Friday, July 18, 2008

Fiber Friday - FolkTale Fibers

Today's interview (the second in our series) is with Abby of Folktale Fibers. She creates beautiful handspun yarn from cruelty-free and vegan fibers. You can read more about her fiber-y life on her blog, but be sure to check out her beautiful shop.

How did you get started with fiber art?

Honestly, I think it's in my blood. Ever since I can remember, I've been obsessed with textiles and the process of making things. My earliest memories are of finger crocheting on the school bus on the way to field trips (this was before kindergarten) and sewing buttons onto fabric scraps my mom gave me while she sewed clothes on her sewing machine. I had a fabric and yarn stash by the time I was three or four years old! I didn't discover the art of spinning until about 3 years ago, when I suddenly realized that I could spin my own yarn. I already knew the basic process, since I had been making cordage for years, but it had never occurred to me that yarn was made in the same way. I bought a spindle and some fiber from Earth Guild, and the rest is history!

Which came first: the dyeing or the spinning?

The spinning. All my first handspun yarns were undyed, and then I used them later as practice when I started learning to dye. I dyed mostly with kool-aid and food-safe dyes at first, and later moved on to natural dyes, acid dyes, and most recently, fiber reactive dyes. I've become a much better dyer than when I first started, and I think my color sense has developed a lot more too.

How did the business side of Folktale Fibers start?

I used to sell handsewn clothing and hand-carved/customized model horses when I was a teenager, on ebay and on my own website, and I think I've had a dream of having a successful online indie business for a long time. I started selling handsewn cloth pads on etsy before I learned to spin, so once I started spinning more yarn than I could use, I began listing it in my shop. And now I have a full-fledged fiber business!

How'd you come up with the name?

A lot of my inspiration is drawn from fairytales and folklore, old traditions and the natural world. Not to mention, spinning itself is a craft with a ton of tradition and many fables and myths connected to it (Rumpelstiltskin, the Norns - three sisters who spun, wove, and cut the fates of humans, and The Seven Swans to name a few). Wikipedia has some information about mythology & spinning/weaving here: . It took me a while to come up with my business name, but I think it's a good reflection of where my yarns come from.

What was the path from hobbyist to full-time fiber artist like?

I really just wanted some spending money, and to share my crafts with others, but I eventually realized that I could do this full-time if I really wanted to. So I guess it morphed from a hobby into a business. If I had never started it as a hobby, though, I would never have had the confidence to attempt a self-employed crafting job full time.

I've never really had a “real” job, so I think I'm a bit of an oddity in that aspect. When I moved from the woods back to the city, I decided to open an official business to pay my rent & bills and hopefully save a bit to buy land in the future.

What do you mean 'when I moved from the woods'? I'm picturing a Walden-esque lifestyle in the woods that required no income

Yep, that's pretty accurate!
I was in advanced classes in high school, and in montessori school before that, and by the end of high school I think I was just burned out on school. I knew what I wanted to learn (mostly crafts, botany/herbal medicine and homesteading skills), and it wasn't stuff I could learn in school without taking a ton of classes that I didn't care about, so I ended up traveling the country for a few years with my current partner. We went to various skillshare gatherings, made new friends that taught us stuff, and visited old friends. We mostly hitchhiked our way around, with a few stretches of walking, trainhopping, and a craigslist ride or two. We didn't really need money because we slept in the woods at night while traveling (under a tarp if it was raining) and all our food was scavenged from the wild or dumpstered. It's pretty crazy how many fresh fruits and veggies get tossed out everyday. I did some work-trade here and there, and had a brief stint picking organic blueberries at an awesome little farm, but for the most part we just had no need of money. We still live pretty frugally, I think it's just ingrained in us at this point.

After traveling for a few years, we eventually settled down on some land owned by our friends - 30 acres in the mountain of North Carolina that back up against a huge tract of national forest. We lived in various homemade shelters on the land, like a bark hut built from saplings and poplar bark. There were other folks who lived there, so there was a small community. We learned all sorts of primitive skills and crafts while we were there. We lived completely off the grid, no electricity or water. We cooked over wood fires and hauled our own water from the many beautiful mountain springs. Our friends had a composting toilet set up that produced compost for the garden. Our food came from the land (a small garden and lots of wild foods) and was supplemented by organic produce from local health food stores - we worked out a deal where they would let us have all the
food they were going to throw out for free, and we would share it with the community. We lived there for about 2 years, but we decided to leave so that we could save up money to buy land and possibly go to school for fiber arts/herbal medicine (me) and ethnobotany (my partner). I eventually would like to build a tiny cabin in the woods and have a small herd of fiber goats and maybe a few sheep.

That is so fascinating!
What’s a typical working day like?

I usually wake up and start my day off slow by making a cup of tea or two and checking my email and etsy shop. If I have packages to ship, I pack them up the night before so I can walk to the post office in the morning while it's still cool out and not too crowded. The rest of the day is spent multi-tasking – I usually have two or three things going on at once, like a pot of dye simmering on the stove while I spin or card. If I have things to list on etsy, I take pictures mid-day while the light is the best. I usually quit around 5 pm to start cooking dinner before my partner gets home (he works full-time). I cook all our meals from scratch, since we don't eat processed foods and have a bit of a strict diet, so cooking usually takes a while! Then at night I usually check my email once more, maybe sew or felt some yarn embellishments, and make myself a to-do list for the next day. I also try to take a day off each week to clean the house and relax.

Is it easier or harder to be “creative” in your full-time fiber artist schedule (as opposed to creating as a hobby)?

I thought it would be hard to keep going at such a rate, and every once in a while I hit a bit of a slump, but I'm surprised at how much creative energy I have. I think it might be a bit easier for me to be creative now than when I spun and dyed less, because now I'm always thinking about it. Just the act of creating a new yarn or colorway sets off ideas for more.

Describe the creative process of designing a new yarn.

A lot of the time, I have an idea before I start dyeing. I try to write ideas down as they occur to me, otherwise I tend to forget them! But sometimes, especially with vegan fibers, I just dye them in large batches and then draw my ideas from the collection of fibers I have at the time. If I'm in a creative slump, it helps to have a big stash of dyed fiber to dig through. I can also just sit down with a notebook and a pen and come up with idea after idea for yarns and colorways.

What do you wish you’d planned for before you went full-time?

I wish I'd found someone to help me with taxes. I tried reading all the information I could find online, but it was a lot to take in and not always helpful. That was hands-down the hardest business-related thing I've had to figure out! I also wish I'd figured out an accounting system beforehand, since I'm just sort of making it up as I go.

What has surprised and delighted you about being a fiber artist?

That there is always something new to learn or discover when it comes to fiber, even if you thought you had it figured out!

Anything else you want to add?

I realized something a bit funny (to me, anyway) the other day. When I was a kid, I grew up without a TV and was an avid reader. I always wanted to be a writer when I grew up, and I wrote all the time. And what do I do for a living now? I spin yarns. (Get it?)

Yes! I actually encounter a lot confusing related to that metaphor, because my town has the National Storytelling Museum and Festival....telling people I "spin yarns" results in people thinking I'm a Professional Storyteller!

Thanks again to Abby for sharing her fascinating story! If you have any other questions for her or suggestions for upcoming interviews, please leave a comment.


cloudlover said...

Wow. Great interview! Abby, your story is so inspiring- I hope someday I have the wit to lead a similar lifestyle!

liz aka hobbledehoy said...

what a fascinating interview, Tara and Abby!

I'm feel so lucky to have met Abby and witness her beautiful spinning skills in person (I'm still hoarding one of her gorgeous yarns for just the right project). I had no idea her business was born this way, though.


Cecile said...

What a fascinating story! Thanks!