Publisher’s Note: This week our featured artist is the amazing Joelle McCarthy of Corn Creek Fiber from Kanosh, Utah. Joelle and her husband, Scott, currently have two steers (Rump Roast and YumYum), 18 alpacas, too many chicken (by their count), one angora rabbit (Kronk), two dogs, two cats, and three kids all on 1.5 acres! Raised in Wisconsin, Joelle came to Utah as an archaeologist. Like so many of us, she is balancing many roles including wife, mother, fiber artist and working for the Bureau of Land Management — all the while, she still finds time with her family to enjoy mountain man rendezvousing, camping in their teepee and connecting with nature. Joelle is driven by both her personal creative genius and the opportunity to inspire others. Joelle is a delight to get to know!
Spin Ariste (SA): You have a beautiful farm and have made amazing fiber creations; tell us how you got to be an all-around fiber lady!
Joelle McCarthy (JM): I was visiting family in WI when I learned my husband, Scott, was getting a wheel. I thought it would be fun to get all kinds of fiber types to spin; so I searched and visited all yarn and fiber shops in Southwest WI. My eyes were opened to a new world of art. Fiber is an amazing medium and I just love learning new techniques. I get excited with every new idea and can’t get the design out of my head until its here.
SA: Embracing the roots of your forefathers’ lifestyle seems to be a passion of yours. How has this practice influenced Corn Creek Fiber?
JM: My husband’s (Scott Blackburn) family left Ireland and settled in Blackburn, England. They raised sheep, set up a mill, and processed wool for many generations. Later descendants made the journey to America then across the plains to settle in Utah. They had to bring everything with them and create a new life in the west. Community, using what they had and not wasting was part of that tradition that we try to carry on. It is important to us to be a benefit to the community and to sustain our heritage through these values.
SA: It deeply resonates with me to hear that you have such a connection to both your present community and its history. You shared that the sheep industry helped to make Utah into such a great state. Can you tell us more about the industry’s past effects on the financial and agricultural well being of Utah?
JM: Without going into too much history (for more information you can check out Utah Wool Growers Association), the sheep , agricultural and mining industries created an outlet and source of income for the first settlers. Utah was a leading state with 56 million head of sheep. Many people from the rural areas were influenced by the sheep industry, either with families who raised sheep, moved to Utah to herd sheep, or as boys were in charge of moving the herds. The annual Sheepherder’s Party in Baker NV, provides a venue for all the old timers to gather and reminisce about the old days and share their traditions with the younger generation.
SA: With such a rich history, it’s no wonder you’re so proud of your state. How has your community responded to your art and business endeavors?
JM: Kanosh is one of those small towns where everyone knows each other and couples take evening strolls to enjoy the sunset. People are amazed at what can be created with fiber, but I think they enjoy our alpacas the most. We have neighbors who come by with the grandkids to watch the cria grow up. Families stop in to see the farm and fiber processing. The kids get to try spinning and learn how yarn is created.
SA: It sounds like the fiber traditions are being honorably passed on to the next generation. You mentioned that Corn Creek Fiber is a “project that functions as an outlet for the people to display their talents and sustain the pioneer way of life.” Are there any other artists or fellow Kanosh and Millard County folks involved in the project; and if so, in what capacity are they involved?
JM: The Corn Creek Fiber Project is open to everyone who chooses to be involved. There are a few people who work outside of town (myself included). But most are able to sustain their lifestyles with ranching (yes, there are real cowboys here), or other jobs around town. The Corn Creek Fiber Project is a way to sustain traditional values while providing an outlet and income for those involved. Right now, people are raising sheep and Corn Creek is processing wool, making soap, photography, web design, accounting, raising feed, and helping to make finished products like slippers. We try to keep every aspect of the business in Kanosh in order to do the most good for our little community.
SA: What a great artistic outlet for the people of Kanosh! So, I hear your first wheel was gifted to you. Who gave you your wheel and can you tell us more about the wheels you use?
JM: A friend thought it might be fun to learn how to spin, so he made himself a spinning wheel. It was so much fun he made himself another and gave the first one to Scott (to spread the obsession) It is patterned after the Majacraft Rose. The friend made all of the parts, including casting all the metal pieces. It was the only wheel we had for a few months. Coming home from work, I would “call” the wheel and I would get to spin in the evening while Scott had to make dinner. After a few months of that, I got my own wheel, a Majacraft Aura. There isn’t anything better. I spin on my Aura, with the rhythmic hum of the wheel turning, while Scott sits next to me, his wheel klunking and rattling. Now, Scott has hooked up a motor and has a buzz to add to the other sounds. Scott spins a beautiful yarn, better than mine, but I have more fun creating different textured yarn.
SA: You say felting is your true love and it clearly shows through your stunning felt work! What is your attraction to felting?
JM: I like creating and trying new things, so spinning yarn is great. With working full time, I just don’t get to spend as much time at the wheel as I would like. Felting gives me a creative outlet while forgiving my time constraints. Many items I can finish in an evening, but if I can’t, I can come back to it the next day, and the next without any compromise to the piece. Dying gives me that too, I just have to wait until morning to see the final product, which can be really hard.
SA: We loved the felted shoes you entered in the Secret Stash 2 competition. Can you share with us what inspired the design?
JM: It was the Jonquils. They were so pretty blooming with their yellow faces. It was such a weird spring and every other day it would snow. The little yellow flowers looked so cold in the snow and spring was trying so hard to get here. The snow just kept coming. Once I decided that I had to make slippers, the rest was perfect. All the little bits of colors were became flowers and the locks for decoration. The slippers needed some extra fiber, so I dyed some yellow, but they are completed in layers – fawn alpaca next to the feet, with green in the middle and yellow with the green string on the outside (to match the jonquils). The yellow and green layers were done with a double resist, so the outer layer can be folded down to show the green.
SA: Thanks for giving us those great details! The piece is truly amazing and worthy of all the accolades it, and you, received. It is clear that you value the philosophy of sustainable living and getting the most out of what you have. What has been the most creative way you used leftover fiber or yarn?
JM: I really like to use everything. So even when a product fails, it still has merit. That is one thing I love about working with fiber. The obvious things are saving the little bits of wool left from spinning. Whether the fiber won’t catch and I have a little string, or it’s the little puff of roving, I save all that and make dryer balls and dog toys. My favorite thing is a scarf I made from an unstable yarn. I was learning how to make thick n thin, but made the thick too long for the staple length of the fiber. It stayed together to go onto a niddy noddy and stayed there for months. I let it hang there, taunting me. But the colors were so pretty …it had to become a scarf. The trick was maintaining the shape and texture, but it turned out beautifully.
SA: It takes true talent to turn scraps into great art. What is the most common reaction when you tell people what you do for a living/trade?
JM: Most people are amazed at all the things fiber can do, and it is really fun to watch the interest grow into appreciation and desire to learn more. My husband is an amazing wood worker. He has built a reputation building quality traditional bows and arrows. Scott continues to build intricate bows and had taken his woodworking knowledge to create beautiful drop spindles.
SA: What is your favorite childhood memory?
JM: Gosh, there are so many great memories. The first time I auditioned for the Nutcracker Ballet and got a part; hanging out with my family in the pop-up camper playing cards while it was raining outside; swimming at the lake; cooking with my Grandmother, but think it would have to be all the time spent with my mother making things. Whatever it was, my mom always had us kids participate in her adventures. So, as soon as I was strong enough to cut glass, I was doing stained glass patterns, then creating my own: clay sculptures. bead work, sewing, etc. I grew up in a very creative and encouraging environment. It is important to me that my kids have a free creative environment as well. They have picked up on some aspects of the fiber world – my son spins and my daughter and helps me dye wool and needle felts when she feels like it.
SA: Joelle, I’m thoroughly inspired by your description of your lifestyle and your approach to your work as an artist. Thanks so much for spending some time with us and letting us share in your fibery goodness. One more thing folks should know is that you have a presence on Facebook that you’d like to build! So, readers, let’s get on the Corn Creek Fiber bandwagon and get those “likes” up. Right now there is a giveaway for one of Joelle’s fantastic felted birdhouses and Joelle let me in on a scoop…you know her beautiful felted slippers? Well, the next giveaway through the Facebook page is a pair of custom felted slippers!!
And, last, but certainly not least, a lot of folks have been getting into drop spindling lately so this is perfect timing…Corn Creek Fiber is giving away one of their beautifully hand made spindles to one lucky Spin Artiste reader! Joelle told us that her favorite season is fall because of the cooler weather and the smell of the fresh, crisp air…tell us what your favorite season is and why. Extra entries for sharing on Facebook, Twitter, Ravelry, etc. — just let us know you did by posting additional comments. A winner is to be drawn at random Sunday, 10/21 after 5:00 PM EST. So. Much. Fun!