Dana Mill, Westbrook Maine
Did you ever feel like a little person, pressing your face up to a glass window looking at something magical inside? Did you ever feel butterflies and excitement imagining what ever was inside to be your very own?
The Dana Mill in Westbrook, Maine has been that place for me. I first came across it when I partnered up with AU BAGS. They had a giant place on the first floor. I still remember walking in for the first time. The smell of old wood, brick and the energy of something gigantic inside. It consumed my whole being and as I walked into the AU production floor where all I could see was sewing and cutting tables, the smell of old sewing machines and equipment and the hum of large industrial sergers…rows and rows and rows of fabric..every design and color…I was in heaven. I know it sounds strange, not having any connection to this place at all, never knowing much about industry, manufacturing…but I could not stop thinking of my own designs being stitched up as I walked by each stitchers magical table…in that moment I only hoped that my pillows at that time would be made in a place like this…for people to enjoy…
But as you know, things change and AU has sense moved up North and was recently sold from John Milburn, the last owner…the partnership being a great one, a real collaboration creating a few prints for their Raincoat Cotton Bag line. But that was a few years back…but the mill has always been a place where I am drawn.
Fast forward a few years, as my own little business grows..double then tripling in sales in the last 4 years…I find my self again peering into the mill with that same feeling hoping it may be my turn to hear my own sounds of creating. But this time long tables of usa woven fabrics being hand printed, the sweeping high pitch repetitive sound of the squeegee being swept over screens…light pouring in from the massive windows and the sound of the river pounding and rushing below. Boxes being filled, orders going out, designs being made…and finally, deep breath, my world in a space that reflects where we are headed.
So my vision, is to expand my printing capabilities and have open studio times where people like you can come and shop…talk design and color and custom projects. I continue my graphic design as well as continue to expand my line, changing it up, but having this amazing back drop where while mixing ink I don’t have to run up stairs or climb out of my bulk head from our studio basement to see what color I am mixing.
It all sounds very simple choice but the flexibility of being here at home working is amazing and been so good for us. This vision needs to be a decision based on how it can or will pay for it self. Just a glorious place to work is not good enough. The space big enough to grow, make things easier and more efficient. Not make my life more complicated. (God knows I have enough of that). Having people in and out of our home to work has been fine really, but climbing over dirty laundry (no joke) and showing customers our newest things as they pour through my living room…and mixing ink in the dark is hard but doable…I need something big, a reason for the big leap…what is it..what is it that I am so afraid of? Yes do I dare say I am scared? Of what? I know I won’t fail…it’s something else that has been holding me back…
When I am stuck or in a transition space I ask for signs..some devine intervention… sometimes baby steps is how I get to my ultimate AH HA moment. Before I went on my own I had a job that gave me 20 hours of freelance design work a week. A bandaid so I could grow my own clients as a graphic designer. (a long story but basically I had to give up something to make it happen) But it was a opportunity I could of passed up but didn’t. I asked for some sort of help to leave the security of my day job…and this came up, not without sacrifice or challenges…but I did it. After a few years I left the security of those quaranteed 20 hours..that was 9 years ago..and I have never looked back. It was such a gift to have those 20 hours. We could pay the mortgage, and the basics…it was just enough to get me there…give me a chance. But we all know we just need those basics to feel safe enough to leap. But what happens when the leap is not so easy, the leap is more of a giant step where you must believe in nothing more then your gut, your ability to fly? Passion has always lead me down the right road, determination has always been my ally. How can a 1000SF space be such a metaphor for me…a link to keep going…?
I walked around the Old Dana Mill soloyesterday and took these pictures. I needed to get out of house, grab a coffee (of course) and clear my head. A misty fog loomed as I climbed to the 4th floor. A complete maze of brick walls and giant metal windows with a sea of industrial fans humming…I felt like a little girl finding her way…and after a few windy turns I came to a the highest point of the old mill and my chest felt heavy as I came to a window. I quickly realized that the screen was missing, it was just a insanely HUGE opening with nothing between me and the ground below. I moved closer to that window and stuck my head, just to peek. A heavy feeling like a lump in your throat lingered. I stood there with the wind blowing and the sun pouring onto my face, the energy of the thunderous river below and for a moment I envisioned my self falling out of this window and what would become of me. I was scared.
I looked out, being so high up, I was in the sky…literally…I could smell the water below, a thick cleaness–the heat rising. And at that moment I saw two seagulls bird flying…darting and playing… At that moment I remembered a book I read as a child my Aunt Lynn gave me…it was a book about Jonathan Livingston Seagull, written by Richard Bach, a fable about a seagull learning about life and flight, and a homily about self-perfection. He discovers that his sheer tenacity and desire to learn make him “pretty well a one-in-a-million bird.” In this new place, Jonathan befriends the wisest gull, Chiang, who takes him beyond his previous learning, teaching him how to move instantaneously to anywhere else in the Universe. The secret, Chiang says, is to “begin by knowing that you have already arrived.” That was it…the difficult climb to the 4th floor that brought me to this window…gave me visual, a memory of believing. We all need it, and sometime we need to be reminded.
I stepped away from the window and I went back down the maze of floors and long halls, the echo of my flip flops the only thing I could hear. The mill asleep with no one around..a eery sense of walking around by yourself in a space filled with energy…once filled with men and women with bales of cotton which would eventually be made into warp for use in weaving cotton fabric. I could feel them here…every step worn by years of climbing up and down, the wood floors with fifty layers of poly with large cracks and imperfections of years of hard work. These floors and walls were talking to me…telling me their story of passion and hard work but also the hard ships and signs of tragedy and heart ache. Industry flooded these walls but after increasing use of synthetic fabrics, increasing government regulations and heavier labor costs forced the closing of Dana Warp Mills on January of 1957. I felt somehow connected to these walls. And looking at these huge open spaces a strong sense of me wanting to fill them up again…scary and strange and a complete foreign feeling to me.
I have always believed that at that moment in conflict or transition you must go somewhere inside yourself and be alone…to escape…find quiet solitude. I asked for a sign and those two birds and the book reminded me of that insanely huge lesson…that we are already who we wish or dream to be…but at this very moment I need to be reminded.
I stepped away from the window and I went back down to the 2nd floor where one of many spaces are for rent and I pressed my face to the window where I could see every inch…It felt right to me…no other feeling…just a ok sort of peaceful feeling, this is the next step. e