I’m honored to have been profiled by BostonVoyager as one of their “Boston’s Most Inspiring Stories” series! Take a read to learn more about the lady behind the Wool Works!
Developing new products is always both fun and terrifying at the same time. Sometimes I have an inspiration for a piece and need to struggle through figuring out how to make it and all the details about the design (because for me, they need to be both aesthetically pleasing and practical). Other times I get so excited about working with a particular material that I try to figure out what I can do with it that will make sense.
As any maker will tell you, often you come up with ideas that don’t work, but if you stick at it long enough you usually will have a few winners. It’s such an amazing feeling when you’ve been struggling through trying to figure out how it will all work, and suddenly it just falls into place! And then, of course, you need to figure out all the manufacturing details to make sure you can make it consistently and profitably over and over… but I actually really enjoy that part. Throw in a little left brain, a little right brain, sprinkle with a heavy dose of wool…
I recycle a lot of sweaters. A LOT. Just in the past few days I took five of them from being wearable men’s cotton garments to washed skeins of cotton yarn, which I will use to weave towels for sale. I also recycle sweaters made from wool, cashmere, silk, and other materials to sell as yarn, remanufacture into pieces for sale, and use in personal projects. It is wicked fun to transform these often boring and certainly unloved sweaters into freshly-freed, beautiful yarn, and the fun aspect keeps me going despite sometimes significant obstacles and surprises. Using recycled materials is a mission of mine, but even the most fervent can have their faith tested on a regular basis.
I’m always looking for ways to make my work more efficient – especially the non-creative tasks – so I have more time to do the creative and deep-thinking work. There’s definitely some happiness that comes out of brainless tasks like winding yarn, but when you’re doing them on a large scale, it can get physically and mentally tiring. I probably should have been a mechanical engineer (if I had known what that was when I was applying to music school!) – I love tools and I love to figure out how to rig up the tools I need. Oh, I’m also wicked cheap, a bit of a packrat (hoarder?), and a pathological reuser, so I like to either use stuff I already have in my basement or get someone else’s old stuff from a thrift store to make these tools. The more I can reuse, the less I can buy or bring new stuff into my house, the happier I am.
I had recycled a bunch of brightly-colored cotton sweaters, and after doing some “weaving math” I realized I had enough yarn to do really thorough test… and still have enough yarn left over to make multiple warps of the same thing. The nice thing about weaving (as opposed to knitting, for example) is that you can set up one long warp (the yarn you put on the loom before you weave) to make multiple pieces.
So I thought I’d put this yarn through its paces and see what how it wanted to be woven. Since the yarn was all cotton (some of it organic! What a treat!), I decided I wanted to try some kitchen towels, having done a few sample variations in the last few months, and loving the feel and the warmth of handwoven towels in my kitchen. The nice thing, too, is that often a sweater will say “hand wash only” but since it’s 100% cotton I felt pretty sure I could machine wash them. Or at least it wouldn’t kill me to find out with a few sample pieces.
I spend a lot of time in thrift stores, trolling for yarn (trapped in sweaters). I’ll be honest that while there is a lot of nice yarn out there in mostly fairly unremarkable sweaters, I do tend to see similar sweaters over and over – plenty of plain shetland pullovers in lovely heathery shades, cotton cardigans, and ribbed turtlenecks. But every once in a while I run across a truly spectacular sweater that combines a perfect storm of elements like color, traditional construction techniques, fine craftsmanship, and beautiful yarn. The best of these special sweaters combine these elements in extremely unexpected ways that might not always make for a wearable garment, but yield lovely yarn and a great adventure.
Okay. This may be too rough for you, but I like murdering sweaters. Especially evil sweaters that are trapping beautiful yarn in an ugly shape or pattern.
For example, I found one terrifying 80’s sweater — cropped, mock turtleneck, hideous stitch pattern — at a Goodwill near my house, and it was holding hostage a ton of absolutely gorgeous white 8-ply baby alpaca yarn. Sweater? Hideous. Yarn? Gorgeous.
This may be obvious, but you can get a full sweater’s worth of yarn for the cost of one Goodwill sweater (or for free, if you already own the sweater).