Brandon knitters, weavers focus of ‘Home Spun Tour’

BRANDON — History, foliage, the arts and inns, even the quality of the water. For decades, there have been great reasons to visit Brandon. Now, there’s fiber.
Alyssa Zollman, former chair of the Brandon Area Economic Development Committee and advertising manager of The Reporter (sister paper of the Addison Independent), has lit upon an idea that knits together many of Brandon’s artists and craftspeople in the name of fiber. Introducing “The Home Spun Tour.”
Over the last five years, the number of knitters, weavers and fabric artists in town, as well as the cottage industry they rely on, have grown and flourished in Brandon. Over the summer in her travels making sales calls around town, Zollman noticed the trend and starting suggesting that the economic development committee focus on highlighting the fiber arts in town.
“In my day job, I come in contact with a multitude of business owners every week,” Zollman said. “I get to take the pulse of what’s going on in our community. I had been suggesting to my board that we should take a closer look at the potential of growth in the fiber and fabric sector. It’s been my personal rant.”
Zollman said Brandon is ripe for a new way to attract business and tourists alike, but added that the fit had to be right.
“On the committee, we would always discuss ways of attracting business to town, our building inventory, the economic incentives and the draw of the quality of life,” Zollman said. “We’re often competing with other communities for a promising lead, sometimes in my opinion, regardless of whether it would be a good fit for Brandon.”
Committee member and Brandon Chamber Executive Director Bernie Carr helped created the name for the tour, which leads visitors to 12 Brandon businesses steeped in the art and/or business of fiber.
Although there have been knitters and weavers in Brandon for generations, the tide began to shift a few years ago. In 2012, Ed and Deb Bratton of Maple View Farm Alpacas established the Vermont Fiber Mill in the former Brandon Training School and started processing local fiber. They saw an economic gain to processing their own alpaca fiber rather than sending it out-of-state. Word quickly spread and the Brattons started processing fiber for local weavers and craftspeople as well, in addition to establishing a healthy out-of-town clientele.
In 2011, The Reporter added the Fiber component to the annual special section on Farms and Food because of the increase and interest in wool, spinning and weaving in the community.
More and more, the work of local fiber artists, knitters and weavers began to appear at the local farmers’ market.
Also in 2011, Brandon hat makers Sam Stone and Nora Swan of Swan & Stone Millinery started their business and it quickly took off. Earlier this year, they received a revolving loan from the town to invest in a larger loom to meet increased demand and embark on their next adventure: a coveted invitation to have a booth at the prestigious Holiday Fair at New York’s Grand Central Station. A successful online Kickstarter campaign raised the $17,000 needed for the booth fee.
Zollman said Swan & Stone simply added another component to her idea of making Brandon a fiber destination.
“It just added another piece to what makes an interesting story and also, perhaps a definitive piece of a puzzle,” she said. “I thought, ‘Could we be creating a Vermont style that goes beyond flannel and have Brandon be the destination for businesses and visitors alike?’”
The answer, simply, is “yes.” In August, Zollman sent an email to Catherine Brooks at the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing and submitted her fiber tour idea for inclusion on Vermont’s website for American Crafts Week in early October. Brooks, whose specialty is cultural and historical tours, loved the idea.
“Catherine went out on a limb to offer us support with a Google map that would keep the tour alive long after Crafts Week ended,” Zollman said. “I grabbed as many images and edited as many write-ups I could in a short time.”
“We don’t normally build Google-platform tour maps for projects that aren’t statewide in reach, but I wanted to help out by doing this,” Brooks said. “In the meantime, it’s great to see so many Brandon businesses featured this way.”
It also needed a name, and Zollman and Carr decided on “The Home Spun Tour.”
“I see it as a way to marry our past and perhaps create our future,” Zollman said. “It’s meant to attract visitors to specific sites for shopping as well as highlight our diversity as a creative and an economic initiative for manufacturing incubator space in these areas.”
Wood is included in the definition of fiber, and Zollman said Brandon’s furniture and woodworking history has earned a place in the mix.
“If New York City could have a garment district and Hudson, N.Y., is aiming to be the Antique Capital, why couldn’t we become a destination for small-batch artisans and manufacturers to get their businesses going?” she asked. “We have many supportive and talented people that could share resources and have practical skills. How long was Vermont Tubbs here? New England Woodcraft and High Pond Woodworks are still here, among many individual craftspeople.”
New Brandon Economic Development Officer Bill Moore is continuing work on the Google map for the Home Spun Tour, adding locations and placing additional images and the links on the town website.
Zollman has officially stepped down as chair of the economic development committee, but her passion for what Brandon has to offer is far from diminished. She hopes the Home Spun Tour will help the town’s fiber industry grow and prosper.
“I see this as an economic engine,” she said. “That although it’s trendy to be crafty, the idea really had its roots in living the authentic Vermont life — using all the resources around us. That, teamed with the many weavers and artists now represented here, can help make Brandon a destination for both buyers of quality, handmade products as well as like-minded talent to come and create their art and business here with us.”
Interested fiber businesses and artisans are encouraged to contact Bernie Carr at the Brandon Chamber, 247-6401, [email protected], or Brandon Economic Development Officer Bill Moore at 247-3635, ext. 213, [email protected].
For the link to the Home Spun Tour list of businesses and the Google map on the Brandon town website, go to: http://townofbrandon.com/home-spun-brandon-tour-october-3rd-12th-beyond.

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