In our crazy, busy, nearly-always-multi-tasking lives, it can be nothing short of delicious to find a fiber art that Slows. Us. Down. My grandmother would spend hours in her red corduroy chair… stitching… mending…hemming…embroidering. And sometimes from my perch on the red leather ottoman, I could reach into her sewing basket to hand her the next spool of thread or just the right button. I was mesmerized.
Donna Johnson returns to Fiber College and she loves slow. Her thoughtfulness is reflected in every stitch of every piece of her art—she stitches in a meditative style that her students adored when she joined us last year. She also loves to create special fabric with which to create her beautiful work. On Friday, September 8, Donna will be teaching a day-long class (9-4) Resist! and Dye! On Saturday, September 9 (9-4), it’ll be It’s All About the Slow Stitching and the Fabric.
Donna currently has a show of some of her artwork hanging in the Dragon Echo gallery and shop on Mill Street in Orono, through June and into July.
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?
I’m a fiber artist, working with fabrics and fiber. I do a lot of surface design—dyeing, printing, stamping, batik, shibori, etc.—to create the fabrics I use. I work with plant dyes, synthetic dyes, and paint, or whatever else may come to mind. The fabrics are then worked up into wall hangings, using both machine and hand stitching, along with various embellishments. I reuse materials and ideas, I redesign plain fabric to patterned fabric, and I recreate ideas into artwork.
Aside from your class, what is your favorite thing about FC? What do you think new attendees just shouldn’t miss?
I come to Fiber College for the classes, the vendors and demonstrations, the food, the atmosphere, and the company! What does Fiber College mean to me? At Fiber College 2016, I made buttons, carved a spoon, taught my first Fiber College class (stitching), got a lovely commemorative Fiber College 10 year anniversary glass, and got my knives sharpened!
Reusing materials can be great fun, exciting, or perhaps frustrating. How/What have you re-used as an artist?
I use mostly new, unprinted, undyed fabrics, which I then dye, paint, print, and stamp into fabrics to be used in my stitched pieces. As far as re-using materials, I’ll use all sorts of things for the imagery I’m transferring to the fabric – leaves, plastic fencing, bottoms of plastic food containers with interesting patterns, various bits of hardware, corrugated boxes, etc. And I reuse various food containers for storage and dyeing, etc.—the highest quality containers, of course, are Talenti Coconut Gelato and Ciao Bella Mango Sorbetto jars; they hold materials very well. And I suppose I’m reusing plant material when I’m using it for dyeing.
My dye class explores surface designing fabrics with plant dyes using a number of surface design techniques. I’m often immersion dyeing fabrics, and will get some fabulous patterns fairly serendipitously, but will also often get ‘blah’ fabrics that need some spicing up. So, on new fabric, or on some of those blah ones, you can create a variety of patterns with a variety of techniques. Clamp some shapes into the cloth, tie some marbles or stones in, stitch some pattern in and cinch it up, print on some mordant paste or dye catcher, dream up something new—then into the dyepot it goes.
My ‘slow stitching’ class plays with how to incorporate dyed and surface designed fabrics into a piece of work. A part of the class addresses some of the practicalities – the stitch itself, how to handle attaching fabrics, how to transfer designs, etc. Then, some thoughts on how a few bits of fabric, plain or patterned, can become something quite lovely with slow, repetitive, meditative stitching. And the stitching can be straightforward, basic stitches—when repeated and built up over the surface, they can become quite wonderful. A plan can exist from the beginning, but additions can be made by responding to what is on the fabric.
What’s the best piece of advice a mentor has ever given to you?
An acquaintance sent me a link to a plant dye class (that I would never have discovered on my own), saying that it sounded like my kind of thing, and that started me forward on my plant dyeing adventures.
My larger stitched pieces (Embroideries? Stitcheries? OK, Fine— I’ve taken to calling them Embitcheries…) generally start from a few pieces of fabric, and maybe a general idea, and may morph over time into something quite different. My current piece in progress started out with a working title of Shadows, and is now called Universal Offerings. I’ve been working on that one since the beginning of the year, but I suspect it still needs a fair amount of stitches, although I think I may have stopped adding pieces of fabric.
Tell us about a time that you developed an exciting idea for your fiber art; where did the idea come from? What inspired you?
Inspiration can come from anywhere—something that happens during the day, a phrase overheard, a picture, the natural world, the design on a piece of fabric. Last year, my broken arm inspired a few pieces.
What’s the most important thing that you want potential students to know about you?
That I’m looking forward to being able to share stitching and dyeing with them.
Hope you enjoyed meeting Donna Johnson! Now you can go sign up for one or both of her of her all day classes here. Friday’s Resist! and Dye! and Saturday’s It’s All about the Slow Stitching (and Fabric).