ABINGDON, Va. – Eight-year-old Timothy Moyer watched intently as Debbie McLeish showed him how to weave a rug, a scarf, and then a mini-shawl. By the time he tried it himself, he looked like a natural, carefully moving a strand of alpaca yarn over and under the strands on the loom.
Moyer, of Castlewood, Va., was one of the many children and adults who enjoyed Farm to Fashion Day, a free community event that took place at Heartwood: Southwest Virginia's Artisan Gateway.
McLeish, one of several craft demonstrators at the event, also helped children make alpaca-fiber Christmas ornaments to take home.
"I am here to showcase what can be made from the beautiful fiber that my alpacas produce, so that [people] can appreciate the process involved in making clothing from the fiber of animals," said McLeish, who owns Meadowview-based Dreamland Alpacas with her husband, David.
"There are many steps involved, but it's both rewarding and therapeutic to travel through the process of producing an elegant garment."
Farm to Fashion Day at Heartwood showcased the process by which animal fiber is turned into clothing by local artisans.
Two alpacas from McLeish's farm were out on the lawn, and they were a big attraction, especially among a group of high school students from Bristol and Washington and Russell counties who stopped by Heartwood for the event during a college visitation tour.
"Make kissing noises," David McLeish told the kids. "That's how they know to come and kiss you."
Miranda Hall, a 15-year-old sophomore from Castlewood High School, puckered up – and cell phone cameras came out as the students recorded their alpaca experience.
Sharon Zens, of Abingdon, Va., let visitors help her to prepare fiber for spinning, teaching them about the process as she spun alpaca fiber into yarn.
Debbie McLeish demonstrated weaving while Margaret Rich of Russell County demonstrated a traditional sewing style she learned from her grandmother.
"Fleece is a gift from the animals, and I want kids to appreciate where these things come from. In today's world, we've just moved so far away from the natural things on this earth, we as a society, and it's just nice to put the time into something that's meaningful and useful," said Zens.
"I just enjoy being a part of Heartwood, and I think this is such a wonderful cultural center. It's such an honor to take part in something that's of interest to the locals and people who travel from out of town."