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Featured Artist: Beth Lower of Blue Mountain Handcrafts

by The SpinArtiste on September 16, 2011

Publisher’s Notes:  Some of you may best know Beth Lower as the founder of the Fiber Indie eXperience.  It so happens that Beth is also a seriously talented fiber-ista and it’s been on my wish list for a long time to get her and her company, Blue Mountain Handcrafts on as a Featured Artist so it’s pretty exciting that the moment has arrived!  I think you will enjoy getting to know more about Beth as I did.  Enjoy!

Spin Artiste (SA):  How long have you been working with fibers and what got you into it?

Lower (BL):  It’s all my Aunt Thelma’s fault, really.  She taught me how to crochet when I was 18 and I immediately fell in love with yarn and even crocheted with embroidery floss. Nine years ago, after three attempts which involved some cursing and throwing yarn and needles across the room, I finally taught myself to knit. Shortly there after I decided I wanted to make my own yarn and taught myself to spin on an Ashford Traditional. I pretty much dove head first down the bottomless rabbit hole of fiber addiction after that.

SA: Ah, yes the “rabbit hole of fiber addiction”…now, you’ve got me curious about experimenting with embroidery floss…You have a very wide variety of products and services that you offer.  Describe the full range of what you do and what you offer through Blue Mountain Handcrafts.

BL:  We do offer a wide variety of products that we make as well as a few manufacturer’s products.

For spinners we offer batts, hand dyed and natural top, Fiber Kits for carding, combing or spontaneous spinning, bulk fiber, acid dyes, washed fleece (dyed and natural), goodies to add into your fiber such as glitz, firestar, silk, and bamboo, spinning wheels, drum carders, and , of course, our hand crafted combs and hackles as well as covers for them.

We also have hand spun yarn for those who don’t spin as well as project bags, notions bags, and all occasion cards with original art by Katie Bug Creations. Recently, we’ve offered dyeing, carding, picking, and custom carded batt services for those who spin but may not have the tools or time to accomplish these things themselves.

SA:  You are really a one stop shop!  Tell us about your studio and equipment that you prefer to use.

BL:  I’ve dubbed my workspace/studio Fiber Area 54 which is spread out in sections of the downstairs portion of our home. It’s an organized mess and I love it! One section houses my desk and computer, fleeces, top, stock for the shop, and Cletis my Fancy Kitty bench picker. My sewing room section has my sewing machine, fabric, shipping/packaging supplies, as well as the rest of the stock for the shop. My carding station is in a third area and this is where my 2 Fancy Kitty carders live along with my wall mounted skein winder and bobbin holder that Eric made me.

My favorite tools? Hmm, if I had to pare it down to the few I couldn’t live without I would have to say my comb and hackle with the hybrid comb, my fine cloth Fancy Kitty carder (Maude), and my Fancy Kitty bench picker. With those three tools I can do anything!

SA:   You do a tremendous job of marketing your business as well as being the tour de force behind F.I.X.—-do you have a formal education in marketing or is this just something you’ve learned over time?

BL:  Nope, no formal education in marketing. It’s been a crash course in “by the seat of my pants” marketing for the last 2 years.

SA:   You have certainly learned a lot.  I know I’ve learned from watching what you do.  What are you proudest about regarding your business?

BL:  Other than managing to stay afloat for 2 years despite the economy, I’d have to say snorkeling my entire family into the business along with me. Eric started making the combs and hackles almost 2 years ago after being laid off from his carpentry job the year previous….it took me awhile to convince him people would want them believe it or not. I’ve also managed to get our kids, Alex (15) and Katie (12) to help with shipping, inventory, carding, picking, dyeing, combing, and whatever else needs to be done. Alex now writes the introductory paragraph every month for our interactive newsletter on the website and in the summer helps with taking and editing pictures for listings. Katie helps pick out fabric combinations for bags (the new patchwork fabrics were her idea!), card batts, and this past summer, to earn spending money, she started her own line of all occasion cards featuring her original artwork that we carry on the website. Ours truly is a family business with everyone helping and wandering around with stray bits of wool and sparkle stuck to them by the end of the day.

SA:   What philosophy or approach do you bring to what you do with BMH?

BL:  Put a smile on someone’s face, make (hopefully) lifelong friends, provide more than a customer was expecting, simplify what seems complicated to those starting, always learn more from media sources and most importantly from customers, respect tradition while encouraging innovative thought, never take a customer’s trust for granted, search out the best available products as well as make the best available products, everyone is important, there are no stupid questions, and work harder and longer than anyone thinks you do and have fun doing it!

SA:   What’s in the future for BMH?

The road we live on...

BL:  Tough question. I originally started BMH with a love and fascination for animal fiber and then progressed to include project bags, fiber tools etc. Eric, my husband who hand makes all the fiber tools, went off on tangents to expand the business. Two of the more memorable were: launching into Fiber Optics utilizing animal fiber (it seems that neither cormo or merino can carry a signal), and then Hand Crocheted Yurts which, in essence, had a beautiful pattern but turned out to be little more than fancy 300 pound leaky tents (no amount of Scotch Guard would help).

Since these adventures had little to do with the original interest, we have decided that the future is to become better at what we know works and, as we learn more, incorporate new ideas in a fashion that our customers can understand and participate in. Share ideas with those who are experienced, encourage those just beginning, and keep up the humor aspect on the website because everyone desperately needs something to smile about these days.

SA:  If someone is new to spinning and using hand-crafted fibers, where should they start to learn how to use and experience them?

BL:  I would first suggest they join Ravelry if they are not already members. It is a treasure trove of information, helpful people, and resources. I would also say to ask questions, do research, experiment with different types of fiber and fiber preparations, and above all have fun spinning. I would then warn them that it’s addictive right before I showed them where that bottomless rabbit hole is that leads to fiber addiction. The more the merrier, right?!

SA:   What have you not yet learned to do (fiber arts-wise) that you would like to learn?

BL:  Eventually, I would like to learn weaving. Right now I card, comb, dye, spin, knit, crochet, and sew so at this point I think Eric would probably need medication if I started another hobby. He lives in fear that my hobbies will eventually take over the whole house and we’ll be living in the yard in a leaky Yurt because there will be no room in the house.

SA:   What would we be surprised to learn about you?

BL:  I am taller than my husband — he just wears 6 inch lifts in his shoes. Our children are smarter than we are, they’ll be the first to tell you. I dress only for occasions and to me, all occasions are the same as morning coffee in my PJ’s. I have found spinning fiber in my tooth brush although I have never brushed my teeth and spun at the same time. I still don’t know how it got there. I can run the business pleasantly because Eric has volunteered to be the financial neurotic mess this year and I still celebrate my 9th birthday every year. Why go past nine………you’re still young enough to expect presents and cake…….besides Eric said I can’t be older than him, he’s 10.

SA:   Those are great!  I think I’m going to be 9 for my next birthday, too!!  How about a little more about you — What is your favorite food?

BL:  I have to share this. Eric does all the cooking. Once he and I were grocery shopping and  he asked me what I wanted to eat. Without hesitation I said, “Donuts!”. He looked at me like I had three heads and said, “We can’t have donuts for dinner.” I think he should have been more specific when he asked the question. So my answer to your question is donuts and snack cakes, they keep my disposition sweet!

SA:  What and or who inspires you?

BL:  The natural world is always a source of inspiration but my greatest inspiration comes from my kids. From them I’ve learned that it’s okay not to have a specific plan in mind, to think outside the color wheel, and no matter what you do you will end up wearing some of that dye. Some of the colors I’ve seen them use I wouldn’t have dreamed of putting together for fear of creating something that looked like dinner….the second time around. Not so! It amazed me. Since then almost all of our dyeing and carding is spontaneous with on the spot decisions and occasionally grabbing colors at random just to see if they’ll behave together within reason. We love quirky and slightly off the wall, it suits us:)

SA:  And, we love the sense of humor and vitality that you bring to all that you do and thank you for it!

Dear Readers, I hope you enjoyed getting to know more about Beth and will check out her website to see more of her great stuff.  And, Beth, being the wonderful person she is is sponsoring an exciting Spin Artiste giveaway that I’m going to be announcing with the next blog post, so stay tuned for further details and until then, I hope you are surrounded by lots of fibery bliss.

All the best, Arlene

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