My Handmade Korea - 2019
A lot of new changes have been happening over here at Nutmeg Fibers HQ recently. July saw me travel to Korea and back for my 2nd Handmade Korea event. This time, as a solo traveller.
The beginning of August brought my youngest child entering highschool, marking the first time in 6 years that I have no children at home homeschooling, and making me the mother of both a highschool freshman and a sophomore. How?! Why?! What?! Huh?! Time flies….
Also, my amahhhhzing assistant moved to Chattanooga as the summer came to an end to start her freshman year of college…So for the first time in a while, I’m actually working completely alone at the house most of the time, without splitting focus between homeschool/lunches/garden/knitting/etc.
My brain had been a bit overwhelmed with all the changes happening, so I decided it was time for my summer vacation. Haha!
While on “vacation” we got established at school for the year, I revamped the website and became a lot more focused on what I’m wanting Nutmeg Fibers to be this year and beyond. I’m really excited, but also a little scared, to begin sharing this with you all! But mostly, I want to tell you about my trip!
For a long time now, I’ve been struggling with what the true purpose of Nutmeg Fibers is. Is it an Indie Yarn Company that produces natural dyed yarn, patterns and nothing else? If so, is there space in there for other fiber arts? What about sewing, a longtime love of mine that I’ve found little time for since I’ve begun to only produce yarn? What about embroidery and other handcrafts, such as dyeing, that are just as much a part of what I hope to nurture in others and share educational and resource products for? Should that just be in my “free time” that I have so little of…What about our magazine, that’s expanding for the first time to include 3 guest designers! Should it solely include Nutmeg Fibers yarn? What about other craft projects as well? Is there room for my voice in the fiber world? Is it needed? Is what I’m doing really anything so different than anyone else?
Anyhow….this was a lot of the noise bouncing around in my head recently regarding work. When you own a small business that mainly employs only yourself, plus a few other part-time editors, translators, assistants, helping hands, etc. it can be difficult to know what the best next step is. I often only have myself to bounce ideas off of, besides friends, family and loved ones that patiently sit and listen to me babble away about “What should I do about….blahblahblah”.
My trip to Korea, however, was both work and restorative! I was really looking forward to that travel time alone, which is often where my brain and soul recharge themselves and find their way to that next place that they need to be. Of course, as soon as I landed I was wishing I had my travel team (a.k.a. my kids) there with me, but I looked forward to spending any free time in places they’d have been uninterested in visiting with me before.
I spent most of my days there working in my booth at the Handmade Korea event, I was so inspired by my neighbors, as well as the people that I was able to meet that I’d never have met otherwise. Each day, as at all of my events, I came home with a bagful of business cards from all over the world. At end of day, I’d put them into my spiral notebook, along with a little blurb, or memory, about who they were and what conversations we had, so that I could make sure to remember everyone later when I returned back home. I’ve learned that this is the best way for me to stay in contact with people post-trade event, when you often meet a mass amount of people in a tiny amount of time…
My booth neighbors from Nepal, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, as well as friends I had met last year from Japan and Korea, were all there, working towards a common goal. We were all sharing our passion of “handmade”, from DIY aspects (such as sewing, knitting, embroidery) to finished products on display (such as illustrations, jewelry, food items, handmade clothes, and more). We were all getting so much inspiration and support from each other as a crowd of app. 150,000 people visited the event throughout the weekend. It was especially wonderful to become friends with @treecraftdiary and @spruceli33 as we laughed and chatted during slow times of the event. You should check them out!! They had great things for sale!
Perhaps the highlight of my trip, however, came on the Saturday, when 임순자 Lim Sun-Ja found her way into my booth. After looking around for a bit, she introduced herself, and we began to chat. It turned out that she was a professor at the Seoul (Incheon) campus of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) based out of New York. Sun-Ja and another professor, 정재만 Jung Jae-man there had begun planting an indigo garden on the rooftop of their building, and were passionate about teaching their design students about the possibilities of using natural dye colors and fibers alongside modern fashion design. As we continued to chat, she invited me to visit with her and Professor Jung on the upcoming Tuesday (my day to head home), offering to show me their school campus and dye garden. After some discussion regarding baggage and airport details, I readily agreed and looked forward to having this adventure with new friends while waiting for my evening flight home on that day.
So, after the event ended and my booth was all packed up, I spent Monday shopping and visiting our favorite neighborhood in Seoul, 홍대 (Hongdae). Honestly, a few tears of nostalgia as I came up from the subway at 홍대입구역 Hondgae Univ. Station, because it had been our “home base” for those previous two trips. There really is something truly special about that neighborhood. Perhaps it’s the park that’s always full of musicians and street artists at night, with cafes overlooking it so you can sit and people watch….or perhaps it’s just the energy of all the musicians, artists and young people that live there…whatever it is, I’m on board. I’ll sign a lease for that rooftop apartment in Mapo-gu anytime. Just give me a view of the city at night, and some plants, and I’ll be happy as a clam! But, I digress….this trip wasn’t about falling in love with Seoul yet again, as much as business!
On Tuesday, Sun-Ja met me at the city airport terminal to help me drop my bags off, introduced me to her friend 다형 Da Hyung, who would help translate during our afternoon visit to the school, and we hopped in a taxi to first go visit the Jung Jae-Man’s dye studio. It was a long drive, maybe about 30 minutes north of Seoul, into the countryside. It was a bit of a grey day, but as we pulled up to our final destination, I saw in front of me a stream, to the back a steep hillside filled with trees, and next to us, the large dye studio space.
I could spend a long, long time talking about this magical place, with a creek running down the hill towards the larger stream below…a screened cabin set back a way in the woods for people that wanted to come stay overnight, or perhaps for Professor Jung himself on cool nights…a large, wide, gravel yard with laundry lines crossing back and forth for drying freshly dyed items….a large back building for workshop spaces…wildflowers, tomatos, black-eyed susans and other flowers planted here and there….it was an ideal spot to get LOTS of natural dyeing done. And lots he did! Inside his studio, there were rows and rows of clothing, home goods, and other things that had been naturally dyed a spectrum of soft colors waiting to go out the door to vendors!
I was gifted a shirt (and some other truly precious things) as we looked around, and we chatted mordant methods, favorite ways to get greys, blacks, reds. I was shown the photos of naturally dyed 한복 hanbok that could be special ordered for formal occasions from their dye studio and more! Really, I have so much more to say about this visit, but I feel I’ll go on too long…so I’ve shared pictures instead.
So….after a snack and coffee while visiting Professor Jung’s studio space, we then went to see the campus of SUNY-Korea, which is the official name of the FIT campus in Incheon. Incheon is where the international airport is located in Seoul, so I was right nearby to be able to catch my flight that was leaving at 7pm. I was a tiny bit nervous I’d be late, just cause I’m so used to American security lines. But regardless, we went to see their campus (after hours, so no students were there) and I got to see some of the beautiful indigo plants that were growing on the rooftop of their building.
I couldn’t help but be inspired by the passion that both Jae-Man and Sun-Ja had for sharing the world of natural dyes with their students and beyond! I became determined to study by Korean more so that next time I visited, I could have more conversations with them about this all! But a shared belief in the importance of using natural dyes, creating items that are both connected with our history and also encouraging sustainable fashion trends was felt beyond language barriers. Sun-Ja’s passion for the growing hemp industry in Korea got me very curious about the possibility of collaborating with people here in America (and specifically my own fibershed here in Tennessee) on creating a hemp based yarn or fabric that was cost effective for my brand. So many ideas, so little time!
They drove me up to the airport, and took me inside to get checked in and everything…then we gave hugs goodbye and I knew I had made new friends. I can’t wait to see what their department does there in Incheon with the natural dye garden, and I hope I can go back very soon to visit and perhaps even collaborate with students on projects, or who knows what else! In the meantime, I may send a gift of embroidery thread, naturally dyed with indigo, to them for fashion design students to use on their projects if they’d like.
The trip was a bit of a whirlwind, and without my kids there, I was excited to get back home and give them hugs. I can’t wait to see where the inspiration I received on that trip takes me, and I am so thrilled to have met someone just as passionate about natural dyes as I was! Not even just one person, but two!!!
More about some new fall things here at Nutmeg later this week…..in the meantime,