Northern Wilds Magazine
Carol [RIGHT] prepares fiber for spinning with the Duluth Fiber Handcrafters Guild. | SUBMITTED
Along the Shore Arts

Warm Up with Fiber Crafts

A Focus on Arrowhead Fiber Guilds

Winter means cold outside, but cozy inside with the warm embrace of fibers. It is a good time to immerse yourself in fiber in all its forms. Want to start a fiber craft but need inspiration, direction, or don’t know where to start? There are others in the same boat and many more who are willing to help. That is what the fiber guilds do best. In the Minnesota Arrowhead region, we have a number of strong organizations whose main mission is to share the joys of fiber crafts.

Knitting, crocheting, felting, spinning, weaving, rug braiding, quilting, sewing, dyeing—the list goes on of crafts that have fiber as their core material. Fibers of all sorts are used to create useful or decorative textiles that enhance our lives in many ways. The fiber community on the North Shore has an allure that stems from the immediate need to stay warm and busy in the cold weather, but also comes from the easy exchange of techniques among crafters, and the traditions of handing down craft in families and among friends.

With so many fiber techniques, where do new or curious fiber artisans find community? The North House Folk School in Grand Marais regularly teaches a long menu of fiber courses and is a wonderful place to begin honing and exploring fiber techniques. Fiber guilds are another place to learn and craft together, and to find mentors and fellow enthusiasts in a welcoming environment. Nearby guilds include the Northwoods Fiber Guild, the Range Fiberart Guild, and the Duluth Fiber Handcrafters Guild.

One thing that I have observed while teaching both in folk schools and fiber guilds is that cooperation between these small organizations is essential for the betterment of all.

In the last couple of years, North House has cooperated with three regional fiber guilds to expand its programming to include floor loom weaving, which required an investment in space and equipment. To help make this happen, guilds worked together to gather borrowed looms and teach the first series of classes. Students at North House can now learn to weave colorful rag rugs and weave their own fabric for home, clothing and accessories. The Northwoods Fiber Guild, based in Grand Marais, also works closely with North House to co-sponsor the annual Northern Fibers Retreat. Each February, a full week of classes, presentations, and children’s workshops all focus on fiber topics. Many area instructors contribute by sharing the rich history of fiber arts in this region. This is a sampling of the cooperation that enriches fiber craft in our home territory.

All small volunteer organizations are facing challenges this year during the pandemic, and the guilds are no exception. Annual fundraisers, meeting locations, and scheduled presentations and classes have all had to change as we look for ways to connect safely. Some virtual programming is starting among these guilds, but many guild members live in remote areas across the North Country, and may not have strong broadband connections. Although we miss gathering in person for now, we are working to adapt and connect in new ways to continue to support each other in our craft.

You can visit North House Folk School’s website where some classes and free programs are now offered virtually to help inspire artisans crafting in isolation (northhouse.org). Fiber crafters report that they are finding joy in crafting at home, even if we all miss the wonderful visual and tactile experiences at in-person show-and-tells when fiber folks gather. I hope this introduction and update on fibers will inspire you to find new fiber friends, and lend your support to our organizations and guilds in your local area. If you do, the snowy days ahead will be warmed by your own inspired fiber craft.

Carol Colburn lives in Duluth and is a lead Fiber Art instructor at North House Folk School, where traditional craft is taught on the shore of Lake Superior.

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