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Growing her flock, one alpaca at a time: Fiber artist shares her story

Stroll into Yarnology a delightful and charming yarn shop on East Third Street in Winona, on any given Thursday night and you’ll see more than just luscious yarns and dozens of knitting needles.

In the heart of the store are cushy couches, overstuffed chairs and a coffee table covered with knitting magazines and dishes filled with chocolates. Every spot is occupied. Knitters working on projects from socks to sweaters gather around to catch up on the week.

But the star of this story — Lisa Hanesworth — can be found sitting at the high-top counter near the yarnologists, unassumingly working on her latest project. That’s where I found her, when I approached her to chat about alpacas.

Turns out, she knows about a lot more than just alpacas. But that’s where we started.

When Lisa and her husband bought their 84-acre farm outside Winona nearly 20 years ago, he suggested getting alpacas to help them keep up with mowing. She just laughed and told him he was crazy; they were both raised in large cities and had no farming experience.

But 10 years later, the idea didn’t sound quite as unreasonable. Lisa had recently left her job as a CPA to be at home more with her three daughters. As a way to carve out time for herself and reclaim a former hobby, she started working part-time at Yarnology. She started noticing the different colors and textures of each skein of yarn that would pass through her fingers.

That spring, Lisa signed up for a class at the annual Shepherd’s Harvest Sheep and Wool Festival that piqued her interest: a spinning wheel class. Within a week she had her own wheel.

“I don’t know how to describe it, but when I first sat down at the wheel, it felt natural,” she says. “This ah-ha moment…almost like I had done it before.”

From there, Lisa talked to everyone she could, gathering information about harvesting wool from fiber animals, like alpacas and sheep. She figured out how to start her own operation. Alas, Three Sisters Fiber Co., now Abacus Dyeworks, was born. Today, the once-empty barns are home to 16 Huacaya alpacas and several breeds of sheep — as well as bees, chickens, cats and dogs.

After she learned about sheering the animals and spinning fiber, Lisa began to research dyeing methods. She was hooked.

“It was like the whole process came full circle,” she says. “It made everything make sense.”

Six years after she started her company, Lisa reflects back on the earlier days.

“I would see these other people bounding ahead of me, dyeing more yarn, spinning more fiber, creating more connections,” she says. “But I had to stay true to myself. I had to focus on what was best for me and my family. And for us, that was going slow.”

As her youngest daughter graduates high school, Lisa will have more time to devote to Abacus Dyeworks, a name she chose because it reflects numbers and counting — and in a way, the person she used to be.

Regardless of what lies ahead, Lisa will continue at her own speed.

“Trust your gut,” she says. “Take everything you learn and turn it into a process that works for you.”

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