On a quiet, Monday afternoon at her home in Southold, Stephanie Pinerio goes back in time. In the upstairs corner of her house is her studio. The small, rectangular space is filled with a bulky, wooden machine. With multiple pedals on the floor and wooden pieces that move back and forth, the monstrosity looks like the skeleton of an organ. And in some ways, Pinerio is making music.
As she begins practicing her craft, synchronizing the movements of her hands and feet, the room is filled with bursts of percussion. Her feet press the pedals to the ground. Her hands switch between pushing and pulling wooden frames that hold lines of yarn. Every few movements, she pauses to throw a shuttle, a wooden block containing yarn that passes back and forth between other lines of yarn. The music Pinerio is creating is a textile.
“There’s definitely something about starting with just a string or just this cone of yarn,” she said later at her dining room table. “When I’ve set up the loom and I start weaving something that I know is going to take days to finish, the anticipation of seeing the finished piece and being able to hold this tactile piece of cloth is really what inspires me to keep going.”
But this skill wasn’t something she inherited from a great-grandmother or an expertise that has been passed down in her family for generations. Before becoming a permanent resident of the North Fork, Pinerio worked for 25 years in the advertising industry in Manhattan. After being laid off in 2013, she applied to the Fashion Institute of Technology for its one-year accelerated textile design program.
“Before, I was just sitting on the computer all day making ads, which is not really something you can hold or embrace, and this is actually embracing the physicality of it,” she said, clutching one of her sample textiles, carefully running her fingers across each stitch.
Upstairs in her studio, Pinerio, who calls her company Shed Textiles, works on a weave. She moves the warp, the long pieces of yarn held stationary by a wooden frame, back and forth as she tosses the weft in between. It’s a dance of accuracy — push of the wooden frame, step on the pedal, weave the yarn, push of the wooden frame — as the loud clanking noise fills the small room.
“You’re actually counting as you’re doing this,” she said in between movements. “A lot of times you’re working with six levers and going 1, 3, 4, 2 — this whole sequence over and over and over.”
But before any counting can be done, lots of planning has already taken place.
“It’s not something that you can just get up in the morning and say, ‘Ah, you know, I’m gonna make a throw today,’” she said. “You actually have to sit down for days and days and days and do a whole bunch of math.”
That math includes figuring out what pattern to do and how much yarn it is going to take.
“And I always mess it up,” she laughs. But there is a reason she has to get it right.
“Once you put something out in the world, and you want to sell it, you need to be able to repeat it.”
Pinerio keeps a notebook filled with patterns, descriptions and ideas. It’s full of past textile designs and thoughts for the future. Each piece can take two to five hours to make — and that’s after as much as two days to set up the loom. Although she could scale up, and make her pieces on a professional mill, she knows her textiles have a handmade quality.
“There’s something about your hands doing it that gives it this originality that you would lose if you did go to a professional mill,” she said. “I think the hands-on tactile quality of textile design really speaks to me.”
Looking at the lineup of throw pillows and blankets Pinerio has made in past collections, there’s a consistent style. Creams and whites are woven with light browns and natural colors. It’s clean and classic — refined. And her inspiration comes from the material she is using.
“I love the story. I love the journey,” she said. “I love learning about the people that have taken what was fleece on an animal and that whole process it has gone through to then become something that I’m working with and creating.”
When Pinerio was ready to move to the North Fork full time and commit to her textile business, she was in the market for a loom. Not surprisingly, these are typically hard to come by — some even have to be ordered from Canada. But she lucked out; she found a woman in Southold who was selling hers.
“It had been sitting in this woman’s basement for years and to get it out, we had to take it apart. It was almost like putting a car back together,” she said, pointing to where the pieces of the loom once covered her studio floor. “You know how it works and you know what part is what, but I just had to lay it all out and be like. ‘Yep, this goes over here.’
“A lot of times I imagine that it’s just gonna eventually fall apart one day,” she continued with a laugh. “I fear that I didn’t do something right — a bolt I didn’t screw on.”
But for Pinerio, even if her loom did fall apart, she would keep doing what she loves because a life full of textiles is so much more fulfilling than one full of office days making ads. Also, tucked in a corner of her studio, she has a second loom, just in case.
“I am just the kind of person that really needs to be creative every day,” she said. “It’s what fuels me.”