Publisher’s Notes: If you’ve been following the artists in the Secret Stash Game this year, you’ve seen the incredible projects of Suzy Brown aka Wool Wench. First there was the Jellyfish, then “Flying the Nest”, and this last time, “Spinner Chick”. In each project, there are layers upon layers of technique, skill and artistry. Each time Suzy has emailed me her pictures, it felt like Christmas morning to open the file and see the surprise inside. And, now, Suzy has graciously agreed to share about herself with us!
Spin Artiste (SA): You are a native Kiwi and have experience tending sheep; how has that shaped your fiber journey?
Suzy Brown (SB): Well, of course as a New Zealander, I have heard all the ‘sheep jokes’, and NZ is well known for its fiber production, so even before people know that I make yarn, they already connect me with sheep in one way or another. Growing up in NZ, sheep are pretty much taken for granted, they are a normal part of our landscape, and most New Zealand sheep farms are big, with vast flocks of sheep, so kiwi scenery, at least when I was little, was very much populated with white fluff against the green hills! Most of the kids I was at school with had farming connections, and like them, we had several families of cousins with farms that provided our school holiday destinations too. These cousins had a variety of animals and crops, but sheep has always been the basis of farming in NZ. In my early twenties I spent a few years, before going on to university, working in farming and agriculture. I started on the farm my brother worked and lived on for some years as a shepherd, where I pitched in during shearing as a ‘rousie’ or shed hand, working next to the shearers, sweeping away the yucky stuff, the short bits and belly wool, and gathering up the whole fleeces to fling them over the sorting tables for skirting. It was hard work, but being on a farm feels to me like being truly at home, and the hard work is always rewarded with fantastic farm food, the comforting sounds of the dogs and the sheep in the fields, and the end of the day always brings an appreciation of the peacefulness of the late afternoon countryside. There were no sounds other than animals, birds, and on most of the farms I worked on, the sound of a river rattled down the valley. My fiber journey isn’t just about sheep, but also about my connection to the land itself. Having lived in Holland now for some years, I find that this bond to my country is still as strong, and when I go home for holidays, it’s always a sense of relief to feel the fresh wind through my hair and the ability to drive out to the countryside and enjoy the sounds of nature without the interruptions of cars or people or man made machinery. Working with wool, to me, has a lot to do with my maintaining that connection with my roots, where I come from, and what makes me who I am now. Moving countries and cultures can be disorienting and requires something of a reinvention of yourself to take on the new environment, but it also helps reinforce some of your basic foundations too. I am proud to be a kiwi, and proud of my fellow kiwis. We are pretty innovative and have strong traditions in handcrafts and creating things from raw materials. I do think we produce some of the nicest fibers available, and I know that farming methods in New Zealand allow sheep (and of course the now plentiful alpacas) to live good lives on grassy fields in the cleanest air I have ever experienced in all my travels! I think being a kiwi, and the time I spent on New Zealand farms, hasn’t just shaped my fiber journey, it has simply made it part of who I am in a quite fundamental way.
SA: One thing I particularly notice in your work is a strong sense for color. What is your favorite method of fiber dyeing?
SB: I adore colour! While I was not wrapped up (haha) in my spinning and fiber work, I spent some time creating art. I worked on some public mural projects, even illustrated a couple of children’s books! I made (and still occasionally do) art dolls and working marionettes, and I have been painting interior murals professionally here in Holland for a several years too. All this is driven by my adoration of colour, and in particular, the blending of colors. So I will work with any dyeing method at all so long as I can mix colors, meld colors, paint them on, dip, soak, splatter.
If I had to choose one, it would probably be hand painting top, because I can really take control of the intensity and blending of colors, just like in a painting, but a close second would be kettle dyeing locks in rainbow colors, I love how I end up with a cloud of colour in so many amazing shades!
SA: You recently ran a successful fundraising campaign on indiegogo.com to purchase an Aura spinning wheel. Tell us what expectations and hopes you had embarking on that campaign and what surprised you about the experience.
SB: Oh wow, that was such an incredible adventure! When I started, I truly had no great expectations. I knew I would be totally thrilled to get as far as halfway to my goal. I spent an evening finishing my video and the ‘story’ of the One Wheel (aka my preciousss), which I desperately hoped was not just a figment of my own warped and geeky imagination and that other people would ‘get’ and enjoy it. I hit the ‘go live’ button and I swear I was shaking like a leaf as I posted it on my FB page. I had no idea what kind of response, if any, I was going to get. But then, within minutes even, a couple of contributions were made! It was so exciting! The first was from someone who has already bought my yarns, and what has been especially nice for me is that the so many contributions were from existing customers, and came with some wonderful comments about my yarns. I was nearly in tears on a number of occasions. I think that, even more important than the funds raised, the campaign has really given me a much greater confidence in myself and my work than I had before, and throughout the whole process of doing the perk yarns (in return for the contributions made) I have really felt myself grow much bolder. The custom yarns particularly have been exciting for me, leading me away from my usual colour choices into combinations I haven’t done before, and I think these have been some of my best yarns yet! Through the campaign I have also made new contacts with people doing amazing things, and I feel that its opened doors for me to a range of new possibilities that I hadn’t even considered before. The campaign certainly exceeded my wildest dreams in many ways.
SA: I was so thrilled that you reached your goal. In fact, my significant other is a great fan of yours and as the campaign was winding down, he was getting ready to chip in! I bet the new wheel looks great in your studio/work space. Tell us about your studio/work space.
SB: My workspace.. Let me just say, I don’t like mess, I don’t like a chaos, I like everything to have its own place and I love minimalism. This is not a description of my workspace. In my defense (yes, going to blame my husband) I have been promised extra shelving that just hasn’t materialized! I have set up space in our integral (small) garage, a ‘general’ area for dyes, a ‘general ‘ area for raw fiber, and a rather large ‘general’ area for everything else including ‘to card’ and ‘to spin’ sub-general areas.. It really is somewhat messy, but I do know where everything is, and my work table is dedicated to just dyeing, and carding. We are currently in discussion about doing up one of the attic rooms so my husband can move his ground floor office up there and then I can take the room downstairs, as it’s handy to water and supplies. I can move my dyeing table in there, set up a permanent carding table in the garage, and have a nice non-living room place to keep my spinning wheels and equipment. I have visions of how it’s going to be (perfect creative space) but in reality, I will just be happy to have my own space that’s not so cold in winter as the garage and have a place in the house to call just my own!
SA: And, speaking of carding, what are your favorite fiber combinations when creating batts?
SB: Actually I don’t have a single favorite, usually it’s whatever I am currently using, and/or the colours I am most in love with. However, I am somewhat enamored by the sheen and texture that Wensleydale adds to batts, I love silk, and I usually use a nice merino or BFL roving as the basis of most of my batts for the softness and ability to blend well with the most textured locks and fibers. I also have a big bag of trilobal nylon which makes a pretty fairyland sparkle. I like sparkle
SA: Do you know what you want to create when carding batts or do you let the fibers direct your work?
SB: I risk getting very boring with this, but it’s more often the colours that direct what I do! I like to have a range of textures to add to a batt, but the primary choices I make are colour based. I love combining colours and imagining how they will work together as the batt is being spun. I see this as an extension of my dyeing adventures, as I can continue to combine colours even after I have finished the dyeing stage! Also this means I am not very random with my batt construction, but rather I approach it the same way I do a painting, thinking as I build it about colour proportions and combinations. The fibers and textures are simply the medium for my colour design. However, having just spent the weekend doing a fabulous workshop with Esther Rodgers, in which we carded several different kinds of batts using a much more texture oriented approach, I may just be trying out some new things in my batts involving those textures and … ‘interesting items’. Mwahahaha!
SB: Ok, I have to admit to being a computer geek. I love my Mac and the beautiful look of Apple programs and what can be done with them. So I have this ‘iMovie’ program and I want to use it and see what I can do with it! Coupled with the questions I often get on my Facebook page asking how I did something, and my idea that crafting is a community activity in which we share knowledge and skills, and I ended up with some videos! I would like to make more, and better ones.. I have started a semi regular newsletter that people can subscribe to from my Facebook page, the first of which includes a dyeing video. I hope to have a new video to share reasonably regularly, and to make the newsletters with some kind of theme each time, based on whatever technique I have discovered and/or am enjoying using. It’s just fun to do and I really like making and sharing them I guess.
SB: My spinning wheel of course! Closely followed by our ‘Quooker’, an under bench water heater that gives me up to 5 liters at a time of boiling water from the tap. This is fantastic for both my addictions supplying me with a quick coffee fix (I use a French Press) and super hot water on tap for washing raw wool, I don’t have to turn up the hot water temperature or wait for heating. Impatient much? Me? …
SB: I like to multiple ply yarn. For example, a yarn I did recently had a gotland single plied loopy boucle style around a silk single (spun from a hankie) then plied again with a gold thread to lock it all in like a very extreme boucle. I liked how the bright colours peeked out between the dark gotland loops but created a flow of continuity as a thread through the center along the length of the yarn. It is time consuming to keep sending your yarn back through the wheel to reply, but I have been known to do that until it doesn’t fit through the orifice anymore. I also like coils, and again, an additional plying stage can add some really cool effects. But actually for me, one of the techniques I find very difficult is the thick and thin slub yarn. I am actually not a big fan of it and don’t particularly like spinning it, and that’s why it’s a challenge for me. I don’t like how the thin bits tend to kink up. But it’s the basis for one of my most favorite yarns I make, the cherry blossom yarn, which uses two thick and thin spun singles! So I force myself to spin the singles knowing they are going to transform again when I ply and coil them.
SB: Haha! Good question! I think my husband would say I am quite geeky with it, my 17 year old daughter thinks I am a bit mad/old/weird and potentially embarrassing, and my 4 year old boy likes to ‘help’ me make the wheel spin and is frequently disappointed that I am ‘cooking’ wool and not his dinner.. I am sure my parents consider my creating of stuff to be totally normal behaviour since I seem to have inherited it from them (good hippies that they are).
SB: That’s a very difficult question for me since planning ahead has never been my strongest point. I usually just go with a direction I start out in, alter as required, and trust myself to be able to deal with whatever mess I might get myself into. But in general, I would hope to be still doing what I am doing now, and to have expanded my involvement with local Dutch and European fiber related groups and activities. I would like to be able to write about the things I love and share whatever I am doing with others who are interested, and still be making new fiber related exciting discoveries. I think that the more I learn in this field, the more I realize there is still to learn, and that’s really cool: Infinite possibilities!
SB: Well firstly, I want them to have something unique, and something they can use to create an item they are proud of. I would like to think that when the person I send a parcel to opens it, they will fall in love with the colours and the feel of their yarn or batt, that they feel really good about their decision to choose my fiber and design. Most importantly, I hope they will enjoy their part of the creation process as thoroughly as I have!
SB: Haha I have to say that I was definitely taken out of my comfort zone with this last one! My stash seemed to contain one particular item that had the same tactile affect on me as nails down a chalkboard. I had to work pretty hard on inspiration for it. In the end I had made something that is my favourite of all three stashes I have joined in on!
I think the game is a brilliant idea, I am sure everyone enjoys participating, and I find it really inspiring that there is always such a wide variety of items created out of the same stash each time as everyone brings their own ideas and inspirations to the task. This really highlights to me the versatility and endless potential contained within fiber as a medium. The experience for me is really valuable, it’s too easy to get stuck into particular patterns and choices, of colors and fibers, playing in the secret stash game is a really fun way to try out different fibers, colours, and items that I may not choose myself, so it pushes me to be truly creative, to come up with a way to make something from only the materials on hand.
I also find the big ‘reveal’ is exciting!
SA: I am so glad you feel that way. I knew that you would be great with the doll that I sent you. And, it was wonderful that we ended up with a three way tie for Readers’ Choice that included your “Spinner Chick”. It is so satisfying to bring everyone together in this way. In fact, putting together the concept for the game is somewhat of a guilty pleasure for me — What is your greatest guilty pleasure?
SB: I do my best to never feel guilty about anything! One of my favorite things to do though, is to have a quiet evening spinning, and watching any of the many BBC period dramas. So far my favorite has been the Cranford series. I am, however, far too worried about running out. I think I have watched almost everything the BBC has produced! I am also a coffee addict, and was very happy to discover one of my favourite cafes nearby has started making ‘flat whites’, a specific coffee popular in Australia and New Zealand. It uses steamed milk and is somewhere between a frothy cappuchino and a milky cafe latte. That’s my indulgence now when I am out, along with a slice of their yummy carrot cake (another rarity in Holland!).
Readers, I am so excited to tell you that as an extra special present to one lucky Spin Artiste reader, Suzy has offered to gift “Spinner Chick”!!! So, not only is it something of Suzy’s but it is also the first time we have had a Secret Stash project made available to a reader…and it is a Readers’ Choice winner at that! Suzy is probably gonna kill me for what I am about to do, but I’ve been asking her to plan a trip to the US next year so we can spend time with her in person…possibly at Yarnival…how about comments from y’all telling her how much you’d like her to make the trip. Extra entries for tweeting, sharing on FB, blogging, liking her FB page, liking the Spin Artiste FB page — however you would like to show extra love — just leave a comment letting us know that you did. The winner will be picked next Thursday, 7/19 after 5 pm when I’m back from Yarnival. Good luck to everyone!
One last thing — for those of you that have been thinking about coming to Spin Quest next month, we have an incredible vendor line up which includes:
Avalon Springs Farm
Mada Vemi Alpacas
Picasso’s Moon Yarn Shop
Portland Fiber and Weaving Studio
Unique Designs by Kathy
Wild Hare Fibre Studio
Awesome, huh? I’m going to have to control my spending at Yarnival a little because I know I’m going to want to support the Spin Quest vendors as well. Each participant will receive a mystery fiber kit (think “live Secret Stash Game) that I’m going to be busy putting together upon my return from Yarnival. So, if your summer dance card still has space and you are looking for a fun, relaxing, fiber-filled day (in air conditioning!), come join us!!!