Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Up-Cycling, three local craft women saving stuff from the landfills and creating wonderful things.


Woodstock, Vt.

Spring is here. We celebrate the passing of winter with an out with old and in with the new attitude. We clean up the discarded trash on Green Up Day. We clean out our houses of things we've accumulated and no longer need. We rake up the dead leaves. And clean up the dead and fallen trees. Most of this debris ends up in the landfill or rotting in the woods.

Meet three local business women who look at these discarded and old materials and breathe a new life into them with their artistic sense and creativity. They all work with fibers, two create from old sweaters and other old cloth and one works with fallen trees.




Jayne Webb is the owner of Encore Design Consignment on The Green in Woodstock. Webb purchased the retail store six years ago this September. She takes in clothing, shoes, jewelry and fashion accessories on consignment. And she designs handmade mittens and hats from repurposed sweaters.

Webb grew up in Kennebunkport, Maine and as a young girl hit many consignment shops with the older women in her life. " When I was growing up, my aunts would bring me to Salvation Armies and Good Wills...that was always fun, you never knew what you were going to find. So when this opportunity came forth (to purchase the store in Woodstock), I still have to pinch myself because I'm doing something that means a lot to me, it has a lot of history and it feels good. I'm working for myself."

About two years ago, Webb started Tweed River Farm. " I don't have a dining room at home any more, my husband calls it the sweatshop." While visiting her daughter in Maine she found a woman who was making mittens. Webb had a Burberry scarf and wanted mittens to go with it. Burberry has some gloves but no mittens and " their gloves didn't really match, there were kind of masculine." So Webb bought another scarf and returned to the mitten maker and asked for a pair to be made; "she said that it couldn't be done because it (the material) doesn't have enough stretch. That's all it took, I came home, shopped online for different patterns and did some tweaking and I made my own pair of mittens from a Burberry scarf. And the rest of it was history."

Webb developed a technique for shrinking the fiber, a way to tighten it up from the loose weave of a sweater to a tight knit for mittens. Her preferred fiber is lamb's wool, wool or a good cashmere. Each summer she makes about 400 pairs of mittens for her store on her vintage featherweight Singer sewing machine (she keeps a basket of 30-40 pairs in the store year round.)

She has two signature designs, Boston Terriers on Burberry and lobster mittens. The lobster mittens came about in a rather odd way. "I think I was online one night looking for sweaters and I came across a classic, vintage Carol Reed (sweater) and it had lobsters and buoys on it. And being from Maine, I could eat lobster 24/7 and I had to buy that sweater. I paid an arm and a leg for it. I got that sweater and I shrank it and it really, really took the hot water hard. But I was able to get one pair of mittens out."

She put those mittens up for sale and a women purchased them and posted a photograph on Instagram naming Encore as the store she found them in. "All of a sudden I was getting these requests for lobster mittens."

When Webb couldn't find another Carol Reed sweater, she created her own pattern a red boiled wool lobster that she carefully stitches onto her mittens. "(It's) really fun. I like they creative part." She say of her own designs.


When asked about the store name, Encore, Webb explained that she had done extensive research on various names but she found out that "Jackie Onassis used to frequent a store in New York called Encore Boutique, or something like that, and I said if it was good enough for Jackie O I think I going to go with it."



Mary Jo Cooke lives in a farmhouse that she restored and rebuilt in South Pomfret. Her business is called Farmhouse Cabinetry. She grew up in Woodstock; graduated from Woodstock High School; moved away briefly but returned to town when her mom was ill; living and maintaining the family home on Lincoln Street. Her Woodstock roots are deep. Her grandfather owned C.C Frost Lumber on Pleasant Street.

Cooke works with wood fiber. She restores old houses and barns, refinishes furniture and creates household accessories from fallen trees or old barn boards. " We used to slide in the sawdust (at her grandfather's lumber yard), I fell in love with the smell of it." Her love for saving older houses came about because as a child the house her family lived in on Lincoln Street was under renovation. She learned her skills from her relatives.

"I call myself where art meets craftsmanship. Sometimes I'm more in the art world and sometimes I'm more in the building world. I can do both." Her current project is for a custom kitchen table. The tabletop was made from 80 year old pine, one of largest pine trees along the Ottauquechee River in West Woodstock, "I know because my father and uncles harvested it, it's returning to home in Bridgewater (along the river)." A friend referred the client to MJ, as she likes to be called.

Cooke prides herself in working with and getting to know her clients. She talks with them to find out exactly what their needs are, what their current space is like and translates this into a project design. She even sends them pictures during the process.

She loves to tackle custom work. Her "Mother's Tray" was created when her own mother was sick and remembered her mother's (MJ's grandmother) had a tray.

She started working "professionally" at a young age. Her first business was chair caning and antique finishing business. She started this as a freshman at Woodstock High School. First customer was Art Lewin's mother. It was basketball season and MJ was too busy with practices and games so "I subbed the job out to my mother."

Walking through her many barns you'll find a collection of old windows, barn boards from previous renovations, trees removed at the request of landowners and lots more. All things that were discarded and left to rot. "This is my medium because I have it. It had a purpose but now it has another one."


Wand Huff lives and works in Woodstock. She grew up on a family farm in Clinton Maine. For her 12th birthday she asked for sheep. That Christmas she got a table loom and learned to weave. A few years later she taught herself how to spin and dye wool. This early experience began her love for wool fiber.

She married a pastry chef and moved to Dallas, TX. Leaning on her New England work ethic she got back into weaving and spinning and dyeing. She opened the largest fiber store in the southwest, an 8000 square foot space filled with wool fiber. "Here I am little Miss New England, who grew up with wool basically and I walk into one of the hottest areas of the United States and none of the yarn shops were selling wool, they were all selling cotton, so I brought into my inventory what I knew, the wool and wool blends. I was selling yarn like nobody's business to the whole Southwest and surrounding States."


Then in the span of one week, she divorced her husband and her south Dallas fiber shop was leveled by a tornado but she stayed in the area and open another store in the north Dallas area. She bought an old brick building where she expanded into teaching classes and hosting events at the former W.O.W Home (Woodman of the World Insurance.)

Her mom and dad were getting older and it was time to return to New England. She sold Woolen Works and moved to Woodstock. Her first craft show was at the Senior Center Craft Bazaar. She saw a rag-a muffin doll made from an old sweater and based her stuffed animals on it. About five years ago she had a booth at the Apple and Craft Fair and sold out most of her inventory.


She still does craft fairs and the Norwich Farmer's Market on Saturdays. She also has a selection of the "up-cycled" sweaters in the Collective in downtown Woodstock. Some of her critters have jackets, vests or pants; they have long pockets and tiny pockets. "Tiny pockets in clothing are for little love notes. They are to give away or when things aren't going so well, you need to take them out and read them to yourself. Long pockets are for crayons...so you can color your heart happy."

Huff gets most of her materials from consignment shops, swap shops and even purchases from the Bridgewater Thrift Store. She makes these animals to bring a little smile to people's faces and to keep these materials out of the landfills.

One customer asked Huff to make a small dog to fit into an old dog sweater, (the customer's son recently lost his pet dog) so Huff made a stuffed dog and used the boy's dog's sweater. When she gave the stuffed animal to the customer, to give it to his son as a gift, as Huff tells it, they both had tears in their eyes. "We can't do much about the big things in life but it's those little things, if everybody was handing everybody a little love note written in crayon, hello."




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