When Mary Donaty was 10 years old, she fell in love.
This love was unlike any other — assertive, quirky, with a penchant for eating hair bows. And the object of her affection? A llama.
Today, 56 years later, Donaty raises llamas, alpacas and Pygora goats on Paradise Found Fiber Farm, tucked away in the forest of Clinton. She is also the founder of Whidbey Island’s annual celebration of fibers, the Whidbey Island Fiber Quest.
Donaty said she began the quest as a way of letting the public get a glimpse into the world of fibers, from raising and shearing the animals to spinning the spools. “I’ve organized this event so that we open our farms and share and tell the story of how we got to do what we individually do and how we work together as a unit,” she said. “I’ve been a fiber person for over 30 years and [taken]many paths, many roads, tried farmers markets and things, and what I’ve found works best for me was to open my farm up and bring people here so I can give them a history lesson. I can give them the touch and feel of the animal. And I can show them what is possible to do with the fiber.”
In years past, Donaty has put together two events, one in fall and one in early summer. But this year, there is a twist: it will only be offered once, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, July 12-13.
“I switch it up every year,” she said. “We started out just with the fiber farms and then we did Fiber Quest with a Twist and involved other businesses on the island and we did it spring and fall.”
Competition and burnout associated with spring and fall events proved a hurdle. Donaty explained that she and others decided to host the quest once in the summer due to more favorable weather and light conditions which should allow attendees to better observe the production process. She has also limited participating businesses to those in the industry, explaining that, with so many other businesses involved, attendees found it difficult to experience everything.
“We hope that they concentrate just on fiber which is what the birth of this thing is all about, so it’s Fiber Quest with a Twist with a pair of sunglasses on,” she said.
Farm participants are Fern Ridge Alpacas, Paradise Found Fiber Farm, Pronkin’ Pastures Alpaca Ranch, Frosen Acres Alpacas, Olympic Mist Farm, Island Bliss Alpacas. Two shops, Knitty Purls and Whidbey Isle Yarns, Gifts and Teas, will also participate and sell local goods.
Lynn Sheffield, of Olympic Mist Farm Alpacas, said she has been involved with Fiber Quest since its inception. “I have a farm store here, so for me it’s a way for me to get people to come and visit the farm and the store and learn more about the fiber,” she said.
Sheffield and others will also demonstrate spinning to visitors.
“I think the event tends to attract people that don’t live here on the island, so it’s just a great way to expand information about the hobby farm life and farm life and [give] information about the alpaca fiber and spinning and weaving out to the general public and expand our customer base,” she said.
Most of the farms raise alpacas, which are nearly half the size of llamas and have shorter ears. Paradise Found Fiber Farm, of which Donaty is owner and operator, is the only farm that produces three fiber types — those from llamas, alpacas and Pygora goats.
Several of Donaty’s animals were rescued. She calls her farm a demonstration of the “circle of life;” the animals have a home and provide her with fibers to sell, which in turn pays for their food.
According to Donaty, a variety of fiber products will be for sale on farms and in the shops from roving to yarn and handmade items such as apparel and gifts.
Knitty Purls employee Lou Ann Toeppen said the event brings in quite a bit of foot traffic and helps both local farmers and businesses by spreading the word about Whidbey’s fiber offerings. Knitty Purls will be selling fibers and demonstrating spinning technique as a part of the quest.
Tickets are free and can be picked up at any participating retailer or farm, or online at whidbeyfiberquest.com.
At each location visited, participants will receive an initialed business card and have their ticket signed.
Patrons will have a chance to win a gift certificate in one of two ways: for every $25 purchase, the participant will be entered into a drawing for a $50 gift certificate; after visiting eight locations, participants will be entered into a drawing for a $25 gift certificate; some fiber shops will also have their own drawings and ways to win. Drawings for the $25 and $50 gift certificates will be held July 18.