Hi, Kathryn here today. I’m Marly’s blog content director. And about once a month I share a story about how crochet is helping individuals and communities. While my major focus is mental health benefits, I’ve also explored many other aspects of yarn crafting benefits. For awhile, my particular area of interest was the power of creative collaboration.
In fact, I had a whole newsletter about it. During that time, I shared Stitch Story’s family adventures in yarn and craft collaboration. I also had the honor of sharing this story in the April 2019 issue of Happily Hooked Magazine. I wanted to share it here with you today. My hope is that it will inspire your own ideas for creative collaboration – whether with your family or with others. Plus, since Marly Bird is so great at collaborating with others, it seems like a good fit.
All photos in this post are from Stitch Story’s collection.
Note: There may be affiliate links in this post. If you click one and make a purchase, a percentage goes to me. Your price doesn’t change. Thank you for the support.
Intro to the Stitch Story Story
I’ve been communicating with Shelby Allaho for years. I first discovered her through her Stitch Story crochet blog. In the years since, she launched eWoodStory, a fiber arts, jewelry, and wood frame collaboration with her husband. More recently, she launched Spinerations, a yarn spinning business in collaboration with her daughter.
I am endlessly inspired by her work. Among other things, she’s done a lot of really fascinating work combining weaving and crochet. I’ve loved seeing her work change over the years, and I’ve really loved seeing these collaborative businesses develop. So, of course, I thought she was the perfect person to ask about collaboration, particularly as it relates to families working together.
I am humbled and honored that she took the time and energy to share herself in the interview here.
Interview with Shelby about Creative Collaboration
Here is what Shelby had to say about yarn crafting and creative collaboration in her family and her business.
First, let’s start with your individual work in crochet and other fiber arts. What can you share about that journey?
I have always loved textile and fiber arts. In fact, my grandmothers taught me to knit, crochet, embroider, and sew at a young age. I loved sewing and making my own clothes. When I was about 9, I decided that I wanted to study fashion design. I had collections of vintage clothing and jewelry that provided endless inspiration for anything I would make.
Right after high school, I moved to London to study fashion design and merchandising. Although I didn’t specialize in working with fibers in college, I always had a knitting project on my needles!
After college, I moved to Atlanta, Georgia and worked at an embroidery design company. After a few years, I worked my way up to art department director. We mostly digitized corporate logos, but we also got to do some creative pieces as well.
My favorite clients were childrenswear companies. Some asked me to freelance for them. Plus, I designed embroideries from concept to sketch and then digitized them. I loved being able to design whimsical embroideries with vintage inspiration. Subsequently, I went on to win awards in the industry for my childrenswear designs. I worked in embroidery until 1997. That was when I married my Kuwaiti husband, Emad. Then we left the US to move to Kuwait.
After spending some time getting to know my new culture, I got back into working with my hands, and got into making hair accessories in decoupage and felt. I made a business out of it under the name of “Holdilocks”. I spent hours creating tiny felt flowers. They were made into barrettes to sell in Kuwait and in the US.
After a year or so, I was in London visiting a friend who took me to an amazing shop there called VV Rouleaux. It was unlike any other shop I had ever been to. It quickly became one of my favorite places, with its vintage vibe and French millinery supplies and trims. What really changed my creative life were the crocheted accessories they had on display from Paris. They were so beautiful, and exciting, that it really opened my eyes to what crochet could be. I decided to get back into to crocheting and took a beginners’ class at my local yarn shop.
A New World of Crochet
I learned the basics, but I wasn’t really interested in following patterns. My eyes were opened again when I discovered The Freeform Crochet Workbook by James Walters and Sylvia Cosh. It really spoke to me, and it made me realize the organic beauty that you can create using crochet! Soon after, I found the most wonderful online group of freeform crocheters, called the International Freeform Group. It was a very friendly, active, and creative group! We did yarn exchanges, project exchanges, and round robins. Those were really fun and inspiring times!
I met so many wonderful people including the legendary Margaret Hubert. She fortunately later became my crochet design mentor, I also met the wonderful crocheter Bonnie Pierce. She was the first to ask me to design and write my own crochet patterns. I never thought of writing patterns, since I was not a pattern follower myself. Surprisingly, it came fairly easy to me, and I really enjoyed the process. My first designs were published in the “Crochet Pattern a Day Calendar” in 2006. I did lots more freeform and had patterns published online as well.
Around this time, I joined the Crochet Guild of America. With the help of Margaret Hubert, I became a professional member. I began designing for magazines, books, and yarn companies. I had the honor of being asked by Margaret to do some designs for the “Runway Crochet” book. That led to me her publisher asking me to do my own book. However, they wanted all of the book projects to be completed in a short time. I didn’t want to sacrifice too much family time. Therefore, I asked the publisher to find me a co-author. Fortunately, the talented Ellen Gormley agreed to join me in writing “Crocheting Clothes Kids Love”. We split up the projects based on the type of pieces each one of us likes to design. I really enjoyed doing the book as a team, collaborating and developing ideas together.
Speaking of collaborating, let’s dig into that aspect of your life and work now. You have collaborations with your husband (eWoodStory) and your daughter (Spinerations). Tell us about those …
Shortly after finishing the book, Emad and I decided that it was finally time to start collaborating. He had recently left his job in the Navy to pursue woodworking, and we wanted to find a way to combine his love of wood and my love of fibers. This is when we started eWoodStory. We sourced some special exotic woods and began with crochet jewelry kits, and stitchable frame pendants for people to stitch their own creations into. I got to know many talented people through our Featured Artists Series, and I became more interested in hand embroidery, and began to incorporate more of it into my work.
In 2015, the Sadu House- a cooperative in Kuwait for traditional weavers – asked us to meet with Lesli Robertson, a fiber arts professor from Texas. We worked together for over a year on the Weaving Stories project, and in the process, I fell in love with weaving! Modern weaving reminded me of working in freeform crochet, and I instantly felt comfortable doing it. I spent some time learning techniques, and creating some of my own, before developing the weaving Kit for eWoodStory. By that time, I knew what I wanted in a loom. I wanted to design an attractive loom that was versatile, easy and comfortable to use. We were thrilled with the response we got to our looms, and have since developed a mini version.
Individual Growth Through Creative Collaboration
In doing quite a bit of weaving to promote the looms and in teaching workshops, I was looking for yarns with character, and that looked especially good when woven in. I found that handspun yarns were my favorite to use! That led me to wanting to spin my own yarns, starting with a drop spindle and now a spinning wheel as well
My daughter Sara has always joined along in my fiber arts adventures, and when spinning came into our lives, she felt instantly compelled to learn and quickly picked up the skill. It has become the thing that we most like to do together. We can be in the studio for hours preparing fibers and spinning. Sara has always been interested in our eWoodStory collaborative business, and since we were enjoying spinning so much, we decided to branch out to sell one-of-a kind yarns for weaving through Spinerations.
Put succinctly, what does collaboration mean to you?
Collaboration to me means working together and sharing our strengths to create something even better than we could create as individuals.
What does collaboration look like in each of your businesses? Who does what? How do decisions get made? What are the best parts and the least best parts?
For eWoodStory, usually I have an idea inspired by something I am working on, and I make a sketch and start brainstorming ideas with Emad. After we have discussed and worked out all of the details, we make a prototype. Emad does the artwork on the computer, and cuts the pieces, and I make samples and decide if the design needs any changes. Then we finalize the design. We create the booklets and decide on the packaging, and get the items ready to sell, and I deal with the shops.
Since Spinerations is a new business, we are still working out all of the roles. We are spinning as much yarn as we can now to build up a stock to pull from, and to create curated yarn packs. We are brainstorming as we go, and we are working on gathering interest in what we are doing and gaining a following.
How does collaboration differ in eWoodStory and Spinerations? How is it the same?
With eWoodStory, usually I come up with the concept of what I would like us to create, and my husband analyzes and refines the idea. In Spinerations, we are inspired as we spin, and we bounce ideas off each other and talk them through to agree on something we are both excited about. Since we all have similar interests in our family, we are often talking about our work in our daily lives, and our work time and leisure time is almost seamlessly integrated.
You mentioned some other collaborations. How does working with others differ from collaboration with family?
Yes, for example, I have worked as a textile collaborator for Sadu House. When I managed the Weaving Stories Exhibition, one of the main objectives was to create a woven wall that was inspired by a traditional Bedouin tent divider. This woven installation was comprised of 72 pieces from over 30 international artists and makers telling the artists’ personal stories of Kuwait. The techniques they used range from weaving to crochet, knitting, quilting, macramé, fabric painting, hand and machine embroidery, and 3D printing.
It was a different experience because I was dealing with many types of people and their work styles, and we were working with a definite deadline.
What are the pros and/or cons of collaboration with family?
Working with family has mostly pros in my opinion, because you are more than just a team, you have more control of the outcome, and there is the highest level of trust.
Since working on our projects is also what we like to do for fun in my family, we are always simultaneously working on projects for one of the businesses, we have a woodworking workshop and studio in our home, and so it is convenient to work anytime.
Mothers and daughters are always an interesting dynamic … what is it like in Spinerations?
We often have very different viewpoints, but that benefits us when we are working, because somehow our strengths and weaknesses balance out. We try to help and encourage each other as we work.
As you know, my personal interest in the health benefits of crafting – and generally how it improves life for individuals, relationships, and communities. What are your thoughts on this … how does living creatively benefit you?
My day isn’t complete unless I have made something! Creating is what gets me out of bed in the morning, and what almost keeps me from going to bed at night! Worries seem to fade when I am working on a project!
Now that I have several different crafts I am working on, I work them into my day based on the time I have or how I am feeling. Spinning is really the most relaxing and energizing at the same time. The entire process, from choosing colors and textures and combining them to the actual spinning is an adventure full of surprises. We never quite know for sure what the finished yarn will look like until it is finished. Usually looking at the finished hank of yarn inspires the next. As long as there is fiber in the house, we are busy and happy!