Publisher’s Notes: Happy Weekend, Fiber Friends! It’s Sunday and before the weekend gets away from me, I wanted to make sure to bring you this post about one of the wonderful fiberistas in my part of the world, Debbie Johnson of Hampton Artistic Yarns. I really enjoyed working on Deb’s interview because it has all the components that make me smile: beautiful work, an artist with a true love of fiber, and an artist that is also a good sport. How do I know? Well, Debbie made an amazing yarn out of a “Can You Spin This?” item I sent her last year. You can see it here. Now, it’s time to find out more about Debbie!
Spin Artiste (SA): How did you find yourself involved with fiber?
Debbie Johnson (DJ): I started pretty early in life. My mother taught me to knit when I was 4 or 5 and I loved making little scarves and things for my Barbie dolls and stuffed animals. I would also visit my paternal grandmother every summer for a couple of weeks and, having no TV, she would involve me in all sorts of crafty things to occupy my free time. She taught me to sew, crochet, tat, bead, decoupage, etc. Sadly, I stopped crafting all together as I entered my teen years. At the age of 27, when I became pregnant for the first time, I cut back on my work hours in anticipation of being a stay-at-home mom and bought myself some knitting needles, a sampler afghan pattern book, and some yarn and re-taught myself how to knit. Five years later, while shopping at a local yarn store, I ran across some skeins of Ozark Handspun Art Yarn. I was interested in the look and feel of it so I did some research online about their yarns. That search led me to one about art yarns in general, I stumbled across Etsy, and I bought my first ever skeins of hand spun art yarn. I was so intrigued by their construction that I decided then and there that I had to learn to spin and figure out how to make yarn for myself. It all happened really fast. I bought a spindle online and, a couple of days after receiving it, I heard of a small group of women that had a spinning group that met 10 miles from my house. I met them and was given a spindle lesson and got to watch them spin on their wheels. Within 10 days, I had my very own spinning wheel and was spinning away.
SA: You have said, “I love all things fiber – I love to touch it, sniff it, cuddle it, spin it and knit it – I honestly can’t get enough!” What connects you to fiber, and with which aspect of the art do you most connect?
DJ: I love the process of turning raw wool into yarn. I love the raw potential inherent in a pile of colorful fluff. I love working with my own two hands to make something beautiful that someone else will, in turn, make into another beautiful thing.
SA: What colors or color schemes do you find yourself most drawn to and why?
DJ: I love all color, really. I’m drawn to jewel tones, pastels, bright in-your-face colors, natural creams and browns. You name it!
SA: When creating a piece, do you rely on external inspiration or inward emotion/feeling?
DJ: Both, maybe? It depends on the day. Sometimes I’ll see a sunset or a beach scene, or a flower that I want to recreate as a colorway. Other times, it’s a totally fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants dyeing session that’s driven by my waking mood.
SA: How has your artistic style matured over the years?
DJ: I’m always learning new things. My yarn today is very different from my yarns when I first started spinning. I’m more controlled and give more thought to the end use of things nowadays. Sometimes I miss my earlier free form style, but I feel like I’ve achieved a balance now, between artful expression and functionality, which is perfect.
SA: If you could go back in time and adapt one of your pieces, what piece would you choose and how would you change it?
SA: You highlight your fair-trade, recycled sari, silk on your Etsy page. Tell us, what motivated you to start selling these silks, and have you used them in any of your pieces?
DJ: I love the feel and look of recycled sari silk. I started working with it in art yarn several years ago. I’ve made crocheted scarves and woven pieces (place mats, pillow covers) with it. I did some searching and was so happy to find a Fair Trade source.
SA: Could you describe your studio for us?
DJ: My studio is currently in my home. I have an upstairs room of the house where my wheels reside and where I do my spinning, dyeing, and knitting. I also have a studio space on the lower level where I store my raw fleece, fibers, yarn stash, drum carders, and hackle and where I have a mock booth set up. I find that displaying my products year round downstairs gives me a constant idea of what I need to create more of and if I’m hyper focusing too much on certain colors. It’s also really easy to break down and box everything up to be ready to go to a vending event. Someday, I hope to have a freestanding studio space outside of my home that I can dedicate to all things fiber. Living amongst my things is wonderful, but I’m not sure that my husband and children agree. There’s fluff everywhere!
SA: Wow! That is a great idea to have a mock booth in place at all times. I can see where that really helps guide you with how to manage your inventory. What wheel are you currently using, and what’s being spun at the moment?
DJ: I have 5 wheels right now. My first wheel, a Schacht Ladybug, is being used for my Master Spinners Level I homework. She’s currently begin used to spin up breed sample skeins. My second love, my Mach1 Spinolution, is for the fun stuff. I’m currently finishing up a batt by BohoKnitterChicSpins that I’m making into a corespun and next up are some kid mohair locks in vibrant orange that I’ll be tail spinning. It’s great for big, bulky, fun art yarns. My 3rd and 4th wheels are slowly gathering dust. I’ve got an old Tom Ricci Indian Head Spinner (decorating the corner of my living room and not doing much else) and a late 19th century Pennsylvania Flax Wheel (hanging out by herself in my attic). I just received my 5th wheel a couple of days ago, a Lendrum DT, that I got as a birthday present from my husband and the children. We’re slowly getting to know each other and I’m pretty sure that it’s turning into a love affair. She may end up replacing a couple of my other wheels entirely.
SA: So, obviously your family is quite supportive of your art and work! Tell us about your connection with the Phat Fiber community.
DJ: Phat Fiber was instrumental in getting my name/brand out there into the fiber community. I opened my shop mainly because I was amassing huge quantities of hand spun that I knew I’d never use. PF allowed me to put my product into the hands of potential customers who’d never heard of me and probably wouldn’t have even stumbled across my shop otherwise. Receiving my Contributor’s Box each month was great too – I was able to see how my competitor’s branded themselves and I learned a ton about marketing and presentation by seeing firsthand what I liked and I thought couple be improved in other peoples’ products.
SA: I know you sometimes use the acronym “H.A.Y.” when referring to your “fiber name”. Why did you choose it for your business name?
DJ: H.A.Y. stands for Hampton Artistic Yarns. I live out in The Hamptons on Eastern Long Island (at the time, in a town called Hampton Bays) and, in the beginning, I was obsessed with making art yarn. My daughter, then 7 years old, drew my sheep logo for me (complete with hay sticking out of his mouth).
SA: I love your logo…I think I’m going to hire your daughter! What are your fiber goal for 2014?
DJ: My goal is to finish my Olds College Master Spinner Level I homework on schedule so that I can continue onto Level II. It’s a tall order – I fell behind before the holidays and am just now getting back to catching up. During the class, I learned long draw for the first time, and this is the year that I’ll try and perfect it.
SA: You mentioned this past year you wanted to do some inspirational reading. What was your favorite read in 2013?
DJ: I’m currently re-reading the Harry Potter series (always a fun, quick read) and I’m listening to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander Series audiobooks. I also read a couple of nonfiction books which I loved – Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover and Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.
SA: Thanks so much, Debbie! Readers, Debbie has generously offered a $15 gift certificate for her Etsy shop to one of you. To be eligible for the random drawing, simply “like” her Facebook page and leave a comment on this post. The deadline for entries is next Sunday, April 13th , 5:00 PM EST. Best of luck to all!
And…I’ve got quite few other things to share with you before we get back to our regularly scheduled lives…First up, giveaway winners from the wonderful Kelly Agrue of Felting Sunshine! Our winners are Melisa Morrison and Brenda Vance. I will get in touch with you to coordinate you getting your prizes. Thanks so everyone who showed the love to Kelly!!
Ah…finally, finally, finally Spring seems to be coming to South Central Pennsylvania where I love. I confess to have been bitten hard by the spring cleaning bug and this weekend has been dedicated to de-cluttering my life and I’m started to feel renewed by the process (note: fiber does not seem to feel like clutter so those piles remain intact). In this same spirit of renewal, my friend Stefanie Goodwin-Ritter of Handmade by Stefanie has organized an amazing event with Louet and The Woolery to get folks ready for Tour de Fleece and then, Spinzilla in the fall. It is a Spinning Spring Training event and everyone is welcome to participate! It is taking place over the months of April, May, and June. You can read more about it here on Louet’s blog and here on Stefanie’s website. This looks fantastic!
If you are looking for some big fun later this coming week, we are doing another live broadcast over at www.fiberygoodness.com. This week, we are having a FREE Spinning Art Yarn on a Spindle class! Christiane Knight of Three Ravens Fiber Studio will be teaching us. If you are interested in joining us, here is the link with more info and Christiane made a fun teaser too:
And, last but certainly not least, I blogged over at www.fiberygoodness.com this week. Suzy Brown aka Wool Wench and I debate the merits of Tension Setting. Find out who won the debate by clicking here.
I will be back again in a few days. Until then, all my fibery best, Arlene