Interview with Barb Lynn of Wildrose Textiles
Barb Lynn is the owner and operator of Wildrose Textiles, a production handweaving studio nestled in the mountains of Northwest Colorado. Although Barb was introduced to weaving at the age of 19, she's just recently taken on the task of opening her own handweaving business. It's been a pleasure learning about her motivations to revitalize her passion and about her relation with the art of weaving. Here's her story.
Hi Barb! Love the video. Clark, CO looks like a beautiful place to live.
Yes, I’m grateful to live in such a pristine mountain environment. It’s where I feel most comfortable & inspired. The seasons are so distinct that I feel a part of their cyclical nature. At the moment we have over five feet of snow everywhere but the sun shines often and the light in my workshop is heavenly.
(Above- Wildrose Textiles Winter 2019 Collection)
It sounds like you first were introduced to Weaving at the University of Vermont at the age of 19. What about weaving captivated you? Also, can you fill in the gaps in your weaving history between then and WildRose Textiles? How did this all come about?
I walked into a room full of looms, listened to an introduction to the process & knew I found my passion. I’d never considered myself an artist of any kind but the colors & textures in that setting spoke directly to me. I proceeded to learn the basics then venture into many more projects than the course required. In hindsight I’m not sure why I didn’t follow my heart in that direction but instead I went toward functional outdoor clothing and headed to Boulder, Colorado to work in mountaineering shops.
This begs the question -- If you could speak to yourself then as a young weaver just starting out, what words of advice would you give?
When you feel joy based your creative juices, carve out time for it, whether or not it brings income, and even if it takes an investment in materials. Don’t try to justify it, just go for it and see where it leads.
Good advice! What happened when you got to Boulder?
In Boulder I visited the local yarn shop and met a Designer/Weaver, Kris Urbonas who hired me to weave for her. She and her partner in Steamboat Springs had learned from Jack Lenor Larsen and were doing American Craft Council shows. I’ve always been grateful that their sense of color was ingrained in me during those hours of weaving beautiful hand-dyed colorways.
Through Handwoven magazine I applied to an apprenticeship in Grand Junction, CO. with Sunflower Studios’ master weaver Constance LaLena. She produced a line of historically accurate textiles, some for the Smithsonian Institute. I worked 40 hours of production weaving plus 16 hours of domestic chores per week, for room, board & instruction. I’ve often referred to it as an indentured apprenticeship. It was intense and took years for me to appreciate the skills and ‘strict attention to detail’ I learned there.
Would you recommend that type of “indentured apprenticeship” to weavers today? It sounds pretty tough! What were some positive things you took away from that experience?
I definitely learned standards of excellence that have stayed with me through my life. The amazing thing was that when [I came back to weaving after a 20 year hiatus (more on that in a bit)], I sat beneath the loom to tie up the treadles & lams, my hands knew exactly what to do. Also with no design or instructional materials, since they all went to the dumpster, it took very little to be ‘back at it’, so deep was the knowledge ingrained in me. Later I heard the quote “learn the rules like a master, so that you can break them like an Artist”. It was a big ah-hah moment when I realized that is what had gone on. I’ve considered a thank you note to Ms. LaLena, this reminds me I should get that done. With age comes wisdom and I know what I leaned at the apprenticeship places me in a special class of ‘makers’.
I’ve considered having an apprentice of some kind, now that I have two looms. If I were to pursue that path my premise would be to help the apprentice build on her strengths. Clarity during the application process is important.
What happened after completing your apprenticeship with Constance LaLena?
Following completion of the program I purchased a standard 48” Glimakra loom and shortly moved to Steamboat Springs to weave for Arianthe, the partner of Kris, who I had worked for in Boulder. My first weaving business during that time was scarves woven from Jaggerspun yarns which I sold at craft fairs, while waitressing & teaching skiing. This endeavor continued for a couple of years in my late twenties when I married a rodeo cowboy and once again left my creativity...god knows where. Weaving aspirations ended abruptly as I found myself becoming a single mom with two young sons and no time or energy to weave. I sold my loom to a friend, took all my design notebooks and threw them into a dumpster.
Well, that ended abruptly. Tell us there’s more to the story.
Twenty years later I received an email:
Your old Loom, would you like to buy it back?”
I had married a wonderful man in the meantime and we had just completed building a minimalist, 1000 square foot house.
He was vaguelyaware that I’d been a weaver in my earlier life and:
--- He said, “Well that’s easy, there’s no room for a loom.”
-- I said, “ Well, I’ve been measuring & it’ll fit in the entryway!”
A new chapter began.
So, tell us you got the loom!
It felt wonderful to be reunited with my old loom and all it had meant to me, but it remained a nice piece of unused furniture while I continued my job at a health food store in town.
Within a year of getting my Glimakra loom back, I was faced with the loss of my son Travis who had a tragic accident in his truck shortly after moving to Texas to work as a cutting horse trainer. Because of his love of life and the happiness he had brought to all who knew him, I decided I had to live well through the loss. I knew that my connection with yarn, color & texture was what really made me feel alive inside & knew that embracing it would get me through. I was able to have quiet, productive time to know that his life was exactly as it was meant to be, and that he’d always be nearby. Within a couple of years I had designed a cloth named The Travis Tweed (shown below). He loved Wyoming and it turned out that the wool mill I’ve connected with is also where many of his good friends live.
The Travis Tweed
Thank you for sharing Barb. It’s a beautiful story that Travis gave you the motivation to get back to a passion of yours and that your love and memories of him are woven in to your work. Stepping back into your work, and speaking of wool, I love how you say “the yarns bring out the best in each other”. What is your process in finding and choosing good yarn. Can you elaborate on the role the yarn plays in your weaving?
During the time that I was without a loom, I appreciated the process of knitting as well as all the wonderful yarns that were being marketed. I knew every coffee shop & yarn store from Wyoming to New Mexico as I was frequently traveling to visit my two boys -- Travis on the rodeo trail and Jeremy at The New Mexico Military Institute.
The variety of fibers being spun together and palettes available caused me to accumulate many skeins of yarn.
When I was ready to begin weaving again I looked at my collection of knitting yarn to see where I could design projects for the loom. I had been drawn to Elemental Affects Shetland fingering yarn and that’s where I started. I loved the way the yarn remained heathery after the beautiful hand dying process.
I worked with North American Shetland from Elemental Affects & helped with the shearing process on a ranch a few hours away. The yarns were hand-dyed into a beautiful palette. I still have a delectable stash of Shetland wool.
Mountain Meadow Wool Mill in Buffalo, Wyoming is who I work with most recently. We’ve worked together to design yarns that are custom spun just for Wildrose Textiles. They are a lace weight yarn from local Merino, Rambouillet, Wensleydale & Border Leicester breeds. Not exactly local for me, but from the mountain west.
From there, I’ve expanded to acquire singles tweed yarns from Ireland & England, before they are plyed to become knitting yarns. I decided to stay with lace weight knitting yarns because I liked using many different yarns & fibers in the warp.
Your studio is absolutely stunning! Can you tell us more about how you got so lucky as to have your own studio and describe to us what it’s like to work there?
Our minimalist one bedroom home was experiencing growing pains when we came home with the new 60” AVL. The builder of our existing Timberframe was retiring and moving to Oregon so we knew time was of the essence. We worked with the same engineer to design a simple room where the front porch had been. As with our barn & home, the frame was ‘raised’, then my husband and two construction friends took over from there. They completed it in @ 90 days. In addition to the beautiful wood frame, which is visible from within, I worked with a cabinet maker friend to design work tables & shelves that would make the space flow easily. With windows on three sides I feel engulfed by our mountain surroundings. I cherish every minute in this workspace.
When setting up your studio, why did you choose an AVL loom? Were there any other options you were considering. Did you have past experience with AVL?
Through the Mountain Meadow Wool mill I began working with Twin M Designs. They commissioned many warps of herringbone cloth for a variety of projects. All of the yarn was being spun at the mill. I realized that I could be much more efficient in weaving yardage with the AVL.
A friend of mine had purchased an AVL years earlier and I had observed a few of her early endeavors on it. On a whim, I called AVL to refresh my knowledge on the options currently available and was lucky enough to have the owner Bob Kruger answer the phone. Long story short, 3 months later my husband and I were heading to Chico, CA with his flatbed truck to pick up my new loom. I’m blessed to have a husband who didn’t mind becoming a loom engineer on the side!
What have been the benefits/challenges to working with an AVL A-Series loom?
I love the automatic advance system. When all is going smoothly, a yard and a half can be woven with almost no interruption. The sectional beam was new to me. I had learned to warp by dragging a friend or my husband across the floor holding the warp like reins. The independence of warping by myself is wonderful. I needed to adjust the way I had designed with a warping mill, but now it’s second nature. The mechanical dobby is very intuitive and I love being able to attach new patterns (tie-ups) easily. I love the weighted cloth beam which allows for a very light tension.
The A-series loom has many possibilities for design that I’m not likely to pursue because I prefer traditional weave structures & don’t stray far from 2/2 twill and herringbone. The color patterns & artisan yarns are what makes a Wildrose Textile special.
It’s nice to know the loom can grow with me. Everything that comes off my loom has the most perfect selvages I’ve ever seen. I give AVL the credit for that!
What has it been like setting up a business? Is this your first handweaving business? What have been the easy/hard parts of getting a business up and running?
The biggest difference in starting Wildrose Textiles & Design vs. my first business was that the internet had happened! It was never my forte to display my wares at craft shows. I immediately got a URL - Wildrosetextiles.com. The next step was to understand how to sell online. I took a course with Marie Forleo called B-school.
I was fortunate to find a local person who had honed his skills in IT and then become a very artistic photographer. When he arrived at my workshop he was inspired to make a video. It took 4 hours of shooting the entire process from warping thru weaving to produce the 3 minute video, now on my website. I was terrified to be seen & heard but he encouraged me through it. I was also taught how to engage on Instagram by him and I’m working on being more consistent at that.
The biggest challenge now is that my tagline, Experience Tactile Bliss, is not actually possible visually. I’ve decided the cloth I weave needs to be experienced in person. With this in mind, my website has become more of a fancy business card that helps me get my foot in the door with professionals in the industry. Tailors and interior designers appreciate samples they can touch and share with customers.
For up-and-coming textile designers and weavers who are looking to start their own business, -- other than having a knowledgeable and helpful person to help with IT -- do you have any tools that have helped you get the business off the ground. (resources like website, social media management tools, marketing tools, guides, etc).
The only tools I use regularly are Instagram, emails & business cards that lead people to my website. When I’m in yarn shops I like to find new books and journals to see how others are connecting with social media. This process helps clarify the audience I’d like to reach. Often, yarn companies or other designers I’ve worked with will mention Wildrose Textiles on their posts. This is invaluable because their followers become my followers and by extension a community of people are engaged with Wildrose Textiles.
What advice can you give to weavers (or anyone for that matter) looking to start their own business?
“CLARITY COMES FROM ENGAGEMENT, NOT THOUGHT”.
This proved to be the key to getting me past a lifelong pattern of procrastination.
My drive to perfection had often kept me from beginning new designs when I had an inspiration because, “what if it wasn’t perfect?”. Now I dive in, let the design come forth, adjust and execute! A much more functional way to be a designer than letting things stay in my brain for indefinitely.
Thank you for sharing Barb and we wish you and Wildrose Textiles the best!
See more at wildrosetextiles.com
Contact Barb @ firstname.lastname@example.org
Dedicated to Travis.