About

Mission Statement

I started this buy-a-thread blog because I’d like to sell some of the interesting yarn I have accumulated over the nearly forty years that I have been weaving and designing fabrics, so I originally designed the blog as a product catalog, with photos, descriptions, and buying information.

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But I thought that it would be more interesting for you, and more fun for me, if I also told you a little about those forty years I spent working with and accumulating yarn, and about my transformation from “beatnik secretary” for a magazine publisher, to New York City textile industry sample handweaver, to textile industry fabric designer, to owner/designer of my own small handwoven accessories business.

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And since the yarn and other items that I’ll offer come from my collections, reflect my decisions, and appear in my designs, I’m hoping to offer, here, something like a short joint biography of my materials and myself.

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Please do look at the yarns that I have for sale; I hope that you will find some you’d like to buy. I also hope that you will find out something about me and about the (vanishing) New York textile industry and its “invisible” handweavers (also mostly vanished).

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Thank you.

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About Fern Devlin and Fern Devlin Design, Inc.

For more than twenty years, my firm, Fern Devlin Design, has been producing original handwoven accessories. In my designs, I try to combine the rustic and the urbane, the hand-crafted and the high-fashion, to create unique, elegant outerwear scarves and home accessories. I spent fifteen years as a textile designer in New York City’s garment center, gaining an in-depth experience of design and commercial production of textiles. However, during that time I also fell in love with weaving as a folk art form, and in 1983 I left the textile industry to pursue a more personal approach to textile art and established Fern Devlin Design, Inc.

Today, working from my New York studio, I create new designs and experiment with luxury yarns on traditional looms, and my work is currently in some of the most elegant and prestigious stores in the country. My scarves have been carried by Neiman Marcus, Barneys New York and Japan, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Paul Stuart, and other outstanding retail stores.

Over the years, I’ve accumulated a large and varied collection of unique luxury yarns, some of which I’m now offering for sale – and that’s what this weblog is about. If you would like to be notified by e-mail of new yarn postings on this blog, please contact me: ferndevny(at)gmail.com.

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Expanded biography

Spencer Museum of Art, Gift of Carrie A. Hall

Spencer Museum of Art, Gift of Carrie A. Hall

 

 

First steps

Image should not be copied without the permission of the copyright holder (Craft Horizons or Spencer Museum)

Craft Horizons magazine, June 1966, with a dazzling quilt square by Carrie A. Hall on the cover, lit up the newsstand and changed my life.

My life then

In 1963, because I knew who Buckminster Fuller was (or so the interviewer said), I was hired as an editorial assistant at MicroWaves magazine in spite of my unimpressive résumé of temporary jobs. I stayed there for several years, working in a small office in Midtown Manhattan with incredibly cool people, but I neither knew nor cared anything about electronics or the military components and systems that I wrote about. After four years and a couple of promotions, I had become a very bored news editor.

Joan, my good friend and kindred spirit at work, was also bored, but she loved fashion, sewed her own clothes, and was dating a sandal maker who was part of the craft movement of the 1960s. So when she became interested in fiber crafts, I followed.

We bought books and supplies, dabbled in knitting and embroidery, and went to occasional exhibits. I still have the books that I bought then, and looking at them now revives my excitement at discovering the vibrant world of ethic textiles and needlework. I also lived in an East Village neighborhood that was mostly Polish and Ukrainian, so I absorbed the colorful imported embroidered, printed, and painted designs that were in shops and that people wore.

When Joan quit her job and moved away, I was desperate to quit, too, and to find work in a field closer to my new interests, so I applied for a job at McCall’s Needlework and Crafts magazine. By then I had a decent résumé and I did so well on whatever test they gave me that they asked whether I had ever taken it before (I hadn’t), but they wouldn’t hire me because I was earning a little more money at my MicroWaves job than they were offering. I was in my twenties and unmarried, and could live cheaply (that was a very different New York), but the idea of someone’s choosing to take a cut in pay was just too strange for the battleaxe who interviewed me to accept. I was devastated.

Then I saw Craft Horizons’ June 1966 issue, which contained a portfolio of stunning sepia photographs and an article entitled “Crafts of the Southern Appalachians” by the poet Jonathan Williams. I had never seen Appalachian craftspeople or handcrafts and was smitten by all of it, but especially by a photograph of a smiling weaver shyly holding up her (overshot) coverlet, and all I could think was, “I want to do that.”

In the back of Craft Horizons I noticed a small display ad for The Craft Students’ League at the YWCA in Manhattan, which taught “18 Different Courses in Crafts, Design, and Art,” so I enrolled in an evening weaving course, and then . . . but that’s another story.

Moving on

I don’t know what I expected from my weaving class, but the Craft Students’ League’s casual, social atmosphere disappointed me. Being new and intimidated, I sat around a lot and waited while the instructor chatted with other students. The approach was so laid-back, and so much time elapsed between parts of the process, that I kept forgetting what I had already learned.

At the time I had nothing to compare my instruction with, but I now know that some of the methods I learned were peculiar. Take the warping process for example: I made my first warp on a warping board, counting slowly and nervously, then carefully took the chained warp over to one of the floor looms where three of us dressed the loom – two, in the front, pulling on the warp to keep it taut and one, behind the loom, cranking it onto the beam. I didn’t even own a loom yet but now I was already worried about where I was going to find two helpers every time I wanted to put a project on the loom.

I don’t remember anything about my first warp except that it was dark red, but my second warp was a serious disappointment. The class was assigned to weave a twill sampler, and I loved the bold, graphic diagrams for “straight and fancy twills” in “The Weaver’s Book,” by Harriet Tidball. I chose a couple of twills and expected my weaving to look like the illustrations. I didn’t understand that the “threads” in the diagrams were many times thicker than my perle cotton was, so the bold, graphic weaves of my fantasy just looked spindly.

Then I met Janice.

Janice’s husband and my boyfriend, Jerry, knew each other, and Jerry told me that Janice had a loom in their loft. Their loft was in Chinatown, New York City, mid-1960s. What were the odds of that serendipitous meeting happening, I wonder.

Jerry and I would move into a loft soon too, but at the time of my visit to Janice’s loft, I was smitten by the big open space and the beautifully proportioned, light wood, 8-harness Gilmore floor loom in the center of it.

Janice’s reaction to hearing that I was taking a weaving class at the Craft Students’ League was, “You’re not going to learn anything there. If you want to learn to weave, get a job.” I was amazed to learn: a) that there were handweaving jobs in NYC that could be gotten, and b) that I would learn to put a warp on the loom by myself – sometimes three in a day, according to Janice.

She was interviewing for a job as a designer at Burlington Woolens – a new division of Burlington Industries that produced sportswear and coating fabrics – and suggested that I call for an interview, lie about my “experience,” and try to get a job as a sample weaver. It didn’t seem to bother Hunter, the Burlington executive who interviewed me, that I was willing to accept a salary that was less than half what I had been earning at MicroWaves, but after I was hired, he did ask Janice, “How is Fern going to live on $65.00 a week?”

For my part, I was so happy that I was going to be paid to learn to weave that I didn’t think about how I was going to live. I gave my notice with excitement and joy, and headed for 1450 Broadway and Burlington’s weave room.

The story of my Garment Center life continues at
2009 Weave of the week #10 and 2009 Weave of the week #19. Thanks for reading.

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