It was hard this summer to be an alpaca in Missouri. With fur three times thicker than wool, the South American high-mountain creatures sweltered in the record temperatures.
But it is precisely the thickness of alpaca coats that makes them a textile asset.
Mary Licklider, founding director of the MU Office of Grant Writing and Publications, and husband Gary have 16 alpacas on their farm in Columbia. She makes hats, throw blankets, e-reader covers and other products from their coats.
Most of her time, however, is spent creating alpaca rugs with other women connected to the campus — retired medical technologist Diane Peckham and Linda Coats, an administrative assistant of Career Planning and Placement.
Indeed the University of Missouri has many talented current and retired staffers who moonlight at creating and selling arts and crafts. Those interviewed said they do it because it gives them a way to connect with others.
It’s also a great way to spend time, and then some. “It’s what I’ve been looking for my whole life,” Beverly Skyles, executive staff assistant to the chair’s office in psychological sciences, said of her craft.
Connecting through crafts
Mizzou’s creative hobbyists tend to give few clues during work hours about their passionate hobby.
Genevieve Howard, the senior multimedia specialist at the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, knits and crochets. But you probably wouldn’t know it after visiting her Gentry Hall office.
The only item that alludes to her passion is a throw blanket on a chair. Stripes of cream, brown and orange immediately catch the eye.
Howard took up knitting two years ago after her mother’s death. Since her mother, Andrea Beasley, was an avid knitter, Howard decided to dedicate a month to learning knitting.
After completing a teal scarf, she was hooked.
Howard makes prayer shawls, hats, scarves, sweaters and other garments. She makes the prayer shawls for friends going through hard times or battling sickness.
“You wish them well in every stitch,” she said. “They can just feel, ‘Oh, somebody cared about me.’ It’s really just the intention behind the making of it.”
Howard cites many reasons why she loves the hobby, but mostly it’s the social aspect.
“It’s like a hug for me,” she said. “It’s a way for me to connect with people like I couldn’t before.”
Each day, Howard tries to wear at least one item she’s made. For a Halloween party in 2011, her husband dressed not as Jack the Ripper or Frankenstein but as The Husband of a Knitter. He donned scarves and hats created by his wife.
On a recent day, Beverly Skyles sat at a table in her home surrounded by a rainbow of card stock, stamps and design scraps. She uses the items to make paper art.
Three years ago, Skyles attended a workshop for Stampin’ Up!, a product supplier for paper crafts. She knew immediately that this was her hobby.
Sometimes she makes paper art with friends. “You’re not just sitting and stamping,” Skyles said. “You talk, exchange stories and catch up on each others’ lives.”
Her works are given away as gifts, distributed overseas at U.S. military bases and sold in a store in Hallsville, Mo.
Feet know rugs
Knitting a shawl or creating paper art can be performed with just a few inexpensive materials. But making an alpaca rug requires shearing abilities, an expensive machine and, well, alpacas.
Licklider and her friends shear the alpacas annually between April and early June. Each creature provides five to 12 pounds of thick fiber. Alpaca fiber is run through the needles of a felt loom that weighs 800 pounds and is the size of a marimba. The rugs are sold at Missouri craft shows and online at curlyeye.com.
What’s so special about alpaca rugs? Is it the durability? The color? The organic aspect of an animal rug?
“Walk on one in your bare feet,” Licklider said. That’s the seller.
— Ashley Carman