Fiber art that’s magical…intriguing…gorgeous…
fabric, colors, patterns, and natural elements. Amelia Poole has a vision for creating spectacular fabric; she encourages her students to make beautiful textiles whether eco-printed with elements from nature, or patterned with indigo, a natural dye.
Let’s learn more about Amelia. She’ll be teaching two different classes at Fiber College this year. Have you signed up for either or both of her classes yet?
What does this year’s Fiber College theme “Do It Your Way” mean to you from your perspective as a fiber artist and teacher?
Niche: a position particularly suitable for the person occupying it; a situation or activity specially suited to a person’s interests, abilities, or nature. (Derivation: Middle French nicher – to make a nest.)
My niche, my way! I am incredibly lucky to be able to make my nest as a full-time fiber artist and teacher here in Maine. My way is eco-printing, natural dyeing, felting and printing.
Eco-printing is a method of adding color, pattern, and texture to cloth using only plant materials. No external paints, inks, or dyes are used – simply the natural compounds within the plant material. Eco-printing techniques developed and popularized by India Flint of South Australia, focus in bioregionalism and the use of sustainable, organic, and non-toxic materials. I focus in using only the plants of the Blue Hill Peninsula and creating extremely detailed prints. I print silk scarves and a variety of textiles for clothing (linen, silk, hemp, organic cotton) – which I design and sew. Eco-printed textiles can also be used for home decoration in the form of hangings, pillows, bed covers, and art.
1. Leaves and flowers are laid out on damp, prepared cloth. 2. The cloth and vegetable matter are wrapped together and bound in a tight bundle. 3. The bundles are steamed or simmered. 4. The cool, finished bundles are unwrapped and fabulous images emerge. 5. Cloth is ironed and aged before washing to ensure that the most color possible adheres to the fabric. After washing and rinsing until the water is clear, the piece is dried and ironed.
This method of creating gorgeous fabric is non-toxic, a critical aspect in our world of modern chemicals. My lovely assistant, age 5, can participate. She often helps me gather plant material and unwrap steamed bundles. Eco-printing combines my love of textiles, natural color, and imagery with my fascination with botany and chemistry – a perfect fit.
I also use natural dyes, in particular indigo to create extraordinary color on cloth and yarn. Until 158 years ago, in 1856, all color was produced with natural dyes. William Perkin’s discovery of ‘mauvine’ the first coal tar derived synthetic dye. A “dye race” ensued. By 1900 nearly all colors had been synthesized. (In 1871, 19,000 tons of natural indigo was produced worldwide; by 1914, that number was reduced to a mere 1,000 tons by BASF’s creation of synthetic indigo.) We need to bring natural colors back! Color from natural sources has a depth and presence rarely seen with synthetic dyes.
Indigo – I love the magic of indigo! I am an addict. I made my first indigo vat almost 16 years ago. Luckily for me, a good friend stopped by. She took one look at me and said, “Where are your car keys? I’m going to get pizza. You’re going to be here all night.”
1. Cloth is stitched, gathered, bound and capped. 2. Indigo vat. Indigo is a substantive dye and will dye any natural substance. I wear gloves, but there was a hole in that pair. 3. Dyed piece waiting to be unbound. This piece was placed in the vat 16 times and allowed to dry between each dip. 5. This is the piece from photo 1, finished. Stitching, binding and capping in silk and linen suiting.
Indigo is a natural blue dye derived from the plant Indigofera tinctoria and other indigo-precursor-bearing species. Indigo has been used as a colorant for nearly 5,000 years. The dye is extracted from the leaves through a lengthy process of soaking and fermentation, drying and grinding. When the cloth or fiber is removed from the dye vat, it changes, as if by magic, from yellow-green through green and turquoise and teal to blue. Multiple dips in the dye vat are required to create dark shades. Shibori is a Japanese term for numerous methods of creating patterned cloth by binding, stitching, folding, and twisting to prevent dye from penetrating all parts of the cloth.
Here are some images of my other indigo work. Most are some form of stitched shibori.
Untitled, 2012, Pimatex Cotton, stitched and bound, dyed with natural indigo. Detail below.
This is my way. It is my niche. I love it. I do it. I share it.
How did you become an artist?
At times, it’s hard for me to believe that I am actually an artist. I have grown into it though. I am an artist, artisan, and teacher. I have always loved textiles and I can’t remember time when my hands (or mind) have been still. I never intended to be an artist, textile or otherwise. Until attending the Surrey Institute of Art and Design, I had not taken an art class since 8th grade. Now, I love and live to be an artist. My heart does a little flip when I hear my daughter say, “This is my mom, she’s an artist.”
Here’s a little rant: I have great frustration with the imaginary line (especially financial) between textiles and wall art. I make art to wear. I make art to use. William Morris had a great deal to say about use and beauty – it’s worth looking up his most famous quotes, if nothing else.
What would a student be most surprised to know about you?
When I was 10 years old, I became a volunteer at Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts recreating the lives of settlers in 1627. I was a child volunteer until I was old enough to be a full-time summer employee. I eventually left the pilgrim village and worked in the Wardrobe Department sewing costumes and demonstrating the techniques for 17th century tailoring. (P.S. – Here’s my little secret. In 1988 I was photographed for the children’s book Sarah Morton’s Day by Kate Waters and Russ Kendall.)
How does your early work differ from what you are doing now?
When I went to the Surrey Institute of Art and Design in Farnham, Surrey, UK, I trained to be a weaver. I couldn’t conceive of being a printer. My final set of woven yardage (3 3-meter pieces) was 2/72s worsted merino at 40 epi with a weft of 20 denier filament silk and vertical inlays of plied high-twist merino 28s. (Crazy, huh?) I own a 12-shaft Glimakra Countermarche loom.
So, now I am a printer, both an eco-printer and a screen printer. I print images of my drawings of winter plant skeletons on naturally dyed cloth with an iron infused seaweed paste. No matter what I am doing, my knowledge of yarn properties and textile construction, and deep love of cloth substance inform all of my current work.
You’ve just run into an old friend from high school. How do you answer the question, “What do YOU do?”
Ahhhh, the high school reunion.
“I have a small textile art shop, studio and gallery in Maine near Blue Hill – between Camden and Bar Harbor. I concentrate on natural dyeing and eco-printing; using local plants to create color and images on cloth. I make and sell scarves, custom clothing, table linens, and pillows. I also teach a variety of textile techniques.”
How do you imagine that your work might change in the next 5 years?
I am looking forward to designing and offering more eco-printed and naturally dyed clothing to my customers. For 2014, I’m making shibori patterned, indigo-dyed wrap skirts. I also have a line of indigo table runners and napkins. I will be making more housewares and wall art. I am thrilled to be working with my friend, Chris Leith of Eggemoggin Textile Studio for joint promotion and creating eco-printed pillows and naturally dyed yarns.
Tell us about your studio space and how you work.
I am SO excited. I have a” real” shop and studio.
The sign for Island Soaps is down. Ecouture Textiles is up! Please visit my blog: http://ecouturetextilestudio.com/blog/ for more images of the interior.
Recently, I’ve been enjoying working with my indigo vat out in the greenhouse, keeping me and the vat work absorbing as much vitamin D as possible! I do most of my work on a ‘table’ – a hollow core door covered in solar pool cover bubble wrap on sawhorses. (The bubble wrap keeps the table dry, it’s easy to clean and is a nice, slightly squishy surface for printing.) My iron is always on. The studio includes a separate kitchen area – it’s perfect! Please come and visit – 30 Bagaduce Road, Brooksville, Maine – about 50 minutes from Searsport.
When I am not working at my studio, I always have something to do. I carry a piece of stitched shibori, product tags, or a notebook with me all the time.
Tell us about a proud moment you’ve had as a result of your students’ efforts.
One of my proudest moments as a result of my students’ efforts came when attending a 17th birthday party and one of my students, who took a nuno-felting class when she was 15, gave the birthday girl a gorgeous nuno scarf that she made at home! I am also pleased and proud to see any of my students get excited about a process.
As an instructor, what would be the best advice you could give to a student?
Experiment! Record your experiments and ideas. It’s difficult, I know. But I’ve learned to have little faith in my memory. It’s worth keeping a notebook or sketchbook with you. Ideas and inspiration can come at any time. Everything you record is “food” for your art.
The most important thing I’d like students to know is that I LOVE what I do. I am very enthusiastic and love to share my knowledge. But, if I don’t know something, I’ll tell you that too!
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You can learn more about Amelia Poole on her websites, and on her Pinterest and Facebook pages.