Story by Lexi Curnin
It comes as no surprise to learn Anne-Marie Kavulla was a dancer. Her grace and quiet confidence betray her past as a performer, but her warmth is a quality all its own.
Perched on the sheepskin throw covering her weaving bench, Kavulla reminisces about childhood days spent faking illness to stay home from school and watch “Jeopardy” with her grandmother. It was during these days that her grandmother taught her to knit.
Though her primary focus for the past 10 years has been weaving, she has not forgotten her beginnings. She points out a doll-sized sweater framed and hanging on the wall, the first she ever knit.
Knitting remains an important means of expression for Kavulla, but when she was introduced to the loom during a trip visiting relatives in Finland, she was instantly enamored.
“It was much more common to have a loom (in Finland),” she recalls. “Everyone, in my mind, knew how to weave, like we have knitting here. My mother’s cousin let me sit at her loom. I threw two or three times and I was like, ‘That’s it. This is what I want to do.’”
Upon returning home, Kavulla wasted no time seeking out a mentor. Though it took a year to find a suitable teacher, she was up and running after only four lessons. Kavulla then set about improving her new craft by experimenting with creating her own patterns.
It was only after having children, however, that Kavulla turned her weaving into a business. Although she recognized that dancing, acting and singing did not have a place in her life as a mother, she was taken aback when someone suggested she would have to put away the loom and stick to knitting after the birth of her daughter.
“I thought, ‘No, I just got this thing. I’m going to figure it out.’ I saw (weaving) as something unique, and I figured the only way I was really going to keep it up … was if I give myself a little bit of a threat, the threat being, are (the works) sellable?”
Kavulla had her answer after discovering the strong demand for hand-woven scarves. She put one scarf to auction where it did better than she had anticipated. Then, when she placed several scarves online as part of a small collection, they sold out in four hours.
Mindful of her roots, Kavulla christened the business Pirtti Handwoven, pirtti being the Finnish word for a traditional farmhouse in which meals are shared and crafts made. In other words, a pirtti is a place of comfort and love.
Kavulla’s workshop is situated within her very own pirtti, the beautiful Sleepy Hollow home she shares with her husband, Brandon, and their three young children, Anastasia, Adam and Adeline. Yarns with colors of infinite richness and complexity are so plentiful that the spools can barely be contained within the cabinets. Photographs, some taken by Kavulla herself, and bits of textile are pinned to an inspiration board. A LeClerc floor loom, rather appropriately, occupies the center of the room, and a glass door opens directly into the playroom of her children.
The window into her children’s lives afforded by the door is symbolic of Kavulla’s conscious effort to be present in every aspect of their childhoods. In order to maintain focus on her weaving without missing a single pick-up or drop-off, she plans to begin weaving at least part time in a space closer to her children’s school. She also strives to involve her children in her art. Her daughter Anastasia already has her own miniature loom.
Kavulla attributes her success in juggling a small business with motherhood to finding the right work-life balance. She advises moms to ask themselves why working is important and go from there.
“I think it’s important to keep in mind why you’re doing it, and if that’s a good reason for you, if it keeps a shred of yourself, or it adds extra money to your household, or it keeps you sane so you can be a better mother, then that’s a good reason to do it.”
The scarves Kavulla is working on are intended for the season into Valentine’s Day. The colors featured are inspired by the depth and diversity of hues found in the stone walls of nearby Rockefeller State Park Preserve.
By working several at a time, Kavulla is able to weave three or four scarves in four hours. The entire process, however, takes much longer — about 24 hours to measure the fibers prior to placing them on the loom, do the actual weaving and hem-stitching and wash and iron the final product.
As far as developing her brand, Kavulla is not the type of small-business owner to shy away from expansion. She insists, “I’m completely open to hiring more weavers to help me do my work. My dream is not for it to be just me, but… a studio of weavers.” She is also considering moving beyond scarves to other hand-woven creations such as table runners and blankets.
Regardless of Kavulla’s strategy moving forward, her creative talent and dedication to producing pieces of style and quality make her work worth following.
For more, visit pirttihandwoven.com.