How one couple transformed a homegrown hobby into a full-time business: meet dream weaver Janelle Pietrzak!
Janelle Pietrzak and Robert Dougherty first worked together when she was his weekend apprentice at a vintage motorcycle repair shop in Philadelphia. Almost immediately, they began planning their own projects—and a sweet romance—outside of the garage. Janelle is a 10-year veteran of the fashion industry and a full-time textile artist. Robert is a master carpenter and certified welder. Together, they built All Roads, a creative workshop and textile studio in Los Angeles that combines wood, metal, and fiber to create one-of-a-kind objects, installations, and furniture. We covet each and every piece, but we especially love Janelle’s gorgeous tapestries that are hung on iron arrows welded by Robert. We visited All Roads, where we had a lovely chat with Janelle:
Tell us a bit about how you got your start.
JF:I worked in the fashion industry for 10 years. I had various jobs, working in design or sourcing fabrics for apparel. I took up a weaving as a hobby and quickly became obsessed. After about nine months of weaving in my off time, I had secured some really big jobs and a nice wholesale order that made it possible for me to transition to a full-time artist. I didn’t have much savings, and I was completely terrified to leave my salaried job. But, I knew that if I didn’t take the chance, I would regret it.
Did you have any formal arts education?
JF:I studied fashion design in college, but I always took a fine arts class, like painting or photography. However, recently I remembered that I always found a way to utilize hand-work in what I was doing. I hand-stitched layers of colored thread onto my paintings. Toward the end of my fashion schooling, I started hand-sewing everything and knitting things. After using sewing machines for four years, I missed the slow pace and the connection to the fiber of hand-work. I took a general textile course, and we studied weaving for six weeks—I learned the basics. Also, my experience sourcing fabrics taught me technical construction of fabric. Working in design for a decade helped me learn about color palettes and materials.
What’s your working relationship like with Robert?
JF:We are workaholics who like to make everything we need. So working together to make things was just organic. When we need something, our first thought is, “How can we make it?” The type of project dictates who leads, but there is a lot of back and forth brainstorming during the process. We each bring very different skills and aesthetics to the table.
What is your creative process?
JF:Getting out of the studio is important. Travel helps clear the mind and see things in a new way. I am a California transplant, so there are tons of places to explore. We like to go to the desert or the mountains. Those places are beautiful, and the change of scenery is calming, which then turns into inspiration for future ideas that may or may not turn into reality.
Are there any recent pieces you’ve made that are particularly special to you or any that were super challenging?
JF:Each piece or project is very special, as it represents a growth in my work. I love every piece. I welcome collaborations, because those situations push my work in new ways. Often times, those projects can be really challenging, because a designer may see my work from a different angle. Also, adapting my textile work to functional garments or accessories can be challenging because of logistics; how do we create something that is stable and wearable, or has seam allowance, or can be sewn onto a garment? Those concerns are really challenging, but I know we will figure it out and I actually get excited about how much each project helps my work grow.
What’s your typical work-day like?
JF:I wake up around 6:30 or 7:00. I have coffee and breakfast, answer emails, and do “business” work. My assistant usually comes in around 10:00. We catch up on things and work on current projects. Often times I am working on new developments or ideas, and she supports with production work. I make lunch every day. Afternoons may be for running errands or sometimes friends drop by. We wrap up the day around 5:00. I am on a swim team, so I try to make it to practice on weekdays at 6:00.
Can you give us a peek inside your studio?
JF:My studio is in the sunroom off of my house, so my work commute is short! I love working in the mornings the best. One, because my mind is the freshest, and two because the lighting is gray and the sun isn’t so hot yet. I make playlists on Spotify, so there is always music going. I like old soul and weird cover songs. Sometimes when things get a little drab, I get things energized by putting on some Beyoncé or Lady Gaga.
If you could be a fly on the wall in anyone’s studio, whose would it be?
JF: My friend, textile artist and sculpture Tanya Aguiniga. Her work is so diverse and smart, and spans across product design, apparel, art, and community outreach. Not only has she found success in her art-making, but she is also an intelligent businesswoman.
How do you feel when you’re at work on a new piece?
JF:I feel both excited and overwhelmed. Some projects are really lengthy. Also, all of my textile work is very labor-intensive and slow paced. The scope of a piece can be overwhelming, but the excitement of a finished piece keeps me going.
Are there any of your contemporaries whose work you really admire (in the same field or otherwise)?
JF:The work of Brooklyn-based design duo Nightwood is insanely inspiring. Between the two of them, they can create almost anything—from woodworking, interior remodels, weavings, upholstery, paintings, and clothing. Their aesthetic is beautiful, serene, yet colorful. I visited their studio during my last visit to New York and was amped for days.
You will need:
1 piece of scrap wood (cut to desired length, with edges sanded to remove any splinters)
yarn (I chose mostly flat yarns for this project, but you can use thick yarns, or yarns with texture to mix it up)
- Using the yarn chosen for the warp, wrap around the wood once, and tie the end to the itself on the back of the wood.
- Continue to wrap the yarn around the entire length of the wood. Wrap until you have reached your desired width for your weaving.
- Cut the yarn and tie the end to itself on the back of the wood.
- Cut your yarn a couple feet long, and thread onto yarn needle. The length of the yarn is not too important, because you can add on more yarn whenever you run out. On the sample I started with a black textured silk yarn.
- Use the yarn needle to weave over and under each warp yarn.
- Pull the entire length of yarn through the warp, leaving a tail of about 1 or 2 inches.
- Weave that tail into the warp, to tuck it in and hide it. No need to knot this yarn, the weave will hold it into place.
- Use the yarn needle to weave under over for the next row. Then repeat - step 5 and step 8 until your stripe of color is the desired height.
- To switch colors, or to end your current color yarn, or if you run out of yarn and want to add more of that color - Weave your final row in that color yarn. Cut the yarn, leaving a 1 or 2 inch tail. Weave the tail into the warp, same as step 7. No need to knot, just tuck in the tail and the weave will hold it into place.
- Thread the next color yarn, repeat step 5 - 8.
- Weave stripes of yarn in your choice of colors and textures.
- When you are ready to finish your weaving, cut a 1 or 2 inch tail, weave/tuck it into place.
- Your weaving can lean against the wall, or you can use eye hooks to attach it to the wall.
Helpful weaving terms:
"warp" - yarns that run vertically on your "loom" (or in this case, piece of wood)
"weft" - yarns that run horizontally on your weaving.
Made it? Tell us about it–