Editor's note: This article was published in Grand Traverse Scene magazine's Spring 2019 issue. Pick up a free copy at area hotels, visitor's centers, chambers of commerce or at the Record-Eagle building on Front Street. Click here to read GT Scene in its entirety online.
SUTTONS BAY — Demarie Jones’ mornings start hours before her day job at Disability Network — two alpacas, four rabbits, 13 Angora goats and eight sheep keep her busy.
Jones, owner of Three Little Birds Farm in Omena, spends her springs watching over the births of new additions and shearing her herd.
It’s challenging work — and cleaning, prepping and spinning the fiber into yarn only keeps her busier.
“It’s always so cool to see it come off — what’s underneath is so beautiful,” Jones said. “And when you wash it, it’s so soft.”
Jones gets some help from longtime friend Diane Kiessel, who runs her own farm, Dragonfly Valley Fiber Farm, in Suttons Bay. The pair co-own and run yarn shop Leelanau Fiber in their limited spare time.
Jones got her start raising animals shortly after the death of her husband in winter 2016. It gave her something new to strive for.
“Diane had her first lamb that spring and called me to come see it,” Jones said. “She said, ‘The lamb is yours.’”
Jones didn’t have a farm, but what would become Three Little Birds hit the market and it was too good an offer to pass. The yarn shop came to be in a similar way.
Kiessel’s been raising Angora goats and alpacas for about eight years. The goats’ unique, fluffy coats produce soft, lovely yarn.
“I basically just fell in love with them,” Kiessel said. “One thing led to another and now I have 27 goats and more on the way. I own a yarn shop and I’m living the dream.”
The pair hire out the shearing for their sheep and alpacas, but both take care of the goats themselves.
“It takes me 45 minutes to an hour — a professional can shear a sheep in about 45 seconds,” Kiessel said. “I take my time, I’m quite slow and careful.”
Each goat produces about 6-8 pounds of mohair per shearing, and Angoras need a trim twice per year. It’s about enough to make a sweater, she says.
Once it’s sheared, the fleece is skirted and scoured — cleaning techniques to get any dirt or stray hay or grass out of the wool — and after that, brushed.
Then, it’s ready to spin.
Jones spins wool on a spinning wheel from time to time, but the yarn she plans to start selling in the shop this year will be spun commercially at a mill.
“There’s a lot of different ways to do it — you can make it thin or very heavy,” Kiessel said.
Blending is also an option, mixing the Angora with a simple wool blend or other materials for a different weight or softness.
Kiessel and Jones sell their own roving — wool that can be spun into yarn — at Leelanau Fiber now.
“I think people appreciate the craft more when they know what went into it,” Jones said.
The pair opened shop about two years ago, and carry only natural products — no synthetic fibers. Several local fiber artists have product on the shelves, too.
“You walk in the store and it’s like you’re hit in the face by all these colors and textures,” Kiessel said.
And there’s plenty more to make with it than winter sweaters.
“You can do simple little tees, tank tops, summer cardigans, something nice to throw over on a cold night,” said Katie Axtell, owner of Traverse City’s Lost Art Yarn Shoppe. “This time of year, we get in a lot of cotton yarns for summertime.”
Local yarns — always sought after, especially by tourists — make up a bit of her stock, and Axtell focuses mainly on already spun yarn, compared to roving.
She, like Kiessel and Jones, is an avid knitter herself.
“I love it,” Axtell said. “The yarns come in so many beautiful colors and textures.”
“I knit every day — it’s my relaxation,” Kiessel added.