Friday, October 12, 2012

‘Take me to your camels’

Fiber expert to speak during Trailing of the Sheep

Express Staff Writer

Linda Cortright, left, will be speaking at the Community Library in Ketchum on Saturday night about natural fibers and how they are used in various cultures. Cortright has traveled the world to study how different cultures procure and utilize natural fibers. Courtesy photo

Two weeks ago, Wild Fibers magazine founder Linda Cortright was living in a yurt in Myanmar made of spun yak fur. Next weekend, she’ll be in Ketchum participating in the Trailing of the Sheep Festival—an event she said she is just as excited about.

“It’s all fiber and it’s all connected,” she said last week. “Every corner of the world has a story, and Idaho is certainly no exception.”

This is her first fiber festival in Idaho, but she said she is spending the next five weeks at similar fiber festivals throughout the U.S.

Cortright said she started Wild Fibers while she was raising cashmere goats in Spain as a way to draw attention to the people who raise the sheep, goats, yaks and camels that produce the fiber so many cultures depend on.

“The idea, from my perspective, has been that historically, we’ve paid so much attention to textiles—to these glorious textiles that are honored in museums, that people go miles to appreciate,” she said. “We would have none of it if we didn’t have silk, if we didn’t have wool, if we didn’t have cashmere, and historically, no one has paid attention to the nomads and the shepherds themselves.”

Cortright will be speaking about those people in two lectures as part of the Trailing of the Sheep Fiber Fest this year. Her first lecture will be a “Success Breakfast” hosted at the Sawtooth Botanical Garden on Friday, Oct. 12, at 8 a.m. She will talk about how she went from being a goat farmer to the editor and publisher of a successful fiber magazine—or, as she put it, “going from doing the puppy-slipper commute to my spare bedroom to landing in the middle of Mongolia and saying, ‘Take me to your camels!’”

Cortright said she is not a journalist, writer or photographer by training, but that she has followed her passion and followed some incredible stories. Those stories will form the focus of her lecture at the Community Library in Ketchum on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 6 p.m.

She said she wasn’t sure which stories she would tell, but that people might be interested in hearing about how camel herds in Mongolia were impacted by the introduction of the Soviet motorcycle, or projects she has seen in Tajikistan and South Africa.

She said that as a whole, she tries to write about interesting, global topics in fiber—only natural, plant- or animal-based fiber that can easily be spun into yarn—and how that fiber fits into its native culture.

“It’s really my goal, many times, to not write about sheep in Australia because everyone knows about sheep in Australia,” she said. “But how many people know about the camels in Mongolia?”

Cortright said there is still a market for “natural fiber,” though traditional uses of fibers such as wool have dropped off due to the rise of lower-cost, lower-maintenance synthetic materials. The reason that people wear Polarfleece instead of wool for warmth, she said, is because they only once make the mistake of throwing a wool sweater into the washing machine.

“Synthetics work with the Western lifestyle,” she said, but added that there is still a market for luxury natural fibers such as cashmere and merino wool—and that the green, sustainable movement might drive a rising demand for natural fiber.

“We have such an awareness about the importance of local movements and slow food that I see some of that already spilling over into the fiber industry,” she said. “That momentum certainly will grow.”

The Fiber Fest itself has expanded this year, with more vendors at the Folklife Festival and myriad classes for all age groups. Mary Austin Crofts, executive director of Trailing of the Sheep, said fiber arts of all sorts will be celebrated this weekend.

The Sun Valley Fabric Granary in Hailey will hold a class in which students will make lap quilts displaying things they are passionate about—holidays, snow, birdhouses or a number of other topics. The class will teach wool applique, in keeping with the weekend’s theme.

The Sawtooth Botanical Garden will offer spinning and other workshops, including making a plant-dyed scarf for which students will use the garden’s flowers and other plants and pound them with rubber mallets so the colors transfer to the fabric.

The festival will also feature children’s workshops where students can make felted soap, mosaics, “dream sticks” made of yarn and branches, folk art sheep and woven Hula-Hoops. For a complete schedule, visit

Cortright said she isn’t positive which events she will be attending, but that she is excited about the Folklife Festival and other sheep-related events—especially the parade, which she said she will attend with a number of cameras slung around her neck.

“Anytime you put me in the company of two or more sheep, my eyes glaze over!” she said. “I am so looking forward to this!”

Kate Wutz:

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