Robbin Firth’s Bayport gallery and studio is a fiber artist’s dream.
Since Firth purchased the space on Third Street in January, she and her husband Harry Firth transformed it from the town’s old grocery store and meat market to HeartFelt Silks — a fiber arts retail shop, gallery, studio and teaching space.
“It’s like a candy store for fiber artists,” she said.
With colorful wool lining the walls, buckets of indigo dye and hand-dyed silks, it sure looks like a candy store.
Although a leaky roof set back a grand opening, Firth hopes to host a celebration in September. She hosted a soft store opening for the St. Croix Valley ArtOPENer in May, she added.
Firth, a fiber artist and educator, worked in Andersen Windows’ factory for 22 years. She quit in 2006 to pursue art full time after she was diagnosed with cancer, she said.
Firth has been a spinner and knitter most of her life, she said. She’s taught workshops in the U.S. and abroad in Ireland and the United Kingdom. In addition to teaching wet felting and eco-dyeing classes in her new studio in Bayport, she taught at the textile center in Minneapolis for 10 years.
Before she bought her Bayport store and studio, she sold her art and taught classes out of Seasons Gallery in Hudson, Wis. for five years.
“I had outgrown the space,” Firth said.
Now, Firth said she enjoys having the space to store all of her supplies and projects in one location.
“I had it at the mother-in-law’s. I had it in the spare bedroom,” she said. “It’s just wonderful to have the room.”
Additionally, Firth has more space to accommodate more students at the new studio. All of her August classes are full of students who travel regionally as well as from places like Canada and Massachusetts.
“They stay locally so it’s good for the community,” Robbin said. “It’s just a welcoming place to create and gather.”
Her teaching space has several large work tables covered in reused pool covers. The bubbly texture helps felt wool from the bottom, she said, while her patented tool, handcrafted by her husband Harry, felts the top.
Firth and Harry patented the Palm Washboard line of felting tools, which Firth said not only simplifies the felting process but is ergonomically better for your body.
“The tool really simplifies the process,” she said. “Within minutes, you get a piece of fabric and not as tedious on the body.”
Harry, a master wood artisan and Washington County Public Works employee, makes the felting tools by hand at home. Firth said she and her husband spend most nights painting epoxy on the tools in the garage of their Bayport home. She ships the tools all over the world.
“I promoted the tool first and then my work and the tool went international,” Firth said. “We’re just trying to survive and enjoy the process. Also [we] really want to keep it handmade.”
When she’s not teaching, Firth likes to spread her projects out between tables. One table was completely engulfed by a large black rug Firth is felting out of raw sheep’s wool.
Firth sources her wool from farmers — there’s a large bag of unwashed, raw wool in the corner of her studio. She washes it herself, she said, by soaking it in hot, soapy water over and over again until it comes out clean. Then she spins it herself on a traditional spinning wheel.
“A lot of this is wool that was going to be thrown,” she said. “It’s a time consuming process but we don’t waste. Everything has a purpose.”
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