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Featured Artist: Ron Hysom of 27th Street Fibers

by The SpinArtiste on May 19, 2011

Publisher’s Note:  Ours was a chance meeting via Facebook…One of my friends shared a link to a picture from the 27th Street Fibers Facebook Page (see left) — When I saw the picture, I wanted to reach out, grab a handful and run to my wheel…and I wanted to know more about who originally posted the picture.  I found out it was Ron Hysom of 27th Street Fibers...so, I bought some of his inventive yarns and his handmade needles and knew a Featured Artist piece was in the near future.  Read on to find out more about Ron and his work…

Spin Artiste (SA):  Ron, you started out as a knitter…how did that happen?

Ron Hysom (RH): A few years ago I visited my older brother and his partner in St. Paul, and they had recently learned to knit. I watched and asked a few questions and thought, yeah, that looks interesting. I had worked with clay, metal, paint, paper, and variations of all of them in the past, but had never done much with fiber. I was intrigued by the idea of knitting, that I could create shape and form. I never thought of making a scarf as my first project—I was thinking of knitting figurative sculpture, actually. Using basket weaving reed and wire! Or maybe vessels, which I think goes back to my pottery making days. I ended up knitting hats, and it felt right!

 

 

 

 

 

 

SA: Love the hats!!! Want the hats!!! Click here to see Ron’s Gallery of hats.
So, after you started knitting, how did you move onto spinning…what drew you into becoming a spinner and a fiber artist?

RH: A natural progression, I think. Once I understood the basics of knitting, and started visiting yarn shops, I became more and more interested in the yarn. Different weights, different fibers. I became really curious about yarn. It was the basic component of knitting, so it seemed important to know a lot about it. One day while surfing on-line I found a site about spinning with a spindle. Intrigued, I built a spindle from a dowel stick and a a disc of wood I found in the basement. I found a single, tiny bag of wool roving at a local (now closed) art and craft supply store and started spinning! The result was a big, soft to tight, puffy, uneven length of “yarn like stuff”! I decided immediately that If I was going to knit unique items, I needed to make the yarn I knit with.

 

SA: I love that you are so naturally drawn to figuring out how it all works. How does that translate into how you approach your work?

RH: I am very process oriented, and motivated by materials. I usually start a new project with some vague idea, and then start hunting around for the stuff I think I need to make it, where “hunting around” means exploring my stash of fiber and spinning it on my wheel! As I spin various fibers into unique yarn, the vague idea begins to grow, change, and solidify. Eventually, with luck, I have “made” something new and unique which reflects the materials used.

 

SA: You had extensive experience as an artist working with other mediums…what is it about spinning and fiber that fuels your passion?

RH: My art usually incorporates some type of found objects, or contains unplanned elements. I am intrigued by the accident. I guess it’s influence of pop art on my work:  making art from the common object. Or, rather, finding the art within the found object. I am intrigued by the process of altering one thing, making it into another thing, and the tools and process used to achieve the change. Working with fibers of various sorts fulfills my need for somewhat random materials. The wheel provides a mechanical process for twisting these individual fibers together. The result is the ability to take these random, small fibers and join them to each other in a mechanical manner, creating a totally new object, yarn. And that object can then be used to create something else. I love the fact that a simple machine, the wheel, can become a tool for self-expression.

SA: Given how connected you are to working with various fibers, which materials do you favor to work with and why?

RH: So many wools! When I started spinning I worked with mostly combed tops. Merino and Corriedale. I didn’t quite understand what “locks” were for the first 6 months I was a spinner! I started buying bags of assorted fibers from other spinners so I could experiment. I was fascinated by the different characteristics of wool breeds: Short and springy, long and kinky, soft, thick, fine, coarse. Each of them feels different, looks different, and spins differently. The resulting yarns, therefore, have unique and special characteristics.
I am currently working with longwools, rare breed wool, and a lot of “farm wool”, as much as I can. Once you remove the idea that all yarn needs to be “functional”, and begin to see the act of spinning and the resulting yarn as an artistic expression, you free yourself to play with new materials and to create fresh new yarn. I have bags of Easter basket grass and some steel wool stashed away, too!

SA: What’s in your fiber stash that you love so much, you don’t spin it — you just love having it?

RH: Silk. Definitely silk. I have maybe a half pound in several different preparations. I love everything about it, from the bugs that make it to the incredible way it takes dye. I fully intend to spin some of it. Eventually.

SA: Tell us about your equipment.

RH: My pride and joy is my Kromski Symphony wheel. I was able to purchase it last year with the help of a supportive brother. It replaced my first wheel, a Louet S10 clone I bought on-line when I started spinning.

I also use the heck out of my Fancy Kitty drum carder. I really like spinning “free style” from a big soft batt!

And I have a Lil Dynamo picker which I love. It has a lot of really sharp nails and looks a little like a torture device, but it enables me to buy wool in its raw state and quickly “pick” it to open the locks and prepare it for carding. And a pair of Ashford Hand Carders which I make pretty good rolags with.

SA: I love your handmade needles — I’m so glad I bought a pair — what led you to making your own needles?

RH: Well, I figured, if I’m going to wash wool, dye it, comb it and spin it into yarn just so I can knit a unique hat, making a pair of needles seemed like an obvious progression!

I’d already built myself a spindle, a lazy kate and a niddy-noddy, too, so why not needles?
Considering my limited wood working skills, and lack of proper tools, I am pretty proud of the Giant Needles. They look nice, they feel nice, and they are unique. I even designed a label and some minimal packaging for them.
They are actually in tune with my artistic outlook, which is to be as self sufficient as possible, use what I have, and let the materials be themselves.
I’m so glad you bought a pair. I’m looking forward to seeing what you knit with them!

SA: I’m pretty sure they will be used to knit something funky out of the lot of assorted up-cycled yarns I bought from you also…So, all of this creativity happens in the micro studio…tell us about that.

RH: I just remembered a home improvement show I watched once. A suburban mother/artist was getting her own studio space built in her tiny home. Turned out they were modifying a coat closet for her work place! So now I think my studio is not so much micro as roomy!
In fact it is a >100 square foot 2nd bedroom on the third floor of a North Philly row house from the 1920s. The building sits on a corner, so there are windows in the studio, and sunlight fills it most of the afternoon, every day.
Since this fleece-to-object process has so many stages, it made sense to organize the space around certain tasks. Like the combing area. The spinning area. The drum carder and the picker need their place.
And of course there’s the fiber, currently filling the drawers in three old dressers and several plastic bins!
I am constantly rearranging the studio, trying to find “the right spot” for everything. I have discovered all sorts of ways to use every inch of space for storage and work space. But a lot of times, there are just piles of stuff all over the place.
It is a wonderful feeling that within a single room, I have everything I need to create – as long as I can find it!

 

 

SA: I know you are close to one of my favorite places, the Philadelphia Museum of Art…does the statue of Rocky inspire you and did you like his recent attire of the pink sweater?

RH: Actually, I’m a snobby Philadelphian who is disturbed that a movie prop is displayed in front of one of the great art museums of the world, as if it were a piece of art. But the pink sweater was amusing, if not inspiring.

SA: OK, since the Rocky statue doesn’t cut it for inspiration…so, then, what does inspire you creatively?

RH: My primary inspiration is usually the materials. How to manipulate them and use them. How can I transform that dirty fleece into a bright red hat? And the possibility that by the time it’s “done” it might be something altogether different than a red hat, something singular and unique.

SA: What can we expect to see coming down the road from you?

RH: I need to keep improving my techniques and figuring out new ways to twist fiber into yarn.
And, then, keep looking for new ways to use the yarn. I think, in the past few years, spinning, and fiber art in general, has become more recognized as an artistic medium. It’s more about the yarn as an entity unto itself. I really want to start exploring the use of yarn in unconventional ways.  Something sort of sculptural, but not necessarily knitted. Basketry?
Also, I’ve been thinking lately I’d like to do some sort of Installation with fiber.
And I’d love to get my MFA!

SA: Tell something about yourself that people might be surprised to know.

RH: I have an intense, juvenile fascination with old British sports cars!

SA: (smile)…Ron, one last thing — What is your motto?

RH: “Can I spin that?”

SA: Great questions and motto…in fact, one day after Easter, you posted on Facebook that Easter grass was on sale at the dollar store and that it was spinnable…so shortly thereafter, I was out and about and saw some Easter grass on sale for 33 cents a bag and bought some based upon your recommendation!

Ron, it’s been such a treat getting to know you and your work better.  Right now, I want to drop everything and run off to my knitting corner with the beautiful needles you made for me and I’m sure others would like to do the same…The needles are so fabulous, that Ron and I decided to make a pair available to Spin Artiste readers!!  Check back on the Sunday Night Special Edition post for the contest details…In the meantime, check out Ron’s website, the 27th Street Fibers Facebook page, and etsy store to see more incredible things from Ron!

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