The next in my series of Blueprints artist covers is Saltbox. The Saltbox cover illustration was created by Katy Riley of Tree House Farms.
I met Katy at one of the local fabric shops where I teach and got to know her by visiting her stand at the farmer’s market. Katy is a woman of many talents: Farmer, Weaver, Artist, Conservator, etc. On her farm she raises sheep, among other super cute animals, and grows delicious produce. She’s a community collaborator and organizer (she started the Farmer’s Market in my town) and an all around cool lady. Today I’ll talk to her about life on the farm, the magic of fiber, and bringing it all together.
T: What inspired you to start your own farm?
K: Since I was a kid I have been making little gardens for myself. After moving to MA I lucked into a farm job and never looked back. I did say a few times that I would never want a farm of my own because it would be too much work. Clearly I ignored that.
T: How did you get into the fiber side of things (sheep, angora rabbits, etc)? Do you have any plans to expand your fiber offerings?
K: Along with always making tiny gardens I have played around with sewing and crochet and making little bits of rope from grass since I was a kid. I went to school for textiles and when I found my current farm, it came with a flock of sheep. So far my farming has kind of guided itself through circumstance and luck. And now a lot of folks asking if I want to adopt their extra/unwanted animals.
The biggest goal with the fiber production here is to have a full Fiber CSA. I have spots for 6 members currently and really want people to get to know the small scale side of textiles. The wool is all naturally dyed with plants from the farm and the woodlot on the farm; each month of the share is dyed with a plant that is in season.
My dream with fiber and small farming is to create farmhacks for fiber processing. There are folks who have made a pedal powered drum carder, and pedal powered spinning machines. I've been sketching designs and collecting parts and hope to have models made so that people like me with small flocks of sheep can process their fiber without having to spend big bucks sending it off.
Making locally produced textiles an affordable and reasonable venture is something I feel pretty strongly about. We have been making huge strides towards local food security and building local economies in other ways, it makes sense that we should start making and buying our clothes locally as well.
T: Along with being a farmer, you also work as a textile conservator. Have these two disciplines informed or inspired each other at all?
K: Attention to detail and appreciation for hand making are the two biggest things they have in common. While working at the textile studio, I have a lot of time to think about my farm, or more often than not, enjoy having a break from the farm. I think having an off farm job that I love to do has helped prevent burn-out. The studio requires me to separate myself as fully as possible from the farm - I can't track dirt in or wear my farm pants or work boots. I actually have to clean under my fingernails. It is a very different physical and mental space.
T: What is your favorite piece you have worked on to date?
K: I love working on tapestries. It is so encouraging when I am stabilizing and repairing an old piece and come across someone else's repair work from years ago. It is fun to try and imagine if the repair is from a decade ago or a century ago. I spend hundreds of hours on each tapestry, I feel like by the end of it I have gotten to know the hand and style of everyone else who has worked before me.
T: You’re also an artist and illustrator! How does your art connect to all the other cool things you do?
K: Each thing I do informs each other. I may notice something in the field and want to draw it. There may be someone plowing in the background of a tapestry and I will start thinking about crop plans. Sewing anything makes me think about how the fibers came from their plant/animal and made it to my spool. All of my work requires me to take note of the little things and appreciate them for what they are and to not lose them in the bigger picture.
T: You spend a lot of time in farm-work friendly clothing, but I know you like a bit of pizazz along with your utilitarian garb. What’s your favorite ‘on the farm’ outfit these days and what’s your favorite thing to wear on a (hypothetical) day off?
K: I just got a wool wide brimmed hat and am completely in love with it. Doing chores in the snow this morning I didn't have any snowflakes go down the back of my neck, my shoulders stayed dry, and my head is pretty toasty. Plus taking it off and all the water and snow just beads right off. Plus I think it looks pretty rad.
On my days off, or when I am working in the studio, I really like to wear a loose shift dress (or the polar opposite and a tight knit dress) with leggings and fluffy wool socks.
A friend of mine has started sewing custom fit carhart-style work pants and I am jonesing after a pair for myself.
T: How does sewing factor in to your farm/art life? What inspires the clothing you make for yourself or the objects you make/design for others?
K: Most of my sewing revolves around repairs. My friends all have jackets or gloves or a pant pocket that bears my mending marks. I love working over old repairs and continuing to see each item evolve over time through their wearer's actions and through my mending.
T: What article of clothing represents you? (Be as literal or abstract as you like)
K: I have a straw hat that I have woven patches onto with blue yarn. It is my favorite summer hat and I feel very connected to it. It takes a beating and isn't the prettiest or most effective, but it keeps getting loved and cared for and doing it's best to keep the sun off my neck.
T: What projects have you finished recently or have coming up? What potential future projects are you planning for/dreaming about (if any)?
K: oh jeeze. walk around this farm and you'll see half finished/in progress projects everywhere. Farm things never end - building projects, maintenance, planting, weeding, harvesting, storing, planning. yeah. Cleaning. I will always take a handy volunteer around here.
Around the house there is a half-warped loom, a couple knit socks in progress, a pile of repairs, a paper mache mask that I started a few nights ago and need to paint... With my personal projects, I like to pick things up as I feel like it. Everything eventually gets finished and I don't ever stress too much over it.
The list of projects I am planning for and dreaming about goes on for days. Both my textile work and farming give me a lot of time to think and I am always coming up with some new thing I want to try out. Honestly I hope that never changes. And I hope also to maybe win the lottery or something so I can try out a few of the ideas.
Katy has just launched the sign up for her CSA shares. While only locals can take advantage of vegetables, eggs, and seedlings, her amazing fiber & wool CSA, including naturally dyed yarn, is open to out of state folks too.
Learn more about Katy's farm, her CSAs and shop her handmade goods on her website (Treehousefarmsma.com) and follow her on Instagram (@treehousefarms) for farm updates, tapestry details, beautiful handcrafts, and more.