Written by Marie Hoff and photographed by Paige Green
“Did you do crafts before you got into fiber arts?” I ask Bev Fleming, while looking at stacks of magazines covering subjects from quilting to bread baking to Christmas ornaments in her fiber studio. “Everything,” she responds immediately, without missing a beat. There is not a trace of sarcasm in her voice. She means everything.
Bev’s crafting itch these days centers on the fiber she grows herself, from animals she knows and cares for at Ewe & Me 2 Ranch. She knows whose fiber she spins, their name, their character traits, their history, their parents and children, and health history. This deep connection with her material sources allows for a practice in hand spinning that is both intensely personal and strongly in touch with her surroundings. The animals and her relationship to them create a sense of place, a sense of home.
An insatiable learner, Bev frequently attends classes, participates in local fiber guilds, and joins spinning circles. “You don’t learn if you don’t go!” she proclaims when asked where her energy comes from. Bev has rancher blood: she doesn’t mince words, gets right to the point, and cares deeply about the animals she raises. She cares for the community that surrounds fiber growing and fiber arts.
Growing up in a San Francisco where people still rode horses down the street, Bev recalls, “Y’know you had a garage or a barn, and you’d just ride out to the beach,” and I try to imagine living in San Francisco and riding a horse out to Ocean Beach in the time before smartphones. Her grandmother went to the University of California, Berkeley for a Master’s degree in 1910, and Bev followed suit with a Master’s in Environmental Horticulture. So how did she get into raising sheep and spinning yarn?
“It all started because my husband wanted lamb chops,” she claims, eyes twinkling with laughter. But the wool had something to do with it as well. Between her love of animals and love of crafts, raising wool sheep was a natural fit. Starting with sheep in Wheatland, CA, Bev raised 50 head and first learned about how to process the fiber by going to Morro Fleece Works and helping out, learning as she went along. Years later, she moved to Sonoma County, christened her property Ewe & Me 2 Ranch, and continued to raise fiber animals and spin their fleece. She currently has a “Spinner’s Flock,” or a mix of specialty wool breeds and some Angora goats. Her sheep breeds include Merino, Cotswold, Bluefaced Leicester (BFL), and Romney. The fleece is beautiful, and the sheep are in good condition, guarded by their Maremma livestock guardian dog, Rocky. Rocky seems proud of the sheep as he lovingly licks their faces. Olive is the newest member of the farm, a 5 months old female livestock guardian dog in training. Bev spins their fiber and also sells their fiber, mainly as roving, at Guild events and fiber shows, as well as Fibershed’s annual Wool & Fine Fiber Symposium. Roving is a preparation of fiber that is especially coveted by hand spinners: a long coil of carded fiber ready to be spun into yarn. Bev sometimes also sells raw fleece and her handspun yarn, but mainly she focuses on selling roving. This focus is an indicator of where her interests lie: in hand spinning.
Between her love for animals and love of handcrafts, raising sheep and spinning yarn links Bev’s passions together like pieces of a puzzle. When Bev isn’t feeding sheep or attending a class, she is spinning yarn in her cozy country living room, dog at her feet. Her spinning wheel is carved with heart shapes, which, as they spin around and around, seem an appropriate symbol for the connection her spinning wheel makes between crafter and animal, allowing Bev to transform fiber from her animals into yarn.
I wonder what she does with the yarn, as she doesn’t regularly knit or weave, at least not nearly so often as she spins. “I look at it,” she announces because, for Bev, the yarn is enough, an art and a thing of beauty all on its own, the finished product. In a skein of homegrown and handspun yarn, a loving relationship between humans, animals, and the natural world is not just represented, is not only displayed. It continues to exist in the twisted tendrils of fiber, whose undulating form recalls DNA, the blueprint for life on Earth. Living in harmony with these vital processes of raising animals and spinning their fiber, Bev is genuinely at home in her homespun world. Her contentment is evident as she spins on her heart-carved spinning wheel.