Handmade from the Heart
How often have you wanted to return to a more simple way of life? I don’t mean one where you need to pump water from the well out back.
How often have you wanted to return to a more simple way of life? I don’t mean one where you need to pump water from the well out back. I am referring to simply finding ways to offset your daily stress. So many advice gurus can pour out the solutions: relax, get a hobby, spend time with friends and family, and laugh. So, you ask, how can I add all this to my already overextended day?
The perfect activity to tie all these factors together is to indulge yourself in a fiber arts hobby—whichever strikes your fancy—quilting, knitting, embroidery, spinning, braiding, crafting, or making clothing and home décor.
In doing so, you’ll not only enjoy yourself; you’ll also play an integral part in the flow of nature. Picture the sheep (go for it, use your imagination), yak, bunny or llama your material came from. The farmer cared for the pet and meticulously sheered and washed the fiber. A talented artisan spun and dyed the fiber. Next, you have the intricate task of choosing the texture, color and weight of the yarn you desire. You hold it in your hands; you may even rub it against your cheek.
You are inspired and picture the gift you’d like to create—a cap for a newborn, a shawl for your grandma. Loved ones will think of you every time they wear or use your gift. It will be a family heirloom. Okay, so it may end up in a consignment shop in 50 years, but until then, dream on.
There are many shops in McHenry County that are genuine resources to help spark your projects.
Get Your Wheels Spinning
Wool, Warp & Wheel (5605 Mill St. in Richmond, 815-678-4063, www.woolwarpandwheel.com) is a destina-tion. Plan on extra time to stay and visit. As soon as you take your first step through the door, you feel the warmth; you feel welcome.
“Our job is to take care of the people who come here,” said Rob Cetner, who co-owns the store with his wife, Penny. “We encourage them and teach them to be proficient at their crafts. We provide a place where they can come in, be encouraged and get away from the pressures of the world they live in.”
The store offers so much more than spinning and knitting supplies and lessons. Many successful fiber shops are that way. The atmosphere in their store is nurturing.
“It is not about selling yarn,” said Rob. “People can buy yarn anywhere. You can go on the Internet and you can buy all you want. You can even buy it cheaper. They come here for a reason.”
Yes, you’ve guessed it—for the camaraderie.
“Our customers are our friends,” continued Rob. “We have open workshop day on Sundays. People bring projects, stories and even muffins.”
The Charity Caring crew from Wool, Warp & Wheel made hats, scarves and socks for Centegra’s Northern Illinois Medical Center’s giving tree this past holiday season. “In February, we are continuing with Charity Caring and encouraging our customers to make warm gear for those in need,” said Rob. “We have a drop box in the store.”
Walk through the store and feel all the yarn. There is a large selection of exotic yarns and hand-spun fibers, from New Zealand possum to sheep wool from local farms. As a matter of fact, when I picked up a package, I saw a label that had a photo of Trudy, a sheep. I know Trudy, and I’ve visited her barn. It’s certainly a small, little animal world we live in. Don’t forget to meet Mr. Bean, the Angora rabbit. Mr. Bean is sheared every three months to contribute to the inventory.
The wood-burning stove and old, stone walls lend to the ambiance. The inventory, quality and friendly faces will bring you back time and time again.
Try Something New
A good friend of mine, Kay, who is a guru of the knitting scene, recently introduced me to kumihimo braiding, a technique originally used to make ties and cording for Samurai warriors. As soon as I figured out how to get my fingers out of the way of the eight ribbons, I created the most beautiful bracelets and necklaces.
We went to The Fold (3316 Millstream Rd. in Marengo, 815-568-5730, www.thefoldatmc.net) to search for ribbons of lovely colors and textures for braiding. While there, we perused the handspun yarns and natural fibers. There were a nice selection of colors and textures, dyed and natural colors abound. When you visit, don’t rush through this experience.
The owner, Toni Neil, opened the shop in 1992. She offers workshops and brings in teachers from around the country. Workshops include crocheting, dyeing, knitting, spinning and weaving, to name a few. If you’re interested in preparing your own fibers, The Fold can help you with accessories and advice. It really doesn’t matter how experienced you are, Toni will help you out. Her passion is unspun fibers and untapped potential that is yet to come.
Many people today want to know the origins of their products. “We have a flock of sheep and raise them for the characteristics of their fibers,” said Toni. “In addition to buying yarn, our customers can see and feel the fibers.”
The Fold also focuses on earth-friendly, natural dyeing with local flowers and leaves.
“The Fold is a biblical reference, where the flock feels safe,” said Toni. “Just the same, our customers deserve to be embraced. Just last Saturday, a father and daughter sat by the fireplace, knitting and talking for five hours.”
Sew Your Own Way
You cannot find a more complete and cared-for inventory than that of The Fabric Shop (21 N. Williams St. in Crystal Lake, 815-459-2084). Owner Millie Gieseke has been at the same location for 50 years.
The shelves and tables are organized by color—rows and rows and aisles and stacks of material. At The Fabric Shop, bolts of material, from silks and linens to wools and batiks, are organized for you.
“I’ve had customers come through my doors for decades,” said Millie. “And, they now come back with their children and grandchildren. We have customers that travel from long distances because they know our inventory is unique and extensive.”
You may walk into the store knowing exactly what you want, but when you see the selection, you may need to reconsider.
Over the years, Millie has seen a shift in the types of projects customers create. “For years, our customers wanted to make garments and quilts,” said Millie. “Today, they are more interested in making window treatments, upholstering, creating crafts and designing wearable items like hats and purses. But, quilting never goes out of style.”
The Fabric Shop tries hard to make your handicraft projects go smoothly. They have a great selection of pre-cut fabric pieces as well as color-coordinated bolts of material for quilting. Window treatment samples hang from the walls. Samples and patterns of handicrafts are on display.
To enhance your quilting experiences, visit Pieceful Gathering (106 Rt. 14 in Fox River Grove, 847-516-7911, www.piecefulgathering .com). The friendly staff will help you through any stage of your project, from choosing material to pinning and sewing. You are invited to join their classes, stop in to use the large tables (when classes are not in session) or simply share your stories with others who share similar interests. Their specialty is reproduction fabrics from the 1800s and early 1900s.
Now, especially during this economic downturn, people are not spending money on extravagant items. Instead, they are indulging in their own creations. They are looking for outlets of relief and peace. Juggling work, family, finances and peace of mind doesn’t come easy. But it is achievable, frequently in places you’d never expect, like local fiber arts shops.
One of the largest festivals in the Midwest is in our own backyard. The Midwest Folk & Fiber Art Festival will be held at McHenry County College from July 17 through 19. View artisans at work, take a workshop, listen to music or enjoy the art show.
Visit www.fiberandfolk.com for more information.