Homestead Weaving Studio
by Rachel Perry
photo by George Bredewater
Last month’s annual Studio and Garden Tour showcased several enchanting hide-aways, including the Homestead Weaving Studio in southeastern Brown County.
After climbing a lane through a canopy of hardwoods, visitors arrive at a hilltop clearing where weaver Chris Gustin and her husband, Bob, make their home. In the nearby studio, Mrs. Gustin dyes, spins and weaves a variety of items, from fine soft silk scarves and clothing to durable cotton rugs.
Mrs. Gustin speaks of a mission more meaningful than that of simply creating beautiful weavings. “I’m trying to educate—that things still can be made in the United States by hand that are good quality and will last for a long time. I’m trying, to the best of my ability, to use things other companies deem as waste or scrap to keep it out of the waste stream. I’m willing to pay these companies to not throw things away so I can use them.”
In the beginning, negotiations with companies for scrap materials were serendipitous, but now that word has gotten out, Chris Gustin has reached her “saturation point” for accepting (unused) recyclable materials. “I’m in negotiations with a man in Turkey now who wants to sell me a 40 foot ship container of scrap-muslin hosiery,” she said. “I told the man that I can’t deal with the quantity he wants to sell. I don’t want to turn into a supplier.”
Although she does keep materials, including new yarns and fabrics, for resale to other weavers, Mrs. Gustin balances the wholesale side of her business with retail items and custom orders. When using recycled fabric, strips are cut approximately an inch wide and they roll up as they are sown together. “I enjoy creating something that is exactly what the person had in mind, and like to make unique pieces,” she declares.
When weaving, Mrs. Gustin keeps color theory in the back of her mind but does not comply with “hard and fast rules.” “Sometimes I get real brave and put together colors that my husband will ask, `Why did you put those colors together?’ Invariably (on those pieces) people will say, `Oh, I love the way you put those colors together!’ So it’s an instinctual thing.”
Much of Chris Gustin’s professional life has been devoted to journalism, a career her husband continues to pursue as the managing editor of The Republic in Columbus. “I started weaving in college,” Chris explained. “And I’ve been doing it as a balance to my vocation (journalism)—using the artistic side of my brain.” She graduated from college with her journalism degree in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, and that’s also where she first learned to weave.
“As soon as I got my degree I moved to New York City. After going to a relatively small school, I thought that New York had to be the most exciting place in the world to be,” she laughed. “I was going to be a folksinger (in the late 1960s) so I packed up my guitar in my convertible and drove to the city.”
After a year working in editorial jobs, Chris decided she’d had enough excitement. “Luckily I was still in one piece,” she said. Traveling between New York and Michigan, “I fell in love with a little place in Pennsylvania called East Berlin where there was a weaving school.” Chris talked her way into a job and settled in the tiny town of a thousand people.
“After about a year, some people came through from Colorado who said that Boulder was the most beautiful place in the world. They were going to open a yarn shop and asked if I wanted to invest with them. I didn’t invest in the yarn shop but I went out and worked for them. And that’s where I met my husband. We were neighbors.”
After marrying, the couple moved to Colorado Springs where Chris worked as a photojournalist and Bob served as the paper’s news editor. Continuing their respective careers in journalism, the Gustins moved to Nebraska for several years, and finally ended up in Evansville. When they moved to Brown County two years ago, both Bob and Chris had been employed with Evansville newspapers for eighteen years.
“I didn’t want to move up here because we were very comfortable in Evansville and we liked the house we lived in. I had a studio too. So I challenged my husband that if he wanted me to come up here he had to find something better,” Chris chuckled. “And he did! It’s a bigger house. I asked if I could have the garage for my studio and he said, `Sure, but that’s not good enough. We’ll build you a studio.'”
The new 24′ by 40′ building interior is a visual delight, with a ceiling of natural yellow poplar, shelves of colored yarn spools and walls of woven hangings. Free standing looms, racks of scarves and shawls, and heaps of rugs comfortably crowd the open space.
“A lot of times I’ll put myself to sleep thinking about weaving designs,” Mrs. Gustin admits. “I’m not a two-dimensional artist and it’s hard for me to sketch my ideas. I can visualize and go straight from my brain to the thread, but if I have to draw it out it’s usually fruitless.”
Judging from the variety and quality of work displayed, Chris Gustin has developed an effective method to create. A member of the Brown County Craft Guild, her work is sold in the Brown County Craft Gallery on Main Street in Nashville. Her web site can be found at homesteadweaver.com or one can visit the Homestead Weaving Studio by calling (812) 988-8622 for an appointment.