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The ‘Rabbit Lady’ of Oak Knoll Drive

By Staff | Jun 16, 2008

Maria Lindberg of Blue Earth holds one of the 40 Angora rabbits she has at her home. She plucks the fur and turns it into yarn. To see more photographs of this story, log on to http://cu.faribaultcountyregister.com

Her father gave her an Angora rabbit when she was a young girl. The gift led to a life-long passion, hobby, and retirement business for one Blue Earth senior.

Maria Lindberg lives on the west edge of Blue Earth, on an isolated piece of land surrounded by the backwaters of the Blue Earth River.

It is there that she raises Angora rabbits, and turns their fur into yarn that she uses for mittens, hats and other knitted items.

Lindberg currently has 40 Angora rabbits in hutches in a fenced area behind her home. That number can change from time to time she said.

“The biggest threat is from predators,” she explained. Besides foxes and other varmints, one predator she is currently battling is the Great Horned Owl. “There is one around here now, and it attacks and kills a rabbit, taking just parts of it.”

The number of rabbits also increases because of propagation. Lindberg has a group of young rabbits that were born this spring.

Angora rabbits are prized for their long soft hair. They are the oldest types of domestic rabbits.

Lindberg raises them for their special wool. While the wool (or fur) can be harvested by shearing, much like a sheep, Lindberg does it by a technique known as plucking.

“Plucking is basically pulling off the excess fur in handfuls,” she said. The animal doesn’t mind it, as she demonstrated the technique on a rabbit on her lap that never moved. In fact, it seemed to enjoy it.

First she combs the fur; a lot comes out just with combing but this is not the best fur, and Lindberg uses it for making cat toys, or for turning into felt. After combing, she plucks out the good fur.

“I have to pluck the fur off each rabbit about every two to three months,” she said. It takes 20 minutes to an hour to clean up and pluck one rabbit.

She lays the plucked fur out in one direction, with the root ends together on the same end..

Next, she spins the Angora fur into yarn on an old-fashioned spinning wheel. She can even spin the wool directly off the rabbit sitting on her lap, and the rabbit won’t budge. “I once had one sit on a chair at a craft show with me for 12 hours.”

“They are very docile,” she added, “And that is why people like them as pets.” She has been raising these rabbits since 1981 and has only been seriously bitten twice in all that time.

The lesser quality fur Lindberg puts on a combing machine and makes felt. She takes nine batts of carded fur and rolls them into a giant sausage-like cloth tube.

Next, she washes the tube five times in the washing machine.” Takes all night to do that,” she said.

After it drys she unrolls the tube of fur and it has become a square of Angora rabbit felt.

The felt can be used to line a rabbit fur hat or gloves. Or it can be cut into a foot shape and used as a shoe insert.

Lindberg sells the shoe inserts at shows and at some businesses in Blue Earth. “They are soft and warm and will form to each person’s individual foot,” she says.

Lindberg runs a business called “Oak Knoll Angoras” out of her home. Her partner is her daughter, Lisa Lindberg of Amboy. “Lisa is pretty busy with her own business as well,” Lindberg said. “She owns the Amboy Cottage Cafe.”

Maria Lindberg makes pies for her daughter’s cafe, so the two work well together on both ventures. Lindberg also has people who knit some of her products. One of those knitters is Kay Bogen.

They have made a lot of experimental products besides mittens and hats; things like toe warmers, stuffed animals, baby booties and now little stuffed gnomes.

Everything is made of Angora rabbit fur, although some things have up to 20 percent nylon added to part of the yarn to aid in dryness.

Lindberg also raises seven sheep, and uses their wool to add to part of the Angora yarn for items such as mittens. They have also tried material such as Alpaca or silk too.

Lisa Lindberg knits the hats, and it is a difficult process, especially adding the felt liners. It is the liners that help the hat keep its shape, Lindberg says.

Lindberg moved to Blue Earth in 1960 when her husband, Pete, took his first teaching job as the German teacher at Blue Earth.

“He taught here for 33 years,” Lindberg said. “We had originally planned on staying a couple of years and then move on, maybe to the Twin Cities, where Pete could get a ‘real job.’ But Blue Earth was such a nice town and we loved it here so we stayed.”

In 1972 they bought the farm place where they still live. Pete Lindberg had a stroke 12 years ago, and three years ago he had to move into St. Lukes for care.

“We are so grateful to live in a community like Blue Earth where people have been so nice and helpful,” Lindberg said. After his stroke people visited Pete, and business owners welcomed him into their stores and took the time to visit with him, even though his speech had been affected, Lindberg explained.

Besides her work with the rabbits, Lindberg stays busy with teaching Masterpiece art sessions at the school, singing and playing bells in choirs at her church, being a member of the Mitchell Chautaqua Circle, gardening and just being outdoors.

“Of course the rabbits and the yarn-making take a lot of time,” she said. “Its so labor-intensive that I will never get rich doing it, but it is something I sure enjoy doing.”

And that is just what a hobby should be.