Sitting next to Betty Lou Kline in a sunny spot inside a barn at Salomon Farm Park is a laundry basket filled with mud-stained strips of fabric.
The strips used to be part of an Amish farmer's work trousers, Kline said, and she's about to put them to another use – as part of the material she is weaving into a rag rug.
Kline demonstrated the use of her loom Saturday as part of the Fiber Arts Festival, where local craftspeople aim to educate others about the history and methods of making textiles.
Among the half-dozen participants were the Fort Wayne Flax and Fleecers Spinning Guild and groups devoted to machine knitting, spinning yarn, crochet work, basket weaving and tatting.
Norene Brown, from Garrett, showed how to use a drop spindle to turn fluffy balls of carded wool into yarn while representing the guild, which has about 35 members from northern Indiana.
“I learned to spin with the Settlers (group) at Swinney Homestead,” Brown said, referring to a Fort Wayne historic site in the West Central neighborhood. The Settlers group works to perpetuate pioneer skills. “I do this because it's for education. It's important for kids to know how things were done.”
Just as kids today might think food comes from a supermarket, without knowing about plant cultivation and animal husbandry, today's young people are likely to think clothes come from the mall, without understanding the processes needed to create their new sweater or pair of jeans.
One exhibit at the festival showed various colors of woolen fabric that can come from natural dyes – dyes made from garden flowers such as marigolds, plants such as indigo, the shells of walnuts and even crushed insects called cochineal. The bugs yield reddish hues.
Another demonstration showed how sheared wool is carded, so that all its fibers run the same way. The process uses a multipronged tool that resembles a brush to untangle cat fur. Carding must be done before wool can be spun into yarn, the demonstrator said.
John Lindsey, who dressed in a pioneer costume, uses a hackle – a slightly larger version of a carder.
The piece of heavy, rectangular iron has rows of dozens of teeth as sharp as pins. On the underside, he points out the date it was made – 1752.
“Benjamin Franklin was flying his kite in 1762,” he said. “That's how old that is.”
Lindsey, from Geneva, also displayed samples of raw cotton and flax, a small spinning wheel and a large walking wheel. The wheel didn't do the walking, but the operator did.
Striding back and forth a few steps to keep the yarn moving, an operator probably walked miles in a day of use. Lindsey said.
Kline, who lives in Elkhart County, said making textiles and clothing by hand was labor- and time-intensive work. But she said what she does isn't just old-fashioned.
Her work also contributes to sustainability.
“We're recycling,” she said. “We're reusing. We're not allowing things to go to waste.”