Taking a spin at the Ninilchik fair

Between the intermittent downpours that pounded the grounds, droves of locals hustled around inside the gates of the Kenai Peninsula Fair, Friday, in Ninilchik.


Carol Freas came prepared for the vicious weather. Standing in front of jars labeled “jarred chicken” and “jarred cherries” she said it is just part of the territory.

“I’ve been coming for 30 years,” Freas said. “It’s August and it’s the fair and it’s raining, but the sun in shining too.”

Siblings Chase Stephens and Taylor Dobson ran through the mud, between the swing ride, which they road under a clear sky, to the tilt-a-whirl, which they entered under dark gray clouds ready to let loose. However, the two were smiling, unconcerned about the next downpour, and decked out in white plastic one-time-use rain jackets.

Just inside the entrance to the exhibit hall Lee Choray-Ludden, Martha Merry and Jane Conway were running one of the fair’s more exotic petting zoos.

Alpaca, Navajo Churro sheep and dyed mohair goat were just some of the animals available for roving hands to feel.

Unlike traditional petting zoos, these creatures were kept in peanut-butter-jar sized containers, and it was only their sheerings.

The three women were running the educational booth the Fireweed Fiber Guild has been hosting at the fair for three years, Choray-Ludden said, as her socked feet pumped the foot pedal of a dark brown spinning wheel.

The guild has been in operation for about five years now, Churay-Ludden said. There are over 100 members on their monthly newsletter list, and at least ten active members that meet regularly.

Conway said the group was “producer-oriented.” Many of the members also own their own livestock that they sheer their fibers from. She owns tens of sheep, and Choray-Ludden owns 25 goats.

Members of the guild know how to handle fibers since they are taken off the backs of their own animals, Choray-Ludden said. Beginning with sheering, they are then washed, processed, spun and woven into various products.

Unfortunately there are no fiber mills in Alaska, Churay-Ludden said. In response, many of the guilds members have joined the Alaska Natural Fiber Business Association, a non-profit working to create more options for fiber producers in the state.

“There is no fiber mill here,” Choray-Ludden said. “We have to ship out our fibers for processing.”

The organization is researching how much fiber is produced in the state, Choray-Ludden said. When they have figured out the numbers they can apply for a grant that may result in building a mill.

However, Merry said many people are able to hire out aspects of the process they are least interested in. There is more time for the parts spinners enjoy most, she said.

Choray-Ludden said she enjoys dying her fibers. She pulls out short strings of vibrantly colored yarns labeled names that together sound like salad made with local flora. Conway pulled out a thick wrap the deep, mustard-yellow tint of turmeric, but said it had been dyed with onionskins.

“Wild berry mix,” “horsetail,” “lupine blossom,” are some of the natural plants used to make the dyes the guild uses to color their yarn, Choray-Ludden said. There is so much to do with fibers, she said. So much she herself doesn’t even have time to explore them all.

The fair is a great place to be to educate people about what is going on in the fiber producing community, Choray-Ludden said.

Telotha Braden and her father Mario Reyna wandered up to the three spinning wheels.

“I came here last year,” Braden announced to the women.

Braden asked a few questions and felt the different piles of fibers sitting on Merry, Conway and Choray-Ludden’s laps. Reyna asked a few after his daughter.

“It’s really fun to have the kids in here, but sometimes the parents are just as curious,” Choray-Ludden said. “It’s a beautiful craft, there’s so much variety that can be done with it.”


Kelly Sullivan can be reached at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com


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