Artisan Spotlight: Natalie Redding of Namaste Farms
Posted by Natalie Redding on Mar 8th 2016
A good wool wash is worth its weight in gold for both spinners and dyers, and Namaste Farms' Wash It Dye is one of the best ones out there: not only does it clean and condition fibers, it also increases dye uptake - all without the use of parabens or sufates. Today, we have an interview with Natalie Redding of Namaste Farms, which is a family-owned and operated business based in Southern California. Enjoy!
Most of our fans have probably heard of you via your show on Nat Geo, Shear Madness. Can you tell us about how that came to be, and what it was like to film a reality show on your farm?
I know many farmers can relate to this, looking for ways to supplement the farms income. In 2008, hay prices skyrocketed because China was shipping their empty containers back filled with our hay. This made the demand so high that growers in California were charging $20.00 a bale (125 lb bale) instead of 7.75. During this time, there was not a day I didn’t try and get someone to pay attention to me in the hope that we’d find additional income. Making myself more visible was the goal because visibility gives you opportunities. By 2012, I had many different magazine articles under my belt and a lot of exposure, finally, a production company came calling. Viola, a show on Nat Geo Wild that was filmed 2013 and aired 2014.
As far as filming here on the farm? It was hard because the production company follows union rules which made their hours different than farming hours. We would have to work in the blistering heat of the mid morning and mid day rather than how I normally work i.e. early morning, break during 100 degree summer days, and then go back early evening. It was hard on me, and hard on my dogs (who are my co workers) because of the 8 hour days that were always in the blistering heat. Besides that, simply having a show is difficult if you’re a sensitive person… strangers forget you’re a real person with real feelings. They can be very cruel.
When did you learn to spin? What is your favorite technique? What is your favorite fiber?
I learned to spin in early 2006 from my mentor, Sharon Chestnutt. She threw locks on my lap and said, “Okay, spin.” She made it simple which was a gift to me (because I have severe ADHD). Even now, I think about her a lot because if she'd made it a "procedure," I would have lost interest immediately. To this day, lockspinning is my favorite technique because it keeps the integrity of the fiber. Also, I’m a shepherd first and foremost so having the fiber as close to raw as possible is how I like to work with it. As far as my favorite fiber? This is like a “ dirty little secret” because I’m a Wensleydale and Teeswater sheep breeder/person (more than goat) BUT, probably silky yearling mohair. There is nothing like the beauty of perfect mohair and it’s almost impossible to make it look ugly.
What is a typical day like for you?
Oh gee; truthfully, it starts with a Starbucks and some red vine licorice! Once I have that out of the way, I have to social network and check my emails. Even though being a farmer is my business, without the power of the internet, I wouldn’t have customers. I absolutely must attend to my friends, followers and supporters from around the globe. By about 8:30 I’m outside starting my day. Because it’s really just me and my dogs doing the work (my husband does help with certain things), I have to multi task pretty heavily. I usually have a dye pot going while I’m outside or, something being washed. I rarely just saunter outside to feed, shear, medicate without having things on burners, in the oven, or in water!
What is the most unusual use for your product that you've heard from a customer?
Hmmm, well, there are two things that come to mind. One was a customer who posted on Facebook that she was “So excited,” because she used Wash and Dye on her Ugg boots and "they came out amazing" Part of me cringed and the other part was so proud! Then, because she’d washed her Ugg boots and they came out “ amazing,” it inspired me to take a designer suede jacket that’d been sitting for years (because I disliked the color), slather it with Wash and Dye, and dye it in a kettle. My kids and my husband were watching in horror as I dumped it into the hot dye pot and, then, released the residual dye with Wash and Dye. The jacket (I now wear) turned out beautiful with no stiffness and it is colorfast!
You wear many hats: dyer, spinner, farmer, small business owner, teacher, mother of 5- what is the one thing you wish you had more time to do?
This question really hits to the core of me. I know I mentioned I have severe ADHD, and, unfortunately, one of the characteristics (I have) is the inability to really enjoy things, even hobbies. To someone like me, everything is a task, even something I’m supposed to enjoy. I’ll be 53 in a couple of days and, while I’m not “there” yet, I am trying to work on this. I feel like I’m just I’m hardwired to work and labor. I’ll say, I have hope that if you asked me the same question a year from now, I’d have a different answer.
Can you share any fun stories or photos of your prize-winning sheep and goats with us?
Oh, yes. I dragged my friend on a 20 hour (one way) journey to BSG Fiber Festival so she could help me show some of my animals. It’s the biggest show on the west coast and the goal would be to win the Supreme Grand Champion Goat. Well, we did just that and after our big win, the volunteers lined us up to take pictures with Dr. Fred Speck (the judge). We put our win, the giant HAND CARVED perpetual trophy, in front of us with Dr. Speck and the goat. In an instant, the goat tried to bolt, knocked over the trophy which went flying and made a giant thud on the asphalt. We watched in horror as both the hand carved goats bounced off the base… pieces flying. Thankfully, the show chair was Sharon Chestnutt, (my mentor), and she said, “Oh well, it’s been circulating for 15 years so something was bound to happen.” I felt terrible that this beautiful hand carved trophy had stayed fairly perfect until now. Worse? We didn’t take it back to California because it was, well, broken. The picture of Lovalee (my friend) and me with the judge and the trophy? Well, that was after we broke it with the hand carved wood goats barely balancing on top.
What are some of your future goals or projects?
I have to say, because of Wash and Dye, my business has taken a whole new direction. We had the prototype a year before it was available to the public and I started using it and posting the resulting fiber. My sales skyrocketed because the colors were like nothing people had ever seen. Time and time again people wanted to know what dyes I used, and when I would tell them “Nylomine Dyes", they would wonder why their fiber didn’t look like mine with the same dyes. I would tell them, “ It’s the shampoo we created, it makes the fiber take dyes better” and then, “But sorry, it’s not out yet.” At the time, it almost sounded like a marketing trick, but, thankfully now, the shampoos have been out a year and people see those results for themselves.
In addition to the help of Wash and Dye, in the last 10 years, I’ve developed proprietary dyeing techniques called, the "Redding Method." My new direction is teaching the Redding Method in live online classes through fiberygoodness.com. I love teaching in real time where people can interact and ask questions interactively. It’s exhilarating because there is no editing, no do overs; i.e. the results are real. Besides teaching, Namaste Farms Wool Products is coming out with more products… and the Woolery, will be the first to know! Promise.