An Interview with Syne Mitchell

syneheadshot2On today’s post, we’re pleased to share an interview with Syne Mitchell, author of one of our favorite new books here at the Woolery, Inventive Weaving on a Little Loom. In addition to being an author, Syne also teaches, blogs, and hosts a podcast. Today, she talks about weaving and other crafts, sharing some of her best advice along the way. Enjoy! 

How did you learn to weave? Do you do any other crafts?

I learned to weave at a week-long weaving workshop with Judith MacKenzie. I was 8-1/2 months pregnant at the time and saw it as my last great hurrah before motherhood. Little did I know that I was embarking on a craft journey that would change my life.

Having Judith MacKenzie as my first teacher was a stroke of luck. Not only did she teach me good weaving practices, but she taught me how to continue learning about weaving after the class ended.

She pointed me at Marguerite Davison’s Handweaver’s Pattern Book and Peggy Osterkamp’s first three books, among others.

But the best advice she gave me was this: Keep records of what you weave. Samples of the yarn, samples of the fabric off the loom and after washing, details about sett, warp length, shrinkage after washing. By doing so, you can learn from yourself, the loom, and the weaving.

Other crafts? Bwah-ha-ha! Yes. Before I learned to weave, I had a tendency to have the craft of the month. I’d get excited about polymer clay, or jewelry, or glass bead making. I’d get all the equipment and supplies, do it enough to get proficient, and then move on to another craft the following month.

I used to feel bad about this, but after a while, I realized that my true passion was learning. Once I’d gotten good at something, the steep learning curve was over, and I’d start to get bored.

When I got bitten by the weaving bug, my focus turned to the fiber arts. The great thing about weaving, is that there’s more there than you could learn in a lifetime. There are so many variables that affect the cloth: weave structure, yarn, twist, sett, finishing, humidity, etc.

It also cuts down on the amount of equipment and supplies you bring into the house. Yarn can be used for knitting, crochet, and weaving.

But to answer your question, and limiting it to the fiber arts to keep things from getting out of hand, I’ve learned the following crafts (in order): crochet, needlepoint, spinning, basketry, knitting, weaving, dyeing, lucet, kumihimo, temari, sprang, and bobbin lace. I’m currently teaching myself to sew. In the past I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to learn tatting–though I will try again.

The only fiber art that I have not clicked with yet is quilting, though I imagine I’ll get around to that someday.

The great thing about learning several different crafts is that eventually you start creating projects that combine them. For example, learning to sew help you make bindings for your blankets. You can crochet a lace border on a handwoven silk handkerchief, etc.

Instead of feeling bad about “not being able to settle down to one thing”, I now think of it as fiber arts cross-training.

Inventive Weaving on a Little LoomWhat was the process like for writing Inventive Weaving on a Little Loom? What inspired you to focus on this area of weaving?

I began teaching on the Rigid Heddle loom several years ago as a way to introduce new people to weaving. Jumping in with a multi-shaft loom that can cost a thousand dollars or more — before you even know if weaving is something you want to do — isn’t for most people. With a rigid heddle loom, the investment is small. Also, as a teacher, I can bring my own rigid heddle looms for students to learn on.

That said, I love all kinds of weaving, I can get as excited about a color-and-weave pattern on a potholder loom as on a 24-shaft loom.

I’d never written a non-fiction book before, so it was a learning experience. When writing a novel, it takes about a year, but after the words are done, you’re done. With Inventive Weaving, finishing the words was just the beginning, then there was all of the weaving to do.

Fortunately, my editor, Gwen Steege, and all of the other talented people associated with Storey, helped me through the process.

Which loom(s) do you have in your craft room?

No one could learn all there is to learn about weaving in one lifetime, but I’m giving it a good try. Since I love learning new things, and have applied this to weaving, I’ve amassed quite a collection of looms.

In the center of my studio is an AVL 16-shaft Production Dobby loom (mechanical dobby). Around the edges of the studio are an 8-shaft Schacht Baby Wolf and a 24-shaft AVL Workshop loom (computerized dobby.) I also have a Robyn Spady inkle loom, a Mirrix tapestry loom, a Schacht tapestry loom, a hand-made Navajo loom, several Weave-It and Hazel Rose peg looms, a Harrisville potholder loom, six Schacht Flip rigid heddle looms, a Schacht Cricket rigid heddle loom, an Ashford knitters loom (also rigid heddle), and an unusual rigid heddle loom from Clover with a square heddle that rotates.

Um yeah, I have some looms.

What are the weaving yarns and tools that you can’t live without?

I am a big fan of wool and silk. Both are so versatile.

Wool can be soft and lush, or shiny and strong. It can felt, and is warm even when wet, a useful feature in the Pacific Northwest. I love that it’s a renewable resource and a natural fiber. It’s also very rewarding to go to a wool festival, pick your own fleece, wash it, spin it, and weave it into cloth. I used to have Shetland sheep and working with wool brings back good memories.

Silk is amazingly strong, even when it’s ridiculously fine. It usually is smooth and shiny, but in raw silk form is wonderfully soft and subtle. It’s expensive by the pound, but if you purchase it in 60/2 or 140/2 form, a pound can go a long way. I’ve not raised silk worms, but I have reeled silk from cocoons and spun yarn from matawa.

As for tools, it depends. The shuttle that works well for a large fly shuttle loom is not the shuttle you want to use for a loom with a narrow shed. The threading hook that works wonderfully on one loom might not fit through the holes on another loom. With that caveat, here are the minimal set of tools I like to have on hand when weaving.

  • Solid and strong loom.
  • Threading hook long and fine enough to reach the heddles.
  • Shuttle that feels good in the hand and weaves well in the warp.
  • Sturdy warping board / peg / or warping wheel
  • Sharp embroidery scissors
  • Tapestry needle, sized to the yarn
  • 4-lb neoprene coated dumbbells
  • 50-gram brass weights with hooks on the end
  • Cotton carpet warp

What is the best advice you have for new weavers? Intermediate weavers? Advanced weavers?

I’ll pass on a few bits of advice which work for all weavers:

Weave. There is no teacher, no book or video, that will teach you as much as your loom.

Keep records of what you weave. Note down the yarn and sett, the picks per inch you wove it at, the pattern. The measurements of the cloth before and after washing. Keeping records will let you look back and predict how new projects will turn out, and let you repeat projects you especially liked.

Design your own projects. Push yourself to try new patterns, colors, and yarns. You may discover that things you didn’t like in one project positively sing in another one.

Happy weaving!

Guest Post: Claudia Chase of Mirrix Looms (Part 2)

We love sharing the stories behind the unique products we’ve sourced from skilled artisans and innovative makers; last fall, Claudia Chase shared the story of how Mirrix Looms came to be – click here if you missed it! Today, she will share some of the most recent challenges this family-owned company has faced and how they have evolved to meet the needs of an ever-changing marketplace. Enjoy!

Ah the changes that were to come!

My first partner, who had quit his Fire Engine building job to both run the manufacturing end of Mirrix and a landscaping company, decided that landscaping was enough; after two years of long-distant business together, he wanted out. I called a friend (in Wisconsin) who just happened to be flush after having sold a lucrative business and gave him the sales pitch of my life. Within a month he had both bought out my original partner and moved Mirrix to its current location: Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

Sunshine House, home of Mirrix Looms

Sunshine House, home of Mirrix Looms

Mirrix now lives within a facility that employs adults with mental and/or physical challenges. We are the only resident business and we love that status. In fact, we love everything about our new digs from the amazing folks who work there, especially the beautiful open spaces and a general sense of joy that permeates everything.

The only catch is that I had probably over-sold Mirrix at this point. I didn’t really want to grow it into a multi-million company and that really is the point of investing in a company: to grow it and sell it. However, I wanted to keep it forever – I considered it to be my third child, and I love it!

After a year, I bought out my second partner, leaving everything except the formal name the same: we became Mirrix Tapestry & Bead Looms, Ltd.
In 2004, my daughter Elena decided that it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to join the family business, and who was I to resist? Especially since she had been our website mistress ever since she was in high school. Armed with a Communications degree and all her energy and enthusiasm, Elena became Mirrix’s first-ever Marketing Director (and boy, did we need one!).

The Spencer Power Treadles from Mirrix

The Spencer Power Treadle

The changes to Mirrix since Elena came on board have been daily – a whirlwind of change on which we both thrive. The website is updated so frequently I can’t keep up with it! Our social marketing efforts has sent us to the top of the charts. And best of all, I get to work with Elena every day, although often through facetime since we live on different sides of the country.

You know how they say it’s all good (often in response to it being all bad)? Well, it really is all good! Mirrix now boasts eight different sizes of looms as well as kits, hand-painted silk and a bunch of wonderful accessories. Most recently, we added The Spencer Treadle which is an electric treadle that makes the very slow art of tapestry weaving a lot faster. We also supply a host of free ebooks and tutorials (found here on our website), sponsor fun events like weave-alongs on a regular basis, and have a constantly evolving YouTube channel.

As we grow, we change in fun and exciting ways to further serve the needs of our ever growing customer base. I am still amazed at all that Mirrix it has brought me, my family and our wonderful employees over the years. For us, the bottom line is not how much money we can make, but how much joy everyone who touches a Mirrix product can feel. From the world’s best employees to the world’s best customers, Mirrix has a lot on its plate and for that we are grateful!

Artisan Spotlight: Going Green with Brown Sheep

harlan-factory-2The American textile industry has a long history of boom and bust cycles since the first mills were set up along the waterways of the east coast in the early years of the industrial revolution.While most yarn, textile and clothing production has moved offshore, a small number of stubborn visionaries have dedicated themselves to ensuring a future for American-made yarn. One of the pioneers in this movement is the Brown Sheep Company in Mitchell, Nebraska, spinning wool yarns for weavers, knitters and crocheters since 1980.

The Brown Sheep mill was started by Harlan Brown, father of the current mill owner Peggy Jo Wells, on land in the north Platte River valley that had been farmed by his grandfather and father for over 100 years. Changing economic conditions in the 1970s led Harlan Brown to shift the focus of the family business from animal husbandry to the production of wool and yarn. By 1980, he had purchased used wool-processing and spinning equipment and set up the original Brown Sheep Company mill.  

What began as an effort to make a living from the family land has been modernized to a state of the art eco-conscious yarn production facility. The used mechanical equipment has given way to automated digital spinners and winders, even as the fundamental process of introducing twist into wool to create yarn has remained unchanged for millennia. Robert Wells, Peggy Jo’s husband, brought his academic research acumen to Brown Sheep Company when they decided to join the company. Not only has the spinning equipment been upgraded, Robert has helped design a water reclamation system that allows the mill to capture and reuse up to 90% of the water used in the dyeing process. It’s an environmentally responsible approach to the land on which Brown Sheep Company sits, keeping the mill’s operations sustainable in the semi-arid climate of western Nebraska. What little wastewater is left goes into lined lagoons where sunlight, evaporation and microbial action breaks down the remaining dye molecules. The mill also harnesses the heat energy in the water generated by the production process, further reducing their carbon footprint. Robert believes that the mill is on a sustainable footing for years to come, and looks forward to advances in technology that will enhance that sustainability.

robert-peggy

Robert & Peggy Wells

The wool in Brown Sheep Company’s yarns is sourced primarily from sheep ranches in Wyoming and Colorado and comes primarily from Corriedale, Rambouillet and Columbia breeds. Their 100% wool yarns range from the fingering weight Nature Spun to the super-bulky Burly Spun, and all their wool yarns are treated with Ecolan CEA, a non-insectide chemical added in the dyebaths to make the wool unattractive to wool moth larvae. Brown Sheep Company’s mill employs a worsted-spun process, meaning that all carding, drafting and spinning processes aim to bring the fibers into parallel alignment, creating smooth and strong yarns for weavers and knitters alike.

BROLPWR.detail

Skeins of Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride Worsted Yarn

Brown Sheep Company’s palette of colorways is breathtaking. Their flagship yarn Nature Spun, which the Woolery carries in fingering and sport weights, is dyed in every colorway across every yarn weight for endless creative possibilities. Lanaloft is the newest member of the Brown Sheep family.  Available in sport and worsted weights, it is 100% American grown and made. Another popular yarn is Lamb’s Pride, Brown Sheep’s blend of 85% wool and 15% mohair. The fiber blend absorbs dye richly and the mohair content gives just a touch of shimmer and halo. Last but not least, Wildfoote Luxury Sock yarn adds 25% nylon to the wool content for sturdy footwear that can stand up to repeated washing and wearing. The Woolery stocks Lanaloft worsted and sport and Nature Spun sport and fingering on cones to meet the needs of weavers.  Lamb’s Pride Worsted, Nature Spun Sport and Wildfoote Luxury Sock come in skeins for handknitters and crocheters (though these yarns can also be used for weaving projects if you so choose!). 

Brown Sheep Nature Spun Yarn on Cones

Brown Sheep Nature Spun Yarn on Cones

It’s important to us to bring our customers fiber products that represent our values as makers.  The yarns of Brown Sheep Company meet our desire to offer you primarily natural fibers produced using environmentally sustainable methods from American raw materials, and the wide range of colors, texture and the yarns’ quality delight us as crafters as well!

All the Best,

Wave, Perri and the entire Woolery Team

 

Charity Spotlight: True Vineyard Ministries

As many of you know, we proudly support True Vineyard Ministries’ mission of providing economic based and sustainable solutions to see poverty diminished in the lives of marginalized Rwandan women living post-genocide. On today’s blog, the executive director of the foundation, Diana Wiley, shares stories, photos, and even a video from her recent trip to the region. We hope it inspires you to give back in your own special way!

The Handspun Hope initiative focuses on widows and abandoned women who are living post-genocide in Northern Rwanda; the women learn to spin wool of fleeces produced from their own flock of Merino sheep, creating beautiful yarn which is then dyed organically utilizing local plants. The yarn and their products are then marketed to social business partners; Indego Africa is the newest partner for Handspun Hope and the first to promote the finished products created by the women of True Vineyard.

Gathering Dyestuffs

Gathering Dyestuffs

Dyeing Skeins

Dyeing Process

The women are also provided with literacy training and healthcare for themselves and their children. Group and individual counseling from staff counselors is available to help them heal from their traumatic pasts. Additionally, the women collectively participate in a savings cooperative and have the opportunity to apply for microfinance loans for individual businesses. The ministry also covers school fees and related expenses for all school-aged children under the care of the women.

Carding Fiber

Carding Fiber

Spinning Yarn

Spinning Yarn

This past July, our stateside team traveled to Rwanda to work with the women of True Vineyard as they have continued transitioning from drop spindles to spinning wheels donated by The Woolery. Several of the newest women had not had the opportunity to use a wheel before the new ones were delivered. They were ecstatic to learn a new and much faster way of creating their beautiful yarn. – but especially thrilled to have their very own wheels! Names were quickly written on the new wheels to stake their claims; in the video below you can see them spinning away on their new wheels:

As the ladies continue to improve and strive to learn new skills, the team works with those who can knit and crochet to develop new products. The ladies who have the greatest natural abilities are taught new patterns, allowing them to then work with the others to teach these new skills. While there never seems to be enough time, this seems to be the most effective method for sharing these skills.

Handspun, hand-dyed yarn ready to go!

Handspun, hand-dyed yarn ready to go!

Throughout 2015, True Vineyard continued to build a new work center for the women; this new center is built on land purchased in 2008, and it is complete with washing and dyeing stations, with the capacity to serve even more marginalized women. Located in a government-established community, it is designed for widows and orphan-headed households. The goal is to benefit more women by providing steady employment in this facility. 

New Facility in Progress

New Facility in Progress

We greatly value the continued support provided by our partners at The Woolery as we seek to eradicate poverty for marginalized women in Northern Rwanda; to learn more, please visit us at www.truevineyard.org.

Free Weaving Pattern & Weaving Loom Primer

As our gift to you this holiday season, please enjoy this free PDF card weaving pattern, Sugar Pines by Jane Patrick! This is a fun & festive project which can be used as a sash, tieback, or even a pet leash! Click here for your free PDF, courtesy of the Woolery.

sugar-pines

In our ongoing quest to share informative videos on our YouTube channel, we have two new Ask the Woolery videos to share with you today. First, we give an overview of the many types of looms available to today’s weaver, from the portable pin looms such as the popular Schacht Zoom Loom, all the way up to table and floor looms. Finding the perfect loom is a personal choice which depends on several factors, namely: which types of projects you wish to weave, your budget, and how comfortable you find each loom. Watch the video below to explore these areas in-depth to help you get a better idea of which loom is right for you!
In our next video, we explore floor looms in greater detail by explaining the difference between Jack, Counterbalance, and Countermarche Looms. The short answer? Each term refers to the different ways in which each style creates a shed (the space created when a treadle is lifted or lowered). See each style of loom in action in this short video:

We hope these latest videos help guide you to your perfect weaving loom! You can view more videos here YouTube; to suggest topics for future Ask the Woolery videos, please visit our Ravelry group.

All the Best,

Wave, Perri and the entire Woolery Team

Project Inspiration: Holiday Gifts

On today’s post, we’d like to share some great gift ideas to knit, crochet, or weave this holiday season. Handmade gifts are a heartfelt way to show someone you care, and there are plenty of quick and easy projects you can make with yarn from your stash. Below are a few of our favorite stashbuster project ideas, all of which are available as free patterns – enjoy!

DestashScarf

This pretty scarf can be woven on a Rigid Heddle loom using lots of different yarns to add visual interest and texture! Click here for free pattern at Woolery.com.

Finished!

From our blog archives, you may remember Benjamin Krudwig’s excellent tutorial on weaving a Stashbuster Lunchbag.

zoomloom

Schacht has many free patterns to make holiday ornaments and other fun projects using squares from their portable & user friendly Zoom Loom. Click here to access these free patterns (and more!) on the Woolery website.

sockheadhat
Kelly McClure’s Sockhead Hat is a great unisex knitting pattern to take care of everyone on your list. This basic hat looks great knit up in solid, semi-solid, and variegated yarns, so if you happen to have quite a bit of sock yarn in your stash, this is a great way to put those skeins to use!

colormatic

Michelle Hunter’s Colormatic Cowl is shown here using 4 colors of worsted weight yarn, but it would be quite easy to get creative with leftover bits to knit a more colorful version!

grannystripe1_medium2

Normally we wouldn’t recommend starting an afghan gift project so late in the game, but the Stashbuster Granny Stripe Afghan by The Stitchin’ Mommy can be whipped up in a jiffy using your leftover worsted weight yarn!

Professional Photograph

Hook up a hat in a hurry with Liz McQueen’s adorable Brain Waves Beanie. This crocheted hat is available in sizes ranging from child to adult and is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

For more great project ideas, check out our Quick Gift Ideas board on Pinterest.

Happy Holidays!

All the Best,

Wave, Perri & the entire Woolery team

Artisan Spotlight: Maria from the Black Dog Fiber Studio

We love sharing the stories behind the unique products we’ve sourced from skilled artisans and innovative makers; recently we were able to interview Maria from the Black Dog Fiber Studio. Maria is a fiber artist local to our area here in Kentucky, and we are pleased to now stock her Silk Scarf Dye Kit. We hope you enjoy getting to know Maria just a little bit better!

Weaving

Which did you learn first:  spinning, dyeing or weaving?

I first learned to spin on a homemade drop spindle – “drop” being the operative word.  I loved making yarn but was frustrated at the speed and learning curve.  My wheel is a circa 1970’s Louet S-10.  I’m still in love with it.

studio
What is a typical day like in your studio?

Like many artists, I have a day job and am blessed that I can combine my business office and studio space in one location.  I try to keep my schedule flexible so there are days when I spend all my time at the desk and others where I flit from wheel, to loom, to sewing machine, or into the back room dyeing area.

Currently I am preparing for the Hopkins County Fall Gallery Hop and getting ready to dye scarves.  On the LeClerc Nilus there is a commission of dishtowels and on the Minerva I’m getting ready to warp up another lace scarf.  At some point I’ll finish the scarf that’s been sitting on the Structo for 6 months and begin weaving on the handspun alpaca wrap that’s warped up on the rigid heddle loom.

Iris
What went into developing your silk scarf kits as a product?

Several years ago a friend approached me about doing a craft workshop the day after Thanksgiving for her female family members.  I thought it was a great idea and ended up doing a nuno felt class for 20 people.  We had a blast and my friend asked to plan another one the following year, featuring a different craft.  So the next year we had a silk scarf dyeing workshop and everyone enjoyed it, although some expressed sadness that several of the family weren’t able to make it.  So I thought about ways that the fun of dyeing could be shared from a distance and eventually worked out the idea of the silk scarf dyeing kit.

What are some of your favorite local resources for materials?

The Woolery, of course, is first on the list because I support Kentucky businesses whenever possible.  Also because I love to get free shipping when I make a $100 dollar order :-)  Through Ravelry I’ve found sources close to me for raw wool and alpaca that I use in spinning or nuno felting.  My favorite resources are the friends I’ve made in the fiber industry and the other knitters, crocheters, dyers, spinners, and weavers who I get to see on a regular basis for spinning retreats.

What are some of the charities that are near and dear to your heart?

My studio is in the heart of downtown and I’ve seen it grow better and better each year.  Supporting my community is a priority and I’ll pretty much donate an item for a fundraiser to anyone who asks.  Most recently I’ve been involved in Habitat for Humanity, our local library, the Hopkins County Art League and United Way.

headshotMaria spins, weaves, knits, felts, dyes her own fabrics and designs clothing. In 2010, she opened Black Dog Fiber Studio; today, she dyes and spins her own yarns and creates beautiful silk scarves and clothing. She also teaches knitting and felting workshops, and she creates and publishes knitting, crochet and sewing patterns.  Black Dog Fiber Studio is located in a circa-1870’s building that she and her husband renovated in downtown Madisonville, Kentucky.

FT15BANNER (1)

Our annual event is in full swing – click here to see this week’s special for the 12 Fiber Toys of Christmas at the Woolery!