After years of working in agriculture, Wiscasset resident Hilary Crowell has taken her farming skills and her love for the craft of weaving and created The Cultivated Thread, a small-batch weaving studio that sells items such as towels and napkins.
Crowell learned how to weave as a child, but didn’t take up the hobby again until 2007, when she was working and living at a farm in Maine, where she did logging work. She started weaving again as a way to keep herself occupied after her day of work.
“I’d have this whole evening to myself, I didn’t know anybody, I lived in this lovely little house … and I needed something to do,” Crowell said.
At the end of 2019, Crowell made the decision to leave farming, as she was having a difficult time with the seasonal shifts in work. In February 2020, she created The Cultivated Thread.
While there are a lot of transferable skills when it comes to farming and weaving, Crowell had a lot to learn about the business side of her new venture. She was interested in the question of how to turn a craft into a business.
While many people who own businesses similar to hers are more interested in their craft rather than the business aspect of things, Crowell takes equal interest in both.
“I spent a lot of time analyzing my operational flow and things like that, because in order for it to be economically viable, I needed to pay really close attention,” Crowell said.
While Crowell had a lot to adjust to as she created The Cultivated Thread, she found that she was very supported by the small business community in Maine.
“There’s a lot of craft, there’s a lot of hand skill, there’s a lot of do it yourself energy,” Crowell said.
For Crowell, weaving is the perfect combination of math and logic with art and creativity.
The owner of The Cultivated Thread highlighted how much she enjoys the process of weaving. “You do all this planning ahead of time … and then
when you start weaving then it goes from this idea into reality which is very cool,” she said.
Along with the process, one of Crowell’s favorite parts of her job is being able to play with color combinations.
The Cultivated Thread prides itself on its method of weaving, which bridges traditional and contemporary weaving, and doesn’t require a lot of technology.
“I always joke, ‘if the power goes out, I can keep working,’” Crowell said.
Crowell’s most popular product is her large hand towel. The Cultivated Thread usually produces and sells about 1,000 to 1,500 towels a year.
While people are often interested in how long it takes to make one towel, it’s a more difficult question to answer for Crowell than it might seem, as she doesn’t do the steps one after another.
Instead, Crowell makes her towels in batches of 25 at a time, which maxes out the equipment that she has.
The actual weaving process is only about a third or half of the total production time for a towel. The process also involves sewing on the tags, washing and drying the towel, and then ironing and packaging it.
“Towels are 40 and 45 dollars apiece, which is a lot more than many other towels. It’s actually a lot less than some other hand-woven towels, but it’s a lot more than Target charges for towels,” Crowell said.
Crowell also hopes to branch out with her products, as she has been working on napkins and table runners as well.
As for long-term goals, Crowell is really focused on making an impact on her community, rather than putting all her energy into expanding her business. Rather than hiring employees, which she doesn’t plan on doing, Crowell is more interested in finding ways to be a resource as a small business owner in the arts.
“The business can contribute a lot locally without turning into a textile factory,” she said. “One of the ways that I’m contributing is through knowledge sharing that can’t be measured in dollars.”
Crowell wants to maintain the values that are at the core of The Cultivated Thread: strength and durability, responsible sourcing, and community.
“It feels really important to me that I am creating a business that is a community member and a contributing community member and one that is adding to the overall health of our local economy and the artist community,” Crowell said.
For more information about The Cultivated Thread, go to thecultivatedthread.com.