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The 100th Featured Artist Interview: Arlene Thayer aka Spin Artiste plus Yarn Giveaway!

by The SpinArtiste on June 1, 2014

Me April 2014

Courtesy Susan Cossette

Yup.  Made it to 100.  I could not have envisioned this when this blog started but here we are.  I guess it’s finally time to let my hair down and invite you into my own fiber world.  I didn’t really know how to get this started so I’m turning it over to the one and only Woolwench, Suzy J. Brown, to get this post started…

Suzy Brown:  I don’t remember quite when it was that I first discovered Spin Artiste, but I do remember my excitement at finding a blog that totally spoke to me, to my love of fiber arts, and to my interest in the wider world of spinners and fiber artists. It was like a door opening to Wonderland and here was me grinning like the Cheshire Cat. The artist profiles have always been a favorite, Arlene asks the questions I would want to ask, and shares these wonderful peeks into the intriguing lives of other fibre people doing what they love, it’s such a treat to read their stories and gaze in awe at the wonderful creations that are shared with each article. And now we are sharing in the celebration of 100 artists featured on these pages! I believe this is quite a testament to the incredible generosity and love for the fiber world that Arlene has, she has dedicated her time and shared her passion with us in such a fabulous and accessible way. I can’t think of another website that brings together this many artists or shares this depth of insight into the fiber world. It’s thanks to Arlene that i began to feel part of a community, and found out that other people were sharing the same triumphs and challenges, and of course, here we also find a constant source of new inspirations and fiber heroes.


Part of my yarn collection on a warping board…some yarns are mine, some were made by friends

And now it is time to find out more about the Spin Artiste powerhouse herself! What drives her, what inspires her, and why did she start Spin Artiste? I know there are many others like me, who had stumbled across this amazing site, filled as it is, with passion, eye candy, and wonderful stories of people like us, and wondered about its creator. A couple of posts ago, Arlene gave us the chance to ask questions, what did we want to know about the creator of Spin Artiste? So this week, like so many weeks before, we are treated with a privileged peek into the life of one of our fiber community’s artists, and this is one who, I am blessed to be able to say, is also one of my personal heroes and best friends, the Amazing Arlene!

Suzy, I’m humbled by your kind words and a bit embarrassed…thank you very much!  And, now onto answering the questions that came my way from readers in preparation for this post.

Question 1:  What made you decide to create the Spin Artiste blog and why?

I started www.spinartiste.com for myself! I wanted to read a fun, fiber oriented website to go to that had a heavy emphasis on hand spinning with occasional related detours. A lot of people were blogging about hand spinning, but they were blogging about their own work. I wanted to read a website that was not about the person who was writing — I wanted a third party perspective.  I also wanted to see tons of pictures of hand spun (the website now has a library of over 4,000 images – most of them hand spun yarn!).  And, I wanted to read about creative process.

Fish full of yarns in the studio

Fish full of yarns in the studio

Question 2:  Running a blog like this takes a lot of work, what is it that keeps you doing it?

That is a good question. I just checked and see that I’ve published 230 posts in a little more than three years.  I really had no idea it was that many.

In the beginning, I didn’t know anything about blogging. I have learned everything from trial and error and experience. There is always more to learn so that is one thing that keeps me going…getting better…seeing my own progress as a blogger and writer. The other thing, quite frankly, after doing this for this length of time is that it is just part of my life. And, it’s still growing and there are still things to say.

And then, over the past year, two things happened that I never expected that have changed how I see being the publisher of this blog. The first thing was when Janice Rosema died and the interview here became a place where Janice’s unique and valuable perspective was accessible to everyone. So, I realized that content here is also documenting part of our fiber history. I’m a very responsible person, generally , but this realization impressed upon me the responsibility I have unintentionally acquired and that this is not just all about having fiber fun.

The second thing that happened was a little more recent and that was when a festival organizer told me that she uses the website as a research tool. Again, I was reminded that the accumulation of content here on this subject has a place and I have a small role as a curator of this information for the community.

A carry over from childhood...my collection of stick horses!

A carry over from childhood…my collection of stick horses!

Question 3:  Arlene I would like to know, who or what inspired you to get into fiber arts and what was your first project?

Who or what? This is the question I normally start all of the interviews with. It’s logical to start here because when you read the answer, it sets the context for everything that comes afterwards in the interview.

Now, I’m answering for myself and I’m a little stumped. Certainly the earliest influence was my grandmother, Evelyn. She generally had something going whether it was knitting, crochet, needlepoint or sewing. I had never thought about it till now, but she was actually very good. She made a lot of things for me – leg warmers when they were in style, wool blazers, peasant blouses. Her older sister, my Aunt Alice, also made a lot of beautiful things with her hands and she could make very fine, tiny things.

So, I saw a lot of this activity going on and naturally, I wanted to try. My grandmother was my first teacher. I think they started me out with an empty wooden spool of thread with four small nails nailed into the top in a square shape. Yarn was wrapped around the nails and with a tiny crochet hook, I brought loops of yarn over the yarn wrapped around the nails…voila! I-cord!!! As you progressed, a tube came down through the hole in the spool.  What did I ever did I ever do with those yarn cords???

I think I had various child oriented knitting and weaving toys. And, then, as a teenager, I started sewing. And, I went wild with that for years. And, I mean wild. I did like using commercial patterns, but I didn’t follow rules as far as fabric selection was concerned. And, I was fearless. I ended up sewing a wedding dress as well as my own dress for a wedding I was in when I was about 20 as well as my own dress for the event. Then, there were the “Quilting Years”.  Divorce came and there was nothing for awhile.

Until, I saw my mentor knitting socks and asked about that. There was a warm up hat project but then it was SOCKS. Instantly, I fell in love hard for knitting. And, then, one thing led to another….

My reading area in the studio -- a good place to daydream

My reading area in the studio — a good place to daydream

Question 4:  What inspires you? What do you most enjoy doing in the process?

Inspiration seems to come from just about anywhere, at anytime. Little bits and pieces of ideas are always floating around in the air. New ideas are never an issue. Having enough time to pursue ideas is a challenge. I do like to apply ideas from other realms to fibery projects. Like the recipe cards we just released over at www.fiberygoodness.com recently. People that like to cook like to collect and look at cookbooks, right? So, I thought people who spin might like to collect and look at recipes for complicated yarns.  And, Suzy had these beautiful images of some of her outrageous multi ply yarns so that seemed like a natural fit.

What I enjoy most in the creative process and have thoroughly enjoyed over the past year was having a creative partner to help develop ideas and projects. That is what I enjoy. I have an idea. I share it with Suzy Brown and she makes it better – she helps me to make it “right”. The idea takes the form it seems it was meant to have.  Co-creating with someone you totally trust and believe in is pure magic to me.
Question 5:  How do you balance it all? Work, family, fiber?

A coral tableau my husband created outside of the studio - at least it's balanced!

A coral tableau my husband created outside of the studio – at least it’s balanced!

Who says it’s all balanced?!?! This is a subject I actually wrote a whole module on (#7) in The Journey to the Golden Fleece. I constantly am concerned that I’m not giving something the right level of attention. I know that my ability to focus has a limit to how many times I can divide it up. But, still I can get caught up into taking on new stuff when there is no room at the inn. But I do have some tricks I use to manage through the many facets of my life. So, here they are –

I have a good system for keeping track of what needs to be done. I have studied time management systems for years and while I have learned that there is no perfect way to manage time. It’s something busy people struggle with to various degrees all through their lives. And, also, busy, responsible people are always looking for a better way. I learned a long time ago that the most important question I have to answer all day long every day is, “Is what I’m doing right now the best use of my time at this time?” Tough question to answer sometimes!

The other thing I’m faithful to is a schedule for types of tasks. So, certain tasks are done on the same day each week. The beginning of the week is very intense and lightens up towards the Thursday and Friday. Thursdays are for projects and I work hard to protect those hours so I have long stretches of time available.

And…I’m an early riser. The morning is my time to work alone. My mind is sharpest then. I can write and think best then so I take advantage of that.

But, the bottom line is always at least a bit out of balance and I’m constantly re-balancing.


Hanging out with friends the night before Maryland Sheep & Wool

Question 6 :  How do you come to know about all of these lovely ladies to feature in Spin Artiste?

From all over. If I go to a festival, I stroll around with an eye towards what might strike my fancy. Sometimes people write to me. Sometimes I see something interesting online.  I keep a wish list, too.

But, here’s the really interesting part. There’s never been an interview with an artist where I wasn’t surprised by something they said. And, sometimes I’m more intrigued by the person than the art they make. Frequently, in the answer to the first question of the piece, the artist will share something intimate and inspiring and I’m hooked. The art is so much better when you know the context of its origin.

Question 7:  Arlene, kindly describe for us your creative process. I would love to know more about how you approach a project.

I’m absolutely horrible at sitting down with the purpose of creating something. I cannot create on demand. I cannot really create with the distraction of others present. I’m kind of horrible in a class because I’m so distracted by the other students, I can’t really focus on doing much. I try to take in what is being taught well enough so I can go off and do my thing when I’m home.

Ideas pop into my head at random times. Sometimes I jot them down. Most of the time they come when I don’t have pen and paper handy. Luckily, I usually have such an intense burning desire to express the idea, the really good ones don’t get forgotten. They are like children that are going to come into the world no matter what. That’s how it felt when I had the idea for Spin Artiste, the Secret Stash Game, Can You Spin This?, etc.

On top of being a good sport about my having way too many cookbooks and all my fibery goodness, my husband made me this crochet hook and case...

On top of being a good sport about my having way too many cookbooks and all my fibery goodness, my husband made me this crochet hook and case.

Question 8:  What other creative endeavours do you or have you engaged in?

I have engaged in a lot of other creative endeavors – sewing, quilting, painting – but the big one that has dominated my life since I was about 17 has been cooking. I have a lot of cookbooks (over 1,000) and used to teach cooking. Over the last year, I earned my certificate in Advanced Raw Cuisine from the Matthew Kenney Academy. I’m not a raw vegan but am fascinated by that cuisine. I’m currently working towards my certification in Culinary Nutrition. This is a good place for me to note that my husband is a REALLY good sport about all of this stuff as well as all the fibery goodness that goes on all the time.

And, then there is writing:  my truest love, actually.  And, to have someone read what I’ve written and respond to it positively is pure bliss.

Question 9:  And what helped you choose spinning over other options?

Well, first there was knitting, knitting, and more knitting.  I didn’t even really know that people still spun their own yarn until that fateful day I walked into Picasso’s Moon Yarn Shop and met Debra Lambert.  When I saw her handspun, it was just mad, crazy, tempestuous love at first sight.

To break it down:  Spinning is very soothing to me. And, of course, there is a lot to learn and so much beauty in all aspects of yarn production. Also, I love hand spun yarn in knitted, crocheted or woven items. I wanted complete creative control over the yarns that I could use in other projects.

Blending boards and small looms hanging in the studio

Blending boards and small looms hanging in the studio

Question 10:  I would love to ask you what was the best workshop/class you have ever taken and why?

Boy, that is a hard one for sure. In terms of spinning, I’ve had the privilege of taking classes with a lot of the big names out there today. I’ve also tried to acquire the dvd’s of some of the folks who are no longer teaching so that I could get some of the experience of learning from them.
But, if I had to pick one classroom experience that was the “best”, I’m going to go with the week long weaving class I took a couple of years ago with my husband at The Mannings taught by Tom Knisely. We learned a lot of course…but, the best part was that we have that shared experience and one really funny memory when one night we were alone in the studio to complete our twill project when my husband’s loom came flying apart and we were rather unprepared as to how to put things back together. Fortunately, we were alone so the rest of the students didn’t hear all the swearing that went on while we put things back together.

The Spin Artiste Studio

The Spin Artiste Studio

Question 11:  I always love to hear about studios- what is yours like?

I am one of the luckiest people I know in this regard. My husband built me a free standing building last year. It was his wedding present to me. It is really fantastic. Everything is in there now…no more NINE spinning wheels in the living room…yeah, that was getting out of hand. I have a couple of looms in there too because you have to do something with all that handspun. My books and patterns are handy.

While I have it crammed with fibery goodness, it is can also be set up as a teaching space.  We had a wonderful class with Heather Lightbody aka Girl With a Hook last month.  There will be more events in the future!


Antiques up in the loft

Antiques up in the loft

Heads up in the loft

Heads up in the loft

Carding area

Carding area

Question 12:  What about your fiber tools?  What do you have?


My spinning nest with something brewing on the Mach III

So, the tools…first we have the wheels: Majacraft Aura, Spinolution Mach III, Spinolution King Bee, Spinolution Firefly (electric), Lendrum DT, and Ashford Country Spinner 2…those are the wheels for using. There are also the wheels for viewing: Walking Wheel, two flax wheels and an Indian Head Spinner. Then, there are the carders: Louet Classic and Strauch Finest. Plus, I have a few looms: 8 harness Schacht, 4 harness Saori, Majacraft Dynamic Heddle and a 7 foot Triangle loom. There are other small things too like a Majacraft Hackle and an Ashford Knitters loom. Plus all the other little stuff you need. It sort of took me awhile and a lot of trial and error to get to this place.

Question 13:  What does learning about people’s creativity mean to you?

I don’t think I will ever become jaded when it comes to being fascinated by other people’s creative ability.  It’s exciting, inspiring, refreshing, invigorating and amazing.

Big PinkWell, there you have it.  That’s me.  I hope the post was a fun read for you!  Next time, we will get back to our regular format!!!  But, first, a giveaway!  I’m going to make someone a skein of yarn.  For whatever it’s worth, I don’t sell my yarn.  I usually spin and use it.  It would be fun to make a yarn for one of you…please leave a comment below and tell me what color(s) you would like…deadline to enter is next Sunday, June 8th, 5 PM EST.  Extra entries for sharing on FB, Twitter, etc.  Just leave a comment letting me know that you did.  Thanks!!!


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