I am delighted to share this guest blog post from Kathy Martin of Wynham Farms. Kathy raises Angora goats in Sequim, WA and she recently took a trip of a lifetime! Grab a cup of tea and enjoy a few moments of armchair traveling through Africa, visiting fiber farms, mills and weavers.
So here I am, a semi-retired fiber farmer and fiber artist, thinking that my travelling days were relegated to sane, safe stateside trips when Linda Cortright of Wild Fibers Magazine created a tour that could not be ignored: Angora goat farms, a mohair mill, a silk farm, sisal weavers, mohair weavers along with the beauty of the land and wildlife in South Africa and Swaziland. Could I challenge myself to 40+ hours of travel from WA state to another hemisphere? Could I leave my Angora goat farm, Great Danes, spinning wheels, triangle looms and comfort for the relative unknown?
First, I should explain that Linda Cortright is not just the owner/journalist of a prime periodical, but she is a world traveler who meticulously checks out the potential journeys for Wild Fibers’ tours. Her small groups of 10-12 travelers enjoy safety, adventure, history, other cultures, fine lodgings – all of which she has researched and visited ahead of time. I had joined Linda on her first tour to the Falkland Islands in 2015 so I knew I would be well taken care of.
This 15-day tour started out in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, close to the very tip of the continent. The group of 11 visited the Nelson Mandela Textile Arts Centre with interesting displays of African weavings and beadwork.
On to the showroom of Mohair South Africa Ltd which produces ~50% of the world’s mohair, obviously dedicated to the advancement of the mohair industry. I have to interject with a link to a video “Mohair South Africa, Weaving Stories for a Lifetime”. The video was filmed mostly at Wheatlands, a vast working farm that is steeped in 8 generations of family history which we called home for 2 nights. Prior to Wheatlands we visited Erekroon, a smaller farm of 17,000 acres (!) with about 1,000 Angora goats and 500 Merino sheep. Be still, my heart!
While in Port Elizabeth we also visited a mohair processing mill. The scouring conveyor belt and the water conservation systems were impressive. There were hundreds of barrels full of freshly carded mohair. It would’ve been hard to sneak out some when the bumps alone weigh 95 kg (210 pounds). The spinning/weaving buildings on site were very high tech with tests being run on the yarns as they were being spun and with onsite laboratories to further test quality. I understood the quality control necessary after hearing that their custom orders were placed by fashion industry’s leaders such as Chanel. Glad they had an outlet with Oddments which I could afford!
I will jump ahead here past the awesome hikes and unique landscapes of the Karoo, formed millions of years ago. Onto the awesomeness of Adele’s Mohair, a designer extraordinaire of knitting yarns. Adele ventured into the industry in 1983, educating and employing the rural women of the Xhosa tribe, and keeping in mind sustainability of the land. Again, be still my heart!
Our next fiber related visit was at the Piggs Peak Craft Centre in Swaziland where we were welcomed by native dancers. The craft center not only had roadside shelters for smaller entrepreneurs but also housed the showrooms for Coral Stephens Weaving and for Tintsaba, both endeavors aimed at educating and employing local, rural women. We were honored to tour the studios of both art houses.
Tintsaba Master Weavers showed us how their amazing baskets, home décor and jewelry are made from Sisal. The agave plants producing Sisal fibers grow wild and are harvested by industrious women who must have fingers of Superwoman strength. After stripping the leaves and drying the fibrous strands, the dyeing is done in rustic wood burning vats. These lovely women shared their trade in a special workshop with the Wild Fibers’ group, teaching us that their skills were not learned overnight. I will not be hired.
Coral Stephens Weaving Studio uses mohair, raffia, cotton and silk to make outstanding home décor items, drapes, carpets and tapestries. We watched the labor intensive picking and hand carding of the mohair prior to spinning using pieced-together spinning wheels some of which might have been bicycles in their earlier days. The yarn is then dyed in wood burning, huge pots using very scientific measurements so that there are enough skeins of one colorway for their extra large weavings. One room alone must have had over 20 enormous looms, manual not machine driven.
The last of our fiber tours was taken at the African Silk Farm after spending several days on game drives. The farm grows its own mulberry leaves to feed the worms and macadamia nuts to feed its visitors. There were several outbuildings with windows for our viewing pleasures: moths into eggs into caterpillars into cocoons. I was pleased to see how easy they made it seem to gently cut the cocoon, releasing the live larvae to continue its life, and then winding the silk strands before spinning. What lovely garments and bedding tempted us!
The 15 days sped by in a whirlwind of fibers and African wild animals seen without cages or moats. A truly Wild Fiber adventure which I consider my Trip of a Lifetime.
I learned so much and am so thankful to Kathy for sharing her adventure with us. Africa is not a destination that I immediately associate with fiber! If you want to get some mohair of your own, or explore Kathy's shop full of locks and handspun yarn, you can find Wynham Farms with gotmygoat on FiberCrafty!