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Nome Schoolhouse sees new life as fiber arts center

Chris Armbrust and Teresa Perleberg combined their burgeoning fiber arts businesses into Shepherd Industries LLC and purchased the Nome Schoolhouse and the surrounding land for their Fiber Arts Retreat Center.

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Empty rural schools dot the prairies, mostly falling into disrepair. But one in eastern North Dakota is seeing new life as a fiber arts center, and the women building it are expecting wool craft enthusiasts from all over the world.

The Nome Schoolhouse was built in 1916, and the gym was added in 1949. It last saw students in 1970. It had seen some use, off and on, over the years. But it was sitting empty and definitely falling into disrepair when Chris Armbrust and Teresa Perleberg found it.

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The old Nome Schoolhouse is being transformed into a Fiber Arts Retreat Center, and the owners believe it will attract wool enthusiasts from around the world. Photo taken March 12, 2021. (Derek Fletcher / Agweek)

The two combined their burgeoning fiber arts businesses into Shepherd Industries LLC and purchased the schoolhouse and the surrounding land for their Fiber Arts Retreat Center. They've been remodeling and retrofitting the space to fit their needs.

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The old Nome Schoolhouse's transformation is not complete yet, but when it's done it will house class space, a retail sales area, and a dining room and events center, with a chef on site and an 11-room boutique hotel. They also plan to have a variety of wool-bearing animals in the barn out back. Photo taken March 12, 2021. (Derek Fletcher / Agweek)

Besides class space and a retail sales area, the schoolhouse will also feature a dining room and events center, with a chef on-site and an 11-room boutique hotel. They also plan to have a variety of wool-bearing animals in the barn out back.

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The retail space is set up at the Nome Schoolhouse on March 12, 2021. (Derek Fletcher / Agweek)

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A shirt advertises the "Ewe Tube" YouTube channel of Shepherd Industries. The shirt is one item in the retail space at the Nome Schoolhouse, which is being transformed into a Fiber Arts Retreat Center. Photo taken March 12, 2021. (Derek Fletcher / Agweek)

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A sheep-inspired shirt is for sale at the retail center at the old Nome Schoolhouse, which is being transformed into a Fiber Arts Retreat Center. Photo taken March 12, 2021. (Derek Fletcher / Agweek)

"It will be just a huge education and fiber retreat center," Armbrust said.

"It's real North Dakota," Perleberg said. "You'll be looking out at sheep grazing as you're eating in the dining room. It'll be a true experience."

Armbrust and Perleberg have customers all over the world for their fiber businesses, and some are already planning a trip to the schoolhouse to see how it's done.

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Some of the customers of Shepherd Industries already are planning trips to the Nome Schoolhouse when the facility is completed. The grand opening is scheduled for July 2021. Photo taken March 12, 2021. (Derek Fletcher / Agweek)

Wool experience

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Teresa Perleberg's herd started as a small family hobby of four sheep in 2005 when her daughter asked for them for her eighth birthday. It's now grown to 125 head. Photo taken March 12, 2021, in Nome, N.D. (Derek Fletcher / Agweek)

Teresa Perleberg's herd started as a small family hobby of four sheep in 2005 when her daughter asked for them for her eighth birthday.

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Teresa Perleberg learned to spin wool into yarn after she and her family acquired a few sheep as a hobby. Their herd has grown to 125, and her Bear Creek Felting business has taken off. Photo taken March 12, 2021, in Nome, N.D. (Derek Fletcher / Agweek)

"I wanted to learn how to spin wool into yarn, which I did," she said.

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With the wool from her sheep, Teresa Perleberg learned to felt, then started creating felt patterns and doing tutorials. Photo taken March 12, 2021, in Nome, N.D. (Derek Fletcher / Agweek)

The herd has grown to 125, and Perleberg uses the wool for her fiber arts business, Bear Creek Felting. She developed patterns for felted animals, then started selling needle felting kits online in 2008. They're extremely popular, and that led to an online felting academy to demonstrate for customers around the world how to put them together.

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A felt gnome is one of Teresa Perleberg's creations at Bear Creek Felting. Perleberg started the business using wool from her own sheep. Photo taken March 12, 2021, in Nome, N.D. (Derek Fletcher / Agweek)

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Teresa Perleberg has gone from making felt creatures herself to creating patterns, kits and doing tutorials so others can learn the craft. Photo taken March 12, 2021, in Nome, N.D. (Derek Fletcher / Agweek)

"It was just like the perfect medium for me when I found it, and everything just clicked," she said.

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Teresa Perleberg says felting has been the perfect medium for her. Photo taken March 12, 2021, in Nome, N.D. (Derek Fletcher / Agweek)

For Armbrust, it started with an interest in spinning wool and four alpacas. A shortage of small custom mills led her to a new career path. About 12 years ago, she started processing her own wool, and then Teresa's, and then it started coming in from around the country.

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Chris Armbrust says that while sheep's wool is the majority of her business, she has spun all kinds of wool at Dakota Fiber Mill. Photo taken March 12, 2021. (Derek Fletcher / Agweek)

"You name it, I've processed it," she said. "The bulk of the business is sheep."

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Chris Armbrust's interest in spinning wool started with alpacas, but she now says she's spun all kinds of wool. Photo taken March 12, 2021, in Nome, N.D. (Derek Fletcher / Agweek)

But her Dakota Fiber Mill business was getting too big for her home-based operation, and it was the same story for Perleberg's Bear Creek Felting. They started looking for a place to build their businesses together.

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Yarn from Dakota Fiber Mill hangs for sale in the retail space at the old Nome Schoolhouse, which is being transformed into a Fiber Arts Retreat Center. Photo taken March 12, 2021, in Nome, N.D. (Derek Fletcher / Agweek)

"I myself was busting at the seams," Armbrust said. "I was not even taking new customers in. So I had to add machines, but I had no space, so I had to build. We can build something here on our land."

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Chris Armbrust had outgrown her old space for her Dakota Fiber Mill. The space at the old Nome Schoolhouse will allow her to take on new customers. Photo taken March 12, 2021, in Nome, N.D. (Derek Fletcher / Agweek)

Now Armbrust is moving her industrial mill to a large addition to the Nome schoolhouse. Videos on their "Ewe Tube" channel on YouTube show the building's transformation from dilapidated to modern, as well as showing some felting demonstrations and other wool-related hobbies.

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An employee of Shepherd Industries works at the old Nome Schoolhouse, which is being transformed into a Fiber Arts Retreat Center. Photo taken March 12, 2021. (Derek Fletcher / Agweek)

"We never thought that a new building would have much character or history, or as much support from the community," Perleberg said. "We are so glad that we found the school here in Nome."

The support from the community has been of great help. The first public event planned when the project is finished will be the Nome All-School Reunion in June. The official grand opening is scheduled for July 1.

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