Publisher’s Notes: It is with great pleasure that I introduce this week’s Featured Artist: the group of artists that make up the Portland Fiber Gallery and Weaving Studio. The group comprised of Melodi, Casey and Dana have been tremendoulsy supportive of Spin Artiste (advertiser, Spin Quest vendor, Leather and Lace Challenge Collection host location) and I am delighted to lift back the curtain so we all can learn more about their terrific enterprise!
Spin Artiste (SA): Hello ladies of Portland Fiber. Tell us how Portland Fiber Gallery and Weaving Studio came to be?
Portland Fiber Gallery (PFG): After a year as a multi-artist studio gallery, I (Melodi) took over the space myself in 2000. Other artist friends encouraged me to keep it just fiber so I recruited about 30 consigners, some teachers, borrowed some looms and bought a wider variety of materials and we were off. We offered weaving, needle felting, knitting, and book-binding. After a couple of years, the spinning bug thoroughly hooked me so I started buying wheels, better fibers for spinning (as opposed to needle felting) and then we also started doing some dye workshops.
PFG: Melodi is the owner and is in charge of buying. She also teaches classes in 4-harness weaving, rigid heddle weaving, drop spindle spinning, and some felting classes..
Casey is the shop manager. She does the bulk of the hand-dyeing; teaches classes in wheel spinning, needle felting, dyeing, and carding; and is the “oiler” of our fiber shop machine—trying to keep everything running smoothly.
Dana teaches weaving classes and fills in at the shop on occasion.
PFG: The original vision was a multi-artist studio/gallery space based on a shop I visited on a trip to Arizona. It wasn’t to be just fiber arts. It was me and 2 painters. After a year we parted ways and I took over the space myself.
SA: Casey and Dana, How did you get your opportunities to intern at PFG, and how would you describe your experience as interns?
Casey: I first wandered upon the PFG 3 years ago while walking around town looking for yarn. I ended up being roped into wheel spinning lessons and loved it! My favorite part was the class on hand-carding. Rolags are fun!
A few months later, I signed up to take a dyeing class with Bristol Ivy who worked at PFG, but is now an up and coming knitwear designer. I was floored to be able to spin something that I had also dyed myself! After my dyeing class, I was asked if I’d like to intern at the shop. My response: “Uh…YEAH!”
I really enjoyed my whole intern experience. Sometimes I would be in the dye kitchen, other times I’d be threading heddles for a chenille scarf. I’ve learned so much about running a business while working here and I love the problem solving nature of it all. How to get your name and product out there is both challenging and exciting.
Dana: I wanted to move to Portland, Maine, from my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky to learn to weave, and I simply “googled” weaving and Portland. Melodi and I began emailng each other about the internship and I was psyched. During my internship, she gave me free reign over the studio by letting me experiment with different patterns, yarns, and looms, and I wove most days and into the night. In exchange, I would make things to sell at the shop. I loved my life as an intern with the Portland Fiber Gallery!
SA: Casey, you seem to have your hand in many outlets of the fiber world, from PFG to your work with the New England Fiber Art Retreat. What would you say you have taken from each avenue?
Casey: The first thing that comes to mind is the people. I have made connections with so many talented, wonderful people–from ten-year-old needle felters, to artists displaying their work in galleries, to knitters who are looking to try something new. But the thing that binds us all together is the love of wool, the need for artistic expression, and the desire for community. And I sure do love this community.
SA: Dana your weaving is amazing. You mentioned that you are always inspired to make more woven pieces. What drives you to keep weaving?
Dana: I couldn’t quite put my finger on what drives me to keep weaving, but never in my life have I had so much vigor or excitement over something. After choosing amazing colors and textures to wind into a warp, there’s nothing more fun than daydreaming about what it will look like once I’m finished. For one thing, weaving has taught me patience, something I never thought I’d learn!
PFG: In January we moved to our 3rd location. It’s probably 2.5 times the size of the original studio. It’s a more commercial (as opposed to retail) location so there is always plenty of parking. We have a large retail space that can also accommodate the spinning groups that meet there. There’s a weaving room with 6 floor looms, many table looms and rigid heddle looms. Our dye kitchen is huge by comparison to our previous space.
Our gallery of finished goods has diminished over the years. We’re having so much fun teaching and supplying folks with the raw materials, we have less time for production. We are more inclined to consign hand-made tools for felting and spinning. Locally produced fibers are also more prevalent.
Casey: My favorite toys are the spin dryer and the drum carders. We use the spin dryer as the last step in our dyeing process. After the hand-dyeds have been washed, we put them in the spin dryer to spin out the excess water before they hang up to dry. Our old spin dryer just broke and the new one we ordered is three times as big! Woah!
We have two drum carders—one electric and one hand crank. I’ve been drawn to the non-electric one lately and applying fibers directly to the big drum for some real textured batts. OH! And the Supwash Merino/Cashmere/Nylon is my favorite fiber base to spin. It’s heavenly!
SA: I know Portland is an up and coming place for arts of all kind. How has your location influenced your work?
PFG: We used to be located on Congress Street on the East End, but recently moved to a less trafficked area of town, the Bayside area. It has been a bit of an adjustment to not have as many walk-ins; however, our regular customers really appreciate that we now have parking. We also moved into a building that has 20-30 other artists renting studio space. So it has been nice to be in a space where creative ju-ju surrounds us.
One of the artists who shares our building has taken a real liking to needle felting, creating beautiful, abstract, and inspiring landscapes.
In the past we’ve had interns from the Maine College of Art. Our most recent intern, Victoria, is currently studying painting at MECA, but she’s artistic in many mediums. It’s always an eye-opening experience to have someone new do what you’ve been doing and see how he or she does it differently. Victoria is a very talented dyer and we had fun working with her.
SA: How would you describe your group dynamics?
PFG: When we are all in the shop, we’re usually all working on different projects, but we have fun together. We find inspiration among each other and we’re always bouncing ideas off one another, whether it be in regards to something we are making, a class we’re teaching or want to teach, or ideas on how to make an aspect of the business better.
We all really care about this place. It’s special to each of us.
SA: When teaching your students, what have you found you learned for yourselves?
Casey: I have learned how to meet students where they’re at. I’ve “written” my lessons in certain way; however, everyone comes from a different place—different learning styles, knowledge they already bring to the table, maybe some preconceived notions of how they want their finished product to look. My job is to quickly assess these things and tailor my lesson to work for them. I feel like this is something that will continue to get better with practice.
Dana: Many of my students have taught me to be absolutely free with my creativity, that is, with my choices of colors and patterns. I tend to fall into a rhythm of using certain colors and weaving a purely symmetrical piece, but the most beautiful weavings exhibit the freedom from overthinking.
Melodi: People can be so hard on themselves. I encourage students to have fun and not try to be perfect.
SA: If the walls of PFG could talk what would they say?
PFG: Whatever they said, it would probably be hard to understand because the walls are covered in wool.
SA: If you all were a super hero troop what would be the team name?
PFG: The Wooly Wonders!
SA: No doubt! Thanks so much to all of you for giving us a peek into your world. I hope someday to see your studio on person and hope that the readers can too.
And, now, the moment you’ve been waiting for…THE GIVEAWAY! Whoever gets this fiber is going to be thrilled — I handled a lot of PFG’s fiber for Spin Quest and it was breathtaking. This particular batt, Mountain Fairies, is 4.3 oz. of natural Maine Alpaca, hand dyed Maine wool, Corriedale, Merino, Superwash Merino, Nylon, Sparkle and Silk. So, if you want to get in on the action, leave a comment below and let us know what your favorite combo of fibers is in a batt. Extra entries for sharing on Facebook, Twitter, etc. — just leave a comment letting us know you did. Winner to be picked via random number generator after 5 pm EST this Sunday. In the meantime, make sure to check out the Portland Fiber Etsy shop – lots of nice items to choose from! Until then, all the best, Arlene