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 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!
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
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?
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
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
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.
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.
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!