Kathy Sparks

Kathy Sparks
The Hand Maiden
Hand spun yarns and fiber arts;  Traditional basket making and rug hooking
October hours:
Fri–Mon 11–5; closed Tue–Thu; closed Oct 18–21

5349 Slippery Elm Shoot Road, Unionville

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Kathy Sparks considers herself a “fiber artist”.  Fiber can come in many different forms, and she has explored just about everything out there.

“I have been working with fiber since childhood,” says Kathy. “If it came from a natural source and could be twisted, woven or interlaced, I was exploring how those strands came together.”

She currently makes traditional Brown Ash Baskets, in the form of Shaker or Taconic styles; hand spun yarns, either as skeins or used in knit or woven items; and traditional primitive hooked rugs.

Kathy honed her craft both by earning a Master’s degree in Dye Chemistry from Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA, as well as studying with and learning from other artists.

“I have been fortunate to have been mentored by a great many fiber artists over the past 45 years,” Kathy explains. “When one finds their passion, it can be very exciting to seek out people with a common interest. I’ve worked with Michele Wipplinger, dyer, Anita Luvera Mayer, weaver, a host of spinners and knitters, Barb Carroll, rug hooker, and Martha Wetherbee, Shaker Basket expert.”  In fact, Kathy has served as Wetherbee’s assistant the past 10 years.

Kathy was drawn to this particular kind of craft by history and the thirst to know how people discovered and continued to embellish ordinary fibers over time.  “I wanted to know how individuals used the materials they had on hand,” Kathy says,  “whether it be a fiber for yarn or a wood product to make some utilitarian container such as a basket.” As Kathy’s work evolved, it began to focus on historic techniques or the use of traditional materials.

Kathy’s basketry encompasses all aspects of the craft – from harvesting the trees in New England, to cutting splints to size for weaving, to steaming handles and rims to finish the basket.  “No part of the basket is prepared by anyone but myself – from the tree to the finished basket,” says Kathy. Then she adds: “Well, except for Mother Nature growing the tree!”

Her spinning may incorporate Angora rabbit fiber harvested from 4 lovely does living on her farm.  The yarns created often are dyed using ancient natural dyes such as cochineal, indigo, madder and weld or from plants harvested from the Indiana countryside.

Kathy lives on a farm, one which she shares with 11 ponies, 4 Angora Bunnies, and Shetland Sheepdogs (yes, she has spun their hair). Her mornings are spent tending to her animals.  After the chores are done, she goes to her cottage studio and continues working on an assortment of projects.

“It depends on what I have in the pipeline, what I actually work on,” Kathy explains. “It may just be sitting down with colored pencils and planning a color layout for a sweater, or warping the loom or cutting splints for a basket.”

Kathy taught at the college level for 29 years, but now devotes herself to fiber art full time.

She is the author of two books, including “Song of the Muskox,” about the animals and the qiviut fiber, traditional natural dyes, especially lichens, and the knitted designs of Dorothy Reade.  She has authored over 100 articles and been published in nationally recognized magazines, such as Spin Off and Rug Hooking Magazine.