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Featured Artist: Victoria Smith of Follow the Star Studio

by The SpinArtiste on February 23, 2012

Publisher’s Notes:  Early in Spin Artiste’s history, a winner of a giveaway had an email address that referenced knitting for food.  There could be no doubt that the person connected to that email address had a serious passion for fiber.  Time passed and I discovered that person to be Victoria Smith of Follow the Star Studio.  At last, it is time for Victoria’s Featured Artist piece!

Spin Artiste (SA):   From reading your etsy bio, I know you are a long time crafter in various mediums, tell us about your experiences working in different mediums and how you arrived at focusing on fibers.

Victoria Smith (VS):  I come from a creative home. My dad usually had a wood or stained glass project while my mom had a ceramic kiln in the garage, a frequently used sewing machine and various art supplies available for us.  So I have all those areas covered! My first creative love is paper – drawing, cutting, painting, stitching and otherwise mauling paper from a very young age.  Prior to spinning and knitting, beading and painting reclaimed materials were top of my creative pile.  Cross-stitch and needlepoint were around for a while.

I taught myself to tat when I was in college. It was something I was aware of, but knew no one who could use a shuttle or make the knots. I started with a book and supplies, but my mother found a video at the library – which we thought was crazy, but if I needed one, certainly someone else did, too!

Mom had given up knit and crochet before her children came along. Oddly, within 2 weeks, from when I learned to knit, my younger sister took a class from a craft store and my older sister learned from a lady in a yarn shop in Germany – and we hadn’t discussed the idea!

After I had my daughter, I was feeling very distanced from family and friends. So I went looking for some creative minds and found a shop in Corydon, Indiana that consigned art of all types. I met Nancy McKellar and showed her some of my bead work and reclaimed items. She liked them enough to take some in and welcomed me and my wee girl to the shop world.  After a couple months of spending time there, playing with fiber and spindles and random crafting I asked Nancy to teach me to knit (or maybe she just told me it was time!).  I didn’t feel successful even though I got the mechanics right rather quick.  I knit a scarf from amazing green handspun Nancy gave me.  I knit the “baby bag” that I still love and use. The third or fourth project was a Christmas stocking for my husband. I highly recommend knitting socks early in one’s knitting repertoire – reduces the fear of later projects!  But it was truly because of my new friends – Nancy and Sharon Richie – that I kept with the fiber fun. Both were accomplished spinners and knitters and extremely encouraging.  It is directly due to their friendships that I became so involved in spinning, knitting and the fiber arts scene.

I began spinning basic yarn, wool – on a spindle – single ply, multi ply, thick & thin (on accident and then on purpose). It was satisfying, for a while.  But I wanted to see what else I could do. I had bits and pieces of yarn, novelty, commercial and handspun.  I started attaching them, spinning some together, making colorful texture yarns out of leftovers. This came to be the “surprise me! yarn” which I still have to explain to most folks.  Always an avid thrift store shopper, I started seeing things that I thought would be interesting for yarn. I spun plastic I had cut, then fabric (also cut) – sometimes with wool and sometimes just alone.

My local spin friends were supportive of my experiments, but I didn’t have a kindred spirit until I found Ravelry – specifically the novelty and art yarn spinners group. I saw the yarns of the members and my heart sung!

SA:  Victoria, I’m glad you mentioned learning to knit socks early on.  I did that too and now I always say, “if you can knit socks, you can knit just about anything”.  Your comments about not finding a kindred spirit until Ravelry are also a common theme — having found like-minded souls, what hopes and dreams do you wish to achieve as a fiber artist?

VS:  My greatest wish is to never stop sharing – and I don’t care if it sounds cheesy – creating and sharing with others how they can create, too.  I always want to try something new, try another fiber, and experience a new technique.  I would really like to travel and teach one day. I enjoy meeting people from various places, listening to all types of stories and seeing all there is to see.

SA:  It doesn’t sound cheesy!  It sounds caring and encouraging…you said you like to try new fibers, but what are your favorites to work wiht?

VS:  I generally prefer fiber blends over pure anything.  I appreciate the way different fibers react to the twist and to each other. It can be subtle and, I admit, sometimes imagined.  But I will spin, or try to spin, anything.  I see potential yarn everywhere – the world can boil down to “spinnable” and “non-spinnable” when I am in spin mode.
I am fortunate to be able to work with many locally produced fibers.  I like to support my fellow fiber fiends and many of us also barter fiber for goods or skills – keeps life interesting!  We have some nationally winning flocks and herds in this region – cared for by people who truly appreciate what they do.

SA:  I think I’m going to adopt your definition of the world!   You are very active in your local spinning community and are associated with both the Southern Indiana Fiber Arts Festival and local gatherings for the Fiber eXchange Guild.  Tell us about SIFAF and the Fiber eXchange Guild.  What drew you to give back to your fiber community in this way?

VS:  The Fiber eXchange Guild was originally formed to present Southern Indiana FiberArts Festival – so it’s not like I start new groups all the time. They are different entities in my mind, with fXg as the social facet and SIFAF being all business.
With fXg,  I schedule “fiber gatherings,” so named because of the numerous yarn/string crafts represented. We have regular recurring events as well as once in a while gatherings.  I wish I had more time for these types of regular gatherings!

I have a sordid past with event planning so when we started talking about our own festival, I dove in. In much the same way I enjoy teaching folks to broaden their skills or creativity, I see the local fiber event as a way to showcase small fiber businesses (or large hobbies).  It is a social event as much as anything – a chance to talk to people who understand your need for yarn, fiber or another tool that looks like two you have already.  In the seven years we have held this annual event, I have seen friendships bloom and grow, artists develop skills, and even fiber business partnerships begin.

SA:  For someone that is considering organizing local fiber gatherings, what guidelines/tips/considerations do you have to share?

VS:  If you just want to socialize and keep it casual, put it out there. On a social network or something like a Ravelry group, just pick a place and invite people. Yarn shops might consider sharing space if they have it, but most socially geared businesses are open to the idea (call first if you are really apprehensive).

If you are looking to organize an event or festival, be sure to do your research and find help before you even think about anything else.  Festivals are a lot of fun but a whole lot of work!  It’s not just about how many vendors you can fit in a space (how accessible is that space, are there motels nearby, etc.), but what varieties of products will they have, how will the traffic flow, what types of food vendors do you look for and how many trash cans should be where … I’ve tried to list these things before, but I never have enough space or time!  As with everything else I do in life, I like to talk to people about event planning. Not really to “teach” but to share ideas.

SA:  Tell us about your studio/work area.
VS:  I keep my tools fairly mobile. I like to take my wheel to the coffee shop, Grinny Possum or do demonstrations. I work in whatever space I have at home, which is a shame because I do have a sunroom that I want to make my studio but I have neglected it tragically.  This year will bring an end to that, though.  We also homeschool the lovely girlie and the space will be multifunctional for all our learning and creative needs – so stay tuned!

SA:  Tell us about your equipment — why did you select this equipment?  What’s on your equipment wish list?

VS:  I have various spindles, mostly handmade by me or my daughter.  Again, the ladies in my early spin life made their own – it was something we did at the shop.  I particularly make mine compact so I can take them everywhere.


have one wheel, a Louet S17.  She’s a workhorse!  I knew very little about types of wheels or differences when I purchased mine, but I think it was Divine intervention that brought her to me.  I have since used other makes and models, but for a basic one-wheel owner who wants to spin variety, Louet is the way to go, in my humble opinion.  The generous orifice and bobbin size allows me to spin with beads and bells and various whozawhatitzs.

I would love to have a carder of my own. I have semi-regular access to two and I dearly appreciate the chance to use them.  I have developed a love for the random puff method of spinning in which I can put various fibers together without carding, but I know there are techniques and certain add-ins that can be better with carded batts.

SA:  You are also a teacher at Grinny Possum.  What do you teach?  What do you like about teaching?  How have you grown as a fiber artist through teaching?

VS:  Grinny Possum and the amazing Ann have been such a blessing! I am a teacher by nature and by education – if I know it, someone else certainly wants to know it, right?  I teach classes for knitting, spinning and tatting.  There is more demand for knitting, so I teach those classes most often, but no matter the class I like helping people, giving them the skills or confidence to move to the next step.  A huge part of the shop draw for me is not just the friendships, but seeing those friends grow and develop skills that bring them smiles. Well, and also being able to help them when their skills are not so smiley!
I definitely know more about knitting, spinning, yarn and tools because of teaching and being part of the shop.  My natural curiosity pays off when someone comes in with a question or for project help. I don’t know everything (not by far!), but I pay attention to details, am familiar with why the yarn does *that* when I do *this* and am not afraid to break out the laptop and uncover an answer or two. Maybe I know more than I will ever be able to enact myself, so I’m compelled to dole out what I can.

SA:  You spin both “art” and traditional yarns — How do you define what is “art” yarn versus traditional?  How do you answer customers when they ask what to do with it?

VS:  I don’t like boxing things in with names and labels; however, I do realize that other people should have a grasp of what I offer; so I use these terms.  “Traditional” are yarns those similar enough to commercial yarns that any yarn crafter can recognize them on site.  “Art yarns” are those which may need explanation.  Spun art may have an unusual ply, inclusions or be so thick & thin some yarn crafters can’t see the practicality.
Honestly, I used to approach art yarn with the attitude “if you don’t get it, it’s not for you”.  But as I have grown and branched out into more methods and techniques, I realize every yarn lover has an acceptable level of art yarn tolerance, though some are still figuring it out.  AND not every yarn is for every person – just like every other art form.  I try to showcase items using art yarn to inspire ideas (or at least attest to its usefulness!).  I sometimes describe it as “yarn, only better!”

Customers have told me “I bought that lovely beaded one 2 years ago and still pet it – I just love it, but I have no idea what it wants to be!” or “I put the red one under glass, but touch it now and then. It’s just so pretty!”  I have no issue with however folks want to enjoy the art – and there is no wrong way!

SA:   Your perspective is very insightful.  When you are in a creative funk, how do you get out of it?

VS:  A simple fix is getting some nature in my brain and under my feet by taking a walk or sitting outside.  Peggy (my daughter) also helps.  She has a brilliant imagination and can jolt me into creativity.  But some funks are bigger than that and it might take hours of web search/reading about what my virtual spin friends are doing.  I never get completely blocked, but sometimes have to express a different artistic outlet awhile.  I have also been known to spin it out – just sit and spin whatever I can get my hands on for a day or two – like clearing the actual fiber out of my brain to make room for more.

SA:   What is on the horizon in 2012 for Follow the Star Studio?

VS:  I’d like to teach more spinning classes.  I will be teaching at local fiber events (the ones I’m not in charge of) and possibly some other locations.  Always want to be developing my own skills and learning something new. I’ve been browsing handspun stashes lately trying to choose a next study.  And the big studio dream to reality. I realize achieving this goal will make others more attainable.

SA:  Who would you like to meet in the fiber arts community that you haven’t yet — Why?

VS:  My local spin friends have always been supportive, but it was finding the Ravelry group “Novelty and Art Yarn Spinners” that really helped me broaden my skills.  At the top of the list would be these ladies including Cindy “studioloo”, Tracy “himalaya”, Laura “indigonightowl”, Lind “stoneleafmoon”, Karen “KayBee” and Velma “velmalikevelvet”.  Their handspun stashes are the ones I browse at 2am and their projects are where my mind finds comfort.  I have been slack in participating in the spin off groups from this one – such as Fiber Friday and Picto Create, but there is where my skills were sprouted and still where I also can find myself in those wee morning hours. To share a few hours of creative time and soak up the energy in a room with these ladies – ah, that would be a dream realized!

SA:  One last question, what is your motto?
VS:  I do adore words and have collected quotes as long as I can remember.  Sometimes I borrow, at least in part, to drum up my own drive toward a goal.  Two patterns that recur are “to live is a great adventure” and “imagination is more important”.

SA:  Thanks so much, Victoria!  Not only are you a talented artist, but you set an amazing example of how to give back to your community.  You’ve given us a lot of food for thought.  Readers, please check out Victoria’s website and etsy shop when you have a chance.

Readers, there is still time to enter the giveaway for the signed copy of Lexi Boeger’s new book, “Hand Spun”.  Click here to find out how.  The winner will be determined and announced this coming Sunday.  Also, this Sunday, a new giveaway for a fabulous batt from Melissa Bohrtz of Hello Purl will be rolled out, so you stay tuned for more fiber fun!  All my best, Arlene



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