Stephanie Gorin (Morocco 1996–98) worked with me in the New York Recruitment Office, a wonderful woman and Peace Corps Recruiter, and artist! See, there is life after the Peace Corps, (and after working with Coyne) and after graduate school! Congratulates, Steph! — John
From Spin Artiste
An Online Publication For the Making and Using of Artisanal Fibers and Yarns
Publisher’s Notes: Dear Readers, prepare yourself for a magical fiber-filled adventure as we learn more about Steph Gorin and her studio, Loop. Steph is an incredible talent and her story is quite fascinating. With great pleasure, I present the Spin Artiste interview with Steph Gorin.
Spin Artiste (SA): In reading about you, I am struck (let’s make that awestruck) by your impressive educational background and how you have re-focused your career from international development to the fiber arts. Tell us how you this has happened for you.
Steph Gorin (SG): I graduated from college with what I like to refer to as the “ever-marketable Creative Writing degree.” With no real job prospects in this country, I decided to look for work overseas. Initially I headed to Greece, but somehow ended up in Prague where I landed a six-month gig teaching English to Russian exchange students. From there I joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Morocco for two and half years. My experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer inspired me to pursue a career in international development. I received my Masters in International Education Policy from Harvard, then moved to D.C. where I worked for a USAID contractor conducting research on education in sub-Saharan and North African countries.
In 2005, while juggling work with a PhD program, I was suddenly hit with the fiber bug. It came out of nowhere and was completely relentless. What started out as a feeble attempt at knitting quickly turned into an obsession with fiber that paralyzed my interest in work and school and systematically unraveled the career I’d pieced together for over a decade. Within a year I’d quit my job, dropped out of school, and was running my own fiber business full time. Not knitting, not even spinning, but carding fiber — something I’d never even heard of a year earlier — had taken over my life completely.
SA: I admit to being a bit envious and admire your courage to take that leap! So, then, how did you learn to spin and work with fiber?
SG: In the midst of my career in international development, a friend decided to teach me to knit. I could hardly purl when I put down my knitting needles to search for some interesting yarn for my first project. Disappointed with the yarn I found in local shops, I turned to my computer and Ebay to find something more interesting. It was online where I first encountered hand spun and realized I could make my own yarn. I googled spinning instruction, signed up for private lessons, and bought my first spinning wheel.
My first spinning instructor was old school. She taught me how to process fiber from raw fleece. She taught me how to wash and dye fiber, how to use combs and hand cards, and how to spin different types of yarn. One day, my spinning instructor showed me how to use a drum carder to blend fibers. That was the day that changed everything.
It had been over a decade since I’d done anything creative. I’d always admired artists who made something tangible, but never seemed to find my medium. When I made my first batt, I knew immediately that carding fiber was my thing. I was mesmerized with the colors and textures and the different effects I could create with batts. Within days of that first encounter, I bought my own drum carder and a hundred pounds of alpaca fiber. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it all, but I knew that carding made me a very happy camper and that I wanted to do a whole lot of it.
SA: There’s nothing like a hundred pounds of alpaca to get things started. Now, that some time has passed since those early times, how do you approach your work.
SG: I do my best work when my mind stays out of it. I’m a pretty analytical person by nature, but for some reason that doesn’t work for me creatively. My favorite way to card is spontaneously. What I mean by that is I try not to think while I’m carding. It’s an exercise in not thinking and letting spontaneity take over. I usually card this type of batt loosely, so the result is uneven, lumpy, and bumpy in places to create lots of texture and automatic randomness in the resulting hand spun yarn. That’s why I call them “Spontaneous Spinning Batts”.
Practically speaking, when I card spontaneously, I set up my drum carder on a huge table surrounded by as many fibers in different colors and textures as possible. I card very quickly and as I card, I reach over and grab whatever catches my eye in that instant. I try not to think about how the colors or fibers will combine. I simply stop carding when the drum is full.
In the past couple of years, I’ve added roving and carded clouds to Loop’s offerings. When I card these products, I use a similar approach to the one I use for batts. I still try to keep my mind out of the creative process and prefer to feed the carder as spontaneously as possible. The only difference is that instead of using a drum carder to make my roving and clouds, I use a much larger and complex carding machine.
SA: Let’s talk about your carders - How many do you have and which brands?
SG: I collect carders like some people collect spinning wheels. Aside from my big ol’ electric carding machine, I have several traditional drum carders in the studio, including my first, a Pat Green “Deb’s Delicate Deluxe.” I always recommend this drum carder to first-time buyers because it’s one of the most versatile and reliable ones I’ve used. For my Spontaneous Spinning Batts, I use a Louet fine cloth carder. The Louet has longer teeth than most drum carders, so it can hold a lot more fiber, resulting in some very beefy batts. I also have a few electric drum carders, including one that’s double-wide. My favorite electric by far is a Pat Green “Supercard.” This is the carder of choice for smooth, yummy batts of the spins-like-butter variety. And because I couldn’t help myself, there are also a couple of unusual vintage carding boards in the studio. I still keep my old school hand cards handy as well.
SA: And, where do these drum carders live? From the pictures, it looks like you have a pretty sweet set up at Loop Fiber Studio.
SG: In 2009, I moved Loop from my fiber-packed living room in Maryland to a 2500 square foot studio in an arts center in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley. The new studio is like a fiber candy store. Visitors can hand pick their favorite color and fiber combinations from the rows of bins and jars lining the shelves. They can blend these ingredients on a drum carder themselves, or have me feed them into my carding machine to make custom clouds or roving. The studio is a perfect setting for fiber gatherings and classes — from carding and spinning to felting and weaving. I host monthly Spin-ins at the studio and teach carding there as well. In the next month or so, I’ll be announcing several new classes to begin this fall.
It’s difficult to convey in words the experience of being in the studio. It’s truly a remarkable space — one that instantly inspires creativity. When I was looking for a new home for Loop and was shown Building #8 at the Garnerville Art and Industrial Center, I knew immediately this was the place. It couldn’t have been more perfectly laid out — as if someone had custom designed the place for Loop. I later learned that the complex was a pre-Civil War fiber mill and that Loop was the first tenant in decades to reclaim the space for one of its original uses.
SA: I’m definitely coming to see you when the classes start. What are your other plans for your product line and the studio over the next year or so? What are your thoughts on where your work will go over the next several years?
SG: As far as the product line goes, I expect it to grow over time, but I have no plans for what will emerge. I play quite a bit in the studio — I love to experiment. So most of my products are the result of my fiber play. I often get creative bursts of energy late at night and sometimes pull all-nighters in the studio. Every once in awhile something entirely unexpected and awesome comes out of those sessions. When that happens, I become completely absorbed in the process until it plays itself out. I always learn something new from these experiences, and occasionally end up with a new product for the shop.
As far as the studio goes, my dream is for Loop to evolve into a thriving learning and teaching community for all kinds of fiber enthusiasts. So many of us practice fiber in isolation and I see Loop as a potential alternative. With all the space and equipment here, I would love to see a Loop cooperative take shape. This would encourage a vibrant community to thrive, foster a sharing of knowledge and experience, and make use of the resources and facilities that are already here. I’m super excited that, with this idea in mind for the near future, part of the unused studio space is currently under development.
SA: You are absolutely right that so many of us do practice fiber all alone and it’s wonderful to see studios such as yours coming into being to counter-balance that.
Let’s hear a little about you: Are you a fiber hoarder? What is in your stash that you are saving . . .for what, you don’t know, but you can’t bear to use it for anything just yet?
SG: I’m actually not much of a fiber stasher. I’ve never held on to my favorite batts and art yarns. I think that’s because of something I read back when I was studying creative writing. It’s from a book called “Writing Down the Bone.” In the book, the author tells the story of how she once volunteered to run a booth at her kid’s school fair. It was a poem booth where you could give the poet a topic and get a poem instantly written for you. The author explained that spending the day writing poems and giving them all away taught her a valuable lesson. She learned to trust that no matter how much she loved a poem she’d written, she could always create another one. For me, letting go creates a sort of creative vacuum. Without that momentary vacancy, I’m not sure I could produce anything new.
SA: Now, I understand why you have let so many of your gorgeous yarns go, but if I could do what you do, I’m not sure I could part with them . . . I am hoping that you will one day decide to part with the lovely woven piece that was featured in Carol Leigh’s book, “Continuous Strand Weaving Method, Techniques and Projects for Triangle, Square, and Rectangle Frame Looms” and allow me to purchase it from you. Will we see more weaving from you?
SG: Thank you so much for such an amazing compliment! The scarf you mention was my very first weaving project. I made it in Carol Leigh’s class and drove her crazy with my unwillingness to do things “the right way” first. She was amused by my idea for the scarf and excited to see if it would work using the technique she teaches — the continuous strand method. It did! That scarf may be the only thing I’ve carded, spun, knit, or woven that I can’t seem to part with. At least not until I make another one! I do love weaving and definitely plan on carving out more time to produce finished pieces for the shop.
SA: Steph, what is the most enjoyable part of what you do?
SG: That’s easy. I get to play with fiber every day. I loved my work in international development, but I feel so fortunate to have finally found what truly makes me happy. I used to watch the clock and look forward to weekends and holidays. Now when I think about what I would do on a long vacation, I can’t imagine having “free time” and not spending some of it carding or spinning. I’m not sure how this happened to me exactly, but I’m so grateful it did. So, I guess my answer to your question is: the most enjoyable part of what I do is the fact that I truly enjoy doing it.
SA: One last question: what is your motto?
SG: I don’t have a motto, but a friend recently told me one of his is: “Done is done and everything else is nothing.” I can tell you that this is absolutely not my motto! I’m definitely a process person and get more out of finding my way than I do from reaching the end. When I card, or spin, or even knit, I never have a finished product in mind. I don’t read instructions, can’t follow a pattern, and have absolutely no sense of direction.
When I lived in Morocco, I went on a road trip with some other volunteers and we lost our way. My friend asked one of the locals in broken Arabic, “Where does this road lead?” and the man answered, “Where do you want it to go?” I’ve always been aware that there were lots of destinations, but I never really knew where I wanted to land. I know now that there are far more paths than I could ever imagine and that there’s no way to avoid getting lost along the way. I could end up anywhere, and that’s great. It’s all about the journey.
SA: Thank you so much, Steph, for taking the time to share with us your inspiring and joyful journey. I hope you will check back in with us when you have more to share as your work evolves and your studio expands! In the meantime and till our next time, for those of you that haven’t done so already, check out Steph’s Etsy shop and indulge your self in some yummy fibery goodness.