MILLER — Debi Roberts’ grandma taught her how to crochet when she was 5 as a way to keep her from getting in trouble at church.
“Granny’s method ... to teach me to behave was to hand me a crochet hook and a ball of string and sit in the back pew of the church with her. She taught me to crochet back there, and I would sit very quietly and work on it through church,” said Debi.
Crocheting came pretty easy to Debi. By the age of 7, her grandmother also had taught her to knit and sew. She vividly remembers how she desperately wanted a pair of corduroy pants, and her grandma took her to a Five and Dime store to purchase a yard of corduroy fabric so they could make them.
“Granny bought me one whole yard of corduroy fabric, and we went home and made me a pair of corduroy pants. I wore them completely out. I loved those pants,” Debi says with a laugh.
As she got older, Debi continued to hone her craft. She chuckled as she talked about how her friends would hang out together after school, but she would go home to work on an afghan.
Since 2013, Debi and her husband, Keith, have been living on an acreage near Miller called Baaberry Farms where they raise sheep, goats, pigs, geese and chickens as well as dogs and cats. Debi uses the fibers from her sheep and goats to create yarn and roving that she hand dyes and sells on their website and at the Kearney Area Farmers Market.
Debi and Keith, who originally is from Kearney, lived in Texas for more than 20 years where Keith was a plumber and Debi worked for Exxon. When Debi’s mother got sick in 2010, Debi semi-retired in order to care for her mom and to keep up with the couple’s children.
The Roberts were attending a family member’s wedding in Nebraska when Debi saw a piece of property for sale near Miller. At one time the building had been a store in the early 1900s that sold gas, snacks and drinks, Debi said.
“We drove by this broken down house with a ‘For Sale’ sign out front. I have no idea. I just made him stop the car, and I said, ‘I want this. We are buying this.’ He said, ‘You are outside your mind. I said, ‘No, no this is mine. We are buying it,’” Debi explained.
The Roberts lived in south Texas, and Debi was amazed by the green, lush landscape of Nebraska. She described it as coming from the black-and-white Kansas to the colorful Oz in “The Wizard of Oz.” They didn’t immediately buy the property, but Debi kept her eye on the real estate listing online. When it was still on the market over a year later, they were able to visit and bought it.
Since moving to Nebraska, the family has been working to restore their home. They had about 50 ewes and lambs in 2016 when Debi had a work accident that severely damaged both of her knees. Because of her injuries, she was not physically able to work with the sheep so they had to sell most of their flock. She did keep her best rams, and they have been slowly rebuilding their flock.
Fiber arts business
When a friend wanted to buy some of the items Debi makes, she decided to try to start selling some of her creations. She participated in the Mid-Plains Fiber Fair in York, and she sold everything within the first day. She started making project bags for people to keep their supplies and projects in. She now sells worsted yarn kits, tote bags, drawstring bags, sock/fingering weight yarn, wedge bags and roving. Customers can purchase items on her website, baaberryfarms.com, or at the Kearney Area Farmers Market.
Debi’s sheep are sheared once a year. The wool is spun by Debi or hand spun at a mill. She dyes everything herself.
Things now have come full circle as Debi is sharing with others what she learned from her grandmother. Her daughter knits and crochets, and her oldest son knows how to knit. She has been teaching lessons to customers at the farmers market on Saturdays. She has taught a sock knitting class, and she will start a beginner’s class for crochet or knitting at 9 a.m. Saturday at the market in the Hilltop Mall parking lot. Each session is $10.
“If anyone has a project they are working on and they are stuck, come up there. We will sit down, and I will sort you out,” Debi said.
Potential knitters or crocheters are asked to bring a chair and a crochet hook or needle.
“Pull up a seat, and we can just sit and knit and visit — as knitters tend to do when we congregate,” she said.
Debi does private lessons, and she will also take part in the Mid-Plains Fiber Fair April 23-24 in York. She continues to work full time, but her ultimate goal is to eventually open her own brick-and-mortar fiber arts store.
“If I could do anything, just choose what are you going to do with your life, that is all I would do. That is literally all I would do,” she said.