At her studio in Waynesville, Tromiczak is all smiles on a recent afternoon. Not only because she’s in the midst of another project, but also in light of her recent achievement — winning an award for her creations. In January, she won first place for textile design at the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Conference in Nashville. After weeks of not hearing anything from the competition, she opened her email one day to a big surprise.
“When I got the message that I won, I scared my boyfriend in the other room because I screamed so loud,” she laughed.
And with that recognition comes vindication for Tromcizak and her continuing quest to master a craft that has seen a rebirth of interest in recent years.
“The whole process has really appealed to me for years,” she said. “I just like knowing everything, from the animal fibers to the final product. Something I find interesting is the idea of being able to wear something you’ve made, or you know who made it, where the animals came from, what plants were used like cotton or hemp — it’s about knowing where things come from.”
Growing up in Minneapolis, Tromcizak was surrounded by creativity. Her mother dabbled in weaving, her father is a potter and her brother is currently pursuing a degree in painting and drawing in New York City. From that foundation, Tromcizak had the encouragement and support to grasp for her dreams.
After attending an artistic high school for writing, Tromcizak enrolled in the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. It was there she got an internship on a sustainable farm in Wisconsin. That internship was a turning point. She worked with her hands every day, whether it was cultivating produce or learning how to spin, weave and dye fibers from the alpacas, llamas and sheep on the farm.
“[The farm] had a whole network of people who traded eggs for milk or fiber or their different skills,” Tromcizak said. “The world is so big and I think just because of how the textile industry has changed, people do forget where those things come from. You don’t know where your meat comes from, or maybe don’t know what a cotton plant looks like.”
From Wisconsin, Tromcizak worked on a farm in Ireland where she learned more about the history and tradition of weaving. Though the culture of weaving has long since faded from the mainstream of industrial Ireland, the spark inside Tromcizak was getting brighter. She was beginning to see her place in the world as she dug deeper into the trade.
Once back in Minneapolis, Tromcizak looked into an eight-week intensive weaving course at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina in 2012. It seemed just enough of an experience to test out her dream of becoming a weaver.
“It was a life-changing experience. I was just so immersed in it the whole time,” she said. “I went to bed at midnight, got up at 6 a.m. and went straight to the studio. I fell in love with it right away. I probably was the least experienced in the class, so it was interesting to see where everyone was coming from, what their different techniques and methods were. Going in fresh, I was just soaking everything in.”
With the Penland course complete, Tromcizak’s life took another turn when her boyfriend decided to relocate to Arizona for school. The couple headed west together. While staying with friends in Prescott, Tromcizak purchased her first loom before she even found a permanent address. Once settled in, she started weaving her visions, as well as joining the local Weaver’s Guild.
“I was in this in-between place of figuring out what I wanted to make,” she said. “At Penland we covered a lot of ground, and in Arizona I now was surrounded by all of these weavers, me being 20 years younger than everyone else. They definitely wanted some new blood in the guild and they were so supportive.”
Looking to take the next step in her training, Tromcizak wanted to go back to school to learn more methods and techniques to mold her weaving interest into a lifelong career. The local college in Prescott had recently eliminated their weaving program, but a friend at the guild informed Tromcizak of the renowned craft school at Haywood Community College in Clyde. Following her boyfriend’s graduation in the spring of 2013, the couple headed back east, with Tromcizak starting a two-year weaving program at HCC.
“I do a combination of maybe having a little bit of an idea and seeing where things go, and keep going with it if I like what’s being made,” she said.
While in school, Tromcizak is currently selling her handmade wares at Earthworks Gallery in Waynesville and other crafting events. Her forte these days is cowls, also known as “infinity scarves,” which are made with wool fibers. In addition to her weaving, Tromcizak also has a mission to promote quality products in a fair trade marketplace.
“There is so much waste in the world, where the cheaper the textile, the faster it possibly will end up in a landfill,” she said. “I want to make sure the person making garments made a fair wage, was able to provide for their family, and are working in humane conditions.”
And as her education continues, Tromcizak looks at her love of weaving as a passion that’s also preserving and perpetuating an ancient trade, one with a rich history in Southern Appalachia.
“It’s amazing how easily things can be lost, where a family technique can die out in a generation,” she said. “There’s something incredible about working with your hands, and that everything you put into a piece really does matter.”