Katherine Shaughnessy is one of my favorite people on the craft scene. She runs the online shop Wool & Hoop, which is one of the main online suppliers for crewelwork kits and fine supplies. She is also the author of The New Crewel. A few years ago, she moved from Chicago to the very small Texas town of Marfa (population 2,000), where she now has ten chickens and two kids, and she recently opened a little craft store on the town square. Katherine is a trained artist with an interesting story and I really wanted her to tell it in her own words.
Katherine is pictured above wearing an outfit created by her shopmate, Lorna Leedy.
First, tell us how you got to Marfa.
I ended up in Marfa in a roundabout way. In 2002, my husband and I sold our comfortable, newly renovated Chicago home and bought a gas-guzzling little camper van. We left our fast-paced urban life for the open road without much of a plan or even a destination. He freelanced as a writer and editor. I made miniature dioramas and drawings, painted tree murals in various homes, and found myself obsessed with the idea of crewel embroidery. It was while living that year or so on the road that I started designing my own crewel kits with the intention of bringing back to life a mostly dead craft. I was inspired by what I saw as a vibrant craft renaissance fueled mainly by indies on the internet and thought if no one else was going to do it, I might as well get busy.
One time, while we were still living in the van and crisscrossing the country, a friend mentioned the names of a few towns he had discovered on a recent travel story he was writing, one being Marfa. I said “Marfa?! I’ve always wanted to go to Marfa.” I remembered that’s where artist Donald Judd set up in the 70s. It was wide open country and I wanted to see it.
We stopped. We stayed. We left. And then, over the course of the next year, we returned again and again. We were in love with the whole area. It is high desert mountains, as opposite the plains of the Midwest as you could get. But beyond the starry nights and beautiful range, we loved the people we met in Marfa and the surrounding towns. We quickly put roots down, and have been here ever since. We now have 2 children (Fiona Mae and Wyatt Makepeace), ten chickens, and a place we call home.
I was elected to the school board this spring, and my husband Tom runs the public radio station which he helped found a few years ago. I still make art, but not as frequently, and over the past year have been setting up the Wool & Hoop flagship shop in an old adobe building on the main drag in the middle of town.
What on earth made you decide to open a shop in such a small town?
I really needed a place to warehouse my stock and set up a workroom/studio. My friend Lorna Leedy had just begun renting a storefront as a workspace/showroom, and there were lots of empty rooms available. She’s a great shopmate and our stuff is complementary enough. Now the building is full with a chef, a seamstress/fashion designer/entrepreneur, and a new little shop called JM Dry Goods. Lots of ladies (except for the chef), so it’s a lot of fun.
The funny thing is that I’m always telling my customers to check first for materials at their local mom and pop needle arts shop. Unfortunately, many of these places have disappeared which, ironically, is why I started designing kits in the first place — there just wasn’t anything out there anymore. Now, I’ve sort of come full circle and have a mom and pop shop myself.
But I would never have done this cold, without my internet business being well-established. Luckily, Marfa is a tourist destination, and so we seem to get a fair amount of visitors who come into our shop looking for something to take home. But as more people discover that we exist, I’m sure we will get a fair amount of local shoppers looking for everything from a button to a yard of fabric.
What is your background in art/design?
I have an undergraduate degree (BFA) in painting from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and a masters degree (MFA) in fiber arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
What will you carry in your shop? More than what you currently offer on your website?
I’ll carry everything I have on my website now, in addition to fabric, sewing notions, other embroidery kits, knitting needles and wool, and a few art and craft items like paint, brushes, paper, canvas, etc. Eventually some of these sewing items, especially the other kits, will end up on my website for people to buy as well. I also plan to offer tutus, superhero capes, baby bibs, aprons and pillows (items I’ve been making for years as gifts, and now I have a place to showcase them).
I hear you’ll also be offering classes.
Yes, one day a week we’ll do an after-school class for the children and then another day for adults. We’ll start with Basic Embroidery and Sewing 101, then move on to knitting, felting, and lots more.
It’s important to me that people experience a needle and thread or a sewing machine at least once so that they can understand the labor that goes into the millions of handmade objects/clothing we surround ourselves with.
What’s going on with your art? Have you found time to continue making work?
Not much, but a little. I have some embroidered “paintings” and some embroidery on aluminum screen pieces. (http://www.woolandhoop.com/artist.html
Tell us about your chicken series, I love it!
My “Chicken Littles” are the antithesis of the angel: little red hens with human arms doing nothing but the work of the devil — spreading bad news, screeching false alarms, and encouraging paranoia in typical chicken fashion.
I have ten good hens that I adore and who provide me and my family with an ample supply of eggs. They are funny little creatures and I often imagine that when one starts screeching at the top of her lungs, she must be announcing the end of the world. They really are the most frightened creatures I’ve ever known. I made this series of work in January of 2007 as a political statement about the climate of fear we were living in, due to the unnecessary fear and paranoia incited by the media.
What’s it like juggling a business with two toddlers?
Not easy, but never boring! I want to write a book entitled “How to Start a Business During Nap Time.” Wool & Hoop is just me, and sometimes a few temporary workers. It’s a very small company.
…in a very small town! If you ever find yourself out in the middle of nowhere in West Texas, be sure to check out Katherine’s shop and the rest of Marfa — it’s an amazing place with a magic all its own. You might just find yourself settling in and setting up shop.
Wool & Hoop
203 E. San Antonio
Marfa Texas 79843
A few facts about Marfa, Texas:
- Population: about 2,000
- Famous for the Marfa Lights: a mysterious phenomenon in the nighttime sky.
- “Giant” was shot here in 1956: James Dean’s last film, starring Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor.
- The artist Donald Judd moved here in the 70s and set up a huge studio, which still exists today and has spawned The Chinati Foundation and The Judd Foundation.
- Marfa boasts a thriving art scene, including multiple galleries and live music venues.
- It’s in the high desert plains: 4800 feet above sea level (that’s almost as high as Denver)
Download Katherine’s Motley Mum’s pattern and crewel embroidery instructions in PDF format.
About the Author:
Julie Jackson is the creator of Subversive Cross Stitch and Kitty Wigs. Her new book, Glamourpuss: The Enchanting World of Kitty Wigs will be released by Chronicle Books this fall.