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Featured Artist: Rachel Jones of On The Round + Giveaway + Mega Hooks Winner!!

by EBlack on October 20, 2013

RJ-OTR self kittingPublisher’s Note: This week’s artist is no slouch when it comes to managing a business, raising a family, and all things fiber! Rachel Jones of On The Round has been a fiber go-getter ever since she said “no” to teaching and “yes” to knitting, after college. She is an amazingly talented artist who loves what she does and only wants to provide the best for her customers. As we all know, it takes a lot to handle fiber art and everything else life has to offer, but believe me, Rachel’s got what it takes!      

Spin Artiste (SA): Thanks so much for chatting with us today, I’m really looking forward to getting to know you and your art a little more. So, tell us, what is your fiber story?

Rachel Jones (RJ): My maternal grandmother, Nana, taught me to knit when I was about 7. I don’t really remember learning at the time, but it was always just something we did. She was an avid knitter,RJ-OTR MittsDesign so there were always needles and yarn available. My real fiber journey began when I was in college studying Art Education, Studio Art and Art History. I always knit in class, at the bar, and at my friend’s house. I used to do needle felted sculptures in my Sculpture class, and often got into arguments about whether or not knitting/fiber art was art or craft.

As I neared graduation I started getting this sinking feeling that I did not want to teach and that I would rather have a career in knitting. I remember the day I went to my advisor to tell her that I didn’t want to student teach because I wanted to knit. I kind of thought she was going to slap me! Thankfully she didn’t. Instead she asked if I was sure, and then picked up the phone. It turned out that one of her best friends was a fiber artist who had a wholesale/retail business making nuno felt scarves. Two weeks later I started a job at One Lupine Fiber Art and have been working with wool every single day ever since!

 

RJ-OTR spools and yarnSA: Great story! Sounds like you had the perfect college adviser. So, you have been a knitter since you were a little girl, but didn’t take the art seriously until you were in college. What happened in your college years that brought fiber art to the forefront of your life?

RJ: The fall I started college my parents became separated which made my first year emotionally stressful for me. The summer after my first year, my father was diagnosed with Leukemia and he passed away the following spring. Thinking back on that time even now makes me feel like I might have a panic attack. Going off to college in the best of circumstances is really hard, so for me it was almost excruciating. I didn’t want to flunk out so I needed to find away to cope and comfort myself, and knitting did that for me. It’s like mediating for the restless. It quiets the mind while keeping your hands busy. I started knitting every day and I continued to throughout my college career. I made dean’s list almost every semester, plus I always had the hottest leg warmers!

 

SA: It is always amazing to hear how knitting can be a therapeutic experience for so many. RJ-OTR brighly colored yare pileI’m so glad that you were able to use your gift to get through a hard time in your life. What does fiber art bring out in you?

RJ: I’ve always been a very creative person and had a drive to make things. Everyone in my family has a little treasure that I’ve made for them over the years. The first time I got to make something with wool it was true love and I’ve never wanted to work with any other medium. I love that it is natural and renewable. There is a real sense of mystery and magic with both the fiber and the techniques, but most of all I love the history. Fiber art is a skill that you pass on, that you teach people, that you do as a community. Best of all, despite all the rich history and tradition with fiber art, there will always be new techniques to discover and experiment with.

RJ-OTR socks in the worksAlso, working with fiber calms me. I’m a bit anxious and definitely high energy so grinding it out on my carder, sitting down at my wheel or knitting makes me slow down while being busy at the same time. There is nothing more satisfying than having a giant trash bag of wool that you clean and organize and spin into a neat pile of beautiful yarn. It really makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something!

 

SA: And you have accomplished so much through fiber over the years, for sure! RJ-PTR self spinningI know a spinning goal of yours is making hand-spun yarn slowly and “steady…always with the knitter in mind.” What motivates you to have this goal, and how has this philosophy influenced your work?

RJ: Being a knitter at the core is what really drives me to make a beautiful, clean, balanced skein of yarn. I want people to look at my yarn and be inspired to make something that they will cherish for their whole life. I really look at it as collaboration between myself and my customer.

RJ-OTR innuendoThere has been a real “rush” of handspun in the Etsy marketplace for the last couple of years so I feel that it’s important for me to stress that I am keeping the knitter in mind. I think a lot of fiber artists out there spin for spinning sake (which is awesome) and others spin for the use of the yarn- and that’s me.

I feel that it is important for me to have a wide knowledge base of wool and fibers, what their strengths and weaknesses are and know what they are best suited for when making something. I want knitters to be able to experience the joy and excitement I feel when making the yarn in their own knitting.

I dye and spin commercial top, but working with the raw fibers is really what inspires me. RJ-OTR yarn for saleI have a line that is exclusively made up of wool grown in the state of Maine. I have it professionally washed at small a mill near my house, some spun or processed into sliver at another mill that is powered with solar energy, and the rest is all processed by my two hands. This line is a true labor of love and encompasses everything I love about my job!

 

RJ-OTR brightly dyedSA: It sounds like you have found the right balance of passion and finesse in your art. Thinking of your costumers and their future creativity is a thoughtful gesture.  You mentioned that you spent some time working at a fiber studio making felt accessories, and during that season you fell in love with wool. How was that time beneficial to your artistic development, and would you say felting is still a passion of yours?

RJ: My time at One Lupine was actually 4 years! In that time I learned how to felt, design kits, to dye and how to handle wool. The most important thing I took from my time at OL was experiencing the physical grind of a creative business. RJ-OTR RJ-OTR spinning classWhen I spin at craft shows people always say “oh that looks so peaceful” “you must never be stress out” “so meditative”-which of course spinning is all those things. HOWEVER being a hand spinner for my own small business which I run out of my home, while raising two small children is often stressful and not relaxing at all! My time at OL helped me learn that I’m really good at the grind, getting into a system and a rhythm and banging out the work.

As for felting, I don’t think I would say felting is still a passion of mine. Mostly, I don’t have time to do it anymore. There have been a few projects I’ve done in the last couple of years that reminded me of how fun felting can be, but I really burned myself out at OL. The feeling of soapy water running down my wrists still makes me crazy. I used to love doing felt paintings and I would love to eventually get back to that, probably when my kiddos are a little bigger and I have more room in my brain for that level of creativity.

 

RJ-OTR Merino BlanketSA: I’m sure your love for felting will resurge one of these day. Once a felter always a felter! Speaking of your kiddos, as a mother, how do you balance parenting while still managing your artwork and business? 

RJ: I stick to a pretty solid routine. I get up and get my husband and oldest daughter out the door, clean the kitchen, and put the littlest back to bed. Then I get some dye pots going and do computer work. Once the little once gets up from her nap I usually do housework, run errands, and play. In the afternoon I pick my big girl up from school and we have snacks, maybe play with some friends, and I start dinner. After dinner we clean up, play some more, and get ready for bed. Bed time is at 7:30 sharp and there are rarely exceptions. Once the kids are in bed and the house is picked up, I spin the night away! My years working in restaurants make me a night owl so night time is always my most productive time.

Some days run smoother than others. RJ-OTR baby in boxI try and set goals for the week verses the day. Daily goals make me feel frantic and set too high of expectations. Weekly goals allow me to go with the flow a bit more, which with young children you have to be flexible, you just never know what’s going to happen!

SA: Sounds like your business is a well oiled machine. I’m sure it is hard to manage so many tasks and responsibilities, but you are handling it with grace. What has been the most challenging part of having your own fiber business?

RJ: My biggest challenge is the physical demands of being a hand spinner. I need to really force myself to take a break, especially for my body’s sake. I’ve been working with my hands pretty steadily since for 10 years now and it’s definitely starting to take its toll. I’m trying to do a lot more preventative actions like taking turmeric and icing my hands every night.

RJ-OTR paperworkAlso, finding balance between making and paperwork side of the business is always a challenge. I would spin and prep wool 24/7 if I could. My husband helps me as much as he can, especially with the accounting, but it’s up to me to keep the paperwork organized.

 

SA: On your blog, you mentioned that you did a “summer spin-a-thon;” tell us how it went.

RJ: Really well! It gets really hot in my house in the summer (I hate AC) so I tried to get the bulk of my dyeing done during the cooler spring. July in Maine is insanely hot and humid so I wanted to be prepared to just grab my wool and wheel and take off to the beach or my family camp. RJ-OTR self and baby spinningI can always get a lot of spinning done when the kids are outside, they stay so busy! I had to spin a minimum of 2 skeins a day to keep up with my busy show schedule and Etsy shop. Somehow I managed to pull it all off!

 

SA: Good to hear! Summer spinning is always fun. Now, I know you love your Ashford Wheel. What can you tell us about it?

RJ: I spin on an Ashford Kiwi (the original model, not Kiwi II). I started spinning on an antique wheel that my husband bought me for Christmas so once I upgraded to the Kiwi it felt like the best spinning wheel on earth! It is a very sturdy wheel that has traveled all over the New England with me and even to the beach many times. RJ-OTR wheel 2I have a bulky flyer attachment as well as the standard flyer which is nice; between the two I am able to spin lace weight to super bulky art yarns! I always recommend it to people interested in learning to spin. I think it is a great wheel for a great price. I am looking to take on something new this winter. I’m interested in a wheel with more ratio options, a Schacht Matchless maybe? Of course I will always spin on my Kiwi though; she is so comfortable and reliable!

 

SA: How would you describe your studio? 

RJ: A giant mess! Actually, I have two work spaces. One is a small room in my house where I store my entire finished inventory, packing and shipping supplies, and I keep my work computer. That looks like a bomb of paper and toys and yarn went off in it. Then I have a shed outside of my house where I store all my fleece and bumps of commercial top- both dyed and undyed. I do my carding out in my shed so that looks like a wool bomb went off in it. I just moved into my shed about a month ago and it has been SO nice to get all the wool out of my house and into one space. I’m hoping to have both spaces organized more in the next month. We’ll see.RJ-OTR fiber on the table

 

SA: With as well as you are able to mange your time and business, I have no doubt you will have it all organized soon. You are great at designing your own patterns. What have been your favorite patterns?

RJ: I like patterns that are classic and timeless and designed to work with a yarn weight not a brand. I usually end up designing my own patterns based on what I have for yarn in front of me; I like to let the yarn do the talking. RJ-OTR knitting in progressMy favorite pattern currently is my most recent, my Handspun Popcorn Lace Cowl (free on my blog). This cowl is the perfect pattern for self striping yarn which also a favorite of mine at the moment.

I actually have a mountain of designs that just need to be typed up and test knit. It’s so hard for me to find the time to spin myself yarn to knit with, but it’s one of my goals for the coming year.

 

SA: Can’t wait to see some of your new patterns next year. If you could only knit one more piece in your life, what would it be and why?

RJ-OTR green swetterRJ: Without any hesitation a raglan pull over sweater with reinforced elbows, in glorious handspun Border Leicester wool. The pattern would be simple and there would be a ton of all over color! The color would make it a memorable knitting experience, and the fiber and the simple raglan design would make it last a life time!

 

SA: Great answer, sounds like a sweater for the ages! Other than the spin-a-thon, what was the best thing you did this past summer?

RJ: I mentioned above that my family owns a camp, in Maine that means “summer home”, but not so fancy. The best part of summer was getting to relax and swim at camp with my family. Camp is only a half an hour away from my house, tucked just enough away in the woods, and right on the lake! My mom grew up spending her summers at camp, I grew up spending my summers at camp, and now my girls get to spend their summers there! It is truly my heaven on earth.

SA:  It’s wonderful to have a place you feel that way about.  Thank you so much for being such a great guest this week!

RJ- OTR Patel Rainbow HandspunReaders, Rachel has been kind enough to offer one of her beautiful yarns as a giveaway for this week.  It is her very pretty pastel rainbow handspun!  One of you is going to be soooo lucky!!!  To enter please leave a comment on this post as to what plans you have for this beauty.  Additional entries for sharing this post on FB, Twitter, etc.  Just leave a comment and let us know you did.  Deadline for entries in next Sunday, October 27th at 5:00 PM EST.

If you’d like to see more about Rachel and her terrific work, please visit her website and Etsy store!

AND…Last but certainly not least…the winner of the Mega Hooks from Llamas in the Raw Sanctuary is Rosalyn!!!  Rosalyn, I will be in touch to coordinate you getting your fantastic prize.  Thanks to all who entered!!

 

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