Susan came to weaving after becoming a mother, drawn by the idea of a creative outlet to balance the demands of childcare. That journey was not a straight line but one with many declarations of “Recalculating”.
It started with Appalachian By Design (ABD), a handloom knitting business under the leadership of Diane Browning. Susan and her husband Harry were looking for ways to earn an income while remaining the primary care providers of their children. ABD was the ticket for Susan. After extensive training provided by the company, she was able to produce piece work for their high-end fashionwear. “It was my introduction to glorious fibers, good design and impeccable finishing techniques”, Susan says. “The focus of the company was to empower homebased women to earn a living wage, be a member of a creative and supportive community and acquire the skills to run a small business.”
In the meantime, she thought about taking the ABD model and applying it to hand weaving. She took a week long introduction to weaving class at the Augusta Heritage Festival, and was smitten. “I became a Hand Weaver! I was captivated by the fact that hand weaving is both simple and complex. I loved the technical aspects of weave structure, the math and engineering of the structure, the soothing rhythm of a working loom, the visual feast of color and the complexity of the texture. I hardly noticed that my idea of a hand weaving cooperative business was a failure!” The venture was not wasted however as Susan and ABD designed a line of high-end rag rugs. It was her first design experience. “ABD and Diane were so supportive and encouraging. Their focus was on creating a beautiful product all the while teaching me the fundamentals of creating a marketable product.”
Eventually Susan and her family moved to Alaska. She took with her a knitting loom and the wealth of knowledge that she received from ABD to start her own successful business, Material Pleasures, Handloom Knitting and Weaving. “My success is rooted in the education that I received from ABD, from design to production to bookkeeping to sales. I adopted the encouraging, sustainable, ethical business practices that were modeled by ABD that are a perfect fit for me.”
After just under 20 years, kids grown and on their way, Harry and Susan made the move back to WV. Appalachian By Design had closed, yet another victim of outsourcing labor, but Diane continued with a spin-off business of her own, Appalachian Baby Design. “Diane and I had a chance meet up and spent some coffee time catching up. After ‘testing the waters’ an opportunity for me to work again with her came up and I JUMPED ON IT!” The initial focus was on developing cozy woven baby blankets using her US Organic Cotton. “What can I say, smitten again.” Now they are bouncing ideas off each other, testing colors, naming products and working the trade shows together.
“Even though I am not that novice weaver and running my own business, I am still learning and loving the work I do for Diane.