The Progress Club is pleased to announce the guest artist at the Missouri Day Art Show this year is Connie Cook.

The Progress Club is pleased to announce the guest artist at the Missouri Day Art Show this year is Connie Cook.

In addition to her numerous musical talents, Connie is also a master knitter. She began knitting when she was in her “early teen years,” when her family went up to their ranch near San Isabel during the summers. Being an only child, she found things for herself to do, including teaching herself to knit from a book.

She also recalls traveling with her mother back to Rocky Ford once a month for piano lessons, and she also had a piano at the ranch to practice on.

“But one can’t practice all day every day,” Connie said.

Over the years she has knitted everything from coats and sweaters, to scarves, gloves, mittens, hats, and currently makes dozens of baby hats each year which she donates to Pueblo hospitals. She also participates in the “Knit for Kids” drive for sweaters to be given to kids outside the United States who need warm clothing for the winter. Her most recent endeavor has been to learn Brioche knitting, “which has been a challenge,” she said.

In 2003, Lori Hawley, her daughter, acquired two and one-half alpacas (“One was pregnant,” Lori explains), and the Prairie ‘Pacas partnership with her mother was born.

A couple of years later, Connie said to Lori, “I think I’d like to learn how to spin,” so Lori carefully saved the fleece she was harvesting from the alpacas, and the next Mother’s Day Lori bought Connie a spinning wheel. “This model is especially useful since it all folds up and transports easily,” said Connie.

She took two lessons on spinning from a spinner in Rocky Ford and she was off and running. She specializes in the bulky knit yarn and now Connie and Lori can often be seen at various craft shows pedaling their wares. They make hats, gloves, scarves, mittens, ski headbands, socks, and even dog leashes out of the fiber from their alpacas. Lori also learned to felt, so she makes hats, purses and drink koozies.

Connie and Lori are now roommates, business partners, and best friends.

“I am truly blessed,” said Lori.

“Me, too,” said Connie.

Their alpaca herd is now 16 strong and they also have a guard llama who protects the herd from coyotes and rattlesnakes. Alpacas are native to South America, mainly in Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. They have been domesticated for over 5,000 years as fleece animals by the native peoples of those areas. Their fiber is five times warmer than sheep's wool and is softer than cashmere, making it extremely suitable for winter wear. It also has little to no lanolin, so minimal pre-treatment is required before it can be worked with. The animals themselves are easy to manage, because they don’t have hooves to hurt you, they only have teeth on the bottom, and they don’t eat or drink very much. One only has to clip their toenails three or four times a year and have them sheared once a year. They are modified ruminants with three stomachs, so when they spit at each other, it’s not really spit. Very rarely do they spit at humans; humans just sometimes get caught in the crossfire. The heat bothers these animals more than the cold, so Connie and Lori have placed kids’ swimming pools in all the pens so the alpacas can cool down during the hot summer days.

Connie and Lori will be at the Progress Club Art Show Saturday demonstrating their craft. A schedule will be posted at the old Park School, and will include spinning, carding and felting demonstrations. It’s amazing to watch how the fiber from animals can be transformed from “Alpaca to Afghan.”

“We look forward to visiting with all of you at this year’s Missouri Day Art Show,” said Connie and Lori.