy learning more about Lisa!

Spin Artiste (SA): How did you enter into the fiber world? Tell us about your fiber journey.

Lisa Check (LC): My first memories of working with yarn were in Girl Scouts probably 2nd or 3rd grade. My best friend’s mom taught us how to sew our badges on our sashes. My mother used to sew us clothes and she also enjoyed crewel work. So I was very used to making beautiful textiles and clothes. I learned to weave in 1990 or so. I wanted to weave Ikat cloth and was inspired by Pauline Sargent’s beautiful blankets.  This was before the internet and unfortunately, I can’t find any digital images of her ikat blankets.   I had to learn to weave first and then I learned how to dye. I was happy to continue with that for several years. Here are samples of my weaving.LC-FGF Weaving photo1

I swore that I would never spin….but at the November Show and Sale of the Greater Los Angeles Handweaver’s Guild, I bought a raffle ticket and won a spinning wheel. It was a used (antique) Ashford traditional wheel. So I basically then taught myself to spin with the help of Judi Freed who had a lot of patience! I worked and worked to spin a nice fine yarn. Fast forward several years! After several moves, we ended up in Maryland and I told my husband that he had to buy me a farm because I wasn’t moving any more. We got a couple of angora goats and the fiber started to flow and flow and flow. Well what do you do with all that mohair? Dye locks, process into roving, spin into handspun, send it to be made into yarn, dye the yarn, get commercial yarn to enhance your farm, buy some sheep and the fiber continues to flow!

SA: Sounds like you have come very far from your 2nd grade fiber work! LC-FGF farm yarnYou mentioned you moved from California to Maryland. How do you like Maryland, and what were the best and worst parts of that transition?

LC: Maryland is a lot different than Los Angeles, Sacramento and Portland Oregon, not only in climate but also in temperament. I do have to say that most people think that Los Angeles has the worst highways and drivers, but my experience is that the Baltimore beltway is a whole lot worse than any freeway in LA. The worst part of all our moves was always leaving behind my fiber friends. The best part about moving to Maryland was being closer to my husband’s family, finally getting our farm and building my new fiber community here.

LC-FGF kidsSA: I’m glad you found a home near me in the Old Line State. You described operating a farm as a long awaited dream for you, saying, “We had a dream to buy some land and plant an orchard. A dream to have chickens and goats.” How does it feel to have your dreams come true?

LC: Some of my best moments have been out with the sheep, goats and chickens and stopping to notice the sunrise or the sunset or smelling a bloom or eating a just picked peach or tomato. You don’t have to have a farm to have those moments, but I have to be out to feed, water or collect eggs so I have more opportunities to notice. If I was just coming and going from my “day job”, I know I would miss those quiet moments when the world is just beauty. I didn’t miss this sunrise!

I do have to say that “the dream” is a moving target. My current dream is to have the farm be self sustaining so that I can stop my public school teaching position. I would love to be working on the farm and yarn full time.

SA: I’m so happy your first dream came true, and hope that one day your treasured moments of farm work and fiber art will be full time!  Having a farm was not your only dream. You also mentioned you had a “dream to spin our own fiber”. How has your farm helped to sustain and inspire your fiber art?

LC: I will never run out of fiber! And I can make any colorway that I dream up. LC-FGF wall 2The farm and those moments I told you about do inspire the colorways in the yarn and roving. I love knitting up a sweater that is completely from the farm, or to spin a yarn from animals with names and personalities that I know so well.

SA: I can imagine knowing your fiber so personally can only enhance your end product. I’m sure the goats are the pride of your farm, and I know your family of fiber animals has really grown! What can you tell us about your fiber animals, and what has your experience been like selling them?

LC: We started with just 2 angora goats, mostly because being a city girl with no farming experience whatsoever, I wanted to make sure that we could do this and that we liked it. Below are Winter and Inkblob, our first two goats.

We moved to a bigger place and then I increased my foundation herd of Angora goats, buying from FireSong Farm and Hill Shepherd Farm. LC-FGF Winter and InkblobWe started to breed and we started to really grow! About 3 years ago, I saw a post on my guild’s list about three free sheep and I got them. Again to see if we liked having sheep as well and if we could manage both species. This is when we first got Cormo ewes.

Last year we were at our biggest with 43 goats and 6 sheep. We hadn’t sold too many goats before last year, but all of a sudden there has been a lot more interest in people who want to have a small farm and live our dream as well. So we sold many, many goats. We currently have 21 goats and 6 sheep. We have sold the goats to people who have become friends, so we know that they are being well cared for and we are helping those families learn how to feed and care for their herds.

SA: Sounds like you have some happy farm residents. Your yarns are amazing! I love your use of organic colors and yarn names based on flowers and scenes in nature. What is your method in picking colors when dyeing.

LC: Thanks for the compliment! I am constantly experimenting. Even when I have several good enough colorways…I am looking for the WOW factor. I do look in nature for my favorite color combinations, like my collection of irises. They are so beautiful.

I have also become a Pinterest enthusiast (You can follow me by searching my name)! I can pin images that WOW me and put them on color boards. When I need inspiration, I go to my boards and just let the color wash over me. LC-FGF yarn on the lineAnd can I say that sometimes, when I’m under a deadline for a show, I just start dumping color (sometimes at those moments I only have a few stock solutions on hand because I’ve used everything else) and those yarns have always been good. So is there an intuitive element? I think so.

SA: Would you consider yourself a free-formed spinner, or would you say you map out your yarn work before you even start dying?

LC: I am totally a free form spinner. I just like to sit, pick a pretty roving and lose myself in the process of making yarn. In fact, this year I decided to enter some skeins into MD Sheep and Wool. I used my local deep chocolate naturally colored merino top. I inchwormed the entire 4 ounces to make a really consistent yarn. LC-FGF deep forest treadsoftThen I carefully plied…it is a beautiful skein of yarn…it wasn’t consistent enough for the judge AND it wasn’t any fun for me. The other skein I entered had one ply of the careful, careful merino and the other ply was a hand-dyed alpaca that I just spun my usual way. That one was a thick and thin yarn and it won a ribbon! My lesson was to just make the yarn that I enjoy making.

SA: You are so right, it is essential in spinning to find out who you really are and what you really enjoy; that is when the pieces will come together. I know you teach and host fiber classes at your farm. What has been your favorite class to teach?

LC: I think my favorite class to teach is dyeing. Most people that take this class are really drawn to color but afraid to “play” with the dye. I ask them to bring pictures or color chips that inspire them and that give us a palette to begin with. LC-FGF Dye classThen I usually teach 3-5 different techniques using yarn and/or roving. They learn how to make the dye stocks, how to hand paint, how to use resists to keep areas of light and how to do my “pot luck” dyeing.

SA: “Pot luck” dyeing, I love it! I’m sure your classes are a ball. How has hosting and interacting with so many other fiber artists influenced your personal fiber work?

LC: I love seeing how other people work. I always learn something. I like to take what I have learned and make it my own. This year I started chairing the Fiber Arts Seminars at Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. I was able to meet some real rock stars, including Melissa Yoder Ricks, Maggie Casey, Robin Russo and Deb Robson. After seeing parts of their classes, I am inspired to try different fleeces, different techniques and different equipment.

SA:  What a wonderful experience to have an opportunity to meet those folks!  Switching things up a little, here, I’m sure that after the lucky win of the wheel, others have followed…

LC-FGF spinning wheelLC: I have 3 wheels, but my favorite is my Ashford Traveler, double drive and double treadle. I bought it in 1996 at Convergence in Portland Oregon. I’ve spun miles and miles of yarn on it. My one mistake was not buying the already finished wheel. I thought I would lovingly feed it with Danish Oil and it would develop a lovely patina…no I didn’t ever have the time….so it is a little warped…but I still love it…You know what else? I have a wheel backpack made by The Bag Lady out of naturally brown Fox Fiber denim. It is a great way to have a pretty portable wheel.

SA: I’m sure, living on such a gorgeous farm, your studio space is a tranquil haven for you! Tell us about your studio.

LC: Right this second, my studio is a MESS!! It is on the front side of the garage over looking the pastures. I have a full bath which is great for when I have classes or when I’m working all day in there. The shower has become an auxillary storage unit…so thankfully no one has had to use that recently. I have a laundry/dye room with a dedicated top loading washing machine, a sink and a counter for my dyes. I do all my heating on the porch with hot plates. LC-FGF wall 1The walls of the studio are lined with shelves to display yarn.

We have been able to fit 5-6 spinners comfortably for my monthly spin-ins. One time we had 9 but some people were making batts on the porch, one person was knitting and another was using a drop spindle. It was one of the best spin-ins I’ve had…so much good conversation and synergy. I also have an AVL 45” loom that takes up a lot of space…because I’m still a weaver at heart.

SA: I bet even as a “mess,” your studio is heavenly. You have been able to travel quite a bit on what you have called “fiber field trips.” What has been your favorite fiber field trip and why?

LC: The field trip idea started back in Los Angeles with my small weaving guild, Seaside Weavers. We would go to museums and lunch, or a gallery and lunch, or a new yarn shop and lunch…see the pattern? I’ve tried to perpetuate this here in Maryland. LC-FGF handspun scarfI think the best trip I’ve done here was a special visit to the Library of Congress to see the Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color with all the samples. The docent gave us a wonderful presentation and let us see and touch the original samples which were done by his graduate students by hand. She also brought out old collections of photos of weavers in the Appalachians. Then, of course we went to lunch in Grand Central Station! So fun!!

SA: That does sound like a great trip!  Now that we are coming to the end of our time together, I have one more question:  How would you like your fiber art to be remembered in the future?

LC: I would like to know that people loved to make my roving into beautiful handspun and to use my yarns, commercial and farm grown, into garments that make them happy while creating them and while wearing them. I believe when you make something that adorns your life, your individuality shines through. Don’t you love it when you wear something that you worked so hard making and everyone you pass comments on it?   It makes you feel so great! That’s what I want my customers and friends to experience.

SA:  Thank you so much, Lisa!  We appreciate you taking  time to chat with us today!!  I don’t live too far from you so hopefully I will get out to see you before there’s frost on the pumpkin.  Readers, now is the moment you love so well…Giveaway Time!  First up, we have a winner of Elysa Darling’s mixed spinning fiber and our winner is Sarah!  Sarah, I will be in touch to coordinate getting your prize to you.  And, now, we have a fantastic giveaway from Lisa…Lisa fiberIncluded are a mixture of five different rovings for a total of 8 to 9 oz. including mohair, corm, alpaca, merino and border leiscester.  The fibers are from Lisa’s animals (except the merino which is from a friend of Lisa’s) Yum!  And,  Lisa is offering two of them — We will be picking two winners at random!!!  So, to enter for this giveaway, please leave a comment below and tell us what you’ve been watching/listening to lately while you conduct fibery goodness.  the deadline for entries is next Sunday, July 21st at 5 PM EST.  Additional entries for sharing on Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Just leave a comment letting me know you did.  See you back here in a few days.  All my fibery best, Arlene



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