I've really missed doing this series over the summer. I never realized exactly how crazy barren and dry it gets here over the summer. Everything is dried to a crisp. Color is just beginning to spring up here and there. Mostly yellows and a few touches of brilliant reds and lavender. The white buckwheat flowers have long since lost their bright white tone and morphed into a deep burgundy color that covers the mountains. They are everywhere here. The sage is small and wilted barely beginning to recoup from the summer heat. While its not a particularly pretty time for the plants its amazing to see flowers returning to the landscape little by little.
I always love seeing behind the scenes of other artists or makers. Ive always found it inspirational to work in a beautiful space. A few years ago my boyfriend and I totally remodeled our studio. We cleaned, striped and sealed the concrete. We removed the popcorn ceiling and painted everything. I planned on doing a before and after as I love seeing that kind of thing (let me know if you guys want to see this for a future post!). We have recently moved things around a bit to create a more open workspace, so there might be another studio visit soon as well! These were some behind the scenes shots I took before we had our Urban studio visit that I never shared with you guys so here you go!
If you come from a Latin family, you know that its SO hard to find something to eat with your family during parties or celebrations. There can always be side dishes you can nibble on but no main dish that is really vegan or vegetarian. A few years ago I decided I would try and recreate all the traditional Mexican dishes my family makes in a vegetarian or vegan option. This started off as an experiment I didn't really expect anything from but it turned out to be really amazing. Now this recipe does have two dairy components to it that I normally would never eat but it really does complete the dish. I am currently working on a vegan version of the sauce that is also raw vegan which I will be posting as an alternative if it turns out good!
Ingredients (makes 6 chiles)
(recipe adapted from The Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy)
Chiles and Filling
6 chiles poblanos (fresh)
2 cups rice
1/2 medium yellow onion (finely chopped)
3 tomatoes (finely chopped)
2 cloves garlic (minced)
5 whole cloves
3 generous tbsp of raisins
generous tbsp action (candied fruit)
2 tbsp slivered blanched almonds
2 tsp salt
handful of pomegranate seeds (optional if you can't find them!)
arge handful of walnuts (app 25 whole pieces)
1/4 lb (about half a wheel) of farmers cheese aka "queso ranchero/queso fresco)"
1.5 c sour cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
generous pinch of cinnamon powder (or more, I used about 1 tbsp)
You are going to begin by preparing the chiles. If you have ever made chiles rellenos you might already be familiar with this process. Wash and dry your chiles thoroughly. Set up some baking racks over your stove over high heat. Heat the chiles until the skin is blistered and burned. This should take about 10 minutes. As soon as one side starts to brown, and the skin bubbles, turn it over until all sides are equally roasted. Then place all the chiles into a sealed plastic bag. We do this to let the steam help get the skins to peel off more readily.
For the walnut sauce, we are going to prepare the walnuts the night before. Simply cover the nuts with boiling water then drain after 5 min. Remove the skin as best as you can. Walnuts have many crevices so some skin is ok but the goal is to have the sauce be as white/cream colored as possible. Cover them in cool water and let soak overnight then drain before beginning the sauce.
Once your walnuts have the skins removed just throw everything into a blender and blend until smooth! Then place the sauce in the fridge to cool and solidify a bit.
To prepare the spices, we will want to grind them into a powder. I used a traditional molcajete which is basically a mortar and pestle made out of lava rock. You could of course use a clean coffee grinder which works amazingly and quickly. Just toss in all the spices and blend until it becomes a powder. Do the almonds separately because if you mix them with the spices it will leave big chunks of spice while the almond is already starting to become a paste. Then mix them together and set aside along with your dried fruits for the next step.
Now that about 10-15 min have elapsed while you were making the sauce, and preparing the spices, its time to heat a large skillet to med heat and remove the skins from the chiles. Open the bag and remove the chiles. Simply peel the skin off which should come off easily now. Once you peeled all the chiles cut a slit from top to bottom on one side making sure not to cut into the stem as this holds the whole thing together. Remove all the seeds and veins inside as you would a bell pepper. Set these aside while we make the filling.
Cook your 2 cups of rice however you normally would and have that on hand. Sauté the onions, and garlic until transparent. Add in the tomatoes and cook about 2 minutes. Then add your rice, spices, and dried fruit. Heat it over low for about 10 minutes. This is mainly to infuse the flavors into the rice not really to do any further cooking. Once the rice is done its time to stuff the peppers!
Pour on the walnut sauce just before serving. You can drizzle it across or place a few dollops on each chile. Then top everything with a couple of handfuls of pomegranate seeds. If you can't find any at your regular grocery store since they are a fall fruit, try your local Middle Eastern market! If you decide to try these post in the comments below and let me know what you think!
Lauren Haynes is the owner of Wooden Spoon Herbals and a good friend and member of the Plant Family. An herbalist hailing from Tennessee, she uses locally foraged herbs to blend together her remedies . She is a big advocate of using local small medicinal farms to source her herbs. She recently underwent a big change in her company and has a whole new look! I am so happy to be able to introduce her to those readers who are unfamiliar with her products, and to be able to interview a good friend!
I am also so in love with her soothing cream, and rose petal green tea! The cream is a thick consistency which keeps me moisturized for so long! And the green tea is perfect to make into an iced tea to beat this summer heat! And maybe to make into popsicles?!
Hello Lauren! Thank you for doing this interview with me! As part of the Plant Fam, I am so happy I could interview you today. Its amazing to have a community of herbalists/business owners we can bounce ideas off of and have as a support system.
What got you started on this path? Were you always interested in plants in general?
I have had a deep love of all living things since I was a child. I have memories of asking my parents if I could bring home marigolds from Home Depot just to have something new to nurture and befriend. I was also obsessed with animals. I had a dolphin file folder that I filled with magazine clippings about my favorite endangered species, and couldn’t wait until I was old enough to volunteer for Greenpeace and buy organic milk. This combined with wanting to be a witch, just knowing magic was real, created the person I am now. I never changed. I still watch reruns of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and it’s still great and very real.
This herbal journey, however, began as the result of a self-sufficient mindset (feminism and diy punk played a large role), a desire to help and empower others, and learning about backyard medicine. I worked at a health food store where I was introduced to the concept of tinctures, and then a serendipitous visit to a local used bookstore provided all the curriculum I needed to begin. A friend let me sell herbal medicine at her art studio holiday market, and people were ready for it. They were hungry for plant medicine. A year and a half later, here we are.
How do you feel your home town in Tennessee has inspired your brand? Do you use a lot of local herbs in your products?
Tennessee is who I am; it’s in my blood. My family has been settled in the area I grew up in for over 5 generations, and probably more. My blood, my heritage, is entangled with the landscape and the plants around me. This bioregion (the ridge and valley portion of the Appalachian Mountains) is technically a tropical rainforest - hot summers, mild winters, impossibly humid. The Appalachian Mountains are among the oldest in the world, and carve out some really special geographical configurations: lots of coves, lots of “hollers”. These coves and hollers have acted as protection for certain plants, plants like trillium, bloodroot, jack-in-the-pulpit, wild hydrangea, dwarf iris, wild geranium, trout lily. These plants are my favorites, known collectively as the “eastern woodland medicinals.” The mountain I live on, Lookout Mountain, is literally the most southerly Appalachian Mountain. We have all of these plants, and then about an hour south in Alabama and Georgia you start to get into the pan-American plants - plants that grow from the Southeast United States down through Brazil. It’s a really special area. So, to source nettles from Estonia, or red raspberry leaf from Bulgaria seems crazy to me. Because we have so many medicines here and, yes, we have all the weedy herbs too.
When I started Wooden Spoon Herbs, it was in effort to transform my local plants into medicine. All of my botanical ingredients are harvested with my own two hands, or purchased from farmers and amazing wildcrafters that I work with directly. They are all in the continental US, and mostly in the Southeast. My most exotic ingredient is moringa powder (in the Super Green Protein Powder) and it is grown for me on a female-run cooperative farm in Miami, Florida.
I know you recently went through a gorgeous new rebranding (congrats! it looks amazing), how do you feel about this modern resurgence of herbalism and where do you feel you fit in? I know we have talked about this before and also amongst the plant family about balancing your own interpretation with packaging, and traditional herbalism. I think its amazing that we can take the foundations of herbalism and build upon that with our own unique take on it. I think you have done an amazing job!
Thanks, Ally! I see the resurgence in the visibility of herbal medicine as cyclical. You see it about every 20 years in the mainstream consciousness, in the 70s, in the 90s, and now. For us herb nerds, it’s an everyday thing; it’s part of life. I definitely think it’s amazing that we have the Internet now and this wonderful way to connect with people, to be self-employed, to sell our creations.
My rebranding was something I did for myself. I knew how much love went into the herbal preparations that I am creating, and I knew that my level of visual art skill didn’t match what I wanted the package to look like. Working with a graphic designer was one of the most fun projects I’ve taken on. It also allows me the freedom to get new eyeballs on herbal medicine. Maybe there are some people who are looking because it has a pretty package, and then feel the herbs changing their lives. This is what I’m after. I know the herbal community is behind me, and I want to extend that relationship to any and everyone.
I never want to compete with anyone, and though can be hard not to feel pangs of jealousy, I think the young herbal community has done an amazing job of turning what could be rivalries into family (shout out plant fam!). I want to represent the young, serious herbalist who has fun with her work, and also represent the bioregion of the Southeast. How cool is it to be able to trade formulas with plant witches from all parts of the country? So, so cool.
How important is it for herbalists to work with the seasons and use whats around them to create herbal medicine?
It’s imperative for good medicine. I think half of the beauty of living natural comes from that satisfaction in feeling the cadence of the seasons. No one needs to eat a watermelon in January, you know? Of course, we can dry our herbs so they’re there for a rainy day. And even if someone is sourcing everything from Mountain Rose Herbs, they still need to know to stock elderberries in winter, and sassafras in the spring. If we’re going to be hyperlocal in our food scene, then we need to extend that to herbalism as well. Amazing medicine grows in everyone’s front yard, no matter where they live. I promise.
Where did the name Wooden Spoon originate from?
Honestly, scrolling through Instagram. I had another name that I had settled on, but I didn’t love it. My boyfriend John was really excited about it though. He helped me pick it out. I scrolled past a picture of beautiful wooden spoons all together in a jar, and it just hit me. It made so much sense. Simple, down-to-earth. Wooden spoons: what I cook with daily. Kitchen medicine. Handmade medicine. Handmade everything. Wooden Spoon Herbs. And then I was nervous to tell John, but as soon as I did he knew it was the right name.
Do you have a great community of herbalists in Tennessee? Or have you sort of ventured at this alone?
At first I felt all alone, just my books and podcasts and I. I didn’t know anyone else to talk herbs with. But as I deepened into my studies the community just kind of appeared. Now we have an amazing, growing herbal community. We even have an herbal tea shop and apothecary about to open in Chattanooga! Funny story, I actually cold-called my friend Ali who works with herbs, before I met her, because her phone number was listed on her Facebook. I was like, “Um.. Will you teach me about herbs?” She took me into the woods and showed me some really beautiful places.
What are some of your favorite herbs to work with? What grows locally near your studio?
Oh my gosh. So I just moved from Chattanooga, Tennessee proper up to Lookout Mountain. Chattanooga is in the valley and I lived in the middle of downtown. Our cottage now is surrounded by blackberries, sumac trees, mayhaw trees, black haw and cherry trees, and a forest of pine. There’s a river that’s just thickly lined with Joe Pye Weed and wild hydrangea. There’s nettle and pippsisewa and partridgeberry and Solomon’s seal. It’s magical.
My favorite herbs to work with are any of the native medicinal herbs. And, of course, rose. I also love goldenrod because it’s so versatile and often underutilized. It’s great for drying up mucous and also for UTIs. So many things. I am always drawn to things that I haven’t heard of using before. When I found out how powerful violet is, I just tripped out on that for so long. People need to know these things.
I love how transparent you are with where you source your ingredients and your passion in using local farms and small businesses like yourself to source your amazing herbs. How important is this to you and for anyone else who might want to get started in a little kitchen herbalism? Do you look for this when you buy from other brands as well?
I definitely look for this when I am buying from other brands, because I want to support them and this kind of supply chain. But last year I was at a Rosemary Gladstar workshop, and she was just like, “Don’t be a snobby herbalist.” Which is so true. I advocate buying herbs at the farmer’s market and growing easy ones like peppermint and oregano, because these acts create relationship to the land and it’s stewards. You need to have relationships with the plants you work with, on some level. At the same time, I think everyone needs a well stocked herbal pantry and should buy bulk amounts from good suppliers, like Mountain Rose for example. I think a happy medium would be supporting your local herb shop. Buy bulk from them.
Besides your beautiful new packaging, is there anything else exciting you are working on? Any secret tid bits you can let us in on?
Well I just moved to a cabin in the woods, so I am really excited to explore our new land. There’s a river, the Little River, which is one of the rare rivers that starts and ends on top of a mountain. Lots of endangered and rare species up here. So I am excited to dive deeply and get to know all these new plants more closely.
Business-wise, I do have some exciting things in the pipeline at the moment! Some are secret… But one I can let you in on is that I am experimenting with distilling hydrosols and essential oils from Southern plants. That’s all I’ll say for now, but by next year I should have that product line in the works. I have an amazing survival skills friend on the mountain who has already begun experimenting, which is a really special and unique project to work together on.
Thanks so much Ally!
If you are a forager/wildcrafter at some point while driving or on a hike you have asked yourself "why don't I carry scissors with me!" or something to that effect. I am constantly regretting not having something with me in my bag or in my car somewhere. Which is why I decided to compile this list of all my must have items for foraging. As we speak I am leaving a bag filled with some supplies in my car. Here are some tools of the trade:
notebook & pen
bug bite salve/salve for cuts and scrapes
A backpack or bag is an essential item to have while foraging. If you are planing on gathering a lot of material its a good idea to have a smaller, foldable bag inside your backpack incase you find yourself wishing you had more room to carry stuff in.
Scissors are also handy to have in your bag. While you can carefully tear off leaves or thinner stems with your hands, having scissors makes it so much easier and in my mind less painful to the plant than tearing and pulling at it.
Pruning shears are a small upgrade from scissors and useful for woodier steams or small tree branches. I don't always have these in my bag but I do keep a spare pair in the trunk of my car.
Gloves are not completely necessary but here in Southern California/ in the desert I handle a lot of cactus, prickly pears, rose thorns etc and I like to have these in case I come across some nopales on the side of the road.
I ALWAYS carry a notebook & pen. Whether you are taking notes on where a certain plant grows, or are drawing or making observations; a notebook and a writing utensil are essential.
For beginners just getting into foraging, or just learning about medicinal plants, a guidebook is a great thing to have in your bag. There are times where you might have doubts on what a specific plant is and having a guidebook with really good photos and description can be a lifesaver. (you should however never pick or ingest a plant if you honestly are very unsure of what you are looking at. I suggest taking a class or going on an herb walk to learn more about native plants in your area before you ever attempt to forage on your own)
Like in any other situation in nature you should always carry water with you. You never know how long you might be out there, especially if you have to drive far and out of cell phone range. (lucky to those who have things to forage right in their area!)
Another must have is a camera or cell phone. While you might be taking photos to post on instagram, having a camera can be great to have on hand to take photos every season. I go up into the mountains at least once a month and I always take photos of the plants I forage/ scenery to see how the seasons change. Its important to be in tune with the plants you are working with and to see how they change, what has grown, how the population is doing etc. I try and take my big dslr camera but it can be heavy and awkward to have so a cell phone or a smaller camera is great too!
On a slightly embarrassing note, I always seem to get cuts, scrapes, or slice myself with a pocket knife or some other small catastrophe while out in nature. So bandaids are a lifesaver. You never know what thorny thicket you might stumble into or incase you cut yourself, its great to be able to pull a band aid out of your bag
Along the same lines, bug salve or cuts/scrapes salve is great to have in your bag also. You never know what bug bites or scrapes you might need some relief from. Being far from home or a ways a way can be annoying when you get a bug bite. This is not necessary of course but really nice to have available.
SACRED GEOMETRY ORACLE DECK
This is my second installment of tarot card deck collection. These are my more commercial decks that are widely available everywhere. While I don't use all of these on a regular basis, I do love having them in my collection. There are a few that are honestly kind of strange, and just don't vibe with me, but thats just how it goes. You won't always connect with all the decks. I like to keep them though in case one day my energy shifts and that deck might just be what I am looking for. My favorites out of all of these, and ones that I use on a regular basis are definitely the Osho zen tarot and the sacred geometry deck. Not necessarily for the imagery but for the interpretation and explanation. I love the more spiritual, zen vibe of these decks. I would highly recommend both of these. They are also oracle decks, not traditional tarot so anyone can use these without having real knowledge of tarot which is a plus.
OSHO ZEN TAROT
TAROT OF A MOON GARDEN
MESSAGES FROM YOUR ANIMAL SPIRIT GUIDES ORACLE
THE RAIDER WAITE TAROT DECK
MEDICINE WOMAN TAROT DECK
CARDS OF WELLBEING
RENAISSANCE TAROT DECK
BLACK CAT TAROT
THE HERBAL TAROT
I am lucky enough to live in a place where I can drive to the ocean, the mountains, the desert, and even another country all under an hour. It is a unique experience to be able to be in the mountains but its half desert half chaparral, forest environment. All these photos were taken up in the mountains but a lot of them have sandy floors with a mixture of cactus, sage and wildflowers.
We originally came out to look for land for our future white sage farm, and to scope out this years sage crop but ended up finding , tons of sagebrush, cedar, and some beautiful grape soda lupines. We found these totally at random, and if you have never smelled this variety of lupine, you are in for a serious treat. One of the best smells of my life! Every season we like to take a drive out to the mountains to survey the white sage plants. We observe and take notes on how they are growing, also dependent on how much rain we had the past year, when they flower etc. We also took a ton of footage for our white sage educational film we are working on. It will cover topics on conservation, how to process the seeds, how to get them to germinate, cloning sage etc. While there is a few good resources on white sage, it really isn't widely available. White sage grows in such a small region of the country, we want to compile as much information and experience we have with working with it for so long into one film. I love making videos, and this is a project we are really excited about! I will definitely be announcing more information once we are closer to completion!
Someone commented on my tarot photo last week asking what my first deck was if not the rider waite. I started thinking of what my first deck really was. I was gifted my first two decks for my 14th or 15th birthday. They were the renaissance deck and the aquarian tarot. Somehow I lost my original aquarian deck, and to be honest i never really liked the renaissance deck. It was not my vibe at all. The first deck I ever bought myself was the tarot of a moon garden. It has such beautiful whimsical, colorful, and definitely magical imagery. For years I used this deck exclusively until I found the Osho zen tarot after becoming obsessed with his book "love, freedom and aloneness" in my early twenties. This zen deck is still one of my favorites.
For those of you who don't follow me on instagram or have heard, I am designing my own deck. It is something that I have been wanting to do for the past 5 or 6 years. In my research for this deck, I decided to buy the original rider waite deck after already having collected about 20 decks. It seemed like it was about time. While I am still deciding on a name, the deck is based around all my favorite things, flowers, herbs, crystals and mushrooms. It is hand drawn in my favorite style, pen and ink. Ive always loved the simplicity of outlines, and black and white. Still toying with the idea of color, but if you want to follow along the journey be sure to follow on instagram! @aquariansouldesigns.
I also realized while taking photos of all my decks that with over 64 pictures, I would need to split this up into 3 parts. This first part is of all my handmade decks. The others are more commercial decks. These decks are also among my favorites as there is so much love poured into each one. So without further ado, here is part 1 of my tarot card collection.
ARCANA OF ASTROLOGY | BLACK AND THE MOON
VISIONS: A CRYSTAL ORACLE | JESSIKA FANCY
SPIRIT SPEAK TAROT | MARY BEAN EVANS
MOUNTAIN DREAM TAROT | BEA NETTLES
THE STARCHILD TAROT | DANIELLE NOEL
THE NOMAD TAROT | JENNIFER DRANTEL
THE WILD UNKNOWN | KIM KRANS
VESSEL ORACLE | MARY BEAN EVANS
salvia clevelandii (cleveland sage)
Eriophyllum confertiflorum (golden yarrow)
Trifolium pratense (red clover)
DISPLACES puniceus (coast monkey flower)
Datura stramonium (angels trumpet)
Hesperoyucca whipplei (our lords candle / chaparral yucca)
lots of beautiful salvia apiana (white sage) covering the hillside
Nicole Melton is a multidisciplinary artist who works mainly with jewelry and textiles. She is the designer and owner of Knot & Splice. She uses materials all sourced in the US andspecializes in turquoise and herkimer diamonds. She makes modern jewelry with a traditional Native American feel. What drew me to to Knot & Splice was their simple designs and the entire idea behind the brand. I love artists who are very passionate about where their materials are sourced and the quality of the stones. I own two of Nicole’s pieces and they have become some of my favorite pieces of jewelry, especially her original design “The Orbit Ring”. I am very impressed with the attention to detail and quality of all her pieces. The designs are so classic, its not something I would ever get tired of. We have become good friends over the past few months and here is the interview we did together:
Hi Nicole! I am so happy to be interviewing you today! We have been following each other for a long time now and I am so glad we were finally able to connect.
I love that you came into metalsmithing with a desire to make only rings, thats pretty much what I wanted to take metal arts for in college too! Im obsessed with rings. Do you have a particular favorite ring you make? What was the first thing you made in class? As your business?
Thanks so much, Ally. I do like working on other pieces, but I am most known for my rings, I guess. I love making them, so it works out. I really love working on one-of-a-kind pieces. Although the stones I use are all pretty much one-of-a-kind, I enjoy working on something really different where I’ll only be making one like it. There is something about working on a piece rather intensely that can be an uplifting process…seeing the finished piece to completion, and learning from the process is something I favor over production work.
The first item I sawed out was a hand-drawn little fox and thunderbird I had doodled. Our first couple classes, we were just sawing out the shapes in copper and filing them. I still have them hanging on the door of my studio…they’re just sort of charms, I guess. I took a super basic metalsmithing class, but I’m mostly self-taught. It’s nice to have the safety foundations one can garner from a class setting. Also, to get exposed more easily to some of the things that you can only learn from another person who has a lot of experience in their field (I’ll have to say, however, we are so lucky to have the internet for sharing, as you can learn so much from searching online and watching Youtube videos).
Its also great to see your passion for weaving. I always talk about how I wish I could practice two things at once and how amazing it is when I see other artists doing just that. Its a difficult balance when you have many creative ambitions, how do you find time for it all? Do you think there is ever going to be a day where you stop making jewelry to pursue other avenues?
Working in two mediums is actually very difficult for me. I tend to be very focused and kind of serious about what I’m doing. I get really into working when I’m in my studio (even though I’m also distracted at times). I think the hardest thing about working in two mediums is switching gears. I do think I’m using totally different skills and parts of my brain to do the work. Metalsmithing is a technical thing..you’re making pieces that someone is wearing on their hands, which means they are enduring a lot more abuse than most other objects a person could design and make. Materials themselves will never be indestructible, and I realize this, but a lot of care goes into crafting something you know is going to take a bit of a beating. Whereas, with fiber arts, I think the materials lend themselves to strength, but the end products usually are either hanging on a wall, or are maybe worn on the body but with a lighter type of wear. Anyway, not to ramble about the applications…the actual process of switching myself over is very hard. Sometimes I just want to weave and spin yarn, but I’m super dedicated to my orders and putting them first, so it’s a bit hard trying to break up my time so that I can do both.
I would love to eventually find a really great person to help me with some of my administrative tasks so that I could free up more time for making. The administrative tasks themselves with running a business can take up so much time (emails, business expense reports, taxes, shipping, etc.), and it’s often where I spend the majority of my time…I usually do not have days off, and if they are my sort of days off, I’m spinning or weaving…they kind of feel like guilty pleasures, since I can work on a weaving project for 6 months or longer. Even though I love to think of my studio as half textiles, half metalsmithing, it’s mostly metalsmithing and administrative tasks. :p I think that most businesses are always running on a work-in-progress type of model. We are trying to be the best we can be at this moment in time, and we’re learning in real time from mistakes, experiences, and any weird thing that comes up…I’m glad to have these experiences to help develop a unique business.
I have seen a couple instances where a really successful creative business person shifts their entire business model. Or leaves behind what they love to pursue other mediums or adventures. It is inspiring to know that the possibilities are really endless. If you’re doing something you really love, you shouldn’t feel trapped by it. I think that artists are such thinkers and feelers—we can get overwhelmed by the assembly line approach of business. It can get so overwhelming that some people abandon it and do something else. I think that it’s okay if that happens to you…we have just one life to live and I hope we’ll live it as fully as we can. I do not see myself leaving either of my mediums behind, although, I do imagine I will close my shop periodically to complete new work and push myself to work on pieces that take a lot of time and focus. Finishing paid orders always comes first, and timeliness is also important to me. But once orders are finished and mailed, it frees up time to focus on new things, learning, etc. I never want to stop learning and pushing myself creatively.
I dream of having a commune or a big farm where all kinds of artists can live and create and be free to just experiment and learn from each other. Until then I love that we can form a sort of community online. How have you found it working with other artists online? Have you found other people to be inviting, or a more competitive spirit?
That does sound so nice. I do love the idea of community so much. I have found some really great friends individually online. I think that sometimes there is a competitive spirit…there’s also a lot of copying and appropriation that I come across all the time. It is sad and always upsetting to the original maker, however, the whole sharing and community vibe sometimes blurs boundaries or norms for some folks. The majority of makers and designers put their heart and soul into what they do, and they respect others’ rights and creativity, however. As a small business owner, it can be so helpful and reassuring to link up with someone who is doing something similar and asking if they’ve had a particular issue or experience. The idea that you aren’t completely an island unto yourself is just so reassuring. I’ve met some seriously wonderful people who feel like such close friends. I have a few friends I talk to daily online but have never met in person.
There is a huge saturation in the jewelry market, and I think people can be very protective and closed off to sharing information of even the smallest kind, for the most part. I’ve found the complete opposite with the fiber community, for the most part. I don’t really feel like I fit in or belong to either group…I am kind of a lone wolf in some ways. But I try to stay away from negativity or drama whenever possible. Friends just find each other, from what I have experienced.
I also saw that you were really inspired early on by Native American beading. Is that also what has inspired your current jewelry line?
My mom was a beader and she had a couple older seed beadwork books that she knew she couldn’t use. I usually work on projects when we visit my family at Christmastime, so that year, I decided I just wanted to make a pair of beaded earrings. I actually really enjoyed the process (I had been doing hand embroidery for a long time—embroidered drawings). I started off making beaded earrings and no one was really interested in what I was doing. I kept with it anyway, and then later decided to take a metalsmithing class so that I could make metal components myself or make something that no one else was doing. So it really was just a progression, of sorts. I only took the class as a sort of therapy/hobby outside of my job. I never intended to start a business or make things to sell, but it happened rather organically.
I love the color palette of your weavings. Do you feel like there is any kind of tie between your jewelry making and your weaving? Are they similar at all in the way you find inspiration or is it two totally separate entities?
Thank you. I think it’s harder to see connections between the work when you’re the one making them (or at least, that’s how I feel). I think they’re fairly separate…most of my current weaving is pretty experimental. It’s material response and I’m not sure I can really define it. Metalsmithing tends to be more technical and precise. I appreciate any handmade work that shows the human hand, the process and love that goes into it, but I do strive fora different aesthetic when making my jewelry vs weaving. I suppose the fiber work is a bit more wabi sabi.
I love your woven tops and the jean jacket and jeans! What inspired you to tie weaving into other clothing items? Pure genius!
Thanks, Ally. I was actually working on garments for almost a year…there are a couple Japanese pattern books that are specific to weavers. The couple of garments I very loosely based on those patterns. I didn’t study fashion and I don’t usually make clothes, so the patterns helped me understand a bit of sizing and piecing a woven textile together. Because with most handwoven items, the weave structure is larger than a machined piece of fabric, any line that is cut has to have a double stitched line so that the weaving doesn’t unravel. Trying to figure this out and measure and piece together a garment with handwoven material is super challenging. I actually had this really wonderful experience with my mom over this past Christmas. We sat down with this book and looked at my weaving and then made a sample piece out of plain fabric first. We then made the actual piece from the handwoven textile. It was so wonderful to have her advice and assistance to start out as she knows so much about sewing and patterning. After that, I made all the others on my own..it felt like such a special thing having my mom’s help starting out. The jackets idea came from this thought where my mom said I should use found or pre-bought fabric with my weavings to help reduce the prices (seriously labor intensive trying to hand weave enough fabric to make one piece). I always owned jean jackets growing up (love embellishment, embroidery, and when people collect pins on them) I started checking in thrift stores and online and found a few vintage/used jackets that I thought would look so cool having the back patch. The weaving I made for each piece was a much larger piece of weaving than what ended up on each jacket. I saved any of the scraps and will probably incorporate them into something else in the future. Waste not, want not. :)
What would you say your favorite stone to work with is? I know a part of your mission is to use only items made in the US, what does this mean to you? All your stones are sourced here in the US? I love that!
I love turquoise. I guess that’s apparent. It’s also one of the few gemstones I’ve been able to find in any sort of quantity (although I work with other stones). Finding cut gemstones that have been mined in the U.S. and also cut in the U.S., is so much harder than it seems. The majority of gemstones are imported from overseas. Much of the mass manufactured cut gemstones are machine-cut in China or India—often with less than healthy working conditions. The diamond mining industry is just dirty. When I started making jewelry, I was overwhelmed with the amount of gemstones online and I also quickly noticed that a lot of what is sold isn’t ethical or honest. A lot of “turquoise” is actually not turquoise at all, but is dyed magnetite or howlite. It really freaked me out to think I could be buying something labeled as one thing but actually not be a real stone (or that it could be something that was molded from real stone and glue to make a “stone”). Within the first few weeks of making jewelry, I was instantly drawn to the idea of using stones sourced only in the U.S., and I’ve spent thousands of hours searching and trying to learn about them, how to find them, where to get them. It’s taken me years to find reliable and honest sources for my stones, and I’m happy to say that Knot & Splice supports legitimate American lapidary artists and dealers/collectors. A lot of people rely on my material purchases to keep their small businesses going. Some of my dealers/lapidary artists have become real friends…we talk all the time and isn’t just a business transaction between us. We are real friends and send each other birthday gifts or cards, or drop little “how are you doing, just thinking of you” types of notes. When I put these stones into my work, they carry this nature of good and positive vibes. I have bought stones direct from miners and lapidary artists, who really care about what they do and what they put into the world. So it really goes beyond just buying something and sticking it in my work. There’s an actual emotional connection I have to the materials themselves.
I recently watched the video on your site and what really stood out to me was when you talked about jewelry holding a really significant place in your life over clothes or other material possessions. The older the better. Its almost more well loved with age. What are your favorite pieces of jewelry you have?
I have a few special heirloom pieces. I really love vintage jewelry so much and have been drawn to it since I was maybe 5 years old. I have a couple brooches that were my grandma’s and my mom’s. I keep them in this old vintage tin with a few other pieces of jewelry I’ve collected over the years. I’ve also done trades with some really beautiful jewelry designers—their work isn’t just amazing, but they’re amazing people. I think wearing something that carries that kind of positivity really makes the piece that much more meaningful. I know that there’s this idea that if you are a maker you should only wear your own work, but I couldn’t disagree more. I started making jewelry because I loved other types of jewelry (not because I thought I’m the only person in the world with good ideas). I still collect vintage rings. My wedding bands are all antiques and I love them to pieces. I love trading with makers that become friends first. I love old hand engraved pieces and I will sometimes buy up a ring just because I love how it looks.
I also know you spin your own yarn as well, what are your favorite raw materials to work with? Is that important to you to have something you made from scratch be a part of the final product? I mean obviously you make your jewelry and the actual work on your weavings but to actually have even your own yarn incorporated into it is like next level!
Well, I started with drop spindle and it was so hard on my wrist. A few spinners suggested that I try out a spinning wheel. I looked online for a long time to try and find a used wheel…just when I was giving up, I found the perfect one. My current spinning wheel has changed hands three times. The first two didn’t have much time for spinning so they gave it up to someone who would. It’s really been such a therapeutic tool for me, and I’ve been amassing handspun yarn like crazy.
I really like being able to do the whole process of a piece myself. Due to how readily available ideas are online—we are all sharing our works on social media constantly, things get reposted or “found” on Pinterest, and suddenly, the identity and story of our piece is lost, someone else copies it (sometimes knowingly or maybe unknowingly)…I think the best way to avoid this is to do something so spectacular it’s hard to copy. Maybe it’s a silly notion, but when I started doing tapestry work, I found that so much of it online was copied ideas. I wanted to separate my work even further by making it harder to make. I purchased a floor loom which was a huge purchase for me, and I took a couple weaving classes to further my studies. I am drawn so much to yarn and those traditional fiber materials, but i think they can also lead you to explore new materials and ways of making. Playing around and seeing what you can discover, that’s the whole fun of being an artist. Although I try hard to separate myself, push myself to be different, so many of us have similar ideas or inspirations…I’m not so deluded to think there’s truly something perfectly original in the world, but it’s something to strive for as an artist. Even if we never get there, just trying for that, you may actually be original in your creations.
I think making the yarn myself is a fun part of the process. Spinning can be so creative and you can make some truly unusual yarns by doing it yourself. I am currently making as much yarn as possible and hope to make an entire piece with handspun yarn. I tend to want a lot of different textures and widths in my pieces, as well as colors…so maybe this will happen, maybe I’ll sell some of the yarn instead. I’m just enjoying the process of making it and seeing what I can do right now. :)
Do you have any new projects coming out soon? Anything you can tell us about? I know you just reopened your shop and that in itself was an accomplishment but maybe you have something brewing behind the scenes?
I have been working on a carved and cast jewelry collection for almost a year now…whew! Not constantly or actively working on it (more like working on it when I can, which is not enough time). I think, on social media, it can look like a person is just making so much work. How does this person do all this? Do they sleep at all? I think it can be surprising how much a person can do when he/she sets his/her mind to it. But there are always those projects just beyond your grasp at the moment, or things that get put on the back burner. My paid orders always come first for me…I don’t like keeping customers waiting long. I am hoping to actively start working on it again soon…I took off about 1–2 weeks last summer to carve this collection. It took awhile for me to get them ready for casting and send them out (I work with a small business caster in NY). I have the raw castings sitting in a bag on my work bench, but just the cleaning process for those pieces would take a full day. The hand-carving and casting process is a way to really make something original. Because each piece is carved by hand, it’s hopefully a bit more difficult for someone to copy, and I also think, making a piece that is truly solid metal, it’s essentially more indestructible than a metalsmithed piece which has solder joins. You’d probably be surprised, but people can be extremely hard on rings and jewelry…I really love cast jewelry for it’s strength and durability. But I’m also able to do things like carve my initials inside the band, and really do something more sculptural (sometimes with a bit of drawing). It almost feels like a third medium in a way, and I’ve seen ceramicists or sculpture people adopt hand-carved and cast jewelry most likely because of the resemblance to their other types of work. Anyway, that’s what’s next, I think. More 14K gold pieces, and always more turquoise! I may be featured in something before summer which I’m honored by. I love connecting with other artists and positive folks, so hopefully there’s more of that coming, as well.
Thank you so much for having me here, and for allowing me to participate in this series for your blog. I sincerely enjoyed doing this interview.