Publisher’s Note: Many say “variety is the spice of life,” and I to both agree and expand on this old adage, after meeting up with an artist who is not only full of variety, but creativity, joy, and ingenuity. Kate Blaney of Gourmet Stash has been creating fiber art for over 10 years. Not only does Kate create unique pieces and what she calls “dye mash-ups,” she also has mastered punis and rolags — something that many of us are keenly interested in hearing more about!
Spin Artiste (SA): What can you tell us about your journey to and through fiber?
Kate Blaney (KB): Growing up I was very creative in everything I did. My Dad and Nana really encouraged me to express myself through art. So in high school I did a bit of everything: painting, drawing, pottery, sculpture, jewelry making and mixed media. It wasn’t until college that I wanted to actively learn to knit and crochet. I really enjoyed it right away. It was something artistic that you could wear!
After my daughter turned 1 yr old, I started getting interested in more advanced knitting techniques. Which is how I came across people that hand spun their own yarn. I got a drop spindle but didn’t like how slow it was. So my boyfriend (now husband) bought me my first spinning wheel! As soon as I got my wheel I became a voracious spinner. I worked very hard at it and practiced everyday for months. A lot of not-so-good looking yarn came out of it. But as long as you can knit with it, it is still yarn right?! I’ve been spinning for 6 years and knitting for almost 11 years. I don’t think there will ever be a stop to the crafts in our house!
SA: That daily practice is just invaluable and a great discipline for a beginning spinner. What personally drew you to fiber art and how has it changed your life?
KB: It is tactile! There are infinite possibilities with color, texture and fiber content. Playing with fiber and knitting is also very meditative for me. I don’t think a few hours can go by without spinning, knitting or prepping fiber. It really has taken on a “way of life” for me. Even my daughter has expressed serious interest with fiber arts. She learned to knit this past Christmas and now she is asking to learn to spin! It is pretty cool to see my daughter finding a love for all things fiber related and seeing it benefit her creativity.
I also have become so passionate about fiber arts that I decided I wanted to get a fiber-themed tattoo! It took me a while to settle on the design, but I really wanted something spinning related tattooed on my inner forearm. I took a watercolor sketch of my first support spindle and had a local tattoo artist re-work it a bit using my favorite Spanish Peacock support spindle as the color scheme. So, it is my own drawing but with a few small changes and I absolutely love the finished tattoo. I think it is pretty obvious that I am committed to fiber arts…for life!
KB: Punis are a woolen type of preparation (reminiscent of rolags) that is originally from India. Traditionally, you use moderate to small amounts of fiber on the hand cards, then once blended, the fiber is rolled tightly on a stick directly from the hand cards. This compacts the fiber and allows for very smooth long draw spinning. Punis are excellent for short staple fibers but I’ve found you can use medium to long staple fibers as well.
For making my punis, I use the similar techniques but with some variations. The first of which is that I use a small diameter knitting needle to roll the fiber. With a rolag you transfer the fiber back and forth between the hand cards. With the punis I make, I pre-comb the fiber onto the card and lightly blend it. However, I do not transfer the fibers back and forth between the cards. This allows for a very smooth rolling action and fewer issues when spinning from them.
Currently, I am working on a series of video tutorials demonstrating how I manipulate fibers and make punis.
For additional info regarding what punis are and the differences between them and rolags you can check out my website http://gourmetstash.com/what-are-punis
SA: You are right on target with your exploration of punis and rolags. What inspired you to create and sell punis and rolags?
KB: I discovered punis via Instagram of all places! I met two amazing fiber artists, Holly from Turquoise Owl Fibers and Debra of MichiganSpinning. They were posting pictures of in progress punis and rolags for their etsy shops. I am not a shy person, so I asked them about it and they were happy to share the basics with me.
Things just took off from there. I became obsessed with finding ways to make neater and easier-to-spin punis and rolags. It took me about 2 months to fine tune my methods. While I was working out the kinks with my techniques, friends of mine started asking me if I would sell them or make some for them. It was at that point that I spoke with my husband about starting a home based fiber arts business. He really encouraged me to delve into what it would take to start up an etsy shop. And things just fell into place. Luckily I also have an amazing local fiber community of people that have been so supportive. I don’t think my plans would have moved as fast without their cheerleading or help.
SA: So nice to hear you have a good support group and fan base. I’m curious to learn more about your work with punis and rolags. What have you found to be the benefits of using them when spinning, and which do you prefer?
KB: I found that using punis and rolags are amazing for travel spinning. The fiber is pre-portioned out and it ready to spin. I have being working with a support spindle for the past month and I have discovered that I can spin punis incredibly fine. Finer than I can on my wheel! So my long draw spinning has improved greatly and my lace weight singles are very consistent now. It is fair to say I prefer punis, but I also enjoy rolags.
SA: That is a great tip for travel spinning; I would love to try spinning both in my travels! It seems you have just recently launched your fiber business. What motivated you to start selling your wears?
KB: I have always wanted to do something creative as a business. The trick was finding a niche that hadn’t really been tackled or done before. Thankfully friends pointed out to me that punis were something unique and different. I just jumped right in with the support of my husband and friends. Things really took off quickly. I am still very humbled by it all and very thankful.
SA: What would you say is your business model or philosophy?
KB: My philosophy is really a patchwork of things. One of which is that when it comes to being creative or experimenting, there are No Rules! Who am I to tell you how to spin your punis?! Do what works for you and don’t worry about the “spinning police”, they don’t exist. Also, there is room for everyone in this fiber community. Everyone deserves to share what they’re doing either for personal or business use. We can all make room for the new and the innovative because we all benefit from it.
SA: I totally agree, there is room for all sorts of creativity in the fiber art world, and I’m glad you are so open to share yours with us! What is one thing you would like your customers to know about you and your art?
KB: Well, I am in love with color, texture and using luxury fibers. My current obsession is hand blending neutrals with bright colors. It really makes for a unique spinning experience because each puni is subtly different. But, when you spin the fiber, the colors shift and blend which creates some really unique handspun that isn’t over the top. It makes the finished yarn versatile for featuring it with commercial yarns in finished knit and crochet projects. You should also know that I am big on sketching with water colors. Anytime I am struggling for inspiration I bring out my sketch book and play with paints. It really does get my creative juices flowing.
SA: Can you tell us a little about the wheel you’re using?
KB: I use a Majacraft Pioneer! It is the best lightweight wheel I’ve ever owned. It is a very versatile wheel and easy to travel with. I tend to spin light fingering weight singles with a lot of twist and this wheel just sings at when I’ve got it going at “high speeds”. Though I will be honest, my wheel hasn’t gotten much love in the past month. I fell down the rabbit hole with support spindling. So for fine gauge spinning I will only be spinning it on the support spindle. I finally found my “sweet spot” with spindling and feel so dedicated to it that I very recently got a tattoo of a sketch I did of one of my support spindles.
SA: I hear your studio got a makeover recently! What can you tell us about your new and improved studio?
KB: When I started Gourmet Stash, I had two small tables and half of our dining room table (with the leaf insert!) for drum carding and shipping out products. After a short while, I took over more and more of the dining room table. My husband and I figured out what I needed in the Morning Room so I was able to work, give the kids their space and also keep an eye on the kiddos. Basically I took over 75% of the Morning Room and doubled my table space! Which now that I have the space it feels amazing.
I have designated spots for two drum carders, storage for supplies, storage for products, open table space for processing orders and a spot for outgoing orders. It is very assembly line oriented, but it works well and is efficient.
SA: A classic case of “fiber creep”! I love your idea for color “mash-ups”. What would you say is your favorite color mash-up so far?
KB: The “Dyer Mashups!” series are a set of hand carded puni or puni-style rolags made from two different repeatable colorways from two different indie dyers. Currently I have Kate of Dragonfly Fibers, Sarah of Cephalopod Yarns and Chris of Threeravens collaborating with me on this project. It is so much fun to take what they do and turn it into something very different and yet you can still “see” their colorways.
I haven’t fully debuted it yet, but my favorite is the Malachite colorway. I used some Dragonfly Fibers Emerald City in Merino/Silk and Cephalopod Yarns Bugga! Fiber in Ariel to make the blend. It ends up being this bright heathered malachite green that just sings when you spin it. Though, I am very much in love with the Confetti colorway too!
KB: There are a great many people that have helped, contributed and inspired me and my business. From the inception of Gourmet Stash, Kate of Dragonfly Fibers and Sarah of Cephalopod Yarns have supported me and been there to answer questions. They’re both so sweet, encouraging and inspire me to grow my business. Also, they’re just a ton of fun to be around! Another friend that I get inspired by is Kim from the CraftStash videopodcast. She inspired a whole new technique for making art punis for my shop! Also, I’ve got an amazing work/personal relationship with Chris of Threeravens. We recently have collaborated on an exclusive series of punis for her shop in Baltimore. Chris is also has a wealth of fiber information and is great at helping with getting ideas up and running. Honestly, I cannot even begin to say how amazing these ladies are in what they do. I am very fortunate to call them all friends and they are truly at the core of a fiber community that inspires me.
SA: I can’t agree with you more, having a good connections in the community is invaluable. Now, thinking outside of the fiber art scene, what artist do you have an artistic connection to (singer, musician, painter, photographer, etc.)?
KB: We could talk inspiration all day! Music, Art, Nailpolish, Pantone Colors, Books, History, Thrift Stores, Travel, Graffiti, Tattoos and Movies/TV are all things I love. So I tend to pull a lot of inspiration from the things I enjoy and translate it into what I do with fiber. But to be honest, music is the one thing I can’t live without when it comes to my everyday life. I am a big fan of all kinds of music. Whenever I work I’ve always got some new playlist playing in the background. Currently, I am listening to The Great Gatsby Soundtrack on repeat. It is a very powerful and emotionally driven soundtrack that I just can’t get enough of right now. And I also tend to play a lot of Muse, Daft Punk, Joan Jett and Macklemore when I work.
SA: Macklemore, now you’re talking! Thank you so much, Kate, for taking the time to chat with us and let us know more about you. We certainly look forward to seeing where your creative journey takes you! Readers, Kate has a very generous and fun giveaway for you: your choice of 2 oz. of her beautiful punis in either the Noir Melange or Jaune Bicyclette Tour de Fleece limited edition colorways.
To enter for the giveaway, please leave a comment below and tell us whether you’ve ever tried making punis or rolags and if you have, any little tips you might want to pass along to everyone else. Additional entries for sharing on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Just leave a comment letting us know that you did. Entries are due by next Sunday, June 23rd, 5:00 PM. Best of luck to all!