Monthly Archives: September 2017

  • Faces of FiberCrafty: Melisa & Charlie Morrison of Alba Ranch

    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.

    Melisa & Charlie Morrison

    Today's post features wife and husband team Melisa and Charlie Morrison of Alba Ranch based in New Era, MI. Melisa is a wonderful story teller and I hope that you enjoy her tale spinning!

    Melisa, tell us a little bit about you and Charlie.  We are a husband and wife team of Fiber and Art. I learned how to hand spin and weave in Aberdeenshire, Scotland where Charlie was born. We lived there for the first 6 years of our marriage. We came west to Colorado and our ranch tract of undeveloped land to start homesteading. Recently we moved the entire Alba Ranch to MI only 5 miles from Lake Michigan. What a pallet of colors and various fun growing things to see for inspiration in the dye pot!

    Fiber from Lincoln Long Wool sheep are in her sampler kit.

    I hand spins yarns in all sorts of fibers and weights and am a mad scientist dyer. I paint the dyes on the yarn and fiber with the same passion I used to reserve for oil painting. Throw it and see what sticks! My new medium is now fiber instead of a canvas. I am really starting to reach and grow with my wearables and am starting to make more jackets, coats, shawls and skirts. I am at my most happy when surrounded by fiber with lots of color and texture....a cappuccino in my right hand, a fire burning brightly and my dogs all scattered around my feet.

    Charlie has been painting and doing photography for most of his life. His day job has him

    One of Melisa & Charlie's well-loved ranch hands in training, Morag.

    traveling all over the world in many countries seeing many things others can only dream of. He tries to have his camera and paint brush at the ready at all times to never miss THAT shot! When I ask him to make me a new wood thingy for my fiber which would be really cool if it could do.....he enjoys trying to figure out how to make it.

    The Ranch does take up a lot of time. We have considered downsizing and getting rid of the animals so many times but when it comes down to, they all seem to mostly stay. We currently have 10 dogs, 19 chickens, 2 llamas, 22 goats and so many cats we can't count them all....or is that just the kittens moving so fast that seems like there are millions of them?

    Greener Shades Starter Dye Kit - Add yarn or fiber and you have everything you need to try your hand at dyeing!

    Your ranch is called Alba Ranch, is there a story behind the name? When we moved out to our ranch tract in Colorado, we decided to name our place. In Scotland, it is very common for a house to be known by a name...sometimes even instead of a street address. Those names are used by the post office and everyone. We decided on Alba as it is Gaelic for Scotland.

    How long have you had your business? I have had my own business of some kind for several decades, but it has been mostly Fiber Art and Holistic Healing since 2005. Before that for several years it was only Holistic Healing.

    What kind of products do you specialize in? I have all sorts of breed specific fleeces, blings and add ins for blending, dye kits, fiber accessory tools and all my wearable art. Charlie has photography, oil paintings, and all the fiber accessory tools he makes for me.

    Every story has a beginning, how did your business get started? Mom taught me how to crochet a pot holder...but really she taught me how to weave a potholder on a potholder loom, than how to crochet and I never learned anything more except how to expand that shape into a scarf or a blanket. Fast forward 25 Years and I met a dog.....

    Yup a dog....walking in the woods. Murphy had a mom attached to the other end of his lead but

    Blended BFL combed top.

    Beautiful gray Gotland combed top.

    I never learned her name for months. One day after months and months of walking with Murphy and his mom (Debbie), she asked me to go to a meeting that was local where they did fiber stuff. I said I didn't know anything about fiber stuff except how to crochet pot holders, scarves and blankets. She said it didn't matter. The group was called Common Threads. NO one cared what I did just as long as it involved a thread…some kind of fiber. So I went. There I met Dora.

    Dora was Debbie's spinning teacher. I decided spinning looked cool so I hired Dora to come to my house to teach me. She taught me how to grade a fleece, how to separate it, how to card it by hand and with a drum carder, how to wash it if it was a sheep fleece, and how to spin on a drop spindle. Once I understood that concept, she gave me wheels! I went a little crazy. I started spinning and kept doing it. I only spun thick lumpy bumpy yarn and the little old Scottish ladies in the group would tsk tsk at all that fiber being wasted. I would defiantley say that I didn't want to spin that thin thread stuff. They said it would be hard to knit. I said I didn't know how to knit. They looked at me in sorrow like I was an under privileged soul and I would say that I crocheted like it was way more special than knitting. As the months went on at the Common Thread Group, I saw all sorts of folks doing all sorts of fiber things that was fascinating. It was not a guild, instead they were a group that met once a month to just work on projects and hang out. So I saw everything and could sit by anyone I chose and ask questions. It exposed me to things I may have never seen. We had a man in the group that ran it with his wife who was a weaver and a spinner. And we had some children that were in the group that were fabulous lace makers on this intricate little thingy that I never did learn what it was called.. I kept crocheting scarves and blankets.

    We moved back to the USA and out to Colorado and I told Charlie that I had to learn how to do something with all this yarn I was spinning as one could only make SO many scarves. I decided I should learn to weave and ordered a rigid heddle loom from Ashford. Charlie put it together. Charlie doesn't weave, however he is intricate to my process. I have never met a loom that I could put together or warp without Charlie. Warping makes my brain bleed. I cannot wrap my head around it. Charlie's background is art and engineering so he would say after a year helping me warp, "why can't you get this?" and I would howl in despair "I don't know....I just can't!" It took me over a year before I could warp that loom without Charlie doing it for me. After a year of Charlie warping it, when he went offshore I could warp it myself if I followed Ashford's book with step by step word instructions AND photos of every step and I thought really hard about each step. Eventually I would "get it". After yet another year, I could finally warp it without looking at the written instructions and only check the photos, another year and I could finally warp it on my own without his help or looking at anything. WHEW! So when I tell you I do not want to weave on a multiple harness floor loom ....EVER.... I am NOT joking. I also take offense at folks that say Rigid Heddle is a good beginning loom. I have made many of my intricate things on a rigid heddle loom and I plan on doing that for the rest of my life.

    Oh and I do spin that stupid little thin thread yarn now...but I still can't knit for my life even

    Melisa also offers dyed bamboo for spinning or blending.

    though I did try to learn eventually when the little ladies in the group were NOT watching. Don’t tell! So I taught myself how to weave on a rigid heddle loom, a triangle loom, on a twinning loom, frame loom, bow and arrow loom, butterfly loom, and how to crochet Tunisian Crochet, how to felt and how to sew. I have always been terrified of sewing…another issue and horror story with my mother…..so I decided to get over that. It helps that Charlie used to work with his mom and can read a pattern and sew a dress if he was so inclined. So I know if I get stuck with my machine not working, or not understanding something, Charlie will rescue me. But I don’t do patterns. Kinda like I don’t do warping. Both make my brain bleed. I went vintage and use a hand crank 1940’s Singer Sewing machine. I have been teaching myself to quilt and sew. Eventually I will get brave enough to go faster with my vintage treadle sewing machine and if I ever get really brave, I bought a vintage 1950’s Singer ELECTRIC machine too. Yes I went from having no sewing machine to having about 7 overnight. I also bought a brand new Juki serger…..like 8 years ago. I have taken it out of the box to look at it …..twice but I am still scared of it. That one is saved for later. All this has went into my fiber work….and it just goes on and on with me dragging Charlie into every one of my new projects.

    Eventually with hundreds of scarves one had to start selling them right? So you see.....it was just thin Common Threads that bound it all together....tangling and leading to the next one....

    And That's how the business started for reals.

    1 lb of ultrafine 15.5 micron merino combed top, also available in 1/2 lb.

    Do you have a favorite pattern that shows off your products? I would say my wearable art more than anything. Any of the woven triangle shawls, the crochet shawls, the woven rectangular shawls, the crochet ponchos, the scarves......I use all sorts of the fibers that are in my shop in all of them including anything that I grow with my fiber animals myself. Many times I hand card, blend, spin, dye, weave, crochet, sew and even felt in one project. One such project was not wearable art. I wanted it to be wearable art but as it progressed, it turned into numerous things until it finally settled on being a quilted wall hanging the size of a queen bed topper.

    Is there any other unique story you would like to share? People always ask us how Charlie and I met, being I lived in Michigan and he lived in Scotland. We met online. Eighteen and a half years ago....BEFORE it was cool.

    Fiber from this Angora Goat are in her Fiber Sampler kit.

    What's your favorite feature or part of FiberCrafty (as a shopper or shop owner)? I like the"look" of it. Clean lines, white backgrounds, simple use. And I absolutely love being able to write my descriptions in our "fiber language" and not have to make it fit some SEO for some site that is not all about fiber...because if it isn't fiber...what is the point?

    Melisa, thank you for spending time us and helping us get to know more about you, Charlie and your animals. You can find Melisa and Charlie's products for sale in their FiberCrafty shop, Alba Ranch. We mostly featured undyed fibers in this post but they also have beautiful dyed spinning fiber!

  • Detour: Pouf Making

    Spoiler Alert! Finished Pouf!

    Are you ever plodding along, happy with your current projects and then all of a sudden you are taking a detour?

    I mentioned previously that my desk is a little tall and I am a little short and I need something underneath to rest my feet on. Otherwise they dangle like I am a 4 year old.

    I decided to crochet a pouf with some acrylic that I have in my stash. Most of this is Knitpicks Brava but some of it is Berocco Comfort. I have enough in colors that go nicely together and that match my office, that I decided to make something stripey.

    Crochet is not my thing. I enjoy it but I also have to work harder at it. I am not as comfortable with crochet as I am with knitting. But… I do have a sense of adventure and am willing to figure things out. After searching for crochet pouf patterns on ravelry, I kept coming up empty handed. They were either too big or too tall. I liked the look of this one but I was looking for more control in the size while knowing that with my limited crochet experience, I wasn’t going to be heavily modifying any patterns. I also didn’t want to purchase any yarn and everything I have is worsted. After all my searching, I decided to crochet 2 circles, one each for the top and bottom, and one strip that would form the walls of the pouf. I exclusively used double crochet (DC) except for joining when I used single crochet.

    First circle done!

    Craftsy has a blog with a “crochet a flat circle” tutorial which was very helpful. I used this for the top and bottom and since I wanted to use DC, I started with 12 stitches.

    Now, towards the bottom of this tutorial, they show examples of things that can do wrong, like the wavy potato chip circle. That’s what mine did. I didn’t care though. I assumed that once I seamed and stuffed my pouf, it will “block” right out. No one has ever regretted that path of thought, right? My stitch count was 100% on track so I suspect my gauge is just off enough to give me the waves.

    I used several other tutorials to help me with this project. The Magic Ring, Neat Join for closing a round and adding a new color after a neat join (standing double crochet).

    Soooo close to finishing.

    When all the strip was almost finished, I used locking stitch markers to evenly attach it to the top and bottom circles. I needed to crochet a few more rows and when finished I joined the top and bottom circles to the strip. I wish I had taken more pictures at this point but I was DONE and ready to move on.

    The other side!

    After I finished seaming, I started stuffing. I had some shredded memory foam on hand and quite a bit of it. A while back, Scott and I got new pillows and they were too stuffed so I had opened the seam and removed some stuffing. I used all of that and then some polyfill. Once it was stuffed enough, I used single crochet to join the ends of the strip together.

    I actually really love how this turned out. It is really cute, functional and I found everything I needed around the house.

    Lessons Learned (there are always lessons, right?):

    In use!

    Should’ve lined it. There are little bits of shredded foam peeking out. I did consider getting an old pillowcase and stuffing that inside and then stuffing the case but I thought “Nah!”. I might have benefitted from going down a hook size to make the fabric a little more dense but it doesn’t bother me. Projects are never as fast in the real world as I think they will be. I must be delusional because I tell myself, oh, I’ll just whip that right out, it won’t take but a few days, a week tops! Will I ever learn? Stick around to find out.

    Overall, I’m going to call it a win! What do you think? Do you ever totally abandon the plans you have and veer of course for a detour?

  • Faces of FiberCrafty: Jennifer Blake of Bugbear Woolens

    We hope that you enjoy this new 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.

    Meet Jen! She's the genius behind Bugbear Woolens.

    Today we are featuring an interview with Jennifer Blake, the owner of Bugbear Woolens.

     

    Jennifer, tell us a little about yourself and your family. I grew up in Vermont for the most part, although I've also lived in NY, CT, and WA state. I ended up settling in Western Mass, on 5 acres of wooded land, at the end of a dead end dirt road. I love it here, although I could wish for faster internet access and maybe cell service, lol. I now live in the woods with my husband of almost 30 years, our 16 year old daughter, and the dog, 2 cats, a dozen chickens, a rabbit, and a hamster.

    We are all here for the same reason, because we love fiber! How did your love affair start?

    Silver Lining Merino Combed Top: 5.3oz superfine merino for spinning

    My love affair with all things fiber started when I was 7 when my stepmother taught me to crochet. My first Finished Object was a crocheted scarf for my mother, which I found in her belongings after she passed away, still in good shape. My mother taught me to knit shortly after that, and even back then I always wanted the good wool, never did like acrylic. After I left Hampshire College, I started working at Webs, where I added dyeing and weaving to my skillset. I only started spinning about 2 years ago, and love it dearly as well. (Note from Pam: I know you are wondering so I asked: she left Webs in 1995.)

    Sugar Skulls: 463 yards sock yarn, Merino/Nylon blend.

    Your shop has an interesting name. Is there a story behind it? My shop name is Bugbear Woolens. A little bit of a story, I've always been a fantasy gamer as well as an IT geek, so when I decided I had to have an internet domain, I picked bugbear.us, as bugbears are a common gaming creature. I had the domain for probably 15 years before I started the yarn business, and at that point, as I had the URL already, Bugbear Woolens just came naturally.

    How long have you had your business? This is my third year selling hand dyed yarn and fiber, as well as the occasional knitted item.

    Gemstones Sock, Zoisite: 463 yards sock yarn, Merino/Nylon blend

    Do you specialize in any particular products? Hand dyed yarn and spinning fiber.

    Every story has a beginning, how did your business get started? Honestly, I'd pretty much stopped knitting/weaving when I had my daughter. Being a new mother as well as working full time in IT didn't leave much time for hobbies. I started knitting again about 5 years ago, as my daughter was much more self sufficient. I started the business when my husband was laid off so I wouldn't feel guilty spending money on yarn.

    Mixed Berry: 5oz superfine merino combed top

    What makes your business unique? I don't really know how to answer this as I feel my work is unique due to how I see and interpret color. But then, I feel there are so many indie dyers doing amazing work...lucky knitters these days!

    What's your favorite feature or part of FiberCrafty? I love that it really is focused just on fiber arts.

    Jennifer, thank you so much for your time! You can find her products in her FiberCrafty shop, Bugbear Woolens. Personally, I love how bright and vivid so many of your colorways are. And I am especially enjoying your Gemstones series.

    Hand spun yarn, Olive Garden. 475 yards, fingering weight superfine merino

    Correidale Combed Top, Burnt Peach to Grey: 5.4oz corriedale

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