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Studio Tour: Voices of Industry

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The face behind Voices of Industry: Adele Stafford.

Adele Stafford of Voices of Industry weaves textiles using fiber that’s been grown by sustainable farmers across the USA. This consummate creative works in an artisans’ collective housed in the Heath Ceramics tile factory in San Francisco, so we were beyond thrilled to stop by and see what kind of magic she’s been weaving.

Ready and waiting: A few of Adele’s lovely garments.

We love Heath Ceramics! What’s it like working in its building?
“There are about eight of us small-batch manufacturers in residence on the second floor above the tile factory. I actually share my studio with a woman named Joanne Zorkendorfer, who’s behind Olli, this cool traditional craft company. There are other textile studios, jewelers, and a letterpress shop up there too. It’s a lovely creative place to be.”

How long have you had a studio there?
“Only for about three months—I started Voices of Industry in December 2013—but I hope to be there for years to come.”

Yarn comes in from mills on cones, and Adele must transfer it to spools before dressing the loom.

What inspired you to start your own company?
“I’d been working in corporate design, managing a creative team and overseeing accounts. But being a maker was always in the background. I actually graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design as a glass blower! I knew I wanted a change, so I left my job.”

Did you have a plan at the time?
“Not really. I gave myself three to four months to play discovery and figure out what to do next. I learned how to weave in middle school, and I’ve always loved textiles, so I decided to explore that direction. I apprenticed with a textile maker and took a weaving class with this insanely amazing teacher, Jan Langdon, who weaved with all the greats in the 1950s and ’60s including Anni Albers and Jack Lenor Larsen. The first time I sat down at the loom again, I felt like I was at home.”

The heart of the studio, a mechanical loom that uses an 1840s dobby mechanism to set the weaving pattern.

So then you started Voices of Industry. How would you describe it?
“I strive to tell an agricultural story through my textiles, which utilize domestic fiber that’s 100-percent farmed and spun in the United States. We invest in the independent farmer, the biodynamic alchemist, and the punk-rock shepherdess.”

Bits, bobs, and shuttles.

Why is it so important to you to use sustainable domestic fiber?
“I was raised by a chef, and I’ve been part of Slow Food for 15 years, so I’ve been very aware of the relationship between food and farmer. When I started getting into weaving and sourcing yarn, I wanted to know exactly where it came from. Companies are more and more transparent about their source of labor, but you still rarely know the origin of the cloth.”

It takes Adele four days to dress the loom and prepare for weaving.

What do you look for in the farmers you work with?
“They have to be independent, use sustainable agricultural practices, possess an empathetic approach to breeding, and have an emotional relationship with the land.”

Have you personally met every farmer you work with?
“Absolutely! And I’ve spent time on all their farms. We were recently at a farm outside Asheville, NC, for a week harvesting wool. Every farmer I work with is a quirky individual—you have to be a bit on the fringe to do this job; it’s so, so hard. But they all have an awesome narrative, and they’re all so beautiful in terms of their commitment to the land.”

In a sea of neutral threads, a pop of fuchsia stands out.

What does a typical day in your studio look like?
“I commute in from Oakland, pretty early. I weave in the mornings because it’s the time of day when I’m the most productive, and because it’s impossible to weave when you’re tired. I’ll weave for no more than five hours—it’s hard on the body—then in the afternoon I’ll design, work on the business side, update the website, and lead studio tours.”

Why do you love weaving?
“I love the rhythm. It’s incredibly meditative, though your body has to be very present. You can’t go into autopilot. But I love that it’s physical, that the entire process is driven by my body. I also simply love fiber.”

Adele built her own spare shelving from plumbing pipe and plywood.

Can you describe your design process?
“I do a very rough sketch of my ideas, then bring those drawings along with a mood board to my patternmaker. We work very closely together. I try to design as many pieces as I can from one width of cloth, so we’ll sit down and she’ll tell me what’s possible and what’s not. Then we’ll create samples and land on our final product.”

Skeins of yarn and inspiring tomes populate Adele’s vintage bookshelf.

What goes through your mind when you step back and look at one of your finished pieces?
“I’m really proud of the work and excited about getting it out into the world.”

Fabric samples and finished pieces top the table in the showroom section of Adele’s studio.

Where do you look for inspiration?
“To the materials themselves. Most people don’t really realize the amazing differences in color between one cotton plant to the next. I’m also inspired by the geometry of fields—the blueprint of that geometry from an aerial view.”

For the pillows, debuting in our sale, Adele handwove the cases and cloth insert from organic cotton grown by Sally Fox, a renowned farmer in Capay Valley, CA.

You live in Oakland—are there any local eateries taking a farm-to-table approach that you really appreciate?
Camino. The centerpiece of the restaurant is this huge wood-burning spit. It’s old school—much like this big hulking loom I weave on. The chef worked at Chez Panisse for many years, and he sources all his ingredients from incredible purveyors and farms. The menu changes daily, but I love Dungeness crab month, when they’ll cook a whole crab in the oven. They also have a savory condiment plate you can get at lunch with herb jams and cheeses. Just delicious.”

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