Our friend Liz Kaplan is an intrepid traveler and seeker of beauty in all fibery forms. Last summer, as part of a life-changing move from the East Coast to the West, she spent some time exploring the South. Her trip included time in Tennessee, at the famed Shakerag Workshops in Sewanee, and a visit to Florence, Alabama, home of Alabama Chanin. When Liz told us about her visit to Fiber Farm, in Tracy City, Tennessee, we asked her for a full report. A visit to Fiber Farm is now on our list.
—Kay and Ann
Kacie Lynn is not just raising alpacas on her five acres in Tracy City, Tennessee. While the invitation I received last summer had been simply to visit a woman who raised these gentle creatures, when I arrived at Fiber Farm I discovered so much more: a laboratory for exploring and learning, dyeing in various stages, a garden for growing food and materials, and a workroom brimming with supplies and signs of productivity.
From Fashion School to a Farm
Lynn grew up in Soddy Daisy, Tennessee. After earning a degree in Apparel Design Marketing and Production from Auburn University in 2008, she spent several years doing product design in Seattle. But Lynn never stopped thinking about one of the topics she had studied at school: the harm the fashion industry does to the environment.
While there’s been much said in the press about the horrible conditions under which the people who make our clothing work, there has been far less about the effect that the production of that clothing has had on the environment. Lynn is concerned with both the human conditions under which clothing is manufactured and the effect it has on the earth. At Fiber Farm, she strives to model sustainable living with creativity. (She also strives to get eight full hours of sleep, an especially impressive goal given all that she does herself.)
Lynn farms plants and livestock, does carpentry, organizes and leads fiber workshops, participates in farmers’ markets and other events related to sustainability, and makes things. The art of hand-stitching plays a large part in her fabric creations, as does using natural dyes to color the fabric on which she sews.
Combining Learning With Doing
As luck would have it, Lynn’s fifth grade science teacher is her neighbor, whom she still addresses as “Mr.” I mention this because he arrived soon after I did and it was clear that he and his wife are an important part of the community that support what she is doing. He stuck around for a while and proudly held up a card displaying all the colors that were created during a recent fungi and lichen dye workshop held at the farm.
A newly cleaned out barn serves multiple purposes as a classroom, lab, shop and storage area. Part education center and part workspace, Fiber Farm combines learning with doing at every opportunity. There are simply wrapped skeins of yarn that Lynn spun from fibers sourced from family-owned farms in the US, samples of naturally dyed cotton, Romney wool, yak and silk, Kentucky grown hemp, buffalo, a merino/cashmere/angora blend, and pure angora. The assortment is there to allow visitors, including groups of local school children, to compare the look and feel of the different fibers. A nearby rack holds unspun cotton in many shades of indigo. The indigo is on its second life, from dye pots leftover from the Shakerag workshops brought over from Sewanee the previous week.
Lynn produces most of the fiber she needs to create the items that she sells. (She also repurposes second hand linens for some of her housewares.) As time permits throughout the year she cards, spins, and dyes the alpaca fiber she shears each spring. She has a pet sheep, and supplements his fleece with donations from neighboring sheep farmers. In addition to alpacas, three mini donkeys, one goat, and two cats are resident at Fiber Farm.
Lynn raises food for her table along with a little bit of cotton and hemp and some plants used for dyeing. I was excited to see that cotton was a crop that could be casually grown, for some reason I had never considered this, but of course it can and Lynn is experimenting with doing so.
Can You Dye With That?
Dyeing often involves heat, and there is a fire pit composed of recycled bricks from, appropriately, the site of a recent fire. A clothes line hangs between two nearby trees for convenient drying. During my visit, one pot held a beautiful red liquid that was an experiment to extract color from Prickly Pear Cactus. (Sadly, this did not go well, but Lynn is not to be thwarted, and she will try again once she comes by another batch of Prickly Pear Cactus. Anyone?) Another pot held a deep and dirty brown liquid that smelled spoiled and sour. It was made from a fungi called Dead Man’s Foot. Imagine that! This was left over from the same natural dye class that had resulted in the beautiful color card held up by Lynn’s fifth grade science teacher.
Piles of fabric in various shades of yellow lay in both the barn and home workshop. The dye for these yellows comes from the Osage Orange tree which conveniently is native to the South and easy for Lynn to get for her dye pots. Osage Orange wood produces a very strong dye in a wide range of yellows, as well as olive green if iron is added.
The home workroom has the same sense of calm activity as the barn workroom. There is action wherever you look, yet everything has its place: two sewing machines, clothed dress forms, three looms with work in progress, shelves made out of rough boards and more repurposed bricks, and a neatly tied pile of rib bones. The bones are from a very old horse that Lynn once knew. Instead of seeming at all morbid, the pile of bones makes a beautiful still life.
Little is wasted at Fiber Farm, yet there is a sense of abundance, not of making do or of deprivation. The animals, eager to greet a visitor, seem happy. One gets a sense that they like being around both Lynn and each other. This feeling of comfort and satisfaction is contagious. I enthusiastically recommend dropping by her website, giving her a call, and stopping by to say ‘hey.’
Kacie Lynn offers farm tours to individuals, schools and other groups by appointment and offers workshops throughout the year.