In the Spotlight: Rebecca Brouwer of Shepards Corner Farm

In Loudoun County there’s a picture-perfect Victorian-style country house that looks like it has been standing proud over the landscape for a century.  Painted a sunny yellow, it has a broad porch that looks out over a well-manicured lawn, barns, and the studio of fiber artist Rebecca Brouwer.  Ponies are in the stable and a flock of Gotland sheep happily graze in the meadow.

Rebecca grew up on a farm and, as the youngest of 5 children and her job was to give the animals love and attention.  She describes it as  getting to be Fern from Charlotte’s Web – she would take in any injured animals and feed the baby animals.  As she grew up, she wanted to be the one responsible for all the animal care.  Her affectionate nature shows in how loved all of her animals are – the sheep coming running for attention when she enters a field and the ponies snuggle up the minute she enters a stall.

She decided to raise sheep because of her interest in animal care.  Rebecca chose the Gotland breed for a number of reasons:  good feet, no tails, and of course, the beautiful wool with lustrous curls in a variety of grey colors.  When she first started raising sheep, she had the intent of doing something with the fiber but didn’t know what that would be.

Before she had her sheep, her creative outlet was sewing.   Sewing, Rebecca points out, requires you to learn how something is put together and to understand math and proportions as well as how to problem solve. Learning to sew taught her to appreciate and determine how things are made.  Once she had her own fiber, she needed figure out what she could make with it.  Rebecca was dabbling in a variety of fiber arts but it was a hat making class with Dawn Edwards at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival where she discovered felting.  She instantly gravitated to the felting process but her Gotland fleece wasn’t well suited for felt hats.  This lead her to explore the felting possibilities of her wool.

After trying various techniques, she came upon a FeltLoom, a needle felting machine which worked well with her fiber and allowed her to bond her wool to fabric.  She has perfected this technique and uses it to make scarves and shawls.  In addition to felting her wool, she has some fiber spun into yarn which she weaves on a triangle loom to make lightweight shawls that are soft, delicate and a delight to wear.  She also machine embroiders and does a variety of other fiber arts.  Currently, eco-printing and indigo dyeing are of keen interest and she’s enjoying the journey of turning “agriculture into art”.  So far in her process of discovery, Rebecca has learned a couple of things.  One is that the marriage of over-dyeing Gotland with indigo is quite magical.  The other, after trying out eco-printing and natural dyeing, is that now she can’t walk past a plant without wondering what kind of print it might yield.

Rebecca notes that fiber taps into her creativity and feels that “what you can make is only limited by your imagination.” This year, she’s taking time to consciously assess her creative processes.   She wants to create and make art in line with sustainability – not only sustainability of fibers, but with consideration of how her creative endeavors sustain her as a person and an artist.   This process includes opening up new ways to combine various techniques, as well as reorganizing her studio space to better support her creativity.  For Rebecca, it’s not just making projects, it’s about discovery and self-expression through her work.  In her family, the concept is called “just maybe-ing” – considering ideas and allowing yourself to explore the possibilities.

Rebecca also thinks about the sustainability of our fiber community.  For her,  joining the Chesapeake Fibershed as a producer member is very much about supporting local fiber arts by helping to connect farmers and artisans.  She hopes that our fibershed “will be a place where inspiration is supported and that others will be motivated to pursue their craft because they can see a place for it in the world.”

You can see Rebecca’s work and inquire about her beautiful Gotland wool at her website

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