Sitting in and old, brick farmhouse overlooking the Ohio River, Melodee Stepleton quietly works as a five-foot-tall spinning wheel whirls in front of her. Other nights, her loom rhythmically thumps as the percussion intermixes with the crickets chirping outside.
For Melodee, spinning, weaving and other fiber crafts are more than just a hobby. It is a way to connect with an age-old tradition. And, by creating her own pieces and demonstrating how it is done, she sees it as a way of keeping the centuries-old processes alive.
In fact, her passion came from a connection to local history. “I got into weaving originally because my first loom came out of the family house in Vevay,” she said of how she wanted to learn to use the loom that came from the grandmother of her husband, Rob. “It started with weaving, and then Iearned natural dyeing, and then I got into spinning.” It was natural progression for Melodee. “I always was working with my hands, for as long as can remember. My grandma taught me how to crochet.”
She extended that interest into weaving, spinning and dyeing in the early 1970’s by taking as many classes as she could. “I found a class in San Francisco, where I was living at the time,” she said, of learning at “one of the few older weaving studios in the country. Weaving was starting to come back into popularity at the time.”
Melodee didn’t stop there. “After I took the class, I joined a group of weavers in the Sunset District of San Francisco,” she said. “They would teach me anything I wanted to learn. They were old-time weavers – it was traditional weaving on multi-harness looms. And by later joining a weaver’s guild, I met other people with similar interests. You had to be technically proficient to join this guild. They brought in teachers for different techniques.”
It was through such groups that Melodee discovered spinning and dyeing, learning the crafts from people from all around the world. She loved it so much that, in the 70’s, she opened her own shop, where she sold spinning and weaving supplies, as well as taught classes. “I enjoyed teaching and I gave private lessons as well,” Melodee said, explaining, for example, “Spinning, to me, is a skill that should be passed on to future generations.”
Asked if she considers herself an artist, Melodee responds, “I am proud to be a craft-person. If someone looks upon my work as art, that’s an honor.”
Now living in Vevay Indiana, Melodee continues to pursue her passion, as well as share it with others. Such interests include felting, rug hooking, Japanese braiding, and natural dyeing with found materials from the area, “such as black walnut, dandelion and wild mustard,” she said. She also enjoys weaving various items on her looms. “My personal love is doing domestic items and clothing,” Melodee said, “of traditional weaving.”
When she first became interested in spinning and weaving, experienced crafters taught her their art. Today, she returns that favor. “I enjoy passing on their teaching,” she said. “I think it’s something that always should be around; it shouldn’t be forgotten.”