On Friday, May 27, Elizabeth Ann Brown of Mt. Sterling, and Janice Hensley of Georgetown, will demonstrate the different processes they use to create braided wool rugs and wearables. These artisans will card, spin, ply and braid the many colored fleeces harvested from their flocks of rare breed sheep from 10:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. at the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea.
Growing up in the town of Mt. Sterling, Elizabeth Ann Brown was always fascinated by sheep. In 1984 she and her husband moved to their 125 acre farm on Grassy Lick Road and began raising sheep. She now tends a flock of 70, including the seven rare breeds of Dorset, Lincoln, English Leicester Longwool, Rambouillet, Karakul and Border Leicester. The fleeces from each breed have a variety of colors and textures – from pale gray, dark gray, and soft brown to creamy white. Once common on American farms, these breeds are “rare” meaning that today there are fewer than 1,000 registered in North America and fewer that 5,000 worldwide.
Janice Hensley began raising sheep on her Windhill farm outside of Georgetown, as a 4-H project with her three young daughters and became fascinated with rare sheep breeds after seeing them at the Kentucky State Fair. Janice soon learned that the wool from each different rare breed, had very different characteristics - some being lustrous, some long and curly, and some with incredibly strong fibers. She began to focus on wool that could be woven and she now tends a flock of 30 Leicester Longwool sheep.
Both of these artisans learned how to spin, and with so much wool on hand, Elizabeth began making braided rugs, now a full time occupation for her. After shearing her sheep in May, Elizabeth washes and sorts her wool fleeces. She takes her fleeces to a woolen mill to be cut into un-spun strips called roving. She then dyes this wool roving using natural dyes she creates from plants growing on her farm. The dyed wool roving is then braided and sewn to make one-of-a-kind, warm and woolly rugs.
Janice takes her wool through all of the processes - from shearing the sheep with hand shears - to creating finished wearables. She shears her sheep, cleans the wool, cards it with steel combs to align the fibers, spins the wool with a spinning wheel and even plys or twists two to three different yarns together to make a thicker, heavier yarn. Janice uses a loom that is ancient and simple – a frame loom. This type of loom has no heddle or device for opening the weave and with it Janice weaves blankets, scarves, shawls and ponchos. Janice hand-dyes all her wool from natural plant material that she gathers year- round. She uses fleabane, mimosa leaves and St. John’s Wort in the spring and summer, and collects madder root, black walnuts, hickory nuts and bark in the fall. These different natural materials when boiled and combined with a natural mineral or mordant, create the soft and varied palette of dye colors from which Janice weaves.
Works by Elizabeth Ann Brown and Janice Hensley are regularly found at the Kentucky Artisan Center, located just off Interstate 75 at exit 77 (Berea). The Center’s exhibits, shopping, and travel information areas are all open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and the café from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Admission is free. The Center currently features works by more than 620 artisans from all across the Commonwealth. For more information call 859-985-5448 or visit the Center’s web site at www.kentuckyartisancenter.ky.gov
The Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea is an agency in the Commerce Cabinet of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.