What do a Sunday school dress, an alpaca named Dixie and a mermaid’s dreadlocks have in common?
Not much, you say?
Well, Mungo-ers, herein lies the story of Rachel Neil, the shop manager at Mungo’s spangly new branch in Charleston, US of A.
Besides being a whizz on the floor at our South Carolina branch, Rachel is a self-taught yarn spinner, whose creative and colourful threads have been making their way to the Mungo Mill in Plettenberg Bay in an effort to foster some cross-continental collaboration.
When Rachel joined the Mungo US team in early 2019, her colourful handspun yarn soon got our attention. The result? A bit of inter-staff creativity, with our South African designer, Lenore Schroeder using Rachel’s yarn for a personal passion project. Schroeder will be using some of Rachel’s threads for a cushion cover project she is working on from her handloom at home. We have no doubt that this collab will be fab – so watch this space!
But how did this Keanu Weaves get her big break? Rachel’s weaving journey started as youngen, when she picked up the basics of crocheting and knitting from her grandmother. In addition to showing her the tricks of the fiber trade, ol’ granny knitted all of Rachel’s sweaters and hats. And the family affair didn’t end there – Rachel’s mom was in on the thread action too, sewing her Sunday school dresses and hair bows. This (literal) mother of invention was born out of functional necessity – a desire to keep up with the proverbial Joneses, but no budget to match.
“I hated the puffy sleeves on the dresses, and how big the bows were on my head. They made my head look like a helicopter ready to take off. [Plus] I referred to myself as a tomboy – I even had the horrible bowl cut to match,” says Rachel.
Bowl cut aside, the seeds had been sewn, and Rachel continued to experiment with artsy projects in her adolescence – fashioning homemade hair wraps, purses reworked from Walmart ribbons and placemats, and even some “hideous hemp necklaces” to boot.
And yet as it goes with teenagerdom, Rachel came to fear that her artistic pursuits just weren’t ‘cool’ enough. This saw her dropping the ball on her weaving game for almost a decade. But fear not – the final fiber has yet to come!
At the tender age of 23 Rachel picked up her crocheting needles with gusto. “I had moved to Atlanta, Georgia and had zero friends and no money. Yarn was cheap, and I found out quickly that there might be some talent there…I started progressing in my craft, making cute festival tops and hats.”
Fearing that store-bought yarn wasn’t eco-friendly, or able to give her the desired feel, Rachel decided to go straight to the source. Enter Dixie, a sweet alpaca from a neighbouring farm. Rachel bought 3 pounds of Dixie’s fleece and voila! The rest is history. Well, not quite…
Fast forward a few years, and a chance encounter with a fellow spinner gave Rachel the final boost she needed. “We sat at a tiny table in the children’s section [of a bookstore] and she taught me how to spin yarn on a drop spindle – then let me keep it! It was all downhill after that.” One spinning wheel, two drum carders and other various pieces of equipment later, Rachel had found herself both a firm friend and fiber mentor.
So here we are – one Mung-tastic shop manager and a creative collab later. Is this the beginning of something amazing? Highly likely. Are we willing to lower our walls for future cross-border connections? You bet, Donald. Did we use too many rhetorical questions? Probably.
Oh, and the Mermaid’s Dreads? One of Rachel’s delightful names for her creations – think Every Flavour Bean, Fabulous Sea Turtle, Unicorn Guts and Mermaid’s Cotton Candy Party.
Keep it up, Rach! We be-weave in you.