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No Fiber Is Left Behind at Evergreen Fleece Processing

Fiber’s the Product

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Though Chuck Armstrong of Evergreen Fleece Processing in Washington State has 45 Alpacas with great pedigrees, he says he’s always been more interested in the fiber side of things than in the breeding and selling of animals. “I’ve always felt that the fiber’s the product. Long term, breeding’s not going to mean a darn thing if you don’t have some product from the animal,” he says. “Otherwise you spend a lot of money on a pet.”

He’d found, as most breeders do, that blanket fibers were easily sent off to make yarn, but that they only accounted for about a third of the clip. “I’ve always felt that all the fiber’s good for something. But even a year ago there really wasn’t anybody addressing the seconds and thirds [which are] 50% to 60% of what you clip off your animal.”

No Fiber Left Behind

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With fiber stored in the barn and the trailer, he adopted the motto “No Fiber Left Behind” and researched equipment for processing ALL of his product. That’s when he found FeltLOOM. “We went into the processing business with felting in mind. My goal with the FeltLOOM, what I’m really after, is make fabric that people will then take and sew into something.”

He’s now making fabric from many fibers. He’s particularly proud of the sheets that are “really, really thin so that it’s easy to sew.”

Beyond Fabric

But fabric made directly from fiber is not the only use Chuck’s customers have found for the FeltLOOM. Local artists and crafts people who wet felt have found it useful for finishing. One brought him a wet-felted rug. The outside was felted, but he could feel that the interior of the thick fabric was cushy and loose. One pass through the loom packed it tighter and made it consistent.

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Another felt artist brought him a wet-felted piece with an overlay accent of silky Angora goat fiber. He explained the problem, “It just kind of sat there on top of the piece. We took her piece and started running it through the FeltLOOM . . . and it made it part of the fabric.”

He’s experimenting on a regular basis. “I play with all sorts of designs and patterns and textures,” he says. “I found a whole artistic part of my personality that I didn’t even know I had.” He says the possibilities “are only limited by your imagination.

About all that Stored Fiber…

When asked if he’s catching up on using all that fiber he has stored, Chuck laughs, “Only a little bit because the processing business is taking off. When I started the processing business, the FeltLOOM was just going to be an additional service. Now the FeltLOOM is driving the processing, rather than the processing driving the FeltLOOM.”

Knowledge Sharing and Community at the 2012 FeltLOOM Owners Conference

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What an amazing weekend we had, when about 30 FeltLOOMers gathered on the pcturesque Lanmark farm in Sharpsburg, Kentucky, home of the FeltLOOM, September 14-16. The energy was palpable as everyone gathered to talk about what they were already creating and accomplishing with their FeltLOOM. We also learned all of the expanded possibilities for our FeltLOOMs, both for business and creative pursuits.

Each day was filled with interesting speakers and topics, including: how to choose the best needle for your projects; batting designs; marketing your fiber business; fiber blends and how to choose them; cutting devices; FeltLOOM features; steaming, pressing and finishing your felt; the jury and market process; quality standards; and much more. We unwound each day with wine, laughs and great stories, all while enjoying the farm from the wraparound deck at the lodge. Saturday evening we had the FeltLOOM Creations Showcase, which was likely one of the best parts of the weekend. We all got the opportunity to see how we were each using our FeltLOOM in our own way, branding the output to our business, whether it is a mill, breeding business, or fiber art business.

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Because we all live and work in our own corners of the world, meeting and talking with fellow FeltLOOMers is an amazing experience. The knowledge sharing among FeltLOOM owners was priceless and the vision that Don and Lanette put forth inspired us all. The conference was full of speakers and topics that were practical and also expanded our vision for what the FeltLOOM can do. We also learned about plans for new models and how the FeltLOOM business is growing.

Much more will come out of the lively conversations we had about topics such as alpaca quality standards, achieving new effects with blends and needle variations, new product and business ideas, breeding trends, and so much more. We all reluctantly left on Sunday, loaded with more knowledge, experience, and a greater sense of the FeltLOOM community. At the same time, Don and Lanette were so grateful to everyone who came out to spend the weekend, because the energy and learning that took place further fuels their own research and vision for the FeltLOOM.

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Here’s a snapshot of Don talking about the incredible contributions and leadership Lanette has lent to the FeltLOOM vision, right from the start. And while we all believed him, he definitely understated his own knowledge, business leadership, and product engineering expertise!

While it’s safe to say that everyone learned a lot throughout the weekend, the takeaway was much more than the practical FeltLOOM knowledge that was given to us. This is a group of positive people with ‘can-do’ attitudes, who are growing their businesses, and the FeltLOOM is one of the tools they are using to fulfill their goals and dreams. What an amazing community!

See the photo album of speakers & events.

Take a photo tour of the FeltLOOM farm.

How Do They Do That? Designing on a FeltLOOM

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The way FeltLOOMers design is by laying things out and running them through the FeltLOOM, without having to attach it in any other way. Depending on how FeltLOOMers run it through their machine, they after one run, they are usually able to peel the design up and place it differently. This is fundamentally different from all other felting methods. For example, if you do typical needle or wet (nuno) felting, the design is felted down, and there is no going back. The FeltLOOM offers the flexibility to re-evaluate the design, change and even add, while you are in the process of felting.

Users can combine mediums, yarn, ribbons, and many kinds of materials. If they are familiar with doing another technique, then they can really expand their thought process by doing it similarly to the way they have done design work in the past, with the exception of not needing to do any basting or tacking. Many FeltLOOMers use ribbons, yarn, fabric, layers of lightweight embellishments, and other materials. The possibilities are really endless.

Many FeltLOOMers like to design for large pieces. They can design large pieces of yardage or even design an entire coat with one piece of felt made on the FeltLOOM. They run it through the loom to stabilize (with just one time through the machine), and then design in a large sheet, and put it back through the machine. It gives them the ability to better visualize where the design will appear on the pattern. It can basically be placed whereever it is going to appear on a garment, and all pieces can be planned accordingly. That’s something that can’t be done with other tools, such as sewing machines.

In the words of Judy Petrovich, experienced FeltLOOMer, “I can reposition the design on my yardage as many times as I want, and when I’m happy with it, then I felt it down. Think of it this way: What if a painter could put the canvas and paint together, and if they don’t work quite right, can peel the paint off and reposition it? You could also build up the design as you go, and if one layer doesn’t work for you, you can just peel that one off, and keep going. I don’t know another medium where this can be done. It’s really remarkable!”

See the FeltLOOM running.

It’s Time to Build a Visual Library!

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For all of you seasoned FeltLOOM owners, new FeltLOOMers, and makers of every kind in our community, we want to talk about the power of standardizing the way you document your activities. You could be a very creative person, creating artwear, or maybe you run a mini-mill and you are now able to offer high quality felt to your customers with the FeltLOOM Whatever your situation, consider integrating a standard documenting system into your every day activities. Do you have a visual library? That’s another important piece to your business and your ability to create consistent results.

  1. Record all of your steps.
  2. Put a chart right near your work area.
  3. Establish a goal for each new project.

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For example, if you’re developing a product, trying to fix a problem, or are creating something entirely new, find a standard way to document your steps, how many times the piece went through the machine, the kinds of fiber you used, and your needles, if you tend to change out needles. Think, “What exactly did I do today to create these results?” At the time it seems like you will remember forever, but two weeks from now, the details will grow ‘fuzzy’ (no pun intended).

The FeltLOOM is a revolutionary product, and new ground is being broken all the time. Put together a chart that lives near your FeltLOOM, where you can keep track of all the steps. Also, create a visual library of fibers as a companion to the chart. Attach some fiber to a page and keep track of the combination, the weight, date, and the project it was used in. Alternatively, you could tag a small piece of fiber, as long as you keep them all in one place, building a visual vocabulary for your creations.

In the words of Judy Petrovich, a veteran FeltLOOMer and consultant to FeltLOOM owners: “People don’t realize how much documentation lends to the overall quality of their products. Once you have a record for one fiber, start experimenting with other samples, and keep a log. I tell people to actually take the time and make a book of what they have done. Record whether it was single or double weight fibers, single number of times run through the FetlLOOM, whether they used silk, cotton, or other scrim. Then try it with others, to see how it works, and record it.

I have found that new FeltLOOMers, as they develop their documentation and visual library, their business and production level develops on its own, depending on their objective. Are they making felt for hats, or are they trying to create drapey fabric for clothes? They have to understand what they want to get out of the process before starting, otherwise they’ll never know if they achieve it!”

Judy Petrovich has developed her own business with the FeltLOOM. She also consults with other FeltLOOMers to help them maximize their FeltLOOM and develop their own business. www.fabfibers.com

Developing a Fiber Business: A Conversation in Three Parts

This is the first of a three-part conversation about developing a fiber business with fiber artist Laverne Zabielski whose experimentation with the blending of fabrics and use of color on the loom has greatly influenced the FeltLOOM and fiber art communities.

Part 1: Two Paths for Your Fiber Business

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Working on a FeltLOOM opens up a new kind of territory for people. They quickly see that there are many paths to follow going forward with their fiber business, but there are no maps to guide them along the way or show them where those paths might lead. With the FeltLOOM it is now reasonable to create fabric, which might lead to creating many different kind of products, or just as many types of art. The sheer number of alternatives can be overwhelming.

Fiber artist Laverne Zabielski has been using the FeltLOOM almost since its inception and she also has extensive experience in selling her fiber work. We asked her if she had any words of wisdom for FeltLOOM owners and users as they venture into this new territory.

She said: “To be able to sell your work, you have to figure out what your forte is, what you want to specialize in.” She immediately zeroed in on the plethora of possibilities a FeltLOOM owner confronts, “When you get the LOOM you begin to see all kinds of possibilities and you want to do it all. But you can’t do it all.” She urges people to figure out “what represents them most, what they enjoy most, and what they can continue doing over and over and over again.”

b2ap3_thumbnail_FL_LavernGreen1Laverne sees two distinct approaches to creating on the FeltLOOM—as an artist or as a producer of something that can be created pretty much the same every time. To illustrate the artistic path she quotes her teacher Arturo Sandoval, who says that “art is responding.” The artist attempts something and is open to responding to the result. Work created in that way is complicated, layered, and time-consuming. It needs to be sold at a price that reflects that time and one-of-a-kind effort. Galleries and boutiques attract customers who understand that value and are willing and able to pay for it. Producing something that can be replicated is more traditional. It is not as experimental, can be made in less time, and sold for less. There are many more places that the traditional work can be sold.

Art and craft shows are where many “makers” first introduce and begin to sell their work to the public. Laverne was no exception. She learned from experience that those shows must also be chosen according to the type of work that you are creating as well as how it is priced. Work that takes time and must sell at a price that reflects that time, will not sell at a show filled with much lower priced items. The opposite is also true. A craft show filled with high end items will not be a good venue for work that is not one-of-a-kind.

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When you are ready to begin selling your creations, visit b2ap3 thumbnail FL LaverneRust1shops and galleries in and near your community and attend art and craft shows. Take note what is displayed and the price range represented. Is every piece unique or are the racks with multiple examples of a style in various sizes and colors? Would pricing your work to fit in there be profitable? Use this information to decide what shows to enter and what shop owners to approach with your work.

Once a FeltLOOM owner or user has found his or her focus and is producing items for sale, they will begin to develop a following. In the second part of our conversation with Laverne we talked about how she developed her following. Join us here to learn what she had to say.

Developing a Fiber Business, Part 2

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This is the second of a three-part conversation about developing a fiber business with fiber artist Laverne Zabielski whose experimentation with the blending of fabrics and use of color on the loom has greatly influenced the FeltLOOM and fiber art communities.

Part 2: Developing a Following

Once a FeltLOOM owner or user has found his or her focus and is producing items for sale, they will begin to develop a following. In this, the second part of our conversation with Laverne, we asked her how she developed her following.

She explained that she has a personality and that the “look” of her work is consistent with who she is. Her look creates an expectation that her work continues to satisfy. She says, “If I was to all of a sudden start making something totally different, it wouldn’t be consistent with this particular expectation that they (her followers) have.”

She has a strong sense of what her look is and of what her followers are looking for in it. She says that color is a strong point for her and that, in fact, it is probably her driving force. As a result, she says, “I end up being dramatic and adding flair. My pieces are pieces that you wear when you want to make a statement; when you walk into a room. you don’t expect to blend in. So that’s what they (her followers) come to expect.”

Besides having a recognizable look, she cites taking part within your community and getting your name out there, as important aspects of developing a following. She recalls reading a quote years ago about trying to be a star in your own home town. It was advice telling writers not to focus on getting published in the New Yorker, but to focus on their community. “I thought that was a great quote and I’ve taken it very seriously. So though you want to build out from your community, you really want to focus on your community, saturate your community, and get your name out there.”

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Asked about how her active blog at: http://trulywearableart.blogspot.com contributes to her participation in community, Laverne reveals some of her personal philosophy: “My desire is to share, and to share everything. Nobody’s going to steal your ideas because they can’t steal you. So the more you share, the more dialogue you have, the more conversations you have, and the more you get back. The more you give away the more you get.”

A look, or signature style, develops over time and is an expression of who you are. By working with the fabric you create on the LOOM, experimenting with color, weight, and cut, you, too, will begin to develop your own look. Your look will evolve further through your observation of the work of others in your community, the FeltLOOM community, and the broader artistic community in your region and online. Your style will help you to develop a following, an audience, who will look for your creations at art and craft shows, galleries, or where ever you choose to exhibit and sell your work.

Join us for the third part of our conversation with Laverne when she spoke about how she got interested in the FeltLOOM and shares insights about her work on it, including some tips about her use of color. Click here to read part one if you missed it. 

Farmer, Breeder, Mill Owner

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Heather Blanchard and Norris McAuslan co-own Edy’s Mills Fine Fibres, in Ontario, where they run their mill, raise alpacas and farm 500 acres of soy beans and wheat. They also grow their own hay. Heather runs the fiber mill, which processes fibers into roving, felt, batting, jute core rug yarn, and other yarns. Heather, who has a maintenance background in large industry, combines her technical skills with her experience in raising livestock and an interest in crafts and creating things to bring the FeltLOOM to her mill. It has given her the ability to offer new products to her customers and it has given her the inspiration to make a variety of innovative products herself.

Heather and Norris originally started their fiber operation with two huacaya females. Heather reflects, “As we researched their care and maintenance, we realized that there weren’t enough processing services, and that started us thinking about starting our own mill.” Over the years we’ve had as many as 130 and right now we’re down to about sixty. “The nice thing about alpacas is that they live for a long time, produce a product every year, and let’s face it, they’re so darn cute. They each have their own personalities, and we know every one of them as an individual.” Like many people, Heather stumbled upon the FeltLOOM. “I heard about FeltLOOM by accident.

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I used to have a wet felting table, but I kept thinking that someone should make an industrial needle felter for small mills, and there it was. We were able to sell our wet felting table and move forward!” We are a mill that does custom processing, and we need to speed that process up. Depending on what we’re making, it takes several passes. The FeltLOOM gives us that, and now we that have explored different needles, we can expand the kinds of end products we can create and offer to our customers. We talk with our clients and find out what kind of felt they want. We talk with customers to find out what they plan on doing with their felt. This is really important, because even with spinning, we need to know what customers are going to use the fibers for, in order to create the right product for them.

In Heather’s words, “Over time, we’ve had requests for everything from a quilt liner, to saddle pads and boot insoles. We also have a finished line of products. We also create felted vests, slippers, wall hangings, and more. We have all kinds of products that we’ve been working on. We even have made cat tunnels! People are constantly coming up with ideas. Every process has been sped up. As you can imagine every one of those items were being wet felted by hand, and we would add some embellishments by hand with a hand needle felting process. As you can imagine, the FeltLOOM has revolutionized our capabilities!” Learn more about Edy’s Mills Fine Fibres at www.alpacascanada.com or visit their etsy store at etsy.edysmillsfinefibres.com

Developing a Fiber Business: Part 3

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In this third installment of our “Developing a Fiber Business” series, Laverne Zabielski talks about style, community, and color.

Laverne’s experimentation with the blending of fabrics and use of color on the loom has greatly influenced the FeltLOOM and fiber art communities.

Laverne first met Lanette Freitag and encountered the FeltLOOM when they shared a booth at Kentucky Crafted. She was so taken with the LOOM that every week for the next year she drove three hours to Lanette’s, worked on the LOOM for four or five hours, and drove the three hours back home. That continued until Kentucky University, only two hours from her home, purchased the FeltLOOM that she now uses. “So you want to talk about driven,” she laughs as she recalls that period.

As a trained artist who dyes silk using the Shibori technique, she began experimenting with dying the material she was creating. As Laverne recalled that period she expanded her comments on creating a style. She said, “To develop a style you make rules for yourself.” She explained that you can, of course, break those rules. She then used her distinctive use of color as an example of creating rules for a style. “One of my rules is to always follow color theory. One of the reasons is that, if something doesn’t turn out the way I expected, because I follow color theory, the colors will blend in such a way that they’ll still be beautiful.”

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A second personal rule about color that she shared was that she always uses three colors. “That gives me a lot more depth and movement in my pieces. I may want to use all turquoise, but I’ll use three shades of turquoise. Or I’ll use analogous colors, which are the colors that are side-by-side on the color wheel, so I’ll use turquoise and green and blue.” She explains that color theory has other combinations which could also be applied successfully.

Laverne then explained that movement and flow, which require a light material, are also important elements of her personal style. That fact prompted her to begin combining materials. Instead of felting two quarter pound batts together to produce a half pound material, she felted a single batt to silk to produce material of half the weight. When asked if she ever works with other designers, Laverne answers that she does. She sometimes provides materials to other designers, often through trades, and participates in runway shows. She says, “That’s part of building a community and building your following and participating in events, in shows, again getting your name out there. Get people to see your work … (and) get to see your work in action.”

Visit Laverne’s website to be inspired by more of her beautiful work or to contact her with questions.

Whispering Spirit Alpacas and Whispirit Clothing

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When Lee and Sandy Liggett were both practicing law in Houston, Texas, their plans of living in New Mexico and running their own business seemed like nothing but a pipe dream. But after their kids graduated and had moved out of the house, Sandy came home from work one day and told Lee that she was ready to take the leap. In Sandy’s words, “I said, it’s time to make a move, Lee. I’m going to start looking for a job in New Mexico. Are you in?” Of course, Lee couldn’t wait. But, he just knew it would take at least a couple of years for Sandy to find a position in New Mexico. To his surprise, Sandy landed her new position at the University of New Mexico in two months and the wheels were already turning on their new lives.

Lee was able to work remotely from New Mexico for the first year, and they got busy right away investigating properties and buying their first alpacas. Careful research ensured that they invested in high quality lines of Huacaya alpacas. With a ranch property in Sandia Park, New Mexico and three alpacas, they started Whispering Spirit Alpacas Ranch. Thirty alpacas later, they have developed a strong herd and a solid understanding of the alpaca breeding business.

In Sandy’s words, “We viewed building the alpaca business as a personal challenge. People kept telling us it was never going to work, but we basically said, by God, we’re going to make it happen. Granted, our operation is small, but we’re doing it.”

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After a few years of breeding and building their business, they were ready to explore the creative possibilities that Whispering Spirit might afford them. Fortuitously, that is when they first laid their eyes on a FeltLOOM. It was love at first sight. According to Sandy, “I used to be a painter, and the FeltLOOM is the perfect combination of utilizing our fibers and making gorgeous products in a creative way. Now we are developing our own product line, which is selling in boutiques and high end shops.”

According to Lee, “Initially, we planned to just have the fleece processed into yarn and sell it. While we have had quite a bit of success with that, the margins are narrow, and it is difficult to compete in a wool-dominated yarn market.”

Lee and Sandy are committed to building the US fiber market and bringing textile manufacturing back into this country one small step at a time. They also want to create jobs. They currently have seven part-time employees.

The development of the Whispirit clothing line has come in stages, as the Liggetts have developed their own style and have learned more about what their FeltLOOM can do. After some initial experiences selling at regional fairs, they decided that boutique retailers offered the best venue for their products. According to Sandy, “As our products became more sophisticated, we found ways to get them in front of an equally sophisticated customer. We have gotten a great response.” The Liggetts are now building the brand, and have learned how to develop a line of apparel, and market it to shop owners and their customers.

FL_Liggett_Logo2 he Liggetts’ New Mexico pipe dream has become a reality. These days Lee and Sandy spend their time living on and loving their ranch, taking care of the alpacas, and handling their fibers from breeding alpacas to selling end products in the marketplace.

Browse this photo album, or visit their website to see more gorgeous works in the Whispirit clothing line.

Designing with Felt: Natural Edges

Here is an idea from the FeltLOOM desgin vault:

Design your felt so that there are nature edges that do not require sewing. For example when making sleeves, or jacket edges, design the batting with the colors you want at the end of the sleeve and felt the color and edging to your desired look. After felting, the edge can be sewn and the end left alone, because it will not ravel and will provide an artful look.

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