Hot pads sales heating up at Rain
Rain Fire-Resistant Hot Pad Sets
Designer/Maker: Eileen Kennedy
According to the National Fire Protection Association, the number one source of house fires is cooking. Two-thirds of cooking fires start because food or other materials catch fire, including hot pads left too close to the stove’s flame.
Nevada County’s Eileen Kennedy aims to prevent those fires. Not single-handedly. She plans to use both hands.
Kennedy has designed and developed a line of thick, felted-wool hot pads that have been tested to be heat resistant up to 500 degrees. And she makes each one — step by laborious step — by hand.
“Wool is widely regarded as the most flame-resistant fiber because of its high water and nitrogen content,” said Kennedy.
Kennedy travels to Woodland to buy a special type of wool with a zig-zag kink in its fiber that makes it ideal for felting. She buys one six-pound batt of carded wool every month. Working from her Nevada City home studio, she then measures, cuts, peels, layers, felts, and dyes the wool.
That’s just the start of each hot pad, marketed under the name “Rain.” Kennedy finishes the process by air-drying the material, cutting it into raindrop-shaped hot pads, attaching a home-made label/hanger she designed herself, and delivering the hot pads to stores that sell each pair for $48.
“Felting is an ancient way of creating fabric,” explained Kennedy. “It involves hand pressing the wool in soapy water, which causes the fibers interlock while shrinking.”
The fluffy, airy wool condenses into a sturdy material about a quarter inch thick. Next comes the unique wave-like design.
“I use a process called resist dyeing. I made plywood templates using a jigsaw and router. I clamp the material between the templates and submerge it all in a blue dye bath. Everything that’s not covered by the template turns blue, creating a design evocative of water,” she continued. “You don’t have to be a feng shui fan to get the humor: Fight the heat with wool and water!”
Kennedy boasts an impressive background in the realms of art and design. She earned an art degree from Skidmore College, a liberal arts college in upstate New York. She then moved to Britain, where she immersed herself in an intensive two-year furniture design program.
She has alternately been a designer, artist, and furniture maker for 15 years. Specializing in hand-crafted furniture pieces, Kennedy has been featured in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and international magazines and newspapers. Her meteoric rise to the top of her trade fizzled in 2008.
“The economy tanked, my daughter was born amid complications, my husband developed an allergy to wood dust — and we had to close our furniture-making business,” she recalled.
Eventually, the partnership ended and her husband departed.
“It was hard. It took years to find the courage and muster the confidence to begin making things again,” Kennedy remembered, adding that her 8-year-old daughter is now healthy. “This is a resurrection of sorts, a rebirth and renewal. Rain can also be interpreted as tears; all the tears I cried or didn’t cry through the hard times.”
When she’s not taking care of her daughter, Kennedy devotes every moment to Rain hot pads. That includes doing her own marketing and visiting potential retail outlets store by store.
Kitkitdizzy in Nevada City is one of several stores that carry Rain hot pads. Manager Nikiya Schwarz said Kennedy’s hand-made merchandise is a wonderful addition to the eclectic shop.
“We are always looking for well-made, local goods to feature,” Schwarz reported. “We’ve known Eileen in the community for years as a designer and fellow ‘creative,’ so having her goods in our shop is a perfect marriage. We only carry things we ourselves love and would use in our own lives, so Eileen’s hot pads make perfect sense.”
Kennedy also sells Rain hot pads via her own website, which primarily promotes her long-running interior design services and webinars based on feng shui. She said she is perfecting designs for additional products, including lap top and iPad felted-wool one-piece cases that have no stitching.
She has started a line of clothing, currently limited to pants she has designed, sewn and dyed herself. When Kennedy eventually offers her hand-crafted apparel for sale, she said she’d like to add skirts and T-shirts.
“I’m most interested in the person, the world, and how we interact with nature. My products tell stories or give ideas of who we really are,” Kennedy said thoughtfully.
“There’s something counter-culture about it all. It’s a return to creating things by hand when everything is going digital and on-line,” she analyzed. “Fewer people are creating things. So many people have no skills in terms of making objects; many can’t even hem their own pants.”
Currently, Kennedy makes about 24 pair of Rain hot pads each month. As demand increases and more stores carry her products, she hopes to produce at least 36 pair each month.
“I’d like to do a weather report that it’s “Rain-ing” all over Northern California.”
Kennedy has no desire to hire help, nor outsource.
“Rain hot pads will never be made in China,” she smiled.
Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who resides in Nevada County. Contact her at Lorraine JewettWrites@gmail.com if you know a company or business trend that could be featured in The Union.
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