Rachael Van Horn
Woodward, Okla. —
If you sit down for just a few moments with Woodward fiber expert Sherry Liston she'll spin you a tale while she's spinning a tail - or at least some fur from a lamb's tail or rabbit's tail.
Liston is a natural fiber and knitting expert whose passion for all things yarn, began when she was just 11-years-old.
That young desire to craft with textiles worked its way into a lifelong passion, she said.
Now the 50-something, auburn-haired yarn spinner sells her spun creations at a local shoppe called McLain's Stitchery Yarn Shop in Woodward.
She also teaches knitting and crocheting classes at High Plains Technology Center, offers a free knitting class at the Woodward library every first and third Thursday, as well as acting as a lead member of a group called Fiber Fanatics of Northwest Oklahoma.
Monday Liston spent her afternoon at the Woodward County Livestock Show perched in a chair by her Kromski yarn spinner. Her feet silently worked the wooden pedals of the contraption as it made the finest, thin thread out of a handful of beautifully mixed fibers.
"This that I am working with now is 50 percent Rambouillet and 50 percent English Angora rabbit," she said, holding what looked like a tangled mass of fine animal hairs.
It seemed natural, her being there, spinning her yarn at the corner of the arena while children and their lambs filed by in front of the judge at the livestock show.
Liston visited with interested onlookers and even instructed a knitting neophyte who was starting to learn to knit socks. All the while she gently and expertly held the handful of hair and wool fibers she was spinning.
On the face of it, you might suspect she is just one of those ladies who has taken an interest in something and just enjoys crafting.
But Liston is serious about her craft - real serious.
Recently at an Angora show in Ohio, one of her skeins of Angora blended yarns won best in its class, best skein and best in show.
If you ask her, she will show you the prize winning skein of yarn. When you see the intricate and delicate nature of the natural yarn and you instantly know, this is no department store yarn.
Yarns such as the ones Liston makes can cost around $7.50 per ounce and sometimes more, depending on the fibers that are being used, she said.
That means, a three to four ounce skein can cost anywhere from $24 to $40, she said.
The yarn is so fine that it doesn't just show up in bulky Christmas sweaters, but extremely fine items, even a wedding veil, she said.
Liston gained her interest in the craft when her daughter began showing sheep. She especially liked the Rambouillet breed, which is known for its finer hair fibers.
"The Rambouilett came from the Merino sheep when King Louis XVI was allowed to purchase some Merino sheep from his cousin, King Charles of Spain," she said. "This is the breed that resulted in France and the Merino originated in Spain."
When her daughter graduated and stopped showing animals through FFA, the two decided she would keep at least one sheep around to keep Liston in enough wool to continue her yarn making business.
Now, wool is her life. She acts as the yarn consultant and buyer, purchasing many specialty yarns for McLain's. She considers wools and fibers from many different animals from llamas, alpacas, silk, rabbits, angora goats and even cotton.
These days, when Liston wants to relax, what do you suppose she does? Well, she knits of course.
She enjoys her knitting students and taking her time to create the best of the best with her natural yarns, she said.
Her goal some day is to own a loom so she can begin to make fabric from the natural fibers she has spun into thread.
"But that is a long-term goal because that loom will cost $1,500," she said.
For now, she likes to remember her favorite items, most of them long gone as gifts to family members or high priced charity auction items, she said.
"My favorite item I have ever made was a sage green shawl that was made with hand spun yarn that was a merino and silk blend," she said. "It had a pattern that looked like a cat had meandered all the way across it. It was beautiful."