Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Complete Tracy Hudson Interview

Are you missing me while I'm gone? Fear not, I give you more Velma than is healthy for anybody. This is my complete interview with Tracy Hudson, quotes from which appear in the current issue of Spin-Off magazine (Fall 2009). Enjoy!

Tracy: "How did you come to spin?"
Velma: "I am a HUGE fan of handspun yarn, particularly of the 'art yarn' variety. I gravitated to handspun immediately when I learned to knit in 1999 because each skein has it's own 'personality'. I began by stalking the websites of the handful of spinners that were hawking their wares online at that time. Used to be, there were so few artists making art yarn that it would sell out the same day or even hour it was listed, so you had to be quick to make a score (art yarn: my drug of choice!). I anxiously awaited the days when Lexi Boeger (Pluckyfluff), Jacey Boggs (Insubordiknit), Elizabeth O'Donnell (Yarnpunk), Reenie Hanlin (MaterialWhirled), and Jenny Neutron Star - the art spinners whose work I most coveted - would post their yarns for sale, and I'd pounce! I amassed quite a stash of art yarn, much of which still awaits me envisioning the "perfect" project for it. Eventually, I decided "hey, I could do that!", took a spinning class at an LYS in January 2006, bought a Lendrum wheel that same March, and got biz-ay! I knew from the start that I wanted to concentrate on art yarns; I mean, I could just buy conventional yarns anywhere, right? So although I have a lot of respect for the work of spinners that put their efforts into traditional styles of spinning, that isn't for me. I want to go "off road" and see what kind of craziness I can create. I picked up a copy of Lexi Boeger's first book, Handspun Revolution, right away and set about trying my hand at some of her techniques. COLORBOMB Creations came out of that process in early 2007."

Tracy: "How does spinning fit in your life?"
Velma: "Haha, spinning is my life! Seriously though, spinning took over my life in late 2007 when I decided to become a full-time fiber adventurer and started to really treat COLORBOMB Creations like a business. When Ravelry.com started selling ad space in Fall 2007, and made them affordable for a small biz like COLORBOMB Creations, I jumped on the chance to become a charter advertiser; that decision was really the catalyst for committing to focusing on spinning art yarns full time. Can't very well justify advertising if you've got nothing to sell, right? And I'd say that even today, with the huge boom in the handspun "industry", thanks in part to Etsy.com providing a simple way to offer your products to a built-in market, only a small segment of handspinners that sell are making art yarns.

So my life is full of art yarn: my "studio" is my very messy house, with yarn, fiber, embellishments, tools, spinning wheels, and various and sundry other equipment spread in every room except the bathroom (thankfully!). My days are filled with spinning art yarns, discussing art yarns, brainstorming art yarns, blogging about art yarns, selling art yarns - really just living and breathing my work. I think my title should really be Art Yarn Pimp; maybe I'll add that to my business cards!

In terms of how creating art yarns has affected my life, I'd say that one of the biggest changes since I started is that I now identify as an artist. As a Gemini who has spent her life until now employed in"left-brain" work, it is a joy to embrace my right-brained self. Now I look at life through art-tinted glasses: I see everything around me as potential fodder for art yarn, either literally - as raw material - or figuratively - as inspiration. I joke that I take it as a personal challenge to incorporate anything given me in a yarn, but it's true! The Flying Karamazov Brothers, a juggling/comedy troupe from Santa Cruz, California, perform a trick called "The Gamble", in which they accept the challenge that they can spin any 3 items provided by audience members, with only 5 caveats. I aspire to being the Flying Karamazovs of the art yarn world!"

Tracy: "How do you feel about selling work (handspun)?"
Velma: "Well, as someone trying to make a living at it, obviously I'm solidly in the 'I favor it' camp. Haha! But more specifically, I'm a real proponent of spinners valuing their work. Unfortunately, I think many people who sell their art, yarn-medium or otherwise, under-value what they do. This seems to be particularly rampant in the handspinning world. I am often flabbergasted by the rock-bottom prices I see people asking in exchange for the fruits of their labors! In my opinion, under-charging for handspun hurts both the artist that creates and sells it and the buying community at large by suggesting that all the time, energy, materials, and creativity that went into it aren't worth the top dollar that the best art yarns garner.*

All handspun yarn requires an inordinate amount of effort to spin, but art yarns are particularly labor- and materials-intensive. In terms of labor, most art yarns require stop-and-go spinning, what I like to call "spasmodic" spinning, increasing the time required to produce a given yardage significantly compared to a traditional yarn. Prep time is often more substantial than that needed for making conventional yarns; the addition of handmade items such as needle-felted beads is not uncommon, and extra effort is required to create these one-of-a-kind embellishments. Materials-wise, in addition to fiber expenses, many art yarns also contain commercial embellishments such as sequins, beads, toys, etc. that all require extra preparation and incur additional cost for the spinner. Expenditures for art yarn ingredients can be quite high, and, like myself, many art yarnies who market their work strive to support other independent artists by purchasing materials from their colleagues, often at higher cost than can be obtained buying from large-scale commercial sources. Another factor affecting production of art yarns is training: the techniques used to create them are myriad and varied, and acquiring these skills takes considerable time and practice on top of mastering all the same skills needed to spin conventional yarns. In addition, tutelage in art yarn spinning is not readily available yet, necessitating practitioners be largely self-taught using the limited resources available today: a very few art yarn manuals (e.g., Diane Varney's Spinning Designer Yarns, and Lexi Boeger's Handspun Revolution and Intertwined), the brand-spankin' new, highly-anticipated, and well-received DVD Sit and Spin! produced by Jacey Boggs/Insubordiknit, and the generosity of spirit that drives members of the online art yarn community to share their wealth of knowledge. So, if you're selling your art yarn or considering doing so, please, price it accordingly! We deserve to make a living wage, too, I think.

*(For those who are having a difficult time determing what a fair market value is for their art yarns, I recommend reading Abby Franquemont's post titled "How Do You Usually Price Handspun Yarn?" and it's follow-up "Updates on Handspun Yarn Pricing Post" on her blog, www.abbysyarns.com. In them, Abby offers an excellent perspective on this subject.)"

Tracy: "What is the most compelling part of spinning for you?"
Velma: "Since we're talking about spinning art yarns here, I've gotta say my favorite bit is creating something new, something unique: a singular piece of art in the form of a skein of yarn. When I occasionally stumble on a technique that I've never seen being done by anyone else (in every instance a case of my mangling another technique so much that it morphs into something completely new), I am so delighted!

Another big part of spinning for me is the tactile extravaganza of the sensation of fiber and other materials passing through my fingers. I put everything into my yarns: lace, ribbon, fabric, trinkets, feathers, beads, locks, yarn scraps - you name it, it's in there - so I get a lot of stimulation coming through my fingertips every day."

Tracy: "What do your yarns mean to you? What do they represent/embody/fulfill?"
Velma: "I've said it before, and I'll say it again: my yarns are like my babies! I make every effort to adopt them out to good homes. There's nothing I like better than knowing that someone is excited about taking my yarn and using it as the raw material for their vision! Art yarns really lend themselves to making art from art in a way that goes beyond the use of conventional yarns. The texture and personality inherent in a good art yarn can really convey something. Take Jacey Boggs' 'Vitreous Humor' yarn: it is a singles with felted eyeballs spun in. How could what you make not be art with yarn like that? My favorite project that I've seen made with that style yarn is a dress made by a woman whose screenname is Jodyar; something about all those eyes peering back at the wearer's observer really conjures up deeper thoughts about the nature of how we're viewed as women. But maybe that's just me, LOL. I love to see my own art yarns incorporated into the creative endeavors of others."

Tracy: "How would you list these, in order of priority, when spinning art yarn: color, fiber content, topic or theme, mood, technique, ______ (other)?"
Velma: "Man, this is the toughest quesiton of all! I really think that each yarn is, for me, a one-off in terms of process. I'm all about color and texture in my yarns, that's really what I'm "about" as a spinner. I often let the fiber guide the technique, as different prep and fiber content lend themselves to different techniques, but really, my mood plays as big a role as anything; it often dictates the color I want to spin, which will limit me to what I have in my fiber stash, which will subsequently limit the technique that is best suited to the particular fiber content/prep in the colorway I've chosen. And of course, these steps don't apply when I'm spinning to a theme or topic; although I don't do a lot of theme challenges, I find them very stimulating creatively, and although I'm not always excited by the end product, I love the process because it requires that I think in an entirely different way. That's something that I see as fundamentally different between most art yarn spinners and their conventional yarn counterparts: I think we arties are much more involved in spinning to theme challenges than spinners of more traditional yarns. I love that there has been such a proliferation of this phenomenon driving spinners to be more abstract in their spinning. For example, The Yarn Museum issues semi-regular challenges (one example: 'Edible Yarn'), and there are several groups on Ravelry that focus on theme spinning, including Novelty & Art Yarn Spinners, Picto Create, and Fiber Friday. Recent examples of themes issued by these groups that I've participated in include: 'Cabbage', 'Human Body', and 'Spun Up the Crazy-Along'; the latter was an opportunity to take all your scraps, bits, and pieces laying around and spin them into a yarn. Challenges and themes really push spinners to think in a new way, to imagine what can be done with a spindle or a wheel and a bit of fluff.

So in answer to the question, I guess I'd have to say 'other', haha!"

Tracy: "Who is most inspirational to you?"
Velma: "I am most inspired by people who are unafraid, and those who push through their fears. I'm talking about the spinners who try techniques they don't think they're "ready" for, who say "I can do that!", who try new things. The spinners who, when faced with a challenge or a problem aren't afraid to analyze and experiment and invent in order to come up with a way around the obstacle or to make the yarn they see in their mind's eye possible.

Being fearless and looking at things with an analytical eye are two of the traits that I believe serve art yarn spinners really well. When you look at a yarn, any yarn, try to mentally pick it apart and put it back together again, to figure out how and why it looks the way it does, then apply what you see in your own spinning; if you think like an engineer as well as an artist, you'll be well on your way to becoming an art yarn spinner."

For more about Tracy, read her 'Why Spin?' piece on Studioloo's Spin in Public Spinterviews site.


  1. That is so awesome with a side of awesomesauce! Look at you making it in the big leagues!

  2. terrific to see "Velma, Unabridged!" I spin art yarn with a nod to you, tonight :-)

  3. That is so wonderful!!! I hope that your having an awesome time in Oregon!

  4. This is so cool, Velma! You make me wanna spin!

  5. Anonymous11:50 PM

    Velma this is awesome!!!! There is nothing else I can say.....just pure awesome!


  6. Woohoo! It took me a few days to notice this was up - glad you're sharing, because I wished I could include more of everyone in the S-O article.

    Thanks for the name & fame, V :)


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