Arlene here….we are going to be migrating the Spin Artiste content over the Fibery Goodness. As part of the transition, I will be posting just three more interviews over at Spinartiste.com that will be also cross posted here. Then, on a go forward basis, all Spin Artiste style content will be a permanent part of Fibery Goodness. Now, let’s get onto the good stuff!
Publisher’s Notes: This week I’m so pleased to feature Holly Madison of Blue Barn Fiber! As you will soon learn, Holly is a true “fiberista”. She and her husband took a chance on fiber as a business and have made a real go of it. I know you will enjoy spending some time reading and getting to know more about Holly.
Spin Artiste (SA): Hello Holly, please tell us about your fiber journey. I know you will enjoy spending some time reading and getting to know more about Holly.
HM: I’ve been an artist my entire life, and I’ve explored just about every medium possible – traditional painting, digital painting (even book covers), pottery, sculpture, etc. My fiber journey actually started with woven wire jewelry, and it evolved from there. Once I realized that I could paint fiber just like a canvas, it exploded into what it now is. I lived on a ranch when I was younger, and I loved being surrounded by the animals. Finding a form of art that would give me an excuse to live like that again…. that’s the dream!
SA: You have such a variety of colors and textures to your fibers. Tell us, from where do you draw your creative inspiration?
HM: Absolutely everything! I use a lot of the same colors in my fiber arts that I do in my paintings, and there are some color combinations that come up again and again because I love them so much. My inspiration comes from my dreams, nature, and just good old fashioned winging it.
Of course, a lot of inspiration also comes from other artists, like Suzy Brown. She was the first person who introduced me to art yarn (via Youtube) and I have loved her work ever since. I have hundreds of fiber artists on my Facebook so that my feed is always filled with beautiful colors and new styles that I might not have thought to try before. I think we all learn from each other and draw on that creative energy.
SA: Another thing I really like about your fiber is the rich and organic quality of your rovings, yarns, and silks. I know you value working with small farms and only purchase cruelty free fibers. How has this commitment been a benefit to your art?
HM: It makes me feel like I am part of something very special. Animal welfare is incredibly important to me and my husband, and we really like supporting farmers who feel the same way. It’s very important that we never do business with a corporation that harms its animals or treats them like objects. Animals should be treated with compassion and kindness always. I also think that happy animals grow better fiber, and most farmers would agree.
Small farmers desperately need the support of businesses like ours. They love their animals, but often struggle with the marketing aspects of the industry and a lot of wool goes to waste when they fail to sell it. By supporting this niche group of people, we are able to directly contribute to the feed and veterinary care of their animals, and allow those animals to live happy lives far away from factory farms. We are also very selective about the bigger companies that we choose to do business with, and we do a lot of research before we buy from them.
SA: I know you and your husband Dan co-own Blue Barn Fiber. What was it like starting a business with your husband? What have been your favorite parts about working together as a couple?
HM: When we first started the business, it was during a very hard time of our lives. Dan had been laid off and we had almost no money in our bank account. We took an incredible leap of faith when we bought the fiber from a nearby alpaca farm that was closing. We couldn’t afford it, but we did it anyway. And it sold! It started out as a desperate attempt to just make enough money to get us through another week, or another month, until Dan could get a job. It turned into so much more.
It has been a wonderful journey and continues to evolve. Dan and I have come to realize that this is it — this is what we want to do with the rest of our lives. We are like two sides of the same coin- I provide the artistic vision and the actual “creation” of our products, and Dan helps support it from a business standpoint and by keeping my head on straight. He’s also super outgoing, while I’m somewhat shy. He’s usually the first person you will see if we’re vendoring at a fiber show, and his enthusiasm for fiber is contagious.
He pretends to not be an artist, but I’ve actually caught him spinning when he thought I wasn’t looking. Sometimes it’s frustrating when we work long hours (some days we work from sun up until sun down), but we always laugh it off when we start to bicker. I can’t imagine a better partner – in business, or in life.
SA: You mentioned, “My husband and I started Blue Barn fiber because of our shared passion for animals, the environment, fiber, and art.” How do your passions motivate the two of you to continue to expand your work?
HM: Our passion is the force that drives us. It’s hard being your own boss, and we can’t just take time off of work like we could with a normal job. Some days we work 16 hours straight, and our passion is what lets us see the light at the end of the tunnel. We have a very clear dream of what we want our business to become, and we know that it will take a lot of hard work now to be able to get to that point. We want to do our small part to make the world a better place. It sounds corny, but it’s true.
We are also very passionate about of products, especially our signature product called ButterSilk™. We spent years mastering it and making it what it is today, and we hope to continue to improve it and expand on the colors available. We are always looking for new products that will help improve the business and offer something unique to our customers, and I think that we are doing a good job continuing to expand our selection of fiber.
SA: I know you are still working to have a farm of your own. Tell us about your dream farm, and how it would impact your art.
HM: Our dream farm would look a lot like the mural I made for our business. I can see a little house with rolling green hills and some mountains in the background. We would ideally love to have a small flock of Teeswater sheep and Pygora goats, along with other farm animals just because we love them.
I majored in Environmental Science, so being eco-friendly is very important to me. I’d like us to be as self-sufficient as we possibly can, and use absolutely everything that we can — even the sun for solar power. I imagine growing lavender to sell with our fiber at festivals, alongside yarn bowl pottery that Dan makes (he’s amazing at it!). Maybe some goats milk soap, goat cheese, and lots and lots of fiber! Ultimately, we would like to have a shop set up on the farm that would allow people to come in and browse through our fiber, or even just spin with us.
The super long term goal would be for us to have some fiber mill equipment on site so we can make our own custom blends and process fiber for other growers (without me having to do it all by hand, the way I normally do).
Of course the first step will just be finding the right property, which we’re currently working on.
SA: How has your relationship with other local and international farms positively influenced the way you process your fibers?
HM: Well when we first began this journey, I was a complete and total novice. I realized that many small farms just don’t have time to sell processed fiber, so I started buying it raw. I learned how to clean fiber without using harsh chemicals, and learned how to do it all by hand. I think that this is a very valuable skill to have (even after we get fancy equipment I will still continue to do it). I have learned to appreciate the feel of lanolin on my fingers, the sweet smell of it, and the value of coated sheep wool. I have worked with a lot of small farmers and provided them feedback which they use for breeding their animals as well as being a bit more careful about keeping VM out of their fiber. This allows them to charge more for their wool, and allows us to sell it for more once I process it all. To avoid only selling commercial fiber, we really rely on these farmers to raise the animals. And they rely on us to buy it and resell it. Working with each person is always a great and mutually beneficial experience.
SA: What can you tell us about your studio space?
HM: Right now it’s almost nonexistent. I have a room for our inventory full of shelves, then my “studio space” pretty much encompasses the rest of the entire house! I also have a little setup on our porch for spinning in the nice warm weather. I am very hopeful that I will actually get a designated studio space one we move.
SA: What is your favorite wheel at the moment?
HM: My Ashford Country Spinner is my favorite wheel. It allows me to spin the giant beehive coils that I adore, and I don’t have to worry about things getting caught on the hooks or in the orifice. I also have Louet S10 that I love. I plan to paint them both to match Blue Barn Fiber’s mural.
I hope to someday get a Mach III and one of Sandra Spinners amazing electric wheels as well. I have a feeling they will be my two favorites if that day ever comes!
SA: What do you hope to communicate through your fiber art?
HM: The animals that grow their fiber are so special, and I want to celebrate that by turning everything I dye or spin into a work of art in some small way. When someone buys fiber from us, they then get to turn that into a work of their own art, and the cycle continues.
I want people to see how amazing and versatile fiber arts can be.. I’d also really love to see more people using hand spun yarn vs. buying acrylic yarn from big stores. Small shops need all of the support that they can get, and natural fibers are so much nicer than petroleum-based acrylic yarn. Especially for their heirloom pieces- – you want something that will last a lifetime and be worthy of the time and love you put into it.
SA: Where do you see the fiber arts going in the next 5 years?
HM: The sky is the limit! Fiber arts are changing and evolving every day, and I’m so excited to watch it all unfold. Art yarn in particular is becoming such a celebrated medium, and I am constantly amazed at the new creations I see people making with it. A lot of people have the false impression that spinning is just for grandmas who want to make boring, brown yarn (though there is nothing wrong with that), and that couldn’t be further from the truth. We are seeing younger and younger generations join the fiber world as well, and using yarn for jewelry, sculptures, and other non-traditional uses. New inventions are also happening, such as glow in the dark fiber and even Biocouture, where you can grow your own fabric with a plant-like bacteria. I think that we are going to see some truly amazing things in the next 10 years as science starts to catch up with what people can dream up.
SA: Where is your favorite outdoor spot in Hayden, ID where you live, and what is your favorite thing to do there?
HM: My favorite spot is probably on the Pack Saddle trail on Mount Canfield. It’s a tough hike (some people also ride their bikes up it or their horses) but it’s so amazing once you get to the top. You can see all of the valley below, and other mountains in the distance. There are also a lot of water sports that you can do on the lakes nearby, and Tubbs Hill in Coeur d’Alene is a very nice walking trail for people who don’t want to go up an entire mountain.
We actually are looking for a house away from this area in either Oregon or Washington State, depending on the property we find. If we find the right property here, we’ll stay, but I don’t see that happening. I will most certainly miss this beautiful town and the wonderful hiking trails that I have come to know, but I’m ready for the next chapter in our lives. We are two years into the business, and our journey is just getting started.
SA: Thank you so much, Holly! With your “can do” outlook and your willingness to work hard, I believe all of your dreams will come true…Readers, Holly is going to make one of your dreams come true because she is giving away to one of you 2 oz. of her amazing Buttersilk AND 2 oz. of Rose Pearl Fiber!! To enter this giveaway, please leave a comment on this post that you have liked the Blue Barn Facebook page. A winner will be drawn at random and the deadline for entries is Sunday, July 5th, 5 PM EST. Best of luck to all!
Before I sign off today, there are two important things I’d like to share with you. The first is, sadly, I learned this week of the sudden passing of one of the artists that I featured here a few years ago, Victoria Hermetz Smith formerly of Follow the Star Studio. Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Victoria in person, I wished that I had. She was always sweet and kind. I always smiled with I saw her email address, “willknit4food”. In fact, it was her sense of humor that led me to find out more about her and then, introduce myself and ask if I could feature her. Rest in peace, Victoria. You will be missed.
Lastly, I will leave you with some other news — happy news! After much soul searching and many conversations with Suzy Brown, aka Wool Wench, we are going to being the process of formerly consolidating Spin Artiste into Fiberygoodness.com. I have a couple more posts planned for Spin Artiste which will be posted here and also cross posted over at Fiberygoodness.com. Thereafter, new Spin Artiste content will appear as blog posts at Fiberygoodness.com. For at least a year, I have wanted to make this move, but was sort of hemming and hawing. When I started this blog in 2011, I started it for myself, really, to provide what I wanted to read about that I couldn’t find somewhere else. I’m more of a behind the scenes type of person so talking about other people and showcasing them was much more my speed than talking about myself. Slowly, I started to talk about myself and my work a little here and there. And, I guess, my own identity in working with fiber was developing and emerging along the way. And, then, Fiberygoodness was born two years ago and it has been at times, a struggle to be involved with two separate websites and brands. But, even with that bit of internal conflict, I loved writing every single post here. One thing I can promise you, in making this move, the best is definitely yet to come!
All my fibery best, Arlene