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Featured Artist: Shannon Herrick of The Spun Monkey

by The SpinArtiste on October 20, 2011

Publisher’s Notes:   Each time I receive a fiber artist’s responses to my questions via email, I debate whether to look at them or to save the surprise of seeing what the artist has to say when it’s time to sit down and write the piece.  So, when I received Shannon Herrick’s responses, I gave right into temptation to see what she’d written and as you will see, her words sang out with simplicity, sincerity and sweetness as she described her work, her life and her outlook.  Please enjoy this as much as I did!

Spin Artiste (SA):  Welcome Shannon.  Let’s get right into your story with “The Journey” question – tell us about your journey as a fiber artist.

Shannon Herrick (SH):  I started out with a really long, boring answer to this question…to sum up: I was a knitter who fell in love with handspun yarn…I had to try it, and how could I resist when there was a spinning/weaving shop right there in my little town? Spinning on a spindle occupied the napping hours of my newborn son (against the sound advice of my midwife who begged me please to sleep when the baby sleeps). Well, I didn’t sleep and when we moved to VT, I borrowed a spinning wheel and taught myself how to use it. Six years of fiber obsession has been the result, and it gets worse every year.

SA:   I like the “it gets worse every year”.  How true that is because there is always something else to learn and another layer to peel back into the craft more deeply.  Tell us more about your deeper layer; i.e.,  the approach/philosophy you bring to your work.

SH:  Creating works in fiber is a very grounding occupation, as many “old world” crafts are. In order to produce something beautiful, the work must be meaningful, the fiber carefully and thoughtfully prepared…it is not just the spinning that is a meditation, but the care in which the fiber is handled, and ultimately, the care that was given to the animals who produced it. I make an effort to support small family farms and local producers and share what I make with my community at farmer’s markets and local craft shows. My goal is to be able to share the full circle of creation with those who are drawn to my work. And then…we collaborate. It does not end with me. It starts with the sheep, my hands or many hands care for the fiber, and then it passes to a knitter, a crocheter, a mixed media artist…and the work continues. I love that.

SA:  Your handspun yarns have a sense of composition about them much like paintings.  Talk about the piece you’ve made that has been the most significant to you and why.

SH:  Honestly, there is not one single piece that stands out in my mind…there are many. I use my art to work things through…sometimes it’s like a stream-of-consciousness thing and other times it’s very well planned out before I start. Sometimes I spin just to meditate or relax, but then there are the times when I am prompted…either by nature, a question, a challenge, an emotion, etc. This is when turning points happen in my work…when I am fully engaged in an expression. Not to say that every yarn or piece of felt isn’t special, but it’s one thing to sit down and spin a pretty piece of fiber, and an entirely different experience to sit down with the intention of weaving a story or an idea into it.

I’ll use Worries On My Mind as an example…this yarn was spun in response to the challenge of spinning a yarn that is a self-portrait. The base I used was a black merino…dark and stormy, like my mind full of worries, but soft and supple…changeable. A bright rainbow of sari silk fluff was carded in with the black…the light that balances the dark, the sweetness that chases the worries away…a small percentage because oftentimes the dark thoughts win out…but then I added some large-sized worry dolls…they will do some clean-up, sweep the worries out and help me find the rainbows.

SA:  I am so glad you used Worries on My Mind as an example (I loved it and the idea behind it so much, I bought it!).  This articulation of yourself through the yarn is a great statement as to how we can only be our creative selves — no one else.  What do you feel distinguishes you as a fiber artist?

SH:  I take a great deal of care in choosing my materials. I support friends and small family farms. I feel happy if I can tell you the name of the sheep or the family who raised it, if I can feel confident that the materials I used were grown with humane and sustainable practices or were fairly traded. Sometimes, I have to compromise, but when I do, I keep it transparent for my customers.

SA:  On that note, tell us about the equipment you use or prefer.

SH:  I call my Lendrum wheel The Workhorse. For nearly five years I have treadled this thing to death. I’ve broken parts and repaired parts and still she loves me. I’m playing with a Majacraft Aura and Ashford Country Spinner (both on loan) and am enjoying the departure and exploring the strong points of each very different piece of equipment. It’s nice to mix it up, but the Lendrum will always be my darling.

I use a Louet Classic drum carder and it is a fabulous all-around carder for creating both smooth and highly textured batts. I call her The Beast because the teeth have bitten me more than once. I mainly use acid dyes, but do play around with natural dyeing on occasion and have plans for a dye garden next spring.

SA:  And, tell us about your workspace/studio.

SH:  The Spun Monkey Dyeworks and Lounge is a work in progress! Thanks to a boost by some fabulous folks who supported my Kickstarter proposal, I am getting close to having an optimal work space…fiber racks, a dye station, felting table and a place to hang out for a cozy Crafty Night…it’s all starting to come together. It’s wonderful to have a creative space at home but not inside the house.

It keeps the fiber out of dinner (I can’t tell you the number of times my husband has pulled sari silk strands out of his mouth at mealtime. OOPS) and I am less distracted by everyday life stuff when I’m in my little fiber world.


SA:  Shannon, you have an interesting “fiber name” in The Spun Monkey.  I am sort of jealous of it, actually.   How did you select “The Spun Monkey”?

SH:  HA! Well, it’s not very interesting, really. I used to rock climb and my husband called me Monkey. It was a nickname that stuck and when I started selling my work, it just became part of my business name. It wasn’t until after I’d purchased a domain name for my website/blog that I saw the term come up in the urban dictionary. So NOT related to that meaning…I’ll let you look it up for yourself!

SA:  And, I’m resisting the temptation to post the link for the urban dictionary!  Shannon, I’m curious as to what types of yarns are you focusing on making now?

SH:  I’ve been playing with a lot of mohair lately, so I’ll have lots of fun, wiggly yarns at Stitches East this year, but what I’m most excited about is a color project I’ll be working on this fall. I will be unveiling a new series of handpainted colorways (both in spinning fiber and sock yarn), but will keep you guessing about the inspiration until I’m ready to share it with you!

SA:  We can’t wait to see them.  Keep us posted!  What is your big audacious, fiber-filled dream?

SH:  Hmmmm….I’d love to create some pasture at our little place here in VT…enough to run a few Icelandic sheep, both for their fiber and their milk…my husband has dreams of becoming a cheesemaker, so why not combine our two dreams into one? I suppose that isn’t really a very exciting or audacious sort of dream, but I crave simplicity and have little inclination to travel. I can’t imagine anything better than tending and spinning my own little flock.

SA:  That’s a great dream and you are sure to achieve it.  In the meantime, what constitutes a perfect day for you?

SH:  A perfect day involves a wood stove, a mug of cocoa, vigorous play outdoors (especially in the snow) and quality time with my family (read: cuddling) and our multitude of feathered beasts (not as much cuddling). What goes without saying is that my spinning wheel is parked next to the wood stove and cocoa sipping alternates with spinning a few yards.

SA:  And, what do you envision fiber life to be like when you are a little old lady?

SH:  When I am a little old lady, I sure do hope I’m still spinning and still deriving joy from my creative work! I hope to have added weaving to my skill set and have a giant floor loom forever loaded with beautiful projects.

SA:  Lastly, what do you want people to know about your work that we haven’t already covered?

SH:  Oh, my goodness. Perhaps just this: that it is a joy to share it with you.

And please, if you are local, sign up for my newsletter list so I can invite you to open studio events, upcoming craft shows and the weekly craft night here in Brookline!

SA:  Shannon, thank you so much for giving us a peak into why and how you do what you do.  It’s been a true pleasure for me and I am sure for the readers, too. 

For more about Shannon, here are the links to her website and etsy store.  She has a cool sale going on right now for Jacob Top Limited Edition Fiber Club that’s worthy checking out! 

Fiber Pals, if you haven’t already posted a comment on last Sunday’s post to win Traci Bray’s beautiful Mermaid yarn, there’s still time!  A winner will be selected this coming Sunday. 

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