• /wp-content/uploads/2012/11/slide1.jpg
  • /wp-content/uploads/2012/11/slide2.jpg
  • /wp-content/uploads/2012/11/slide3.jpg

Featured Artist: Maiysha Somers-Jones of Zebisis Designs + Giveaway!

by EBlack on January 12, 2014

MSJ-ZD SelfPublisher’s Note: Today’s featured artist was destined for fiber stardom. Maiysha Somers-Jones comes from a long line of artists, knitters, doll makers, and musicians. Maiysha keeps herself busy with her husband, two children, and a fiber business pumping out vibrant, hand-dyed, rovings and breathtaking,  semiprecious stone encrusted drop spindles for her Etsy store. Though Maiysha is fully committed to satisfying her customers, she is all about creating pieces from the heart. And it’s clear from her work… her heart is beautiful!  I’m personally rather hooked on her incredible painted mulberry silk roving and so, I am super excited to feature Maiysha.
Spin Artiste (SA): Hi, Maiysha!  How did all this fiber business come about for you?  
Maiysha Somers-Jones (MSJ): My mother taught me to knit when I was around 8. I did a number of arts and crafts growing up, sold jewelry in a local shop, sewed handbags, wove baskets. MSJ-ZD CorespunWhen I was 25, my gran asked me to go with her to a knitting group that her friend Kathy led. I knew Kathy was a spinner and made a deal that if I could learn to spin, then I would go.  Kathy sat down at her Louet S-15, spun for about 10 seconds as I stood over her, and then handed me the length of BFL top, and said “Here. You try.” Then she walked away. That was pretty much the extent of my spinning instruction, and it was perfect. She let me take the wheel home, and I was off. I bought some silk with noil roving on Ebay, watched a Youtube video on Navajo plying and fell in love. That was when I knew I was really hooked.
My grandmother makes the most beautiful knitted and fulled hats and sells them at shows all over the state. MSJ-ZD Colorful BraidShe had traded one of her hats for a nuno felted scarf, and I was in love the moment I saw it! I loved the puckering of the silk, and after finding out the scarf was only WOOL and SILK, I decided I HAD to do this. I bought the book Uniquely Felt, and some silk chiffon scarves from Dharma. Determined and rovingless (…topless? lol) I took commercial yarns and untwisted them, pulling staples apart to felt with until I got a few bags of Merino top to play with. Kathy brought me powder pink, gray and black combed top.  I am a huge fan of black (my wardrobe is mainly this color), but carnation pink is not really a color I would select of my own free will. Though I was happy to stop pulling yarn apart, I was uninspired by the very small color selection I had to work with, and got it in my mind that it would be exciting to be able to dye my own fiber, in the colors I wanted to work with. I was also stuck with only white silk chiffon to nuno felt with, and that wouldn’t suffice.
After a brief rendezvous with Rit (the only dye I had access to in my tiny island town), MSJ-ZD Rug 3I went back to Dharma, online, and selected some small jars of Jacquard, and then went and ordered myself a set of stainless steel pots for kettle dyeing. The first thing I dyed was a rolled hem chiffon scarf, just to get my footing. Then, that powder pink top went directly into a pot of rich purple dye.
I was smitten. A few months later, I listed my first spindles on Etsy and sold two the first day. I was off and running.
SA: With such an early start to fiber art, it’s no wonder you are such a skilled artist. I know your mother has played a large role in your fiber journey and you once mentioned you inherited your mother’s sense of color. Tell us how has your mom’s sense of color influenced yours?
MSJ-ZD Rainbow FibersMSJ: My mom has always been an artist. She lives and breathes color. She makes a living from her art, working as an architechtural drafter and designer and selling her paintings, drawings and prints. She also is a “color consultant”. That means she will come to your house, armed with thick color chip portfolios and help you choose colors for your home. She is really good at it.
She would often have chips of color lined up in groupings on the wall so she could see them in morning, afternoon and incandescent light, and consider them during different moods. Her preferred medium is oil pastels, which are thick, rich and always saturated, (even the tints). She showed me how to understand color and color combinations. MSJ- ZD All Blues 1Understanding color is visceral for me, not mathematical. This probably has something to do with why I am so averse to weighing dyes and reproducing colorways. This feels very mechanical and takes the joy out of it for me. Part of what I love about creating colorways is starting fresh on each length of top, seeing what emerges when all is said and done.
SA: I’m so envious of your understanding of color…I once heard or read that if you don’t understand color and you are trying to produce art, it is like taking a trip without your luggage — you are going to have to go back for it!  But, what naturals you and your mother are.   You clearly had a fabulous artistic upbringing. Your mother is not the only other artist in the family. You have said, “I come from a long line of what I would call brilliant artists, musicians and creators, and can only aspire to own a style and creative energy of comparable essence and magnetism.” Can you tell us more about this?
MDJ-ZD Fiber MosaicMSJ: My mom’s art has been very influential in my life, but everyone in my family has art in their soul. My maternal grandmother, Hurshelleen is an amazing porcelain doll maker, seamstress and knitter. Her husband Brian, my grandfather, is an proficient tier of flies. My father is a bass guitarist of the avante garde variety. His mother Connie, a knitter, rug hooker and needlepoint artist, and my late grandfather, Bill was an amazing vocalist, a drummer in his younger Army days and much to my grandmother’s chagrin, picked up new skills effortlessly. He once brought my grandmother to a painting class, and while he waited for the class to be over, painted a beautiful, impressively accurate painting of a church and garden in oils. He had never painted before. My sister is the coolest kind of flautist one can be, and plays in Phish-esque jam bands.
SA: Wow, talk about a family full of artists! I love what you said about your family, that they all have “art in their soul.” Now let’s talk about your work; your colors are amazingly vibrant! What is your goal when dying a piece? 
MSJ-ZD Dyed Bundles 2MSJ: Thank you! I want my colors to be saturated and intense. The color combination must feel right. I like colors to blend into each other at transitions. And, there can never, ever be any white spots left.
SA: That’s ironic that you say that…I just did a whole blog post over at www.fiberygoodnees.com about white. What is your favorite method of dying?
MSJ-ZD Hand DyingMSJ: Hand painting, hands down without question. I will crock pot dye semi solids for batts and rolags, but in the event the dye doesn’t permeate the fibers well enough, and I find the dreaded white spots, it’s on to the painting table before they hit the carder.
SA: I know you grew up in Mount Desert Island, Maine, which is a beautiful place, and you left only to come back. What brought you back to your hometown, and would you say the island has provided inspiration for your work?
MSJ: Summer.  Summer always brought me back. San Francisco, San Diego, Key West… I waited tables in high volume, individually owned restaurants, fine and casual fine dining restaurants. MSJ-ZD OutsideI always knew I had a great job waiting for me when May rolled around. MDI is beautiful in the summer, my family is here, and this feels like home. It is awful here in the winter, though.  Cold, snowy, dead. A ghost town. Two extremes, 6 months on, and a long 6 months off. When I was young and restless, the winters killed me. They are still hard, but this is a wonderful, safe place to raise children with good schools and kind people.
And yes, I am absolutely inspired by the beauty here. How could I not be? I try to remember how lucky I am to live here, and to appreciate the beauty I too often take for granted.
SA: I can sympathize to a degree…13 winters in Western, NY…I fled because of the winter.  But, with crappy winters comes amazing summer.  It’s no wonder that you love to work in vivid colors.  I love your semi-precious stone whorl drop spindles! What motivated you to start making these spindles?
MDJ- ZD Hand SpinMSJ: I wanted a small, lower cost alternative to a spinning wheel to offer with my fibers, as early on in my fiber journey I planned to do craft fairs and art shows locally, as I had with jewelry and handbags. I have always had a connection to semi precious stones and sterling silver and I had most of what I needed to start making spindles in my stash from my jewelry making days. It was really a natural progression.
I ended up not doing any craft fairs and kept my work online, but spindles were the beginning of my online Etsy life.
MSJ-ZD StoneSA: How do you determine what stones to use for your spindles?
MSJ: I am a big believer in making things that I believe are beautiful. If I am working on something my heart is not in, I believe you can feel it in the final piece.  So, as unscientific as it may be, I pick stones I like. The same goes for the colorways I paint and the batts and rolags I card. I am less interested in offering a wide range of colorways, pastels, natural/undyed colors, you will RARELY see those in my shop. I create what I love, and I hope that shows through in my work.
SA: Your passion for what you love most definitely shows in your work! What are you hoping your customers get from your drop spindles?
MSJ: I hope people get a tool that is as beautiful as it is functional. A tool that they love to use as much as they love to look at.
MSJ-ZD StudioSA: I’m sure your customers would all agree that your spindles are just as pretty as they are useful. What can you tell us about your studio space?
MSJ: Well- my studio space is kind of everywhere in the house. I have stations set up in several rooms. I would like to publicly thank my sweet man for his endless tolerance of my art in every room. The kitchen/dining room are one big room, and there is room for a table for eating and two 8 foot tables end to end. This is where I hand paint my fibers. The 5 burner gas stove is frequently mostly occupied by my 33qt canning pots, where I steam my fibers.
We also have a butler’s pantry that I use as a dye mixing station. It has a 5 foot counter, sink, and tall dye-filled cupboards above it. MSJ-DZ Pink RovesThe house we live in has two living rooms, so one is a kid’s room, and the other is my computer/shipping room, which we call “Mommy’s Area”. I have my Supercard, both wheels and my undyed bumps of top in there, and this is where Jeremy and I sit together and watch TV in the evening. I can never just sit and watch though, I am always working as I “relax”, separating long locks, working on the computer, making spindles etc.
The master bedroom is also half fiber, with my photo taking set up, two more tables end to end for product in the in between stages, my poly tubing rolls and impulse sealer (where I make my own bags), my Louet Classic carder, my blending boards, a Fancy Kitty blending board, The Beast my massive blending board (2.5 feet long and 1 foot wide), and most of my carding fibers. The bedroom has a fantastic walk in closet that is home to my extensive collection of Angelina fibers (I am a sparkle hoarder), back up gallons of Unicorn Power Scour and Fiber Rinse, more dyed fibers and raw fleece and exactly zero articles of clothing.
MSJ-ZD Blue Fiber in HandSA: I believe you have the most spacious “studio” of anyone I have interviewed!  What are your favorite tools of the trade?
MSJ: I am a big believer in having the right tools for the job. My Patrick Green Supercard is an absolutely amazing carder. 98% of what I card is fine fibers, including lots of silk, and this carder cards them perfectly,  every time.
I bought a Louet Classic to cover the other end of the spectrum, textured art batts. The Supercard is great at smooth, the Louet is great with texture.
I really love my blending boards. MSJ-ZD Hand CardingI was skeptical at first, but I am undoubtedly addicted to making and spinning rolags and love the control I have over color placement and texture when using my boards.
I bought a teaser board from Fancy kitty- it is a little piece of carding cloth attached to a board and you clamp it to your table. You use it to flick the ends of your locks on before spinning or carding them. This little tool has increased the quality of my carded work SO much.
I adore my Majacraft Aura. On its own it is a phenomenal wheel, and it is responsive and infinitely adjustable. I also got the lace kit to go with it, and WOW. A perfect case of “right tool for the job”. I have spun lace on my Louet S-17 and on the Aura’s regular set up, but the lace kit is like spinning thread at the speed of light. I spin fat lockspun yarns, beehives and super bulky cabled yarns, but I also spin “frog hair”, and everything in between. It took me a little time to find a wheel that truly does it all, but I have finally found my wheel soulmate. A top loading washer and double basin sink are high on my list. I swear by Unicorn Power Scour and Rinse.
MSJ-ZD Self at BoothThese is more business related, but worth mentioning- my Dymo Labelwriter 4XL (thermal printer for shipping labels) is SUCH a great tool to have. I don’t know how I lived without it. No ink cartridges, no smearing ink, self adhesive labels- and Endicia. Never waiting in line at the Post Office to mail packages is PRICELESS. My poly tubing rolls and an impulse heat sealer for making bags. Excellent investment. An excellent, accurate scale. Another really important tool on the business side of things. Also my Canon Rebel T3i and my Corel photo editing program are absolute necessities.  Good pictures are so vital for online shops!
Oh, and I have a Rigid Heddle Loom that I REALLY like, but I am lusting after a Saori loom.  I NEED it. I am not sure anyone can ever have enough fiber tools!
MSJ-ZD Self and childSA: I am right there with you.  I NEED A SAORI LOOM.  We should start a club for that!  You mentioned you have two children, who you adore. How do you balance being a mother and an artist, and do you see an artistic future for your children?
MSJ: I LOVE being a work at home mom, though sometimes I think it would be easier to be able to go somewhere 10 hours a day, concentrate on what needs to be done in a quiet orderly workplace, and then have specific set hours to relax and enjoy being at home. I don’t know if my kids will be artists when they are adults. My daughter is very creative, and does truly impressive drawings and loves sculpting with most anything I will let her tape together. She will make funky cool people and animals out of drinking straws and marbles and loose fibers for hair.  And scotch tape. LOTS of scotch tape. We buy rolls of tape by the dozen.
 MSJ-ZD DrawingMy son already has a very cool drawing style (which is interestingly much like mine was, when I was a kid), and can sculpt a very convincing mustache out of playdough. In real life, he is actually Iron Man. His imagination is truly boundless, and he is a method actor by nature. When he commits, I may spend a whole afternoon with Tony Stark. If the arts are in his future, it may just be acting. I don’t know if they will be artists when they are adults, though it would be cool if they were! As long as they feel free to do what they love in life, I am OK with that.
 It can be hard to balance the shop- creating, photographing and editing a thousand photos per update, spending hours listing spindles and fibers, keeping up with convos, emails and social media, packaging and shipping orders… I am very meticulous when it comes to the way I do things. Well, I actually have a bit of OCD, it was quite severe as a child, but now it manifests as perfectionism. MSJ-ZD White YarnIt can be a blessing and a curse. I can’t do things halfway or halfheartedly, so most things take me longer than I would like. I have always had a very hard time with rules, structure and schedules, which can make my obsessive need to do everything “right” even more chaotic and crazymaking!  It is a constant battle, finding the right balance between being a mom, being truly present with my family, keeping the house from looking like a tornado blew through it, while managing every aspect of my business, especially at times when one part of my life needs more attention than another.  When it comes to my shop- it is all me, all the time. I have no help, and if I did, I don’t know if I could relax and let go enough to benefit from it. The precise equation for perfect harmony is something I may never know, as life is an ever changing, ever evolving landscape. It’s a work in progress.
MSJ-ZD Silk ScarfSA: That is so true…it will always be a work in progress… If you were a dyed roving, what color combination would you be?
MSJ: That is really a tough one. My favorite or “signature” color is a limey-olivey-chartreause, or as I like to call it (affectionately) “Bug Gut Green”.  You will see it in a lot of my work. My favorite colorways change, though, depending on mood. Some days I’m a jewel toned rainbow, (I strive for rainbowy-ness), and some days I am a deep sultry peacock colorway.  Recently I have been a copper, rich brown, teal and vertigris colorway  I suppose, so I’d say that would be me, right now.That could change any moment, though.
MSJ - GiveawaySA:  That copper/brown/teal/vertigris colorway is spectacular!  I am so happy I stashed some of that. But, one of you reading this is very lucky because Maiysha is giving away your choice of hand painted A1 Mulberry Silk Brick or 4.4 oz. Rainbow on 50/50 Superwash Merino/Tussah Silk Top.   
To enter for this giveaway, please leave a comment on this post letting us know what you are doing to fight the winter doldrums if you live in a cold climate or what you are doing to enjoy fibery goodness if you live in a warm climate!  Additional entries for sharing on Facebook, Twitter, etc. — just leave a comment letting us know that you did.  Deadline to enter is Sunday, January 19th, 2014, 5 PM.  Please make sure to include a valid email address so that I may let you know you won!! 

Previous post:

Next post: