I’m excited today to bring you a fantastic interview with Jenny Brown, the artist behind Wichita Woolery. I’ve been drooling over her gorgeous creations on her facebook page for some time, and she recently opened an Etsy shop where she offers hand dyed roving and handspun yarn for sale. Check out the interview, then visit Jenny’s shop–you’ll be glad you did!
M&R: How long have you been spinning and dyeing?
Jenny: I started down the rabbit hole of spinning about five years ago after graduating with my Master’s degree. I didn’t have a job lined up after graduation, and to be honest, wasn’t sure I wanted something in the industry that I just obtained my degree in. I was already halfway through my program when I realized this, but toughed it out and just earned my degree anyway. Knitting was always my comfort and self-care while in grad school, and I think it was then that I realized my true passion was the fiber arts.
I don’t recall how, but I came across a spinning class at City Arts. I really wanted to take it, but it was over $100 for the class, which was a lot of money for me to spend at the time. It just felt too self-indulgent to spend that kind of money especially when it could have been used for something else. My husband encouraged me to sign up for it though, and I’m SO glad he did! The class wasn’t offered for another few years because the instructor’s daughter had a baby, and she left Wichita to help take care of her new grandchild. It was during my classes at City Arts, where I was first introduced to dyeing. We had dyed fiber with Kool-Aid, and I loved the idea of being able to create any color yarn I wanted. Eventually, I started to dabble with dyeing at home for myself, and then more seriously dyeing for others in the last year and a half.
What drew you to working with fiber?I think what continues to draw me to fiber and the needle arts in general, is the freedom to create whatever you want. I’m a Type A personality and like structure in nearly every other aspect of my life, but fiber and the needle arts has the capacity for me to be both structured and flexible in creating. It’s the perfect combination!
How did you learn your skills?
Growing up, there wasn’t anyone in my family who did anything related to fiber or the needle arts. One of my childhood best friends cross-stitched (she learned from her mother), and I remember thinking that it was so cool. I just loved how you could get a finished piece from the mosaic of multi-colored X’s. I begged her to teach me when I was in middle school, and it was my gateway drug into the needle arts. At 18, I taught myself to knit, which branched off into wanting to learn to spin, and spinning into dyeing, and the journey continues.
What is the most satisfying part of working with wool (or other fibers)?
For me, the most satisfying thing of working with fiber is creating something from the source. Other than owning my own sheep and processing the fiber (maybe I will some day), I’m creating something from a raw state. I think in spinning there are two groups: process spinners and project spinners. I myself identify as a process spinner, meaning that I don’t spin my yarn with a project in mind, I just enjoy the process of creating yarn. It’s so satisfying starting with a blank slate,creating a color scheme for my roving, and making yarn, which the yarn can then be taken and made into a finished handmade item. Ever since I started spinning, it’s all I want to do in my free time when I’m not dyeing.
What are some of its challenges?
One of the biggest challenges of dyeing I’ve come to discover, is the learning curve. A lot of successful dyers out there aren’t really forthcoming with sharing their skillset with others, which saddens me. We all have something we could contribute to this industry, and rather than having a collective of like-minded individuals sharing passions, dyers hoard their skill set for their sole personal gain. It’s something I don’t really quite understand. Nevertheless, just figuring out my own working methods of dyeing from watching You Tube and reading the few books on dyeing that are out there has been a process. One of the other challenges that I’ve had now that my Etsy store is open, is the same problem that every other shop on Etsy has… How does my shop get exposure? I’m at the point where I’d like to branch out a little bit and begin making fiber festival rounds to gain more exposure. Stay tuned on that…
Where do you find inspiration for your color combinations?
My inspiration comes from a variety of sources. I love looking at nature photos, which really is the best source if I feel blocked. My husband also helps me come up with colorways. He’s an artist himself, and has lots of color theory experience. One of his favorite things to do is create pallets, and we’ll bounce ideas of each other. I also love looking at other artist’s work, including other fiber artists and indie dyers.
How do you hope your work will impact or influence others?
One of my hopes is that I can teach and inspire the next generation of fiber artists to continue on with this tradition that dates back thousands of years. I love sharing my knowledge and teaching others who are interested in the fiber arts, especially younger kids because I didn’t have anyone at that age who could have taught me. If I had, who knows where I would be now had I discovered my passion that early on.
Are you involved in any other types of craft?
Although 99.9% of my craft time is consumed by the fiber arts, I’m also interested in learning more about the crafty side of homesteading. Canning, raising chickens, making soap, candles, artisan breads and cheeses all sound like a lot of fun. Maybe one day I learn the skills for all of that, but for now I’m focused on what fulfills me the most, which is literally anything fiber. I feel like I still have yet to discover the end of the fiber rabbit hole.
Thanks again to Jenny for sharing her time and insights with me and all of you. It’s always a joy to connect with other creatives and learn from them!