Our guest today is Anne Choi: owner and artist of Middle Brook Fiberworks! You may know Anne by her former business name: A Little Teapot Design. (In fact, she was one of our very first makers to ever be featured on the FibreShare blog!) But she’s relocated, and transformed her business into an epic fiber-dream-land, featuring workshops and fiber playdates!
Read on as Anne gives us the tour of her new Fibre Space, and remember to swing by her website for more details! …Who knows, maybe one day you can visit her in real life, and take a glorious workshop!
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you ended up in Fiber-Arts.
I fell into Fiber Arts through a series of small events that nudged me down the slippery slope, so the final leap was more of a final hop. In 2009, I was an avid knitter when I happened to stumble into Dalis Davidson’s fiber studio just as she was looking for help to get ready for her spring shows. Dalis, a supremely talented all-around handcrafting artist, started her hand-dyed yarn business, Dancing Leaf Farm, almost 30 years ago. Working as her studio assistant was an invaluable education that also happened to be a blast. Her energy and indefatigable creative spirit is awesome and inspiring.
One day, a friend gifted me with a skein of her handspun yarn, and knitting with it was a game changer–the incredible loft and irregular texture gave such life and bounce to the yarn and the finished fabric. A local yarn shop was offering a drop spindle class, and I signed up with my daughter, hoping that she’d become my in-house source of handspun yarn. After suffering mightily through 98% of the class, in the very last few minutes of class, I finally experienced the thrill of feeling the fibers slip through my fingers and twisting into yarn. I was officially hooked on spinning. I soon began producing more than I could ever knit, and since I happened to work at a yarn shop, starting a business was inevitable.
Give us a brief history of your workspace/studio and how it has evolved over time.
Last year, we uprooted our family from the beautiful countryside of central Maryland, to the beautiful countryside of central New Jersey. We were heartbroken to leave, but the move sparked the dream to create Middle Brook Fiberworks. The property we bought included a historic barn that the previous owners had thoroughly renovated, complete with an artist studio on the first floor.
For the past year, I’ve been imagining all the ways I could use the space, and figuring out the logistics to make the dream come true. Upstairs in the barn, the Great Room seemed to be designed for fiber gatherings. There’s a kitchen with seating for 14, and a cosy nook for my fiber arts library and sofas for hosting local crafters. I have space for several demo wheels and drum carding stations, which makes it an ideal space for teaching. I’m offering fiber processing workshops, and this summer, I’ll be hosting Rainie, of The Unusual Pear and FibreShare dynamo, for a weaving workshop!
Outside, the property had extensive gardens already put in, and I’ve planted one of the beds with natural dye plants like woad, weld, indigo, lady’s bedstraw, madder, and calendula. And just for fun, I put in some cotton plants too. As I write this, I’m waiting for the woodworker to deliver my run-in shed. Because in a few weeks, I’ll have my own small flock of Shetland sheep. I never thought that I’d be able to create my own fiber haven in New Jersey, of all places. I feel incredibly fortunate, and I’m excited for others to share the experience with me.
Can you give us a glimpse into a typical day in your studio?
I’m a project juggler, especially since a lot of what I do involves washing, wetting, and rinsing. The downstairs studio is called the Wet Studio, because I almost always have several buckets of fiber in various stages of processing: raw fleece in a cold soak, roving and silk being wetted, dyed roving in a rinse bath, handspun yarn soaking to set the twist. While the roving or silk scarves are steaming in the dye pots, I’ll switch the water in the buckets. I feel like I spend a lot of my day filling buckets! I do all the carding upstairs, and it’s also where I teach and have fiber playdates. I find that I do most of spinning in my house, because it’s something I can do while hanging out with my family.
Name a tool you cannot live without and why.
I’m a retailer for the two companies that produce the two pieces of equipment that I couldn’t live without: Schacht and Strauch . Both are family-owned American companies, and offer excellent customer service. Their complete lines are available on my website, www.middlebrookfiberworks.com
My Schacht Matchless spinning wheel is my workhorse. Before I bought it, I tried just about every wheel on the market, and for me, the Matchless was the gold standard because of its solid weight, smooth operation, and control. It also happens to be a beautiful piece of woodworking. I have the smaller Ladybug Wheel too, that I take to shows and to demonstrations. On the Matchless, I have a Bulky Flyer setup, so that I can spin singles on the Ladybug, and ply on the Matchless. The wheels have interchangeable bobbins, which makes my life very convenient…almost too convenient, since it makes starting new spinning projects all too easy!
Other than my wheels, the Strauch Mad Batt’r, which I use to make my chunky art batts, is something I couldn’t live without. It has extra-long teeth that let me pack on fiber, and the teeth are spread out far enough to let the silk and mohair locks pass through blended but intact.
Is there a piece of equipment or fiber you own that is special to you? Can you tell us the story on how you acquired it?
Just before I moved last year, I had one last fiber hangout with my spinning friends. My basement studio was literally carpeted with scraps of fiber, and I challenged one of my friends to create a yarn from what was on the floor. From the scraps, she created an incredible yarn that she called, “Anne’s Basement Floor.” The skein is a wild and random assortment of texture and color, and truly one-of-a-kind. It evokes great memories of brainstorming crazy ideas and egging each other on to stretch our boundaries.
Can you give us a glimpse into your storage situation?
In the Wet Studio on the first floor, I removed the shelves in the lower cabinets in order to stuff the 50 lb. bumps of undyed roving and bags of washed fleeces. The upper cabinets hold all my other equipment for felting and natural dyeing, and I have a small rolling cart of drawers for my dyes and utensils. Since it’s right by the entrance to the barn, I store the heavy inventory like wheels and drum carders against the wall. The Wet Studio opens to a small greenhouse, where I stash bags of raw fleece. The greenhouse has a large potting table and a floor drain, so that’s also where I lay out or hang my fibers to dry.
Upstairs, I have two cube shelving units for all the yarn and dyed fiber. I’ve amassed quite a collection of wire bins and baskets, and I find that they do a great job of containing the skeins and braids, while also letting me see what’s in them. On the other side of the room, I have a large bookcase that holds the drum carders and all the fun add-ins that I use for making batts. The shelf also displays wheel accessories, hand carders, and table looms for sale. I’m lucky to have the space to set out all the display units that I take to shows. One of my favorite pieces is a folding ladder with 6 wire bins that hang from the rungs. Each bin is just the right size to hold 4 bags of dyed roving.
What I call “my office” is actually a small apple basket that I tote to shows. In it, I carry all my office supplies and things like change, extra labels, business cards, bags, and Square readers. I just assembled a kitchen island with shelves to use as a point-of-purchase station in the Great Room of the barn, so I anticipate spreading out “my office” a bit. That counter is also the perfect location to store the bins of lotion bars and ColorSpun necklaces.