Photographs by Jennifer Roberts
Crafting is trendy these days. Grandmas are not the only ones knitting sweaters. Yarn bombing is the new graffiti. Kids everywhere are learning to crochet cute little animals (amigurumi) and yarn comes in isles of colors.
Local fiber artists Kate McKenzie and Kristin Frazier have a long history of crafting. Both utilize a plethora of materials, from silk to yak yarn. They also create fantastic and unique products.
Kristin’s parents raise Jacobs, a variety of heirloom sheep known for unique horns. After shearing the sheep, the wool must be skirted (the process of removing unusable wool), washed and carded (combing the wool into usable fibers called rovings). From here, processing the wool can vary. Kristin often enjoys working with wool spun in its natural hues into fine lace-weight yarn.
Kate, on the other hand, loves dying the wool in vibrant colors, which she uses for felting or spins into textured and multi-colored yarn.
RENEWS A SENSE OF WONDER
Kate credits her great aunt Elaine for introducing her to the world of crafting. “She was very crafty — in fact, she made most of my clothes until I was about 6,” Kate says. “When I was 7 or 8, she taught me to needlepoint, cross stitch and crochet. By 12 I was making my own clothes and could quilt.”
With a solid foundation, Kate continued crafting in various ways until discovering her passion for needle felting. “I discovered needle felting when my daughter was in kindergarten at Lee Elementary,” Kate says. “Dr. Mehr put some wool and a needle in my hands and I was off and running. I started sculpting little animals, and it led to a Waldorf-style storytelling set of animals and habitat.”
As her daughter has grown, Kate has widened her felting skills to create a wide variety of products, including lunch bags, purses, wall hangings and more whimsical play sets.
Kate admires the practical side of wool. “It is naturally bacteria resistant, super insulating, wicks moisture and locks together into this amazing felt fabric that is nearly indestructible, yet sustainable,” she says. More so, she enjoys the fun side of her creative ventures.
“Professionally, I’m a website developer/programmer for M.U. Extension, so I spend a lot of time working at a computer, making things that you can click or swipe, but not touch,” Kate says. “My creative endeavors are an antidote to computer time, satisfyingly tactile and tangible.”
It is also a way for Kate to interact with her daughter and other youth as they enjoy her products or learn from her to make their own creations. Neighborhood kids are known to spend time working on their own creations under her kind and gentle tutelage.
“Where I get the greatest joy is in watching kids play with the felted playsets and finger puppets that I’ve made,” Kate says. “It renews my sense of wonder.”
FOR THE LOVE OF MATH AND THE JOY OF SHARING
With similar origins, Kristin began knitting as a young child, taught by both her mother and grandmother. “My family speaks craft,” she says. Kristin learned to spin when she was 14 at the Missouri State fair from a woman in the goat booth. “I sat down and within a half hour was producing yarn,” she says. “My parents generously decided to buy a spinning wheel, recognizing it was a talent that I had.”
Kristin’s level of intricacy and lace work is all self-taught, fueled by a love of math.
“The thing that most people don’t understand about knitting is that it is based on numbers and patterns. Patterns are nothing but math,” she says. “You are talking increases, decreases and geometric angles. One of my favorite shawls to do is the pi shawl. It is completely based on the mathematics of pi for the number of increases so that you get a beautiful round shape.” Kristin’s love of numbers helps her to read the mathematics of a pattern with unique comfort.
For Kristin, working with wool is a form of self-care. Her projects require focus, allowing the act of counting to fall into carefully knitted stitches, intricate patterns and designs. While the process of knitting is all for her, Kristin shares her creations as ways to show love. Her husband receives a hand knit sweater every other year, family and friends wear custom-sized knitted socks, and though her daughters phase in and out of “hand knit” appreciation, their upbringing has been filled with capes, shawls and two very special scrap-yarn blankets that the girls will treasure when they are ready to move out on their own.
Not all creations have a planned destination. “I am a process knitter not a product knitter, I’m in it because I love the actual act of knitting,” Kristin says. Often, it is long after creation that she knows where a piece belongs. “A shawl will tell me where it belongs. I’ve never regretted packaging them up and sending them off.”
There are some pieces Kristin will never part with, considering them heirloom investments. “I invested 350 hours of time and 3 years of planning in The Princess Shawl,” she says. Kristin does not sell her work, knowing that the market reflects neither the hours nor the expense of materials.
Kate’s work can be found at www.facebook.com/makeplayart, where interested buyers can view a selection of her products. Those interested in learning more about Kristin’s creations can follow her blog at www.greenwomancomesknocking.blogspot.com.
For locals interested in developing their own fiber skills, Columbia supports two specialized yarn stores, True Blewe Yarns & More and Hillcreek Yarn Shoppe. Both locations host classes and gatherings for enthusiasts and beginners.
Additional resources can be found at the Columbia Weavers and Spinners Guild — a vibrant community of local fiber artists who create a range of products from practical to purely artistic.