How special when a fiber artist is also an historian! Weaver Laura Matthews is just that and you can learn from her this year at Fiber College. Laura began weaving in college while getting her BFA in Fiber Design at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). She first worked in soft-home textile design for a national retailer before moving to Maine & managing woven production at a small weaving company. Ten years later, she weaves in her own studio, focusing on custom work for local farms & families with flocks of sheep. She is passionate about revitalizing high quality, beautifully curated textiles in our communities, as well as educating about historic craft, fiber, and textile art. Laura will teach Viking Cloth! on Saturday, September 9 from 9 AM to 1 PM. Students will not only learn some history about Viking women and the cloth they produced but will also create a sample of Viking cloth on a small loom that they can keep. Let’s meet Laura. Then you can sign up for her class here.
Fiber College chooses a new theme each year. For 2017, it’s Re-Use, Re-Design, Re-Create. How do you incorporate any part of this theme into an important part of your life?
Re-Use, Re-Design, Re-Create represents the basic tenets of fiber craft. The majority of fiber crafts are traditional and time old processes, usually applied as a practice in which to create a functional object or one of cultural importance. Today, as a maker, I have spent a decade learning about my craft, weaving, a process which in itself is a form of re-creation. I base my work on historic and functional work, largely classic New England blankets and home linens. However, as a unique individual with my own perspective, I apply my own eye and taste, building on foundations solidly based in history. I work my own spin into my work, which explores the re-designing aspect of the theme. The re-design is seeing the same item, a blanket is a blanket, through my eyes and experience. Re-use is such a common practice in my trade, I almost don’t think about it; I save my scraps of yarn to knit or use for stripes, I re-use plants and other natural waste for dyes, wool yarn is a re-use of a sheep’s sweater! I feel like Re-Use, Re-Design, Re-Create very much sums up the steps of a maker through his or her journey to master their craft.
Tell us how you entered into the world of fiber and the fiber arts.
I’ve always had the makings of a maker. My journey into fiber arts started as a child; I was always making things. I loved my dolls more than probably anything in the world. I would make little rugs for my dollhouse, little aprons, calico dresses, quilts, and mattresses for my pioneer doll family (yes, I made wagon trains from shoeboxes, and yes, the doll family was based on Little House on the Prairie). I remember my dad teaching me to hand stitch and we made bunny rabbit pin cushions. One of my grandmothers taught me to crochet when I was young; my other grandmother taught me to sew serge and cut out patterns. My American Girl Doll was pretty much the best dressed person in our house!
By high school I often made my own clothes or modified what I found, which ultimately led me to SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design), where I accidentally discovered fibers as a major. I didn’t even know that a fiber art was a thing, but once I started the classes it was so obviously right for me. My sophomore year I began weaving and was sold hook, line, and sinker. I wove, I wrote art history papers, and from there we can pretty much fast forward to present day.
Reusing materials can be great fun, exciting, or perhaps frustrating. How/What have you re-used as an artist?
Looking at re-use from a different angle, aside from the idea of recycling a physical it, what I would consider that I re-use the most often, is woven structure. This sounds like a funny answer, but most fiber art is traditional hand craft, some artists interpret and adapt more than others but ultimately you, as a maker, are following in tradition. When I am planning new projects, I have a wicked old book of old woven patterns, and during research I study what structures were used for what purpose and why they were used. Most often those choices were made for very logical reasons. Do I deviate? Of course, but not always or drastically….I am not trying to reinvent the wheel after all!
What’s the best piece of advice a mentor has ever given to you?
The best advice I have ever encountered is: “Good for you, not for me.” This may be a better piece of life advice, but I think that it applies to everything. What’s good for one person may not be for someone else. When a person can approach life with that openness, that not everything needs to be approved or judged, it alleviates a lot of restrictions on oneself. It also acknowledges that some choices may not be what I would do, like, or feel, but I respect others’ choices and understand the importance of doing what works best for your own self.
How does your art recreate YOU? What does that feel like?
Through many years of practice and work, I have found the act of weaving to have a cathartic effect on me. Regardless of what I am actually working on, I find the process to be meditative and some days even rejuvenating. The movements are ingrained, a muscle memory, and is almost like refilling a well or a water supply. In a way, this is like a rebirth, a recreation, similar to how many people can feel recharged, or recentered after yoga or physical activity; weaving can have a similar result for me. Do not be fooled, however, by my enjoyment; there are the equally rough days of shuttle launches, broken warps, and tears too….I’m still human after all!
What or who has had the greatest impact on your work as an artist?
As a craftsperson, my work is greatly impacted by environmental elements and by history. My work is a response to the enviros I live in. Here in Maine that often means cool and cold, sea-breezy days where nothing is more perfect than a mug of tea and a Maine-grown wool blanket. Great ideas and great products often are a response to the environmental needs. However, the exception for inspiration to me is my love of history, research, and a background in art history. I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at painting archives and using periods and movements to inspire my palette and collection presence, and occasionally my woven structure. My favorite paintings contain beautifully rendered fabrics, painted in representational manner, as well as historic woven tapestries, and screen printed, graphic pieces.
If you could go back in time, what might you change about your fiber journey?
What makes most of life interesting is that rarely does it follow one straight path. Many decisions alter our journey. I don’t know that there is any large change I would make to my path as a fiber artist, but I suppose if time travel were added into the mix, what couldn’t I do? Most likely here are some of the changes I would consider: Go back in time to a period where, what we now call fiber arts, is actually part of your daily life and chores, AND people could make a decent living off of what they produced….so a Viking lady, that would be great, but I would be cool with being a pioneer, or a woman in the renaissance, in England or Germany or any one culture that had weaving. The second half of my answer, which would be closer in time to present day, is that I wish in the beginning of my education I had learned more about the physical aspects of raising fiber, either wool, silk, cotton or linen, animal, or plant. I learned all about the processes through reading and writing, but it would have been a different experience learning it through doing….but it’s never too late and that is an achievable goal.
What’s the most important thing that you want potential students to know about you?
What I want students to know about me is that I don’t take much too seriously. Mistakes are made, and rarely are they so bad that they can’t be undone or adjusted to work; the more you do, the more you learn, and the better you get. It all just takes time, and we are all learning, getting better with time, practice, and age. Really we just need to enjoy getting to where we are going and not worry about how perfect it’ll all be in the end. I always joke that my woven products all come with one mistake for free!