Artist Profile: Carolee Withee

Even though Carolee Withee first learned to hand embroider at the tender age of five, she continues to be enthralled by this delicate fiber art and has made it her own! She especially loves to learn and combine new techniques with familiar ones; she uses a wide variety of materials ranging from treasured inherited linens to the latest varieties of Brazilian threads. Her award-winning creations are favorites at large quilt shows. We are happy to welcome Carolee back to Fiber College this year.

If you want to learn the art of hand embroidery; just need a refresher class to perfect your skills; or would like to learn aspects of Brazilian style embroidery, then this is the class! Carolee will offer Embroider a Monogrammed Initial on Saturday, September 9 from 1:30 – 5:30 PM.  You might create a hand embroidered gift for a granddaughter’s graduation or a dear relative’s birthday, or a gift to yourself to hang on a wall or set on a stand. Delicate floral embroidery winds around an initial; the design of flowers, leaves and vine is your own creation. Depending on the complexity of your design, you should leave with a finished piece of art.

Let’s listen to Carolee talk about her passion for hand embroidery and then you can sign up for her class right 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 is a concept very important to my quilting life. Most everyone has inherited crocheted and embroidered handwork from their grandmothers. For several years, those antique crocheted doilies and bureau runners, along with embroidered needlework, have been the focus of my quilts. In addition to using my own grandmothers’ needlework, often I am challenged to “make something” out of a gift.  Tiny tatted medallions were given to me.  They became snowflakes in a winter scene.   Another gift was an antique crocheted shade pull, for which a window scene must be designed!  Sometimes I find a piece of needlework from the thrift store or a yard sale.  I reused an antimacassar set made of 6 crocheted birds, and designed a scene of the birds flying from Maine to the Italian Coast for the winter. I always try to use the whole item, but on occasion a torn or soiled piece of handwork is cut and re-purposed into my designs.

A stunning piece made with recycled linens!

The answer to this question is that the walls of our house are covered with many of these quilts!  And the very best reward is that I get to see the handwork of the grandmothers every day.

I have shown my 20 quilts in a presentation titled, “Displaying Our Grandmother’s Handwork,” to the members of various organizations around Maine.

People often ask me for suggestions for using the doilies that they have inherited.  Here is one idea; a vase full of white flowers on a dining room table. We can never have too many doilies!

What a wonderful way to use all those special doilies you’ve inherited (or found in your fibery travels)!

Tell us about a time that you developed an exciting idea for your fiber art; where did the idea come from? What inspired you?

I enjoy the designing process because I often have to learn a new technique in order to depict a specific scene or tell a story.

My quilt chapter offered a challenge to sew a quilt featuring “Downton Abbey” fabrics.  My idea was to use one of the fabric repeats of the mansion, in the background of my piece and then to add a garden of Silk Ribbon flowers.  In my mind I could see the colorful flowers, but before I could sew the garden I needed to learn how to create flowers in silk ribbon.  I bought some books, got advice online, and learned the technique.  Of course it helped that I’ve been embroidering since I was a child.

It’s Downton Abbey!

An earlier project urged me to learn how to do tatting. I needed some edgings and motifs for a Crazy Quilt and didn’t have enough in my inheritance of laces. I needed rabbits in another project, so had to learn the technique of needle felting.  Using the wool roving to show furry rabbits was just right!  Most of my current works are examples of blending many techniques.  Usually a special piece of crochet or embroidery is the inspiration for one of my wall quilts.

Aside from your class, what is your favorite thing about FC? What do you think new attendees just shouldn’t miss?

I just love the energy that is so apparent every day!  All of the participants, students, teachers, and vendors, can benefit.  For the most part we all go home with feelings of accomplishment: we’ve learned a new technique; we completed a project in a class; and we found food for lunch!  There is enthusiasm and inspiration to be found by just walking around.

A close-up shows the wide variety of stitches, threads, and fabric that Carolee uses in her handwork.

I do a lot of mixed media design.  The more techniques I can combine in one piece the better! As I check out the artists and classes each year, I always discover a new technique that I want to learn.  I like that challenge.

If you could go back in time, what might you change about your fiber journey?

I have had many opportunities to present my quilts to folks in Maine.  I have written quilting song lyrics and I sing along with the trunk show.  Hopefully, in another year I should have another presentation ready so that I can “be on stage” again.  The change I would make would be to have started doing this much earlier in my life and to market my programs so that I could travel, travel, travel!

Because it takes months to finish a large wallhanging, I recently decided to design some smaller pieces.  My class for 2017 is the result of my love of silk ribbon embroidery, crochet, tatting, dimensional embroidery, and the embroidery we all learned as a child. I have found that hanging my work on a wall where I can see it each day, inspires me to design another, and then another.  My plan is to get all those designs and ideas out of my head and onto fabric.  Housework will just have to wait!

Carolee prefers to stitch at her kitchen table (the heart of the home, right?).

I just started the embroidery for the letter “K,” which will be another sample for my class at Fiber College on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 9th.   I like to use neutral colors for the monogram so that the floral design will stand out.  I’ve finished the foundation stitching, and started to satin stitch the K. This is to be a gift for our great-granddaughter, so my floral design will be bold and bright. I always do handwork at my kitchen table.  The light is good, the tv, phone and computer are all handy along with needles, common threads, and other small supplies. (PHOTO).  My husband is very understanding when my stitching takes over the whole table, and his lunch has to be set on the corner.

Specialty embroidery threads can be quite expensive.  Apparently storing threads out of the sunlight is advised.   I’ve found just the place to store my silk/wool/ rayon threads.  This coat closet is handy to where I do my embroidery and so the back side of the door becomes the perfect storage site.

An ingenious closet rack protects beautiful threads from the sun.

Tatting is the most perfect “take-along for those occasions when you are waiting for an appointment.  My metal shuttle, plus the current piece I’m tatting, fits nicely in the pocket of my blue jeans.   I make a tatted flower or a butterfly, knowing I will find a place for it in a future project.  A good example of a tatting take-along is this Queen Anne’s Lace on the corner of this wallhanging called “A Crazy Quilt Landscape.”

Carolee’s Crazy Quilt Landscape–it’s a prize winner! See the results of her take-along tatting?

The sunrise and clouds at the top, the forest on the right and the meadow on the left, with a large tree superimposed in the center, offers many opportunities for embroidery, tatting, needle punch, photo transfer, and other techniques.   I was so thrilled that “A Crazy Quilt Landscape” won both a Blue Ribbon and Outstanding Mixed Technique Ribbon at the 2016 Maine Quilt Show in Augusta.

I do love to combine techniques in one quilt!  I’ve been working on a flower garden scene for the last few months; the finished piece will be in the 2017 Maine Quilt Show.  The garden has several flowers and a dragonfly that are tatted.  Other flowers are crocheted and most of the rest of the garden is of silk ribbon.  I added a few Swarovski Crystals for something shiny and a black cat made with wool roving.  An embroidered frog sits under a coleus plant.  If you are at the Maine Quilt Show, July 27-29, please look for this wall quilt.  Yes, it will be finished!

This embroidered initial is sure to be a treasured gift.

Now that you’ve had the pleasure of meeting Carolee, be sure to go sign up for her class here! You sure don’t want to miss the opportunity to stitch an heirloom treasure in her class, Embroider a Monogrammed Initial on Saturday afternoon, September 9 from 1:30 to 5:30. 

Artist Profile: Donna Johnson

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.

Hardware Resist by Donna Johnson

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!

Here’s what Fiber College 2016 means to Donna.
Wool Felt Sampler

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.

Working Broken by Donna Johnson

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.

Everlasting Artemesia

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.

Midnight in the Alder Swamp

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.

Donna’s current work-in-progress

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.

Stitched resist and marble resist

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.

Another view of Donna’s current work-in-progress

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).

Artist Profile: Leanne Nickon

One of the best parts of Fiber College is seeing the beautiful creations that result from dozens of amazing classes throughout the week and weekend. The painted silk scarves made in Leanne Nickon’s class last year were among the most beautiful! We’re thrilled to have Leanne back this year; she’ll be teaching Paint Your Own Silk Scarf on Friday, September 8th from 9 AM to 1 PM. Let’s see what Leanne’s been up to this past year and then you can sign up for her amazing class here and make your own gorgeous hand-painted silk scarf!

An amazing scarf!

Fiber College’s 2017 theme is Re-use, Re-design, Re-create. How do you incorporate any part of this theme into an important part of your life?

One thing I like about living in Maine is that the habit of reusing things seems deeply ingrained here. My life is full of second-hand treasures we have brought home from the local dump, where people put things aside instead of tossing them into the bin: books, vacuum cleaners, lawnmowers, tools, toys, windows, dishes, furniture, and more. A nearby town has a solid waste pickup for large items periodically, and people from near and far ride around helping themselves to things that have been put out by the road, which is where the sink, cabinets, and doors for my studio came from, not to mention several ironing boards.  I still drive the 1994 station wagon my father was getting rid of 12 years ago, and much of my wardrobe comes from Goodwill or yard sales. I get a bigger kick out of giving these things a new life than I would buying them new. Even my cat is second hand!

Pieces of dyed and painted silk waiting to be turned into something

What is your favorite thing about Fiber College?

My favorite thing about Fiber College is the generous and welcoming atmosphere, which always seems simultaneously relaxed and low-key, but crackling with creative energy.

Detail of a collage made from dyed silk, painted paper, and old maps

What materials have you reused as an artist?

I save every scrap of painted silk, cotton, or paper, and even the tiniest amounts of leftover paint or dye. I even save the bits of cloth that I use to test colors, or to wipe the paint or dye out of a palette. My favorite way to use these bits and pieces is in collages, and I find it really satisfying to turn these scraps that would otherwise be thrown out into new works of art.

After taking a class with the Gee’s Bend ladies at Fiber College a few years ago, I tried sewing a few patchwork pieces out of silk scraps, which was very fun and gave me a whole new reason (as if I needed one) to never throw a scrap of painted fabric away.


Patchwork pieces of dyed silk scraps inspired by a Gee’s Bend quilting class

What is the best advice a mentor gave you?

I love reading quotes by famous creative people, and I get encouragement and inspiration from them. Some of my favorites:

If you hear a voice within you that says “you cannot paint”, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” Vincent van Gogh

An artist’s job is to surprise himself.”  Robert Henri

You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” Maya Angelou

Painted silk strips — what will they become?

If you could redesign your life as a fiber artist, what would that look like?

In my fantasy life, I would be paid to fly all over the world to teach silk painting classes.

A fabulous assortment of Leanne’s painted silk scarves

Who or what has had the greatest impact on your work as an artist?

I would have to say my husband, who has always supported my creative endeavors. He is very patient when I take over the house with projects or keep crazy hours making things on deadlines before craft shows. He built me a beautiful studio, often helps me set up and break down at craft fairs, and has even been pressed into service manning my booth on occasion (where he proved to be a much better at selling than I am – I wish I could get him to come along and do it every time!).

A Christmas card made from painted silk strips

How does your art recreate you?

Doing art forces me to slow down, open my eyes, and focus my attention on the choices in front of me. Making decisions about color, line, shape, texture, and pattern can sometimes feel daunting, or tedious, or even frivolous – who cares about this silly decorative item that serves no real purpose? But I find once I get past the initial resistance, and get going on a project, there is nothing more exhilarating than bringing something to life out of my own imagination. Even if I don’t love the final result, there is an immense satisfaction in looking at an object and thinking “I created that.”

Leanne models a painted silk scarf.

If you could go back in time, what might you change about your fiber journey?

I learned basic sewing and knitting skills from my mother, and was introduced to spinning and weaving in a junior high school workshop. I did all these things enthusiastically for a while, then let the weaving go, then the spinning, and though I still occasionally knit and sew, my skills in both remain limited. If I’d kept up with all those things, I’d be really proficient by now! I still have the beautiful old second hand spinning wheel I got back then, though it needs some repairs. Someday I’ll get it fixed and start spinning again.

Just imagine what YOU could create in Leanne’s class on Friday, September 8th from 9-1. Go sign up for her class now — here!

Artist Profile: Gabi Montoya-Eyerman

How wonderful to know someone who has found a way to incorporate her beloved fiber arts into her everyday life! Gabi Montoya-Eyerman is a fiber artist who keeps finding new ways to contribute faithfully to the fiber community. You’re sure to run into her annually at area fiber events throughout Maine.

Gabi has been spinning for seven years and won Best in Show at the Maine Fiber Frolic Skein Competition. She has her own tiny flock and three angora bunnies. When she’s not spinning, she’s busy as the Volunteer and Demo Coordinator for Maine Fiber Frolic and is Co-Coordinator of Fleece Tent at Common Ground Fair. On Sunday, September 10th, Gabi will teach One Fleece – Four Yarns from 9 AM to 1 PM. Whether you’re fairly new to spinning or have been spinning for a while, this is a class you won’t want to miss. Let’s meet Gabi and then you can sign up for her class here.

Gabi enjoys color, too!

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?

Well, like many people, I recycle. Sometimes a project gets frogged and made into something new! I also like to change patterns and never have done the same thing twice when knitting.

I have a love for fabric too and love to use fabric in various projects; it seems to connect them together. I also have bags of jean scraps and sweater scraps for various sewing and felting projects; it’s part of the creative process. It’s playing and sometimes the projects don’t turn out exactly as we planned, but that’s O.K., too.

Gabi loves working with fiber in its natural colors.

Aside from your class, what is your favorite thing about FC? What do you think new attendees just shouldn’t miss?

I love the whole campground and the beach. Don’t forget to enjoy the beautiful place around you while you spin, sew, and create.

Yummy!

What’s the best piece of advice a mentor has ever given to you?

The best advice I am trying to learn (and I’m not perfect at it yet) is to make sure to incorporate joy into my creative practice. Sometimes it’s hard, like when my sewing machine just jammed up or I can’t find the size knitting needles I need or I just had to rip back a few rows.  I need to just breathe and remember, I’m doing this because I love it!

Gabi appreciates fiber as part of her daily life.

If you could re-design your life as a fiber artist, what would that look like?

I would be able to do it full time and travel the world teaching people that natural fibers are the best.

More beautiful natural fibers

What or who has had the greatest impact on your work as an artist?

Nature and the beauty of the state we live in—an easy place for inspiration. The colors that nature gives us are an infinite source.

Gabi loves each and every one of her fiber animals including this very fluffy Angora bunny.

How does your art recreate YOU? What does that feel like?

My fiber arts are something that is now just a part of my daily life, I can’t imagine not doing what I do. It has helped me to heal sometimes and relax most of the time. It’s part of what keeps me happy and centered. I love it.

Gabi (left) is very active in the wider fiber community.

If you could go back in time, what might you change about your fiber journey?

I tell people all the time that I would have started doing all of this sooner.  I greatly admire and envy those people who learned from their mother’s teaching. I have been knitting for a long time but spinning yarn, my true obsession, I only started seven wonderful years ago.

Some of Gabi’s award-winning homespun

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

I’m passionate about getting as many people as possible making beautiful things with their hands. I’m convinced it will be a part of saving the world. 🙂

Hope you’ve enjoyed meeting Gabi! She’s someone you will definitely enjoy learning from–her gentleness and encouragement are heartwarming. You can go sign up for Gabi’s class One Fleece–Four Yarns here.

Artist Profile: Betsy Alspach

Confession time. Raise your hand if you have a clean, wooly fleece that you need to prepare for spinning or needle felting.  (I’ve just fallen over — both hands and both feet up in the air!) Wool preparation is an important part of the both processes and Fiber College is a great place to learn more about it. Betsy Alspach will be teaching Wool Combing for Spinning and Felting on Sunday, September 10 from 2-4 PM. Betsy loves to help others learn to tame that beautiful fleece into something perfect for spinning or felting. Let’s meet Betsy and then you can sign up for her class here.  Betsy will also be teaching a rolling class (no need to register ahead of time) on Drop Spindle Making and Spinning. More information about rolling classes is forthcoming. Here’s Betsy!

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 re-use things on a daily basis most of which are pretty mundane but I think together add up to a lot.
I am always looking at cutting down on waste as well. My husband says I am the most practical person he knows but I guess being a New Englander, I can’t help it. Re-using, re-designing, and re-creating are fun challenges!

Betsy visits with a darling cria!

Tell us how you entered into the world of fiber and the fiber arts.

My grandmother taught me to knit when I was 7 or 8 but it wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties that something told me I had to learn to spin. I didn’t know anyone who was a spinner and there was no YouTube. I did know that at the Heifer International farm near us in Rutland, MA, there were spinners each year at a fall festival. I went to the next one, asked who could teach me to spin, and happily went past the point of no return. Years later I became one of those spinners and taught fiber skills to the residential volunteers.

Betsy enjoys spinning on her deck.

Reusing materials can be great fun, exciting, or perhaps frustrating. How/What have you re-used as an artist?

It is easy to re-use spinning fibers because as long as the animals and plants are treated with respect, more will grow next year. I always say there is no need for waste in spinning. I use the water I wash fiber in to water my plants, put fibers left from combing and carding into the compost, and keep any yarn left from a project for scarves or afghans.

Betsy loves the sheep to yarn process.

What’s the best piece of advice a mentor has ever given to you?

I was relieved when I took a workshop with Rita Buchanan to hear her say that spinners don’t have to worry about using technical information such as twist angle if they don’t want to. I am not a technical person but have no problem with people who find it helpful. My brain just doesn’t work that way. I use ratio to a certain degree but mostly depend on how I use my hands and feet to create the yarn I want. I look back at our predecessors who created beautiful items from yarn for their survival and I don’t envision that they had time to analyze it—they just did it. As I said, although it isn’t for me, I have no problem with people who do enjoy that side of it!

This bobbin of multicolored single is soon to be chain plied.

If you could re-design your life as a fiber artist, what would that look like?

In my best daydream I would be living in a cottage near water, have sheep, and miraculously have all the time in the world to do fiber activities.

The finished chain plied yarn

How does your art recreate YOU? What does that feel like?

My art recreates me on a daily basis. It is calming and stimulating at the same time. My love of it encourages me to always be learning something new whether it is a technique, playing with colors differently, or learning anything else about fiber.

Fiber activities have such soul to them that is hard to describe. Feelings always well up in me that come unbidden. The activities are so very meaningful to me. I don’t quite understand it but I don’t know what I would do without them!

Betsy sometimes has company when she spins.

If you could go back in time, what might you change about your fiber journey?

I wish I had learned to spin as a child so I could have had more time doing it.

Betsy enjoys dyeing the fiber she’ll spin into beautiful yarn.

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

I have made mistakes in every part of the sheep to shawl process and they shouldn’t be hard on themselves when they are learning. Together we will figure it out and they will get it! And love it!

You can learn more about Betsy and her fiber at her Etsy shop. Betsy also has a blog. And you can sign up here for Betsy’s class Wool Combing for Spinning and Felting on Sunday, September 10 from 2-4 PM. Betsy will also offer Rolling Classes in Drop Spindle Making and Spinning. Stay tuned for more info about rolling classes!

Artist Profile: SueAnn DeVito

Who first introduced you to a fiber art? Did your Granny teach you to sew or knit? Did a favorite aunt teach you to spin when you were very young? Were you inspired when you visited an historical reenactment with a weaving demonstration?

As a knitter, crocheter, spinner, needle felter, and seamstress, SueAnn DeVito’s love of the fiber arts has flourished since her mom taught her to knit when she was a young girl. SueAnn will be teaching how to make “Needle Felted Bobble Earrings” from 11:30 – 1:30 on Saturday, September 9th. Let’s meet SueAnn and then you can sign up for her class here.

SueAnn’s favorite place to spin

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?

Right now I am working on re-creating myself from my corporate 9-5 job into my dream life as a fiber artist. All my life I have loved working with various materials to make unique items as gifts or to sell. As time goes on, I realize that I want to spend more and more of my time on creating beautiful and useful items. I have also found that my experience in teaching adults in the corporate world transfers directly into teaching fiber arts. It’s incredibly rewarding to help people gain a new skill while making something to cherish or give to a friend or loved one.

A skein of SueAnn’s beautiful handspun

Tell us how you entered into the world of fiber and the fiber arts.

I have been interested in fiber arts all my life. My mother started to teach me to sew, knit, embroider, and crochet before I ever started kindergarten. As a child, my family visited Upper Canada Village near Ottawa where we saw people spinning and weaving. I also visited the Victorian woolen mill there and was given a piece of wool roving, which I kept for many years. In middle school I made plush mice that I sold to my friends. I sewed many of my own clothes in middle school and I made my own prom dress from the Folkwear Gibson Girl blouse pattern that I adapted myself.

I have always been drawn to spinning, but was actually afraid to try it because I couldn’t imagine what I would do with all that yarn. I would occasionally crochet a hat or a scarf, but I never did much with crochet or knitting until quite recently.

SueAnn’s love of knitting came from her mother.

As an adult, working full-time and caring for children meant that my fiber art endeavors were limited to making interesting Halloween costumes or Christmas crafts. But as my children grew up and left home, I found I had more time for fiber arts. I started by making felt flowers and hearts from crocheted wool, and then a friend suggested I try needle-felting. I started making and selling felted pins which I embellished with silk threads, beads and other objects, as well as mini, fuzzy pumpkins, embellished bags, shawl pins, and felted bowls.

A few years ago, I tried drop-spindling at the Common Ground Fair. I played with that off and on, but somehow never got going at it until I revisited Upper Canada Village again with my husband. We went to the same Victorian woolen mill that I had visited as a child and I was given another piece of roving. I bought an entire cone of roving from the gift store and pulled out a different drop-spindle. Suddenly, it clicked! That was when I knew I needed to get a wheel!

SueAnn is thoroughly enjoying her new life as a fiber artist!

How/What have you re-used as an artist?

I am always on the lookout for old items to repurpose into new art. I especially love to make felt from old wool sweaters that I find at thrift stores and then cut them up to make cases, bags, and the bases for shawl pins. In addition to old sweaters, I love to use old buttons, keys, and other small items to embellish my work. I love the steampunk aesthetic, and I love to incorporate Victorian gadgetry whenever possible.

Beautiful handspun. Wow!

What’s the best piece of advice a mentor has ever given to you?

I think the best advice I have ever received as an artist is “It’s your project.” Several people have said this to me in one way or another. When one is learning something new, it’s tempting to ask “Am I doing this right?” The thing to remember is that it should make you happy. There is nothing wrong with trying something different. If nothing else, you will learn a lesson.

SueAnn models a cowl that she created.

If you could re-design your life as a fiber artist, what would that look like?

I don’t think I would change anything about my life as a fiber artist. I was fortunate to learn many of the basic skills when I was very young. Now I am expanding on those skills and learning new things just when I am ready to reinvent myself. Having the basic skills means that I can expand very quickly in whatever direction I choose.

Scarves made with SueAnn’s handspun

What or who has had the greatest impact on your work as an artist?

Certainly my mother has had the greatest impact on my abilities as a fiber artist. I have laughed with her at times about how she probably never imagined the kinds of things I would go on to make when she was teaching me as a child. She is now in her 90s and no longer knits, but she loves that I have picked up knitting and is always interested in my projects.

SueAnn uses her handspun to make clothing she can wear, gift, or sell.

How does your art recreate YOU? What does that feel like? 

My art re-creates me by helping me open up to my own feelings. My work life up to now has been very corporate. I have tended to focus on what is expected of me, how to do things the ‘right’ way (the company way). My work with fiber opens me up to imagine how I want things to be. It is very freeing to me to be able to let my imagination run wild. The more I work with fiber, especially wool, I find I feel very connected to the earth, the animals, and the people who have worked in this medium down the centuries. I love that I can make something that is both beautiful and useful.

SueAnn’s cowl

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

One thing I would like students to know about me is that I love to teach. I am a problem-solver, so I enjoy watching someone try to learn something new, and if they run into problems, it makes me really happy when I can make a suggestion that helps them move ahead in their own journey. I feel that it weaves our lives together in a small way.

SueAnn’s students will create needle felted bobble earrings.

Now that you’ve become acquainted with SueAnn, you can go sign up for her Fiber College class here.

Artist Profile: Laura Matthews

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.

Laura warps her loom. Wow!

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!

A friendly visitor to Laura’s loom

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!

Laura researches historic weaving patterns to determine the best structure for particular uses.

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.

Laura bases her weaving on historic and functional work.

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!

Laura’s handwoven piece is not only functional but beautiful!

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.

Laura makes weaving an integral part of her daily life.

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!

You can learn more about Laura and see more examples of her beautiful work at her website: www.farmandhearthtextiles.com  Now that you’ve met Laura, please go sign up for her class here.

Artist Profile: Erica Schlueter

Even though I’ve been a knitter for years, I continue to marvel at how those detailed directions on the page become beautiful designs just by using “sticks and string!” How does a designer DO it? Accomplished knitwear designer Erica Schlueter returns to Fiber College this year and we’re glad she’s back. Erica has had several patterns printed in Interweave and SoHo Publishing magazines and books (Interweave Knits, Knitscene, Vogue Knitting Knit Simple to name a few). Several of her designs were also published in Classic Elite Yarns pattern booklets. Erica has been teaching knitting for over 10 years. In the Fall of 2015 she taught at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts Open Door program. A wide array of her gorgeous patterns can be found here on Ravelry.

Erica will teach a class at Fiber College on Saturday morning, September 9 from 9-11AM. In her Tuck Scarf or Cowl class, students can choose which pattern they’d like to start. Let’s meet Erica and then you can sign up for her class here.

Here is the Tuck Scarf for Erica’s class at Fiber College. Students can choose between this and the cowl.

This year, Fiber College’s theme is Re-use, Re-design, Re-create. How do you incorporate any part of this theme into an important part of your life?

Most of what I own was previously owned.

A sweater created by Erica Schlueter.

What is your favorite thing about Fiber College?

I have two equally favorite things: the wide variety of workshops offered and its location. All attendees shouldn’t miss spending time, with or without a project, down by the water.

Erica will teach her Tuck Scarf or Cowl on Saturday morning at Fiber College.

What’s the best piece of advice a mentor has ever given to you?

What is your plan B?

Erica’s self-portrait.

Tell us about a time that you developed an exciting idea for your fiber art: where did the idea come from?

I have been knitting a cable sweater for myself for over 3 years (I do not have a lot of time to knit for myself) since I do not have to write the pattern for this sweater I have two cable sections where I am making up the cables as I go.

Erica WIP (work in progress) that she designs as she goes.

If you could redesign your life as a fiber artist, what would it look like?

I would get paid a living wage, like any other professional, for knitting and so would all professional knitters.

One of many dozens of designs by Erica

What or who has the greatest impact on your work as a fiber artist?

I don’t think it is any one thing or person…it’s a collection of life experiences.

Erica and her tools of the trade.

If you could go back in time, what might you change about your fiber journey?

I used to think I made the wrong choice of which college I went to, but had I not made the choice I did make, I would not be where I am now. Where I am now is where I want to be.

A double-knit scarf designed and knit by Erica Schlueter.

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

I spend as little time as possible on the Internet. I would rather be knitting and/or doing something outdoors in my spare time. If you would like to see what I have designed and knit for knitting publications, my designs can be seen here on Ravelry. (Ed. note: Nearly 4 dozen patterns!)

Erica did a recent interview for Interweave and it can be found here. Now that you’ve learned more about Erica, be sure to sign up for her Saturday morning (Sept 9, 9-11 AM) Fiber College class, Tuck Scarf or Cowl here.

 

 

Artist Profile: Susan Mills

Whether you’re a knitter or spinner, a carver or an embroiderer, a needle felter, quilter, or any other kind of fiber artist, you know that when you gather together with other like-minded folks, story telling is an important part of the occasion! Fiber College is a community that regales in the stories we each have to tell. As each year’s teachers submit their materials for their artist profiles, I am enthralled with their stories and am so eager to share them with you!

Susan Mills came to the world of fiber arts by way of a passion for photography.  As an artist, she uses mixed media to create objects that come to life! Susan will teach Felt Offerings: Vessels on Wednesday and Thursday, September 6 and 7 from 9 AM to 4 PM. You can sign up here. It’s an experience you won’t want to miss! Here’s more about Susan:

Susan’s llamas led her into the world of fiber arts.

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-Purposing is extremely important to me for ecological reasons as well as inspiration for art making. I frequent our re-cycling facility regularly harvesting materials that will end up being incorporated into actual art pieces or added to theater sets or installations or merely enhance our home environment.

Susan’s striking Horn Vessel

Tell us how you entered into the world of fiber and the fiber arts.

I began my career as an artist using photography as my medium. I professionally worked with theater companies and rock bands and did non-traditional portraiture as well as pursuing my own fine art. I would fashion environments to photograph and this lead to theatrical set design work. I began to see that if I crafted these components more highly that they could go on to have a life of their own. And then…… I got my first llama. Sir Oliver. I went on to purchase a small herd of these amazing animals and had all this fantastic fiber and no knowledge of how to utilize it. I tried some fiber arts and did not find my spark till I took my first felting workshop with Beth Bede decades ago now.

I did create practical wearable sorts and did a fair share of juried craft shows as well as galleries with a combination of all my mediums. All the while, I was able to live this magical, mystical life with these most dear animals.

Goddess Forms by Susan Mills
Susan’s Pele Trio

Reusing materials can be great fun, exciting, or perhaps frustrating. How/What have you re-used as an artist?

Old musty books destined for recycling, when painted black (my Favorite color till they make a darker one!) make the best pedestals for art pieces as well as symbolize wisdom, stories, and history. The same may said for my second hand wardrobe! Natural materials that are in a stage of going back to the earth are resurrected for a time in my mixed media creations. These are just some of the items I collect and Re-Honor.

Susan’s Chant Vessel

What’s the best piece of advice a mentor has ever given to you?

“Control is an Illusion. If you needed it you would have some.” (Lorna Mee, AZ, 1995)

Offerings by Susan Mills

Tell us about a time that you developed an exciting idea for your fiber art; where did the idea come from?  What inspired you?

I have always been fascinated by ancient Neolithic sites, Prehistoric art, and Shamanism. I have a meditation practice and also do shamanic journeying. In my journeys I often see landscapes and evidence of “Other,” equating these with my understanding of the Mystery, where we all meet in Spirit. I am seeking to illustrate my Inner World as it interfaces with these “Other” realms.

Vessels have such an ancient and important history. I see them as being able (symbolically) to hold sacred the harvest that comes from my meditations and journeys.

And on a lighter side…… my first vessel was a hat gone very bad. By inverting it, I was inspired by the many possibilities and began my story telling about the symbolism and sacredness to be had from the creating of vessels.

Mills’ Gold Leaf Offerings

If you could re-design your life as a fiber artist, what would that look like?

I would be more courageous. I would somehow work weaving into the act and I would take regular naps!

Susan’s Black and White

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

I was the photographer for the book Healing Spirits (Crossing Press, 1999). This is a culmination of a five year journey with my friends Pat West-Barker and Judith (Joslow) Raywood who co-wrote the book. Together we met up with different healers across America gathering their stories and photos. Included are a Navajo Medicine Man, a Hopi Medicine Woman, a Peruvian trained Shaman, a Medical Intuitive, and many more. Working with these amazing healers deeply affected my journey with Spirit and Art.

How does your art recreate YOU? What does that feel like?

It feels like an Invitation and Calling. It can be thrilling, exciting, frustrating, and humbling. But with surrender it can be transformative and I find the edge of my own territories.

If you could go back in time, what might you change about your fiber journey?

I would definitely raise more fiber bearing animals, travel more, take more naps, and eat more chocolate.

Another creation of Susan’s, Gold Leaf Combo

What’s the most important thing that you want my potential students to know about you?

That I am passionate about my work. That I know it is impossible to make a mistake in creating. Namaste! NO Mistakes! And if ever one believes a mistake is before them, I Invite them to see it as an Opportunity.

You can learn more about Susan and her fascinating fiber art at here. Imagine two magical days with Susan at Fiber College. On Wednesday and Thursday, September 6 and 7, Susan’s class Felt Offerings: Vessel will be held from 9 AM to 4 PM. You can sign up here.

 

Artist Profile: Susan Hoekstra

Susan Hoekstra is a certified Senior Master Teacher of Needlework through the American Needlepoint Guild (ANG). An amazing accomplishment! She specializes in animals and quilt geometrics as well as color theory. Susan’s needlework designs feature an amazing variety of exquisite stitches. She is in great demand as a teacher nationwide and her designs have been featured as the 2016 Stitch of the Month project through the ANG. Fiber College is so excited to have Susan Hoekstra join our 2017 teaching faculty! She will teach her Dove in the Window Needlepoint design on Sunday, September 10 from 9 AM to 4 PM. Don’t miss this amazing opportunity to learn from the BEST of the best! You can register for Susan’s class here.

Susan is thoroughly immersed in this exquisite piece of needlepoint.

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 am a huge believer in taking what we have and re-purposing it into something else to be useful. I have found this an easy task within my designing and stitching of all things needlepoint. I find it most gratifying to create a piece which will be used within my home somewhere, i.e., foot stool, pillow, picture, standing figure. You get the idea!

Susan used a wide variety of threads, wire, and beads to make this Dragonfly come to life in Goldwork!

Tell us how you entered into the world of fiber and the fiber arts.

A long-time family friend introduced me to needlepoint when I was 25. She decided I needed to be working on something of use while my husband traveled. She marched me to the closest needlework shop and away we went! It has been a wonderful journey full of rewarding work and creation ever since!

Susan will teach this exquisite needlepoint design at Fiber College on Sunday, September 10th from 9 AM to 4 PM.

What’s the best piece of advice a mentor has ever given to you?

When teaching a new and upcoming teacher, remember that you are not only their mentor, but also the person who can make or break their spirit. Make sure you handle their spirit well!

Hark, the Herald Angel – designed and stitched by Susan Hoekstra.

Tell us about a time that you developed an exciting idea for your fiber art; where did the idea come from?  What inspired you?

Ideas for designs come to me at nearly every turn within a day. Walking, sitting, looking at a view, they all inspire me at different times. One time I was checking out holiday decorations in a window and thought “I need an angel.” So, I went home and designed and then stitched “Hark, The Herald Angel”–an angel who flies through the year heralding her trumpet!

If you could re-design your life as a fiber artist, what would that look like?

I would have embraced other types of needlework earlier. I have done traditional needlework for 25 years and only over the last few years have I begun to expand my horizons into Stumpwork, Goldwork and the like. There are so many diverse and creative types of needlework out there. I just hope I have the time to investigate many of them!

Pathways is an amazing piece with a variety of needlework stitches.

What or who has had the greatest impact on your work as an artist?

My long-term family friend, Carol, had had the most impact on my creative juices. She is constantly inspiring me and checking on what I am working on. She has impeccable needlework taste and continually inspires me to reach further!

Susan’s knowledge of color theory is featured in her teaching.

If you could go back in time, what might you change about your fiber journey?

I would have started it years earlier!

Susan and her special friend, Frank.

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

I like my students to take the project they are working on and to make it their own. A teacher supplies instruction which can be changed and worked to fit the likes and ideas of the stitcher. Shake it up and be creative within the stitching process!

You can learn more about Susan at her website www.foxview.com and also at www.needlefest.com. You can check out the information about Susan’s class at Fiber College and register here for her Dove in the Window class.