I also decided to use local materials as much as possible. There are two major woolen mills in the Maritimes: Briggs and Little in New Brunswick and MacAusland’s in Prince Edward Island. Local sheep farmers send their wool there to be spun. The wool is durable and comes in a beautiful range of colours. I began weaving and selling in small crafts shows and from my home. I design not only the fabric I weave but also the garments. I have never taken a garment pattern making course but I enjoy the engineering of taking a two dimensional piece of fabric and making it fit a three dimensional shape. I must admit that starting out I made everything to fit me. If someone asked what size something was, I would say, “My size.” I quickly learned that people come not only in different sizes, but also different shapes.
Double Whale Handwoven Designs was born in the spring of 1984. Having taken a break from my first career as a photogrammetric technician, I graduated from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 1983 with a BFA in textiles. I had no job but did have a loom, and was living cheaply in a small village on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. I decided to make clothing as that is one of the necessities of life, and to make mostly coats and jackets out of wool, as that is a necessity in our climate.
In 1985 I was asked to join The Lincoln Reef, a newly opened craft shop in Lunenburg. It was run by six craftspeople who worked one day a week in the shop selling both their products and the work of local craftspeople on consignment.
In 1995 I opened my own shop, Double Whale Handwoven Designs, in the space I had used as a studio in the basement of the building which housed The Lincoln Reef. It is two steps down from ground level and has sunny south facing windows with a showroom in the front and my studio in the back. Despite the smallness of the space, I got a larger second loom in order to weave blankets.
I have no interest in being a production weaver, weaving hundreds of yards of fabric and making a limited number of styles and colours in all the sizes. I seldom weave more than 12 yards at a time, which will make three large items (coats and jackets). With the leftovers I make hats and vests, and with the scraps I make rugs and chair pads, so as not to have much wastage. This allows me to make custom orders so a person can get whatever colour, style and size he/she wants if nothing on the rack suits. I often have one-of-a-kind items as I try out new ideas, working out design problems.
I acquired an apprentice in 2013, Karen Mackenzie, a young mother who wanted to learn the craft of weaving. She has infused the shop with fresh ideas, much welcomed after working on my own for 30 years.