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Meet Siobhan Kelleher of Boston Wool Works in Roslindale

Today we’d like to introduce you to Siobhan Kelleher.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Siobhan. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I grew up in a very crafty family — my mother, grandmother, and aunts all knit and sewed, and my father and brother and several uncles did woodworking and carpentry. My grandmother worked at a yarn store and as a seamstress, sewing tailored Harris Tweed sports coats on a treadle sewing machine. My mom used to make a lot of our clothes and was always knitting. I learned to knit and some basics of sewing when I was pretty young – in junior high, when the Home Ec teacher “taught” us to hand-sew ahem, she was shocked that despite not paying attention to her explanation, I sewed a perfect blind hem in minutes!

As I pursued my musical career (I was a professional double bass player), I did much less crafting but then decided to pick up knitting again after my mother became sick and started to withdraw from us kids to protect us from her decline. I figured a good way for us to engage was to ask her to help me pick out yarn and a sweater pattern to knit and to teach me how to knit. I was so proud to show her my first stitches, and she evaluated them closely and said, “this is all wrong, rip it out!” I’ve since become a much better knitter!

Knitting led to spinning, dyeing, and recycling yarn, and eventually led to weaving as my mother’s years were winding down, and she wanted to make sure I knew how to use the weaving equipment she had acquired when she got into weaving shortly before she retired. I now combine all these fiber skills into my work, recycling yarn and fabric from sweaters, sewing, weaving, and dying, and designing my own line of accessories and housewares. I also am passing on the skills and knowledge I have acquired over the years by teaching workshops on recycling and weaving.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It’s been very interesting learning so many different techniques over the years, and some things have come more easily than others, but the difficult ones are often the ones that capture my attention! I really enjoy weaving, but at first, it was really difficult for me to get used to coming from lots of knitting. While both crafts use yarn to create fabric, in knitting you can just grab needles and yarn and get rolling (though it takes a long time to complete a project), while in weaving the majority of the work is in the setup and the weaving goes relatively quickly.

At the beginning, I had no patience for all the setup work in weaving, and I’d take shortcuts or not fix mistakes as I went along, and the project would get harder and harder as the uneven tension and knotted and broken yarn kept me from being able to weave smoothly. Eventually, I got better at the setup techniques, and learned how each step builds on the others, to get to happy weaving!

The recycled materials I work with present ongoing challenges, since each sweater is slightly different from others, and it has taken some practice to recognize which types of materials and which constructions will give me the smoothest path to a finished project. I’ve had too much experience spending hours recycling yarn from a sweater to use as the warp on a weaving project, only to find that it broke once I put it under tension on the loom!

It’s also been a challenge to create my own business from my passion, and to figure out how to create a sustainable business, including developing seasonal lines, how and to whom to market, and how to both keep customers interested and satisfy my creative desires. But it’s been a really rewarding journey – the struggle makes the small victories that much sweeter!

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Boston Wool Works – what should we know?
I design and make accessories (such as bags and scarves) and home textiles, primarily from recycled materials. I do all the material selection (yes, lots of time spent in thrift stores!) and recycling (sweaters into yarn, garments into fabric, leather belts into straps) and manufacturing (sewing, weaving, dying) myself. I also teach some of these skills to interested crafters.

Growing up in a large family in New England, with parents who were Depression kids, we learned to save everything and repurpose as much as we could, because in their day you didn’t own much and couldn’t count on being able to buy more. We all learned to mend, and a piece of clothing would go through a lifecycle from nice garment, to casual garment, to work clothes, to rags or quilt scraps, as it naturally wore out. We did not buy a lot of new clothes – we had hand-me-downs (especially us younger ones!) or clothes handmade by my mother or grandmother (or both: handmade clothes that were handed down!) This connection to reusing material, finding the gems in a worn piece, and making something new out of something old is fundamental to the way I work, and my love for, facility with, and commitment to using these materials is at the core of my business.

I’m always looking for ways to use more of the small pieces and approach “zero waste” — customers sometimes notice that there will be a bag and a scarf that match because they were made from the same sweater material! I also really care about the drape of the fabric and finishing the pieces really finely, which is the influence of my seamstress grandmother. If you’re going to make something by hand, it should look BETTER than what is machine made!

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
My persistence! I don’t give up easily, so I’m willing to really struggle through a challenge until I can figure it out. This is also helped by my training as a professional classical musician — you spend years and years working on mastering the instrument, and most of that time is spent alone in a practice room, so you need to be very driven and analytical to progress and not either give up or go crazy.

A wonderful side effect of this persistence is that I’ve acquired a wide range of skills along the way that really helps me run my own business: I have experience in design, project management, financial analysis, garment construction, marketing… all the things you need to be a successful entrepreneur!

Pricing:

  • My finished pieces range from $30 to about $200, and my recycled yarns start as low as $8.

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: BostonVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Bobbi

    January 3, 2018 at 1:14 am

    I have taken classes with Siobhan and she brings her enthusiasm for her craft to every class! You feel exhilarated and excited as she teaches you the weaving craft. Siobhan provides a learning atmosphere where all bloopers are embraced as learning tips and you find yourself just wanting to get on with the weaving. She is one of the best teachers I’ve ever experienced!

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