Artist Profile: Mary DeLano

Mary DeLano is a ‘multi-lingual’ fiber artist. She mixes techniques and materials across the fiber arts to create magnificent, one-of-a-kind pieces that make a statement!  Mary has a “what if” perspective that gives her the freedom to venture into uncharted territories and she takes her students along for the ride. There are still spaces available (as of 7/8) in Mary’s “Confetti Rug/Pillow Top” class on Saturday, Sept 6 at Fiber College — after you learn more about Mary, you’re going to want to go sign up. Here’s Mary…

Mary DeLano with the Rainbow Runner

Mary DeLano with the Rainbow Runner

What does our 2014 theme“Do It Your Way!” mean to you from your perspective as a fiber artist and teacher?

Do it your way” is a perfect opportunity to play my favorite fiber arts “game” — “What If?” I love to learn new techniques. As soon as I am comfortable with a new way of manipulating fiber, I ask “What If?” I tried something different with this technique. I may substitute a new material for the one that is traditionally used. I may combine two different techniques into one. I may look to one fiber art for design inspiration for a different fiber art.

A sample of Mary DeLano's Tambour artistry

A sample of Mary DeLano’s Tambour artistry

For instance, I haven’t spent much time quilting, but love quilt patterns and often translate them into different media. If you look that the Tambour Rugs I make, you can see echoes of quilt patterns in them. Tambour Rugs are usually made on a rug canvas – like the ones we used to use for latch hook rugs. But the rug canvas doesn’t allow me to make curves, so now I am experimenting with the tambour technique on different backgrounds – monks cloth, linen, etc. – to see what I can produce.

My confetti rugs have traveled a similar path. I’ve made rugs that look like scrappy quilts, but again seemed limited to designs with right angles. So I decided to learn improvisational knitting, and then meld it with the confetti technique. Now I am able to add more motion to my confetti pieces by adding curves.

One of Mary DeLano's confetti pillows

One of Mary DeLano’s confetti creations

What kind of creative patterns, routines, or rituals do you have?

My one consistent pattern is to work on several projects at the same time using different techniques. I tell people that I do this because it is better for my hands. If I don’t do anyone technique for too long, I am less likely to have problems with carpal tunnel. The real reason I work on so many projects at a time is that I generate new ideas so fast that I can’t wait to turn them into reality. Sometimes I have to force myself to finish a project, before I allow myself to start a new one. I keep a sketch book that is dedicated to my design ideas so that I don’t lose track of them. Occasionally, when I look back on my notes and sketches I can’t figure out what I was thinking, but many times they provide a foundation for my next project.

Two confetti blocks being seamed together

Two confetti blocks being seamed together

What would a student be most surprised to know about you?

I haven’t learned how to sew a straight line with a sewing machine. Maybe someday I will, but for now I find machine sewing to be very stressful and the results often look like I’ve enjoyed too much wine before I started.

Tell us about a proud moment you’ve had as a result of your student’s efforts.

Two confetti blocks attached

Two confetti blocks attached

I teach a wool-on-wool applique class that meets monthly. Each month we focus on different embroidery stitches. One day two of my regular students, who had been very tentative when they started, really surprised me. One, who originally insisted that she would never be able to read a stitch pattern from a book, proudly showed me that she had done just that. The other, who claimed she was never able to remember what I taught her, was showing another student a stitch I taught in an earlier class. As a teacher, I find it very rewarding to see my students gain confidence so that they can go on to create their own works of art.


You’ve just run into an old friend from high school. How do you answer the question, “What do YOU do?”

I’ve made a beautiful business card with a photo of part of my rainbow runner. I give the friend my card. If it evokes a smile, I explain what I am doing. If it doesn’t, I move on to a different subject. It’s really hard to explain fiber arts to someone who isn’t interested.

Tell us about your studio space and how you work.

Next confetti block on the needles

Next confetti block on the needles

I am so lucky to have a large basement where I can store my stash. In my former life, I worked in construction and was able to salvage about 50 linear feet of cabinets and stone countertops from a high school science classroom. These cabinets form the foundation of my storage space. I don’t typically work on my projects in the basement. Instead I sit in the sunroom or the living room looking out at the lake. Both rooms have tote bags filled with projects in various stages of completion. The only rule in our house is that I can’t overtake my husband’s TV room. He needs some space that isn’t overrun by fiber.

As an instructor, what would be the best advice you could give to a student?

We all learn new skills at different rates. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t learn a new skill as easily as your classmates. If the project really appeals to you, keep going; you will get better. If the project doesn’t really appeal to you once you have started, don’t be afraid to put it down. I frequently take classes to learn new techniques and am surprised at how easily I pick up some new skills and at how much trouble I have with others. For instance, someone just taught me how to hand piece quilts, a skill I never thought I could master. As soon as I figured out that the needle motion was similar to one I use on my standing wool rugs, I was all set. On the other hand, I’ve taken two rug hooking classes and completed one small mat, but don’t feel at all comfortable with this technique. Maybe someday I’ll be able to rug hook and to sew a straight line on the machine. Until then, I have plenty of other projects to keep my hands busy.

Tambour Footstool Cover ready for finishing -- inspired by Essie Bendloph Pettway 1980 Quilt (Gee's Bend: The Women and their Quilts, p. 200)

Tambour Footstool Cover ready for finishing — inspired by Essie Bendloph Pettway 1980 Quilt (Gee’s Bend: The Women and their Quilts, p. 200)

What project has given you the most satisfaction and why?

My favorite project is my rainbow rug (see photo at top of article). I took a three hour workshop on making standing wool rugs and quickly became addicted. After finishing a small coaster, I set out to make a long runner with all of the colors of the rainbow. The runner is approximately 11 feet long and 30 inches wide. I enjoyed every minute I spent making the rug, from finding old clothes to recycle, to using my crock pot to dye more colors, to making the individual “flowers” and combining them into the rainbow. The only part of the process I didn’t like was sewing on the border, because I had to sit on the floor. I smile every time I see my rug and love sharing it with the visitors to our home.

Finished Tambour mat

Finished Tambour mat

Who has had the greatest influence on your work as an artist?

Rose Ann Hunter from Newburyport, Massachusetts has had the greatest influence on my work. Rose Ann knows about 30 different historical rug making techniques and loves to share them with her students. She can examine an old rug and figure out how it was made. When I took her standing wool rug class about six years ago, I had never worked with wool fabric. Now, I am addicted to it. Rose Ann is one of the best people in the world to play the “What If?” game with. Her creativity knows no bounds. If you have time to take her class at Fiber College, I know you will enjoy it.

What is the most important thing that you want potential students to know about you?

This is my second career and I am enjoying every minute of it. When I take a workshop, I want to have fun, be inspired, and learn new skills. I try to create the same environment for my students. I bring my enthusiasm, creativity, and love of color to each class I teach. I am patient and supportive as students learn new skills and always amazed at how each student’s perspective leads to a unique piece of work.

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