An appreciation of Appalachian fiber arts has often been hindered by stereotypical images of Appalachia as a poverty-stricken region, where women had to make every article of clothing and bedding for their family out of necessity, rather than aesthetic expression. Yet, to this day many Appalachian women with great artistic talent spin, knit, and weave by choice and not necessity, making a conscious decision to create beautiful objects and continue the rich handcraft traditions of their foremothers. Sandra Bennett’s family has roots in the Appalachian Mountains dating back to the 17th century. Sandra comes from a long family line of strong women who often ran the households, and she is no exception. With the help of her husband, Sandra runs the Thistle Cove Farm, in stunningly beautiful Tazewell County. There they grow their own food and care for their animals, including Romney, Shetland, and other breeds of sheep that have yielded some of the finest fleeces in the Commonwealth. Sandra is an artist as well as shepherd, and she loves sharing her skill with others. She taught her apprentice, Linda Wright, the arts of hand spinning, dyeing, knitting, and weaving.
I enjoy teaching and having Linda as an apprentice. Sometimes she would ask, “Now, do you think we should do it such and such a way?” I’m the teacher that goes, “Well, why don’t you do it and see?” I think the way I worked with her was to give her permission to fail and succeed. See, if it doesn’t turn out right, you need to find another way. For me, every time I do something and I don’t get the results I want, I look back and think, “Well, what would one of my grandmothers have done?”
—Sandra Bennett, master fiber artist