American Made Profile | July 19, 2015
Amy Umbel fell in love with the process of making things as a little girl, carving wood on the family farm. After college, she lived in various parts of the country before deciding to reestablish her roots in the Appalachian Mountains. Home again, Amy’s woodworking business “emerged organically”.
Fiddlehead Woodworking came from Amy’s desire to “nourish a lifelong passion, and to be part of something larger than just making money.”
Her father taught shop class, her mom was a homemaker; Amy says she, "was raised to be a good steward of the land, and using selectively and responsibly harvested wood from my home allows me to do just that.” She works exclusively on the farm where she was raised; enabling her to “care for the land” and provide “people with both beautiful, and functional crafts to enrich their daily lives”.
"My products are practical and utilitarian, but I believe that utility should be as pleasing to the eye as to the hand. There is no reason to surround yourself with dozens of poorly designed products when a few well-made items will work beautifully.”
“I have been primarily focusing on items that people use everyday - spoons, spatulas, and cutting boards. Admittedly, I have always been obsessed with spoons. I think I carved my first when I was about 10. I still use it everyday. I think the quality of my work has improved by leaps and bounds since then, but the passion has remained the same. “
Fiddlehead designs are “inspired by the intelligence and ingenuity of heritage crafts”.
A batter spoon belonging to her Great-Grandmother has not only been a cherished treasure, but a valuable tool, and a reminder of quality workmanship.
Admittedly, Grandma’s spoon is “not particularly pretty, in fact it's a little beat up, and worn down. But, it's the best batter spoon I've ever had.”
“We used to create things with our own hands that lasted well over one hundred years. That spoon is the only connection that I have to her - a woman I've never met - but without her, I would not be here. I see a lot of value in crafts’ tangible connection to our collective past."
“Trees are selectively harvested from our woods, sawn on my father's sawmill, and crafted in the shop out back. As for the hand-carved items, even less of a carbon footprint is required. The tree is harvested, and then while the moisture remains in the wood, I carve spoons, spatulas, and the occasional dough bowl, all with four tools; the hatchet, knife, gouge, and adz. This woodworking is where my heart is, and I try to focus on it as much as possible. While this completely in-house process may have been common in the past, it is rare to find today. Choosing to work this way ensures responsible harvesting practices, and provides a strong link to the self-sufficient heritage of Appalachia.”
Thoughts on American-made
“I am firmly committed to always being an American-made company. Frankly, you just can't outsource and mass produce the kind of product I'm offering. Each piece is completely handcrafted by one person. To remain competitive, you have to offer an outstanding product in design and quality or people just won't buy it.”
“I believe strongly that buying American-made helps our economy and has the potential to create jobs. I take that very seriously, both as a maker and consumer. I support my local farmers-if I haven't grown it myself-and try to be discerning with any other purchases.”
Though Amy considers this the hardest job she ever had, it is also the most rewarding. Starting up was one of her biggest challenges.
“All sorts of business related decisions have to be made, and if you don't have a business background, it can be daunting.” Fortunately, Amy loves to be challenged. “You wouldn't think about it, but using a hatchet everyday to chop out spoons can be quite a difficult thing to master. It takes years… which is why the most important thing for an entrepreneur is to keep learning.”
Amy’s Advice for up-and-coming Entrepreneurs
“It is important to know as much as possible about your craft before you start your business. As your understanding of your medium deepens, keep exploring potential, taking risks, and tweaking designs; this is how great innovation is born. People pick up on your passion through your work, and if you are perpetually learning and challenging yourself, that will keep your work from becoming stagnant.”
Find more at www.fiddleheadwoodworking.com.
Credits // Author: Wendi Wendt Photos Provided By: Fiddlehead Woodworking