Tag Archives: wool

Interview with Jenny of Wichita Woolery

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.

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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!

Interview with Laura from The Corner of Knit and Tea

Laura is an Overland Park artisan who creates fabulous things from fiber and has them available for purchase at her online shop, The Corner of Knit & Tea.  She spins, knits, and–yes–loves tea!  (She’ll even add some of her favorite teas to your Etsy order!)  When her vibrant, oh-so-squishy-looking yarns first caught my eye, I knew I had to learn more about them, not to mention the maker behind them.  Laura has been gracious enough to take the time to share her creative story with me, and I am now honored to share it here with you…  

M&R: How long have you been spinning yarn?
Laura:  My grandmother, who was a Renaissance artist of sorts (painter, sculptor, illustrator, knitter and weaver that I know of), taught me how to knit when I was 6 or 7 years old. I loved going to visit her, getting to pick something out from her basement full of craft supplies, and sitting next to her on the couch as the cast the yarn on the needles for me to start another scarf.

While I continued to knit on and off throughout the years, I really got back into the craft in my 20’s when I was living in Los Angeles. I came across a lovely yarn and fiber store on my way home from work one night, and I started going to their informal knit nights, taking classes and learning new techniques. I had sort of felt stymied in learning more about the craft once my grandmother had passed away, but now I could keep learning.

The advent of Ravelry was really a turning point for me. All of a sudden there was a site where I could communicate with and learn from members of the fiber community all over the world. It was a kind Raveler who sent me my first braid of fiber and recommended that I purchase the book Respect the Spindle by Abby Franquemont to learn how to spin. This was the Spring of 2010.

​How did you learn to spin?
All through the Spring and Summer of 2010 I practiced on the spindle, learning to spin thinner and thinner and more consistently. At this point I was living in the Kansas City Metro Area and very close to the Harveyville Project, which hosts an event called Yarn School a couple of times a year. The owner, Nikol Lohr, is also an authorized dealer of spinning wheels. I was able to rent a wheel from her in the Fall of 2010 and teach myself how to spin on it. I purchased my first wheel, an Ashford Joy, for Christmas in 2010. I took a few spinning classes at a local yarn store (Yarn Barn in Lawrence), and then went back to attend Yarn School in the spring of 2012 and I was on my way!

How did you become interested in spinning?
I don’t know exactly what it was that drew me to spinning originally, other than the fact that it was a something new to learn and I’m always eager to learn more about the craft. Once I started however, I loved it.  

​Do you have a favorite fiber?
I really love choosing my materials. I tend to gravitate away from natural, unprocessed fibers. While I enjoy knowing where my fiber comes from I prefer to purchase fiber that has already been cleaned, combed/processed and dyed. I am always drawn to bright, intense colors – jewel tones are my favorite – and I really like variegated braids full of lots of colors. I find that these braids are the most interesting when spun up. A lot of people strive to make their spinning “as good as” commercial yarn; that is thin, even and looking quite uniform. I actually prefer my yarn to look handspun. That is, I want it to be a one of a kind item that looks handcrafted. I love a variety of colors in my fiber because those braids lend themselves to a barberpoled look. I tend to choose fiber that is well prepared, and I mostly stick to the softer fibers because I find that most people want fiber that is next to the skin soft for their projects. I do find some uses for slightly more rustic, sturdy fibers. For instance, while my favorite fibers to spin are Falkland, Polwarth and Targhee for their softness and bounce, I really think Corriedale makes an excellent yarn for sturdy socks.  

​What do you find most satisfying about your craft?
I also really love the process of spinning. For starters, no matter what the fiber looks like before I start spinning, I really can’t predict exactly how it will look spun up. That’s part of the fun – each skein is sort of an unexpected surprise. But in terms of the actual spinning of the fiber, I find the process very meditative and calming. There are enough things to think about to keep it from becoming boring – how fast should I treadle, how quickly should I draft the fiber through my fingers, how quickly do I want one color to flow into the next. But once I have made some of those decisions there’s a rhythm to it that I really enjoy. 

​What are some of the challenges?
The only challenges of my craft that I have found are that there is never enough time to accomplish everything I want to do and that, thus far, I haven’t found a way to make my creative life a career. These are both highly intertwined. Spinning yarn is a time intensive process. Each braid that I list in my shop takes between 5 and 8 hours to create. I try to price my handspun skeins of yarn competitively, but by the time I account for the cost of materials, what I earn for my time wouldn’t be a living wage. While I could certainly learn a more productive way to spin, or I could raise the prices of my yarn, I don’t know that there would be enough hours in the day or enough demand at higher prices to really allow me to sell handspun yarn for a living. So for now, I continue to have a day job, and pursue all my creative endeavors “after hours.” This means that even though I spend several hours of my free time each day knitting and spinning, there’s never enough time to make as much as I would like!

Where do you find inspiration for creativity?
I think I’m primarily inspired by visuals. What I mean is that I’m inspired by other people’s projects, by photographs that people translate into dyeing fiber or yarn. Again I really credit Ravelry and other social media (like Instagram) for so much inspiration because it allows creators all over the world to share what they are doing, particularly with visual images.

How do you hope your work will influence or impact others?
I hope that my work inspires people to learn the crafts that I enjoy (knitting and spinning), or to find ways to creatively express themselves, whatever form that might take. I also hope that I can give someone the experience of knitting with my handspun to create their own one of a kind item.

Be sure to visit Laura’s Etsy shop, The Corner of Knit & Tea, and check out her scrumptious yarn.  Laura’s blog and video podcast can be found at thecornerofknitandtea.com.  And of course, you can find her on Ravelry!