ARTS: Fiber Artist
Donna Hilton’s fingers stroke the cream-colored wad of shimmery, pillowy down made from a mix of Merino sheep, yak and silk. Her hands are smooth and dry from years of petting alpaca fur, sheep’s wool, raw cotton and goat coats. Her store, The Weavery at Indian Meridian, is full of baskets with clouds of fibers in colors ranging from the fawn of natural alpaca to the wild and vibrant dyes of purple, orange and sunshine yellow.
Spinner, owner and weaver, Hilton is the latest in a long line of women whose world revolved around the shearing of animals and the modest-but-effective spindle, the spinning wheel. She joins those who took natural fibers and rubbed it against their legs to create yarn. She uses the same equipment— the spinning wheel that revolutionized textiles in the 1500s— imagining the hum of those wheels spinning as women gathered to make thread and yarn, much as they did in the cold and drafty castles of England.
Textiles have always been the biggest industry in history. “Before the industrial revolution, all fabric was created by hand,” says Hilton. “All yarn is simply twisted fiber.”
Now Hilton is among those passing on the art of threadmaking and weaving, a hobby that’s enjoying a renaissance of sorts among younger knitters and weavers. Located at 624 Henney Road in Guthrie, The Weavery at Indian Meridian not only sells fibers and spun yarn, but is also a home for those wishing to learn the ancient art of shearing, washing, spinning and creating textiles.
In the Wash
Hilton picks up a handful of sheared fleece—alpaca— which still contains the rusty red dirt of Oklahoma. Alpacas like to roll around in dirt, she says, which means you have to fill a bathtub at least three times to clean that dust out of the mess.
After that, the fur is carded or combed using two metal bristle brushes that pull the fibers straight. When that’s done, the fibers become a vaguely-cigar-shaped airy matted mess. Hilton sits at the spinning wheel and rubs that fiber onto a leader string. As her feet pedal the wheel, the fibers begin crawling up the leader string and become yarn around a spindle. “The only thing I did before moving to Oklahoma was crochet,” she says as her feet drum up and down and the gray fiber spins into fine, smooth lines. “We wanted to live in the country when we moved here, and we wanted something to raise. So we got alpacas.”
After moving to Guthrie, Hinton met Wanda Nobbe of Edmond’s Log Cabin Spinners. “In 2005, I bought my wheel from Wanda, who had a shop in Edmond called Mountain View Weaving. She taught me how to spin. When she got ready to retire, she asked me if I wanted to buy her shop.”
Hilton did. She purchased the inventory and moved it to her shop on Henney Road. Nobbe also taught spinning and weaving in Guthrie, and Hilton began teaching that class as well. Hinton now teaches one-on-one when people call her shop for lessons. “It’s mostly hobbyists. No one makes a living from weaving, but this is a way to meet some really great people,” Hilton said.
The fibers in her shop not only come from her own alpacas and goats, but from vendors throughout the United States. All ages of spinners, knitters and weavers come to The Weavery for yarn or fiber. “It’s very cool to knit now,” Hilton said. “A lot of them are being very creative and making art yarn. They do crazy things with it like spin feathers or Christmas tinsel or silk ties into it. They might even use lint from the dryer.” Hilton even recalls one fiber artist from Texas who spins dog hair from family pets into her yarn to make socks and scarves for the family.
“It’s very contemplative to do this. It’s like meditation,” Hilton explains as she fingers the soft wool of yak and Merino sheep—as delicate as the fur behind a kitten’s ear. When you sit down to spin, it takes the edge off and you just concentrate. The worry all falls away,” she said. “The most soothing thing to me is having a bunch of women spinning. If no one talks, all you hear are the sounds of the wheels. It connects you to all the women of the past who did this.”
For more information or to take classes, contact Hinton at www.indianmeridian.com or call her at 405-822-8927