Publisher’s Notes: Who doesn’t love Elizabeth Stottlemyer and her great fiber creations available through Hobbledehoy Yarn and Fiber? Elizabeth blends terrific batts, makes hand pulled roving and creates wonderful yarns. Although she is known for her batts and rovings, having seen her spin at Spin Quest, I can vouch that she is a powerhouse spinner too when she sits at her wheel. Many of you know that Elizabeth is awaiting the birth of her second baby and so, I was anxious to get an interview with her before this next big life changing event occurs for her. I invite you to enjoy the “fiber story” of one of the most beloved of the indie fiber artists out there.
Spin Artiste (SA): Tell us about your story to fiber art success.
Elizabeth Stottlemyer (ES): I stumbled into the fiber arts by accident one night while I was browsing Etsy in 2005. The site was so new at that time that you could see everything that had been listed each day within a few minutes, and I stumbled across images of handspun yarn by KnittyDirtyGirl that looked so exciting and fresh – I was instantly enamored. I set up an Etsy shop in early 2006 to sell one-inch buttons and amateur (terrible) jewelry, but couldn’t shake the idea of spinning, so I caved in and ordered a spindle with wool right before Spring Finals. I promptly dyed my wool with KoolAid the day it arrived, and by evening, I was spinning the world’s ugliest yarn with dreams of spinning and dyeing full-time. I ordered a used spinning wheel the very next week, and from there, I spun and dyed using trial and error and youtube videos until I was ready to list my earliest yarns. Soon, my handspun started paying for my college books each semester, and in November 2007, I was interviewed as Etsy’s featured seller. That very weekend, I quit my job at a candy store (boy, it was hard losing a 50% discount on jelly beans!) and just dove in. After graduating college, I couldn’t find a job paying anything more lucrative than minimum wage plus retail discounts, so I plugged away with my little drum carder and spinning wheels with very little organization or business knowledge. When my husband faced unemployment after two businesses he worked for tanked, I had to figure out how to make my little wool business thrive to provide for the two of us. It was during those tight years that I learned better time management, speedier dying techniques, and how to shop like a business owner. By the time my husband found a job, I felt like I had raised Hobbledehoy from an awkward little profitable hobby venture into a fulfilling full-time career that allows me to choose my own hours so that I can spend as much time as possible with my family.
SA: We hear you are expecting your second child, congratulations! How do you balance having a family, being pregnant, being a business owner, and artist?
ES: What a crazy juggle! I’m currently 30 weeks pregnant with our second child, a boy, and the toggle between chores, raising a toddler, and running a full-time business keeps me hopping. I couldn’t manage it all without a very supportive husband, part-time pre-school, and my amazing mom (who also runs a fiber-related business dyeing yarn over at Marigoldjen.etsy.com). Working through pregnancy has been rough this time around. I developed an aversion to the smell of raw wool very early in this pregnancy and have been hit very hard with morning sickness – in fact, I’m still working through bouts of it, and that’s been a nasty battle. Also, I’m not a natural multi-tasker, so I’ve learned to just live in the moment, in whatever role is most immediate. When I’m in Mommy-mode, the studio door remains shut and the laundry undone. I just try to soak up some sweet toddler time. As soon as I tuck my daughter in bed, I usually disappear into my studio with my wool-smothered apron or get caught up on home chores. Unfortunately, because I keep my roles so separate, my daughter rarely sees me spin.. well, that’s changed a little since I’ve returned from SpinQuest with a new enthusiasm for spinning, but in general, I feel like I’m split between two magical lives.
SA: Can you share with use any obstacles you have had to face with your art?
ES: One of my largest struggles is dealing with a little nagging feeling that I’m just making the exact same things over and over and over again. I try very hard to put a twist on colors and fibers so that my batts stay fresh and unexpected, but certain colorways or batt styles are received with such enthusiasm that I guess it’s not a problem that I’m duplicating them frequently. I just don’t want to bore my customers or myself – surprises and challenging new techniques are all part of the fun of working with wool!
ES: I had to chew over this question for a while because I have trouble imagining what I do, mainly dyeing and carding, as art. Making batts is a passion of mine that represents my favorite part of a process that can lead to art, whether it is the handspun itself, a felted work, or a wearable object. Perhaps participating in these few parts of the process is part of my personality, as I tend to be very left-brained rather than artistic in general, and dyeing and carding (for me, at least) is a very formula-driven activity involving correct ratios of dyes to fiber weight, wool to add-ins, and primary colors to secondary and tertiary colors.
SA: Have you ever experienced a creative block, and if so how do you shake it?
ES: Oh yes, I’m frequently working through one sort of block or another, whether it’s burn-out from creating one particular item over and over and over again or maybe I’m sick of using the same old colors and fibers. Usually, a dig through my studio helps me overcome the latter blocks, but serious fiber burn-out can only be cured by a little bit of time out of the studio and with family or friends. I hit a real dry spell with spinning over the past two years, and the only thing to get me back in my groove was to go out on a couple of fibery excursions – the Yarnival and then SpinQuest. Watching other spinners demonstrate new techniques, accepting my own limitations and preferences, and trying out a few new fibers really put the bounce back in my treadles.
SA: We were together at both events and I share your feelings that going to events where you have the chance to sit down with other spinners is really creatively invigorating. It’s nice that more events are cropping up all the time. From the feedback you receive from your customers, we have an excellent relationship with your buyers. You describe your customers as “encouraging” and “enthusiastic”; can you tell us more about their positive influence on you and your work?
ES: My customers are an amazing group of people and most are fellow fiber artists with their own businesses. It’s exciting for me to be part of their creative process and to feel like I’ve got a role in the chain of techniques leading up to a finished project or work of art. There’s nothing more thrilling to me as a carder than to receive an image of a finished project in my email, or even just a little note describing a positive spinning experience. I’m rarely able to find the time to create a full project from start to finish, so my talented customers keep me inspired by allowing me to be a participant in their own wooly adventures.
SA: A lot of your color combinations strike me as organic. Is this color style what you were going for; and if so can you tell me a little more about your muse?
ES: I actually have a backwards way of picking out colorways! First, I dye a bump of wool in as many colors as possible. As the top is drying outside, I start to visually group the different colors together, making notes and lists about what might work together and with what add-ins and textures. I’m very formulaic and un-spontaneous about the whole process, which might be why I have trouble applying the label of “artist” to myself, though following these formulas can occasionally yield unexpected results, inspiring new tweaks on my usual carding and dyeing techniques.
SA: How did you come up with the name of your company? I’m sure it is significant, can you tell us more?
ES: It’s silly, really! I was reading Stephen Hero for a class on James Joyce (insert painful groan) and the main character called himself a “hobbledehoy” during an awkward conversation. I couldn’t stop laughing over how the word sounded, and admittedly, I was a pretty awkward socially-backwards college kid, so the word re-surfaced when I was trying to think of a name for an Etsy shop. This was all pre-wool, so the name has nothing to do with my business. It’s just a fun word that I love to say out loud.
SA: What is your studio like?
ES: Right now, my studio is a little bit rough looking. I’m occupying a partially finished basement, so there’s very little light but lots of bright vivid wool surrounding me in cubes and on shelves. I organize my fibers by type, so I’ve got bins of cellulose fibers, stacked boxes of dyed fleece, and pop-up laundry baskets packed with balls of dyed wool top EVERYWHERE. I pre-select all of my fibers for carding, so when I sit down to plan out batt colorways, I surround myself with a huge circle of rainbow fibers and start packing bags and writing labels.
SA: What kind of fiber equipment do you use to create your masterpieces?
ES: I’ve got three different carders that I use to create a small range of products. My Pat Greene SuperCard is a beastly machine, perfect for super-fine “Rolly batts” and smooth pulled roving. I use a Strauch Mad Batt’r for creating textured Art Batts and double-blended “Classic batts,” and a Strauch Petit for double-blending and Gemmy batts (a signature sparkly rainbow batt that I’ve been making for several years now). I’ve considered buying a Louet Classic carder, but I’m really impressed by how gentle the Mad Batt’r is on fine fibers like merino and cormo. My favorite wheel is my Lendrum, mainly because I love how versatile it is. I love to spin chunky yarns on it, but my secret passion is to spin fine traditional yarns on the high speed flyer that came with my Lendrum. I also have a walnut-stained Traditional Ashford wheel outfitted with a bulky flyer which I adore. It’s a sturdy workhorse, and was a sweet gift from my husband after I destroyed my first wheel, a Babe, by spinning like a madwoman.
SA: You have been very open and personal with you readers on your fiber blog. It seems that your readers have really been touched by your stories and life experiences. How has your transparency and the relationships you have formed through the blog enriched your life?
ES: I have struggled for years over how much to share from my personal life and how much to promote my business. I shut down my earliest blog because I thought maybe it was a bit too personal, but now I’m feeling more comfortable revealing that I’m not just a singularly faceted batt-blasting woolyworker, I’m also a mom struggling with the career/family balance and a somewhat young adult trying to figure out exactly where I want to end up when I “grow up.” By maintaining some of these transparencies, I’ve grown valuable friendships from fiber artists and fellow moms and have benefited from kind encouraging words and even blunt advice.
SA: Which time of the year inspires you the most and why?
ES: One specific month is absolutely magical to me – October. The air is chilly and smells like leaves, hot tea and apple cider are suddenly appealing, and knitted wool goods are suddenly not-too-hot to wear, at least here in Southern PA. October is one of my busiest months too, not necessarily with sales, but with creating batts for Winter spinners and preparing for my yearly two-weeks off each December. My favorite author Ray Bradbury wrote many many stories that take place in October, so each year I spend the month reading through my favorites by him, usually From the Dust Returned and The Illustrated Man.
SA: Which famous person would you most like to meet and what fiber gift would you give them?
ES: As fun as it would be to just anonymously send out a batch of rainbow hand-knit Tribbles to my favorite Star Trek stars, I think I would love to meet and gift a hand-knit shawl to one of my favorite authors, Margaret Atwood. I recently attended one of her readings and was smitten and star struck and too shy to ask for an autograph. I think it would be really nice to actually meet her and chat, er, gush, and pass on a homespun item to someone whose most recent literature has been swirling around in my head for the past few years.
SA: Thanks so much, Elizabeth! Best of luck with everything you have going on. We are looking forward to hearing about the new arrival that is coming you way and appreciate your squeezing in this time with us!!
Readers, I know you are going to be excited to learn that Elizabeth is extending a special code for Spin Artiste readers — 10% off!!! Use Spinartiste10 when checking out from her Etsy shop.