Who knew careful planning and strategic brain-storming could result in such crazy, whimsical, and outlandishly gorgeous fiber art? Well, Dani Davis of Pumpkinhaus lives it out everyday as she dyes, spins, and creates fantastic fiber pieces that are sure to delight the senses. Dani was born into the fiber art scene and has taken her talents to new highs, incorporating acquired skills and unexpected, inspiring, requests (even from 7-year-old children!) to remind the world there is so much more we can do with fiber.
Spin Artiste (SA): Thanks for joining us this week. ‘m excited to get to know you and your work a little better. So, how did you come to be such a talented artist? What is your fiber story?
Dani Davis (DD): When I was a kid, my mom went to college and studied fibers as her major, back when you could be a fibers major in the 80’s at Western Michigan University. I worked with her on felting, weaving, basket making and other fibers related work. I learned to sew when I was a kid as well, sewing clothes for myself and designing costumes for the theatre. I always told people that when I grew up I was going to be a textiles designer, and I always knew I was going to spin someday. My attraction to fibers also stems from that whole old world process type of thing: fairy tales and such. Growing up and reading a lot of mythology and fairy tales that had a lot to do with it as well! I always imagined myself living in the woods and creating some magical spinning next to a big hearth under a thatched roof.
SA: The fanciful, old-world, spirit in your work is quit evident. You also seem to have a wild streak when it comes to your batts and yarns. How would you describe your fiber style, and how has it developed over the years?
DD: I like that my work is perceived as wild, because I work pretty hard to produce a very useful, artistic fiber product. I buy all my wool in the spring, and I can get amazing colors solar dying that I can’t get with just regular stovetop kettle dying. About 98% of the wool in my shop is solar dyed and I do it all in the summer months when it’s really nice and hot out, so I kind of have to work with what I have throughout the year – just supplementing a couple colors here and there if I happen to run out. I have a massive selection of moorit and natural colored fleece as well, so I rely on nature to give me most of the browns, ecrus, blacks and fawns in my batts, felting and yarns. I really like to use inspiration for my fibers. For instance, I will pick out a story and I will go through the illustrations and I will make a batt for each picture, representing each character from a particular fairy tale. When I originally started, all of my work was inspired by my tiny house, a home and hearth kind of a feel… and I think it’s just grown off of that. Actually my individual style hasn’t changed as much as just my equipment, space and abilities have changed. I came on during that second wave of amazing art yarn spinners, and a lot of my learning inspiration came from a few ladies I met on flickr and ravelry, specifically Kaybee (Karen Barnaby), IndigoNightOwl (Laura Mayotte), Yarnwench (Lynn Wigell) and Knottynaomi (Naomi Ryono). I just really loved their approach to spinning as a total fiber art, more than just throwing fiber and stuff on the wheel and seeing what happens. They know the fiber. Their work really told a story for me and it was really inspirational, because it felt like my background a bit – coming more from a conceptual base. And my work has just progressed because my skills have progressed. I’ve just become much better at controlling what it is I’m creating, and I still like to tell a story with my yarns. I still start out with an idea or plan. I’m actually really turned off by the whole idea of just throwing it out there and “letting the wool speak to me”. Having a strong base knowledge of your fibers and supplies, and how best they work or work together, and then using those to conceptually build with I think is where my fiber style comes from.
DD: I started making the Faerie Spun Dreads a little over 2 years ago. My daughter Rowan, who was 7 at the time, was just obsessed with dreadlocks and wanted her long hair in dreads so bad. We looked at lots of images of dreadlocks and she liked the bright colored ones and I said, “Well, we can totally do that with wool!”. Now, her wanting to have dreads comes from me loving dreads, dread culture, gypsies and bohemians… she’s seen a lot! I’ve really cultivated and worked hard on a method for locking the wool that makes mine unique… because there are a lot of synthetic dreads out there. It’s something I do that’s become in high demand for me, and I really enjoy making them. I love them! I’m actually not tired of making them at all and I get really excited trying to develop new ideas for the dreadlocks. They’re really just so much fun for me. I’ve made them for goth kids, cosplay kids, jam banders, belly dancers, rennies, I even have a professional mermaid who wears a custom set of mermaid dreadlocks… I’ve sold them to grandmas as well as small children! It’s amazing who’s willing to put some crazy wool in their hair! I really appreciate the friends I have, who’ve also worn my dreads, and helped me figure out creative ways to install and wear them.
SA: Leave it to a child to inspire such a creative pieces. Your doll work is amazing! What aspect of creating dolls do you enjoy most and why?
DD: Creating the characters and drafting patterns – I could absolutely draft patterns all day long. I love the process of making shapes out of fabric and the mathematics behind the construction. I also really love picking out fabrics and making their clothes. Dressing them is really the only time I really get to play with them. Sometimes I get hung up on the patterns I’ve drafted and, truthfully, I’ve designed way more dolls than I’ll ever produce. I have lots and lots of prototypes that will never see the light of day.
SA: When creating one of your dolls, do you pre-plan their “look” or design, or do you let their character develop as you create?
DD: I do preplan, for the most part. That goes along with my theory of creating in general. I really like to have an idea of what I’m doing, formulate a plan and then I go for it. I very rarely have happy accidents. I pretty much know what things are going to look like when I start. Obviously, a personality starts to emerge as I near completion… and I always name them after they are finished.
DD: Oddly enough, my favorite doll that I have created was not one of my cloth dolls, but instead, she was one of my Blythe doll customs, actually, my first! Her name is Edith, and I am smitten. I took a stock Blythe doll and carved her face (lips, nose, philtrum), to give her the features that I wanted, and then blushed and painted her. I loved the process of carving the plastic because I also have a background in ceramics, and it felt familiar. I was an instructor for five years, teaching ceramics to adults with developmental disabilities at First Street Art Gallery in Claremont, CA. What I taught was sculpture, not throwing. I can throw on the wheel, but this was mostly hand building. I love building and carving in clay, so this was really fun for me because I have also created many other art dolls this way, and I don’t have the set up right now to work in clay. I have plans to do more original sculpts, but for now I am really hooked on Blythe.
SA: Fiber artist and sculptor; you seem to have a lot of hidden talents up your sleeves. Hopefully, your wheel isn’t a mystery. What can you tell us about the wheel you’re using these days?
DD: I spin primarily on a Spinolution Mach II and sometimes I pull out my Mach I. I love the flexibility of this wheel! I can spin a superfine silk lace yarn or the gnarliest, fat slub of a yarn without skipping a beat. I started spinning on Spinolution… and while I have fantasies about buying another wheel, I know it won’t get as much action my SpinO.
SA: In 2009, you mentioned that you had been spinning exclusively on a drop spindle for years, and then you “finally got… a big girl wheel!” How would you describe that transition, and do you now prefer one over the other?
DD: I had done some spinning on a spindle as a kid when my mom was in school but no more than you would at, like, a craft camp. Years later, my husband purchased a spindle for me, as a gift, and I was spinning fine on it, just playing with fiber. It was a big transition for me to get a wheel finally because I was able to grow my abilities. It simply brought volume and a lot more artistic control. Instead of just getting a basic wheel that I knew I was going to grow out of right away, I got a Spinolution Mach I and loved it. I started spinning great yarns, right out of the gate, and it is probably the honest to goodness reason why I stuck with spinning. I can spin a very fine lace weight silk yarn up to an extremely thick, fat art yarn. I used to spin in my small stuffed doll work and it would take it with absolute ease. I could be very creative with it. And when I’m spinning on a wheel, I can have one my kids in my lap. Spinning on a spindle is a pretty solo effort, and I have my kids with me all the time.
DD: It’s a whole finished basement, and I’ve got a couple different rooms that I can store my supplies in and access to the backyard for my solar dyeing in the summer. I can wash wool, dye wool, pick it, card it and do everything I need to do all in one space. I pretty much store 35-45 dyed and moorit fleece at a time and it all fits right in there with all of my silky, textured and sparkly add ins and there is still room for more! I have the perfect space to have friends over to card and play, my friend Emily Wohlscheid of Bricolage Studios comes over quite often and we collaborate together under the name BricHaus. I currently have a Fancy Kitty fine cloth carder and a vintage Louet Classic. I have a small picker box, a couple hand cards, a hackle, a couple crock pots, sink, washer/spinner –things like that. Pretty basic with just lots of tables and racks for drying and crates for storage. I’m very lucky to have the space. It’s freakin’ awesome, and I’m about ready to lose it! The studio is going to be growing in the near future. We are moving soon, and trying to find a pole barn sized space to house the fiber production along with my sewing and doll work. I’d like to be able to combine everything in one space because they do interrelate. So that’s something to look forward to and maybe in a year’s time I can come back and we can do a studio tour!
SA: Your present studio is a dream. I can’t believe it gets much better than that, but it sounds like your future fiber barn will take the cake; I can’t wait to take the tour! As someone who has literally been in the fiber art world her whole life, how have you seen the fiber art scene evolve over the years?
DD: Drastically, and then kind of coming full circle in a way. When I first became aware of the fiber arts scene when I was a really little girl, it was comprised mostly of weaving, basket making, traditional woven kimonos, art to wear, and some art installations –a lot of futuristic textured rooms and stuff like that. It also included a lot of sculptural, conceptual art to wear pieces based on historical costume. One of my favorite and most influential books when I was a kid was “Art to Wear” by Julie Schafler Dale. I was just obsessed with it. I painted pictures out of it, I recreated some of the items, and I was really obsessed with costume design. So this was my base for fiber art and my experience. How do I think it’s changed? Well first of all, there are so many more people doing it now. It’s no longer a small, art school educated, on the brink of extinction scene. It disappeared for quite some time. With the whole Lexi Boeger and Jacy Boggs movement of D.I.Y. spinning in the last few years, the message has become: you can do this. It’s really just brought a lot more people in to fiber arts and there’s a lot of amazing, unbridled creativity and experimentation. When my daughter was a baby, I was sitting in Barnes & Nobles and I found the little hard bound “Handspun Revolution” book by Lexi Boeger. I was dumbfounded that someone was creating art that I had thought about and it was so exciting and something that I had considered for years but had not seen anything of the sort in so long. Kind of like when you see something that you’ve always thought of, like a half memory, and you see it come to life and how really awesome and cool it is, and then being able to join in and become a part of that scene just a few years later. It was really exciting for me, and it’s a really awesome community. I got the chance to take a class from Jacy Boggs a couple of years ago, who I think is a fabulous spinning mentor because she’s just got such a really good grip on fiber and spinning and technique and she’s able to create really perfect but also really wild, funky, and fabulous yarns. I really love that kind of school of spinning art yarn. That’s what speaks to me because, like I said, I come from that kind of a conceptual background, like having a story. I think it’s exciting to see so many talented and very giving people in the fibers community. I see some really amazing stand out people. I love Girl With a Hook’s work (Heather Lightbody). I think she’s just an awesome artist.
SA: I totally agree, the fiber world has really grown to be a talented community of caring and loving people. I have also learned you are quite the cook. What would you say is the connection between your knack for cooking and fiber art?
DD: It’s very sensory, tactile, fulfilling… it ticks off all the same boxes as fiber, sensually. Creating with fiber, it’s a process… you’re creating something beautiful out of ingredients. Cooking, you’re creating something amazingly tasty out of ingredients… I think it does trigger the same reaction though like when you see fiber and you say it’s yummy and delicious. It’s true. There’s a huge connection between food and fiber. When I get together with my fiber friends we eat, we cook, we make things, and we talk about food. When I get together with my doll friends, everybody’s on a diet! I bring my food home… and then I eat it with my fiber friends. It’s a home and hearth thing. If you’re a creator, you create things! You create art, you create food, and you create a loving home. It all goes hand in hand. And I love taking things down to the very beginnings. I make sour dough, kefir and all kinds of other things that I’m just making from absolute scratch… I think my next big project is going to be miso paste. I’m dead serious about this too… That’s my next big project. I love the idea of cultivating something from scratch. Just like fiber –I love washing fleece. I love dying it. I love picking it. I love carding it. Sometimes I love that more than spinning it. If you gain a working knowledge of your ingredients –if you know what goes into food, you know how to create great food from scratch. If you know what goes into a batt, yarn or felt project and you know your fibers, then you can create great art from scratch.
SA: Both fiber art and the art of cooking end with yummy results, in my opinion; I totally get the connection. You can spin or cook for me any day! What is your favorite, and most unexpected, treat that your children give you from time to time?
DD: Well I work from home, and I also homeschool my children, so we are together all the time and I can pretty much read their minds. So unexpected doesn’t happen very often… But one thing I do love is my daughter Rowan’s ability to just jump into projects and create things by herself. That’s something that I am constantly amazed by about her, and watching her grow as a creator herself, making things. I just get a whole lot of love from my son Cael. He’s still pretty little. I think my unexpected joys from him are just the fact that he’s a boy… and boys are so different… He wows me all the time with his silliness. I think that would be my unexpected treat from him –just his spirit. Boys are nuts… It’s true! But yeah –watching them. That’s a treat for me because I’m very much with them all the time. My family is such a huge part of what I do, and such a source of inspiration for me.
Thank you so much, Dani! I love your the whimsical spirit of your work and am envious that you grew up around so much “fibery goodness.”. Readers, there are a number of ways to connect with Dani — they are all listed below. Make sure to check out her work. Right now, just for you, Dani has a special promotion of $10 off on your order from either of her etsy shops!
And…this is so amazing. Dani is going to do a set of customized designed Faerie Spun dreads for one lucky soul. I can attest that this are wonderful. I bought myself a full set last year and love, love, love them. My beautician went nuts for these when I brought them to her to style into my hair. They really are a “must have”. Dani want so to work with the winner to design the dreads. I wish I could enter!!! But, alas, no. Instead, I have to live vicariously through one of you…OK, to enter to win, please leave a comment on this post letting us know where you would wear your dreads should you win. Extra entries for sharing on FB, Twitter, etc. Just leave a comment letting us know you did. The deadline for entries is next Sunday, May 12th, 5:00 PM EST. Please remember to include a valid email address with your comment.