ITHACA, N.Y.—Farmers and artisans may not always overlap, but when it comes to people interested in locally sourced fiber materials and products, they’re sharing their ideas, materials and expertise.

LocalFiber, a pop-up in downtown Ithaca at 130 East Seneca Street, is a temporary brick-and-mortar storefront for yarn, ornaments, hats, mittens, dryer balls, bags, rugs, decorations and other goods made with wool from animals on local farms. This year, there are 15 farms that have provided goods to participate in the pop-up: Forget Me Not Farm, West Creek Farm, Blue Spoon Farm, Laughing Goat Fiber Farm, GinLip Farm, Crooked Creek Sheep & Wool, Hawk Hill Farm, Windsong Farm, Big Rock Farm/Fetching Fibers, Rebel Acres, Shepherd’s Creek Alpaca Farm, Moose in the Meadow Farm, Wool Ewe Play, Steep Hollow Farm, Ellis Hollow Farm; and one artisan, José Buenaventura González Gutiérrez.

“We’re a group of farmers and one artisan,” said Noreen Atkins of Ginlip Farm. “In order to be involved in the pop-up, you have to have fiber or have purchased fiber locally. Most of what you see here is from sheep although we do have some mohair products and alpaca as well.”

LocalFiber was founded in 2017 by Dana Havas, a Cornell University graduate student of applied economics focusing her research on the fiber-to-textile supply chain. Upon moving to the area, she found it difficult to locate farms that raise, produce and source wool-to-hand fleece. According to data from a USDA-NASS survey, there are 180 fiber-producing farms located within the 14-county Finger Lakes area. 

Previously, LocalFiber’s pop-up was located in Home Green Home on The Commons in 2019, and in 2020, due to COVID-19, reduced to just five participants and housed in a Groton small business.

Members from each participating farm will take turns staffing the pop-up until it closes Dec. 27, 2021.

“We’ve been so busy here that originally we couldn’t keep up — we invited more people to come,” Atkins said. “Everybody is part of this group called LocalFiber and it’s a networking group of farmers and artisans just trying to connect people with the fiber to people who want to use the fiber.”

Atkins explained that there are more than 200 different breeds of sheep and that the production process begins after the wool is shorn off the sheep. After shearing, the wool is washed and then carded. Carding is a process in which the fibers are pulled through a fine metal comb-like tool that straightens out the naturally curly fibers. Next, the wool is spun into yarn, which can be processed differently to create thinner or thicker yarn.

At this point, wool is sometimes sold to consumers who wish to dye it themselves or use it as raw materials for other products, or it might be dyed and sold as colorful yarn for people to knit or crochet.

Wool has different uses and is spun up depending on how it will be used, Atkins said. Fine wools like merino have more crimp per inch and is generally more expensive. It is typically used for things like undergarments, woolen suits and baby clothes or toys, while medium wool can be used for mittens, sweaters and outerwear. Long wool, which has the least amount of crimp, is used for macrame, wall hangings, blankets, rugs and socks. Atkins also noted that wool has scales, which is why it can be used for felting projects.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...