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Featured Artist: Traci Bray of Silver Wheel Yarn

by The SpinArtiste on October 13, 2011

Publisher’s Notes:  One of the things I try to do with the interviews on this site is provide a peek into the wide variety of the ways in which people practice fiber artistry.  For myself, I was initially very drawn (and still am) towards “art” yarns; however, as I’ve gotten deeper into the craft of hand spinning, I find myself more and more interested in the history and tradition.  Traci Bray (in conjunction with C.J. Bloomer and Greenbean) of Silver Wheel Yarn ae an excellent example of a young fiber artists with a strong connection to traditional ways of doing things but as you will soon find out, they blend the old ways of approaching things with the new quite nicely.  I believe you will enjoy the perspective Traci brings to doing what she loves to do!

Spin Artiste (SA):  I read on your FB page that you “learned and salvaged the dying arts of the Appalachian people”– tell us more about that – Why? What? How?

Traci Bray:  The fiber arts were something Appalachian people used everyday, it was practical; it wasn’t considered an art, but something you did because you had to.  However, it was a form of expression to a people who had little chance for it.  Growing up in Kentucky there is an emphasis on the practical, with secondary importance placed on the expression, one that I believe affects everything I make.  If it isn’t going to be useful and beautiful for the next hundred years, then there is no use wasting effort of materials on it.  I believe this is something we’re losing in today’s “throw away” world.

How do I hope to save the practical arts?  By doing and teaching it.  I hope I inspire all my students to recognize the superior quality of that which is made over being bought.  If we could loose the strangle hold of big business and learn to care for ourselves and our families we wouldn’t need so much to be happy.

SA:   Tell us about the wide range of fiber artistry you engage in (hand-dying, spinning, pattern design, weaving, using antique looms, teaching). 

TB:  We select and work with local farmers to develop better fibers for hand work.  We wash the wool we get locally ourselves the old way, over a fire and dried in the sun.  Then we card it by hand, which allows us to blend the way we want to and achieve the results we look for.  We dye our own goods; roving, yarn, and/or the finished product, using Greener Shades Dye and natural dyes.  We spin all the roving we make, from lace to bulky, from wool to cotton.  We make finished items by weaving or knitting typically, but we also do Kumihimo, Quilting, Card Weaving, and Basketry.  In addition we fix, build and invent equipment, make patterns, and general textile design.

SA:  Which part of the yarn-making process do you like best and why? Which part least? 

TB:  I like to watch it develop.  Each stage in the process completely changes how it looked from the stage before it.  I enjoy watching how it turns out in each stage because it never turns out to how I think it will be.

I like the least not knowing how to best utilize what I have just made.  It frustrates me that I may force the project where it doesn’t want to go and never realize the full potential of the materials.

SA:   How has your focus changed since you started?

TB:  We started out expecting to be like every other professional weaver with the focus being on production and income.  The way wanted to do things didn’t fit into that lifestyle.  We focused more on the beauty of an individual item using the best materials we could find, but we couldn’t compete with production weavers.  So our focus shifted to making one of a kind items and letting the materials dictate the form.  We started to share what we know by teaching other people to do what we do.  A benefit that we didn’t expect from this change was that now we have time and money to devout to experimental anthropology -techniques that were lost or misinterpreted we have the chance to test.

SA:   A lot of readers are knitters/crocheters/spinners but not so many weavers – but are curious about perhaps trying weaving – how would you suggest someone start at the shallow end of the pool

TB:  When I teach my beginning class I have people get the Harrisville Easy Weaver Loom.  It’s inexpensive, easy to use, is a good loom, and comes with simple instructions.  Some are put off because it is small and simple, but remember that you can always piece things together and ridged heddle looms are the most versatile when it comes to patterning.  I encourage needle arts people to learn to weave; it uses less yarn to make an item and gives you a completely different look.  It really opens up the possibilities of creation, especially when you mix the skills.

SA:  In terms of your fiber artistry, what has been your greatest accomplishment to date? 

TB:  I’m most proud that most of what I know I taught myself.



SA:   Tell us about your studio and equipment. 

TB:  I’m lucky enough to work where I live by converting the largest two rooms in our house into studio space.  The largest room is our work studio for weaving and spinning where we can always have our 3 largest looms set-up and both spinning wheels accessible to use along with our 50 yard warping mill.


The other room is where we keep all our raw materials, where I conduct my classes, and where I quilt.  I also keep photos of my ancestors for inspiration.



Our oldest loom we’ve already mentioned is a 40” solid cherry 4 harness counterbalance and we saved it from the dumpster.  Our largest loom is a 4 harness 72” Leclerc jack loom from the 70’s with a new fly shuttle beater.  We also have a 25” Harrisville jack loom from the 60’s that folds up that we take to demos, shows, and classes.  We recently acquired an 18” 8 harness table loom my by Northwest Looms at the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival where we teach classes every year.

I have two Ashford traditional spinning wheels, one from the 1980’s and the other only a few years old.  The newest one is setup with a lace flyer so I can do cotton and lace weight yarn.  My older one has a jumbo flyer for the thicker yarns and for plying.

We have a couple of 10 yard warping boards we use for small projects and classes, and the 50 yard warping mill is made by Leclerc.  We use Strauch made hand carders and the ‘Finest’ drum carder as well as a Strauch skein winder.


SA:  How many antique looms/wheels? What can you tell us about them? Do you routinely use them?  

TB:  An antique is something you sit and look at. We use stuff that’s practical old or not.  We rescue a lot of stuff out of attics and basements, but it has practical and useful.  We use our equipment every single day and it has to hold up to the rigors of use.  Our oldest loom is from the 1920’s and is a counterbalance floor loom from Anna Ernberg’s designs.  It works as good (or better) than the day it was made.  We use the loom when the project calls for the attributes of a counterbalance.

I don’t use antique spinning wheels.  I’ve never found one that’s sturdy enough for hours of spinning a day.  The modern Ashford wheels that I use have multiple ratios (60:1 to 4:1) that let me do anything I need to do.  The parts are replicable and upgradeable.  The new bearings in the wheels and maidens are a real help spinning cotton.  It’s just not practical for me to use an antique wheel and we don’t have room for a piece that would be just for decoration.

SA:  What is it about fiber arts and textiles that has you hooked? 

TB:  I don’t really know, there’s something innate in my blood that compels me to do it.  If I don’t have my knitting with me, I wonder how people’s clothes are made or how I could create a pattern.  If I’m not doing it, I’m thinking about it, so it’s just a part of me.

SA:  What’s in store for your business in the future? What are you hoping to accomplish in the next few years?  

TB:  I have two main goals for the next five years.  I would be honored to be invited to teach at a major fibers gathering such as Convergence or the Needle Arts Association Show.  I have some classes in mind that I’ve been saving for the larger shows.


The second goal is to write a book.  Mainly, a book about how and why we do things the way we do, since sometimes it’s different from the norm.  I want it to focus on doing things simple with what you have, like our ancestors did.  I would love to see it bring fiber arts back into the everyday life of people; to make it a part of living again.

SA:  What inspires you? 

TB:  The fact that I’ve never done something before- new texture, new colors, new fibers, new techniques.  Anything new.   I purposely limit myself so that I always have a problem to solve.  “Necessity is the mother of all invention.”  The fact that our ancestors did it inspires me.  If they can do it, I can do it, I just have to figure out how they did it.

SA:  What is your favorite food? 

TB:  Shrimp.  Good fresh shrimp I can eat all day long; especially if it’s steamed, in a metal bucket, and with Old Bay Seasoning.



Thanks so much, Traci, C.J. and Greenbean!  Your message of simplicity is refreshing and thought-provoking.  Dear Readers, for more pictures of Silver Wheel Yarn’s terrific yarns and finished pieces, please hop over to their website

Last to mention but certainly not least, is that Traci and C.J. are terrific teachers and while it would be cool to be able to make the trip to Kentucky to work with them in person, through the social networking site for weaving, Weavolution, you can take classes with them online.  I am in the middle of taking their Sheep to Shawl class and it’s been a terrific experience.  In class last weekend, they gave me a tip that saved me as much money as the class cost! 

Oh, and one more thing to tell you — Traci let me know that we are going to do a Spin Artiste giveaway with some of her beautiful yarn…so check back next time for details on that.  All the best, Arlene

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