skeins of yarn
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How It's Made: Gorgeous Eco Yarns

In rural North Carolina, artisan weaver Jessica Green creates organic handmade textiles that are both folksy and modern.

December 23, 2015

Jessica Green holds up a yellow-and-pink coverlet decorated with a pattern that creates the appearance of leaves blooming from the bedspread’s center.

She is so petite that only her hair—which at the moment is dyed a color similar to the coverlet—pokes out above the outstretched blanket, which was commissioned by Manhattan’s ABC Carpet and Home. It’s a fitting scene, because Green’s identity is now so firmly intertwined with her work that they are like two of the neatly interwoven threads in one of her scarves. 

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Jessica Green
Johnny Autry

Green, 29, owns A Little Weather, a handwoven-goods shop situated in a barn in Madison County, North Carolina, and everything about the place is an extension of her desire to fully occupy the field of artisan weaving, from raising and feeding the sheep that provide much of her wool to spinning the finished product on her looms. “When I’m in the studio,” she says, “I’m kind of a monomaniac.”

Related: Weave A Cute Basket Out Of Pine Needles

A more likely explanation is that she was born to her chosen vocation. She was raised by parents in Austin, Texas, who were lapsed Mormons, and she stayed connected to her extended family through crafts. Her grandmother taught her to sew, and on garden walks they identified and drew flowers. In college, naturally fascinated by her own history, Green plunged into anthropology and the rituals of Mormon women, particularly with regard to homesteading and handwork. “My family talks about me as the pioneer,” Green says. “In their minds, I live in the history of their culture.” 

handwoven napkins
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But none of this added up to anything until several years ago. She was a directionless 23-year-old living in Brooklyn when she sat down at a loom, and something clicked. Soon after, she signed up for a weaving retreat at North Carolina’s historic Penland School of Crafts. “The experience made me weep, it felt so profound,” Green recalls. About a year later, she accepted her instructor’s invitation to move to Oregon for a textile apprenticeship. When it came time to set up her own business, she chose to move to Appalachia, where women have kept homegrown textiles alive as a cottage industry for generations. “Weaving never died here,” Green says. “I’m just a step in that story.”

Related: How To Make A Lavender Wreath

A 360-degree look around the inside of the barn that houses her studio shows how that story unfolds. Four wooden looms occupy center stage. They’re the workhorses, churning out fine blankets, scarves, pillowcases, and other woven goods that range from high art to everyday linens. Behind the looms, cones wound with wool punctuate the walls. Some of the material comes from Green’s flock of Cormo sheep that graze just up the hill; their soft, durable wool is harvested by a neighbor during annual spring shearings. Supplemental wool comes from small mills in New England, the sorts of places where the owners pick up the phone. “I’m a plumb-line person,” Green says. “For me, part of digging into weaving and fiber is getting as source-based as possible.”

cow and sheep
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Her 10 sheep graze alongside Redbud and Clover, a couple of Dexter cows. Every few days, Green and her boyfriend, Daniel Bowman, an arborist, move the herd to a new patch of grass on their 24 acres. Their garden plot grows a tangle of plants for food (okra, peppers) and natural dye (indigo, rhubarb, marigold).

For commissioned pieces, she makes her own yarn, dyeing it in a claw-foot tub. She forages for Queen Anne’s lace and black walnut in the area fields and woods to augment her colors, and all of her products are hemmed by hand. 

 

handwoven blankets
Johnny Autry

Green often finds inspiration in antique designs. Some are pulled from dog-eared books on the history of weaving but updated for the tastes of upscale buyers. Others riff on Colonial American patterns—the designs, or recipes, passed from one woman to another on scraps of paper. “The recipes changed from weaver to weaver,” says Green. “In the same way, I’m taking the recipe and fitting it into a design palette that feels more modern.” 

Related: Turn Your Child's Art Into A Pillowcase

As she talks, she fingers the metal pegs on a huge Ahrens & Violette loom. She steps on its treadles, cueing clanks and creaks, jangles and groans. Then she throws the shuttle back and forth, and the foot-powered wooden workhorse lumbers into action, weaving the woolen weft into a cotton warp—an old technique that renders her goods machine washable.

Jessica Green
Johnny Autry

All these moving parts might sound like a lot to manage. Green doesn’t see it that way. “Creating a life where I can merge my work life with my lifestyle is what makes me really happy,” she says. Call it a life fully interwoven.

 

Top of their craft

For superb woven goods, seek out small-scale artisans like Green, who sells her handiwork on her website, alittleweather.com. Artists who create similar products in California, many of whom spin their own wool or source organic fibers and natural dyes, congregate online at fibershed.com. Find artists local to your area at weavespindye.org/local-guilds, which is also a great resource for locating regional fairs where you can fawn over and examine the merchandise in person. If you’re eyeing a piece but don’t see an official “organic” stamp, don’t sweat it. Certification is often too expensive for cottage-industry producers, but their dedication to the craft ensures ethical, earth-friendly products.

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