We hope that you enjoy this series featuring interviews with FiberCrafty shop owners. Our goal is to give you a little peek behind the scenes and a chance to learn more about our talented business owners. Today's post features Brenda Vance of Split Rock Ranch based in Florissant, CO. Brenda and her husband Jim have 70 animals and after reading about all she does, I’m going to go take a nap! But first, let me share one of my favorite lines of this interview. “I love art that is eclectic, unique and distinctive and strive to create fiber art that meets those criteria.” What a lovely outlook!
Tell us a little bit about you. Where are you from, what crafts do you enjoy, what is your background, do you have any pets, etc? I grew up in Colorado Springs and we moved to our ranch in Teller County - about an hour west of Colorado Springs - in May of 1997. We raise, train and show llamas and harvest their fiber. We use them for packing, and have raised and shown our llamas earning numerous Grand and Reserve Grand Champion awards in the halter show ring. We started to pare our herd size down several years ago due to the drought and outrageous hay prices in Colorado and the surrounding area. We are now down to 15 llamas. One of our original two llamas is still alive and he turned 25 in July this year. We also have Nigerian Dwarf, Angora and Pygora goats - milk and fiber - what's not to love?!
Three years ago a friend gifted a miniature horse mare (Paloma) to me and six months later we added a gorgeous little mini stallion named Nitro. On Mother's Day last year Paloma gifted us with a stunning little mini me colt who looks exactly like his sire, down to the two blue eyes and amazing personality. Two years ago I added a black and white tovero yearling mini filly and a year ago I brought home a yearling bay and white tobiano yearling mini filly. We plan to breed paint mini horses when these fillies are old enough. I would also like to start showing my little herd of mini horses. Nitro is trained to drive a cart (why do they call it trained to drive when they are actually pulling the cart?!) so I'd love to polish off our driving skills and cruise around the neighborhood. I wish I could spin horse hair because there's certainly enough of it around here!
In addition to the llamas, goats and horses, we also have four cats (all rescued) and four standard Poodles and three toy Poodles. We fostered over 50 kittens from September 2007 to June 2011 (not all at the same time, thank God) but the poodles love to chase kitties so we no longer foster kittens but still support the cat rescue org. I also have chickens and ducks who normally produce more eggs than we can possibly eat. The dogs and cats sure appreciate the extra eggs!
As for crafts that I enjoy, aside from dyeing, carding and basic fiber arts, I knit, crochet, weave and dabble in jewelry making. I love to keep my hands busy! Lately I've been working on a custom triangle loom making triangle shawls. This loom has large wooden pegs rather than small closely spaced nails so I use bulky yarns and I love how the shawls are turning out. I may even try working two triangles and then weave them together into a ruana or poncho, or even a blanket or two. So many possibilities!
What is the name of your shop? Is there a story behind the name? My shop name is Split Rock Ranch. We chose the name Split Rock Ranch because there is a large rock formation on the ranch that has a pine tree growing out of it in a V shape and it split the rock as it grew. At the time we had no idea that there is a ranch in Wyoming named Split Rock Ranch - so there is no connection there. Lightning recently hit the tree and blew off large slabs of rock but so far it is still standing tall despite a crack in the trunk of the tree and black sooty marks on the rock.
How long have you had your business? We started Split Rock Ranch in 1997 but made it "official" with the state of Colorado in 2005 when we trademarked the name Split Rock Ranch. Initially it was intended to just be raising llamas but it branched out into other fiber animals and then all types of fiber and fiber art.
What kind of products do you specialize in? Llama fiber when I have the chance to shear (which I haven't done on a regular basis for the entire herd for a few years due to a knee injury and subsequent knee replacement). I love to work with all types of natural fibers with a real love of definitive lock structure sheep fleeces such as Teeswater, Wensleydale, Lincoln, etc. and mohair. After my knee issues and I was unable to treadle a spinning wheel or stand for any length of time to card and dye, I started to order commercially prepared fibers just to keep my business alive while I healed. That part of the business has done very well so it keeps my stores stocked while I work on creating my own fiber art.
Every story has a beginning, how did your business get started?
We started with two male llamas purchased in November 1996 and then moved to our ranch in May 1997. Llamas became an addiction after we added a pregnant female and another show quality male to our small herd. We went to our first llama show in January of 1998 - National Western Stock Show - and we were hooked on showing. When I started to shear our small herd, I needed to do something with their incredible fiber so I learned how to spin in 2000. Spinning raw fleeces required that I have fiber processing equipment so I bought a couple of drum carders and then started playing with different types of fibers, blending them into batts and rovings on my carders. Then I started dabbling in dyeing, starting with Kool-aid dyeing and quickly moving on to professional acid dyes. When my husband was laid off from his job in December of 2003 (he was a casualty of the MCI/Worldcom merger) I knew I had to get serious about my fiber business and ramped up my production and subsequently my sales. I worked a full time job in town (50 mile round trip) until June of 2008 when I "retired" from my "real job" to work the ranch and my fiber business full time. I've held numerous jobs over the years, mostly administrative and managerial positions, and the majority of it spent in the construction field, both commercial and residential. Again, the love of "creating" and "building" are probably what led me to the construction industry, even if I wasn't doing the actual construction part of the work.
Do you have a favorite pattern that shows off your products? I honestly prefer not to use patterns. IF I use a pattern I tend to start with a pattern and then make it my own by changing things to suit my taste and preferences. I love when the yarn does all the work without having to work fancy stitches to create texture and visual interest. Several years ago I designed and created the first extreme fringe scarf using lockspun teeswater locks yarn spun by Esther at Jazzturtle. I had admired the lockspun yarn but nobody was using it for much so I decided to crochet or knit a base scarf with wool yarn and then crocheted the lockspun yarn along the edges to create an amazing work of fiber art. Those scarves sold as fast as I could create them. I love to think and work outside the box when I create and design.
Is there anything else you would like to share? My husband and I have been married for over 33 years and he is very supportive of my work. When he retires, I may just put him to work processing fiber. He wants to learn how to weave so once we get a spaced cleared for our floor loom, I am hoping he starts to play with it and becomes hooked on fiber as well! My husband and I both volunteer on the Board of Directors of the health services district in our area. He is the Chairman of the Board and I am the Finance Officer. We are a special tax district supplying EMS and ambulance services as well as a skilled nursing center in Cripple Creek. When my husband joined the board over 13 years ago, the board voted to declare bankruptcy and dissolve the district. My husband was the only dissenting vote and he managed to convince the board to try some different tactics and they agreed. Since then the district has gone from 3/4 of a million dollars in debt to zero debt, we've completely remodeled the skilled nursing center, we've purchased new ambulances (with the help of grants providing half the cost) and we have a nice cash reserve set aside for future district needs. I joined the board in 2007 as a "temporary" board member until they found others to volunteer. After I became the Finance Officer and straightened out the paperwork disaster I was handed, they voted to keep me on as a permanent board member. I try to blaze my own path rather than follow in the footsteps of what others are doing - not just in business but life in general. I am inspired by the work of other fiber artists but generally give things my own special, unique twist when I create my fiber art. I love art that is eclectic, unique and distinctive and strive to create fiber art that meets those criteria.
What's your favorite feature or part of FiberCrafty (as a shopper or shop owner)?
I love that FiberCrafty caters to FIBER and was created by and is run by a Fiber Artist who understands the unique issues of marketing, creating and selling fiber art. I think Pam does a fabulous job of promoting FiberCrafty and its sellers!
Brenda, thank you for sharing about yourself and your shop! We are glad we had this opportunity getting to know more about you, Jim, your animals and your business. Brenda's products can be found for sale in her FiberCrafty shop, Split Rock Ranch.