Posts tagged fiber
Interview with fiber artist Morgan Vessel

I met Morgan Vessel in the fall of 2015 at The Common Ground Fair in Maine when we were both volunteering at the fleece tent. Morgan was wearing a back patch and on it was an image of a house with legs. I went up to her and, thinking that it was the work of another artist, told her that I had a piece of said artists work as well.   It turns out that it wasn't same designer but that uncanny resemblance formed a fast friendship between the Morgan and me. 

Morgan is such an inspiring soul and I think you'll see that in this interview. She sends the most thoughtful packages and is an absolute sorceress when it comes to fiber arts. This conversation was a huge source of inspiration for me and I know you will feel the same way.

Morgan and I are collecting submissions for a new zine called Hometown Women!  A portion of sales will be donated to Women of Wise, an organization that aims to empower and educate immigrant women.  Learn more about how to submit and we are looking for at the bottom of this post

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 How did you get started with fiber? Is it a skill inherited from someone in your family or just a natural love? Or both!

Both of my parents are very resourceful and creative, and have very gracefully been handing down different skills to me throughout my life. I was always very receptive to that, always excited to learn how to do something new. I remember trying to make & sell bars of soap, and hand making costumes and building sets for plays in my basement with neighbor kids. My mom taught me basic hand sewing techniques for a school project in sixth grade, which got me hooked on hand sewing small objects. By the time I was given my first sewing machine when I was fourteen, I already had developed a really strong attachment to working with fiber. So, for a lot of high school, all I did was sew sew sew — clothes, bags, funny objects with eyes on them .. and then eventually I had learned all kinds of other ways to work with fiber, including crocheting, quilting, embroidery, etc.

I got my undergrad in art & business from Warren Wilson College, which is located near Asheville, North Carolina, a region that is very centered around craft. I worked at a fiber arts studio there, in a dreamy red brick house that looked out at mountains and a grassy pasture. There, I learned how to weave and do natural dying, & experienced what it means to work together and use those skills to build community.

Fiber is so forgivable and flexible, while also strong and utilitarian. I am drawn to the commonality of fiber in our lives, and how we grow so attached to the bits of paper and fabric we use every day. I think fiber is a material deeply rooted in memory and our own personal history, and I like creating objects that carry this sentimentality. Making backpacks or clothes that people can hold so close to them every day is what I love. I think fiber is a material that connects people, that allows us to create magic with others, while you’re harvesting plants to dye fabric with, or while you sit around a table quilting together. There is a real sense of community with fiber work.

 

You travel a lot, is there any certain place you find yourself at your most productive? What is your favorite type of environment to create in? 

Having such big/specific equipment that I need to use (like a sewing machine and weaving loom) does limit what kind of spaces I can work in, but it is always fun to see how I can make it work, especially when I am moving around & traveling a lot. I’ve had to set up my weaving loom in crowded living rooms with weird shag carpeting, or bedrooms that are so small I have to use the bed as my seat. It’s always a little funny, and I enjoy the feeling of bringing this big, archaic seeming machine into spaces where it seems sort of out of place — and then using it to do something magic!

I always thought that my productivity depended on place, but I’ve realized recently that it’s really just dependent on my mental space. Which I guess is pretty obvious, but at the same time, it’s still something I’ve had to figure out through trial and error. This past fall, I moved into my own bedroom — the first one I’ve had in six years! So it’s been really nice to have a room I don’t have to share with someone, where I can have all of my sewing & art things set up all the time. That’s definitely allowed me to be more productive, but I also know that if my mental health is thriving and I’m really into what I’m making, then I can make any space work for me — even if that means working in a dining room and having to carry things up and down stairs. But if I’m feeling down in the dumps, then even the best of spaces won’t help me be productive. Still, my favorite environment to create in is one with a large amount of space where I can lay out fabric & where all tools I need are already set up, particularly an environment where other friends are also working along side of me. I think that’s one of the most important things to me actually, having other motivated people around who I can bounce ideas off really helps to sustain my energy and keep me going. Working alone feels great, but working with other people is even more satisfying to me!

 

What is your daily work routine like? 

Still figuring this one out — I’m a lot slower to get going in the morning than I’d like to be. I wake up early, but often end up making a big breakfast, cleaning, writing, carousing the internet, etc. And then by the time I sit down to work, I don’t have as much time left as I want before I have to head out to do something else. I’ve been trying to get better at that — ideally wake up, eat a easy breakfast, then just start working. Because if I let myself, then I’ll always find so many other things I can distract myself with doing. So I’ve been practicing being more intentional with my time & waking up and just doing what I set out to do. I work a lot of nights at a restaurant, so I feel the need to really use my day time as best as I can.

 

While I think that the act of working with fiber is a form of self care, what other practices do your incorporate into your weekly or daily routine?

I’m a big fan of baths! Sometimes they are hard to do, if I’m in an emotionally low place. But when I’m feeling fine & want some self care, I’ll set up a nice bath with different inspirations — an all yellow bath, a bath for good skin — or just hang in the bath and watch the X Files or the Twilight Zone. I also think allowing myself to be spontaneous if I have the urge / letting myself change my mind about doing things I feel obligated to do / breaking my own rules, are all forms of self care. I also just like getting myself some ice cream, reading books & zines, eating egg in the hole, playing pinball / bowling / roller skating, jumping on my bed, taking walks, writing letters to friends, making myself clothes. Those are all practices I’ll try to incorporate if I need a little self care. Or mostly, those are just things I love to do, which seems about the same to me!

 

You call yourself a House Fanatic, which I can totally relate to. What is it about houses that you love so much?

Ooooh this is hard because I just love them in so many different ways! I am very interested in architecture, so I love houses from the standpoint — seeing and comparing different styles of building, noticing the small details in design and layout. And with that, the expression people can have when decorating their own homes. I am interested in history and story, which houses carry in so many ways. I like thinking of houses as living beings that have their own experiences — absorbing energies, memories, feelings — and reflecting those physically. You can see history in houses, and also use houses to tell your own personal story. I can relate to that a lot because all of my family is from / still lives in the same small town in Illinois. So my family is very attached to the physical representation of home and also the telling of stories about who lived in what house and when. In a way, I was taught to honor houses as a way to feel connected to the people who lived in them. Houses allow some sort of map to be created, allow a story to be told & allow us to see change — a physical proof of existence. 

 

What are you watching, reading or listening to right now? Anyone who's work or social media platform inspires you?

Recently, I’ve been reading Haruki Murakami books and The Golden Compass Series, listening to a lot of Risk! and Love + Radio podcasts, playing the albums Half Moon Bay by joyride! and Always Room by Diners on repeat (also always listening to All of Something by SPORTS), & watching a lot of the X Files and the Twilight Zone. Honestly, my friends are what inspire me the most! I do follow a lot of really rad instagram accounts, but seeing and hearing about what my best pals are doing is what makes me feel the best. None of us really live in the same place anymore, so it’s inspiring & reassuring to see the work my friends are making — so much amazing fiber work, printmaking, ceramics, blacksmithing, animation, herbal medicine, so so much of it — and to know that they are all still working so hard and keeping the dream alive!

—- onion skin natural dye recipe —-

Yellow onion skins create a range of golden colors — mostly in tones of yellow and orange, but usually very bright and earthy. I’m pretty relaxed with how I go about natural dying. It’s so easy and fun, and in my opinion, not as finicky as it might seem. I like to experiment with dyes, and to use what I have around / see how it turns out. This recipe is for an onion skin dye, but can easily be applied to other dye plants as well. It’s sort of just a master recipe. This is the recipe I use, but it’s flexible in terms of what you have to use & is open to your intuition. If this is your first time doing natural dying, using onion skins is fun for a couple reasons — it’s probably easy for you to collect / save them, and it’s something you probably encounter a lot, so it’s cool to see onion skins being used in a different way. But if you feel comfortable experimenting with some other plants, you can use this same recipe and make adjustments based on your results (just be mindful about where you are getting the plants from).

Part #1 — Mordanting the material

You need : - a big pot ( enough for your material and water ), not to be used for    cooking afterwards — copper, brass, and iron pots will influence your results

 - whatever material you want to dye (I like to buy white cotton sheets from a thrift store or packs of white cotton underwear, but you can use whatever undyed cotton material)

 - three ounces of alum for each pound of material (you can find that here)

Mordants are chemicals used to get the color from the plant material to adhere better to the fabric you are dying and to increase lightfastness. There are a variety of mordants — tannin & cream of tartar, iron, tin, blue vitriol — but I prefer alum (potassium aluminum sulfate) because it is cheap, easy to get, doesn’t affect color, and is not super harsh.

Pre-rinse (and if you want, wash) your fabric. Add a little bit of hot water to the bottom of your pot & stir in the alum until it is dissolved. You should use three ounces of alum for every pound of fabric, but if you are unsure of the weight, just do what feels right to you — if you use too much or too little alum, it’s okay. Place the material in the pot now and fill with water until the water level is right above your fabric, giving it enough space to move around a bit. Stir the pot and put it on a burner, on high heat until it comes to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, turn down the heat and let it simmer for at least an hour. Every so often, use a wooden spoon to stir the material and release air bubbles. After simmering, turn off heat and let the pot and material cool a bit.

Part #2 — Dying the material

You need: - as many onion skins as you can collect, find, or get from a grocery store — yellow only — at least half a plastic bag worth, but the more, the better

In the same, or a different, large pot, place your onion skins inside and cover with water (if you are using the same pot, find a place or container to keep your pre-mordanted fabric, unrinsed but rung out). Bring the skins & water to a boil, and boil for 30 minutes, or until it appears most of the color has come out of the skins. Then, get as many of the skins out of the pot as you can, using a spoon or strainer. Add your pre-mordanted material (rung out) to the onion dye water in the pot, and add more water until the fabric is covered. Bring back to a boil, then turn down and let simmer for at least an hour, or until your fabric is a color that you like. Every so often, use a wooden spoon to stir the material and release air bubbles. At that point, turn off the burner and let your material cool a bit before you take it out. Leaving it in as it cools allows for the color to brighten. Then rinse with color water until it comes out clear / wash / dry. I’ve achieved really bright oranges before — colors similar to turmeric — but you can also aim for lighter shade of orange / yellow. If you want, you can also keep simmering for a longer amount of time, or turn off the pot and let the material sit in the dye water over night. The longer you leave it in, the stronger the color will before. It’s all up to you, and this is where it gets fun with experimenting and using your intuition. But once your material is the color you desire, you can cool it & wash it and then use it once it’s dry!

It’s fun to use this material to then make clothes, a quilt, bags, pillows, or anything else you would use cotton fabric for!

You can find Morgan on the internet  at morganvessel.carbonmade.com or on Instagram @morganvessel

Morgan and I are currently looking for submissions for a new zine called Hometown Women! 

WHAT WE ARE LOOKING FOR : recipes, stories, essays, pictures and poetry about a woman from the place you consider home. Be it a person from long ago or your grandmother who immigrated, we would love to hear your stories. Once the zine is printed and ready to be sold, a portion of it will be donated to WOMEN OF WISE   which is an organization that aims to empower immigrant women and girls through education and social justice.
Please note that we are looking for submissions about people from ALL backgrounds, ethnicities, education level & orientation. It's important to us every story gets told if it calls to you. This person can be living or dead, famous or not, it's up to you. Also, male bodied folk, we want to hear stories from you too! 
Email me gingertooth@gmail.com or Morgan morganvessel@gmail.com with any questions.

Interview with designer Annie Meub Of Annie Made
Photo by Abby Johnson-Ruscansky

Photo by Abby Johnson-Ruscansky

I think it's safe to say that Annie Meub is brilliant with a sewing machine.  I met Annie at a wedding last June and we landed on the topic of sewing immediately after introduction.  Little did I know that her designs would soon become my go to garments in my wardrobe and I'm not exaggerating when I say that I wear her pieces at least 4 days a week.  Annie's garments are somehow perfectly suited for bodies of all shapes and sizes and seem to have been modeled after the dresses in my dreams.

I recently asked her a few questions about her sewing process, starting a business and studio habits.  Annie also makes incredible pies and she has shared a recipe for a Blueberry, Nectarine & Lavender pie that sounds oh so divine.

Photo by Abby Johnson-Ruscansky

Photo by Abby Johnson-Ruscansky

1: When did you start sewing and what inspired you to start making clothes? 

  I was taught some sewing from a neighbor when I was five and I didn’t touch a machine again until high school. There, I took a two week course intended to teach sewing basics and how to complete an easy level commercial pattern. 

     Clothing is super important to me. An outfit can absolutely change your mood. My mom proceeded to buy me my own sewing machine the Christmas before I turned nineteen. From there I just taught myself how to sew clothing from YouTube tutorials. I began to sew more advanced commercial patterns that fit me really well and I finally got to a point where If I’d see garment I’d like to own I would try to make it first. With YouTube I learned to sew with different fabrics, I learned to make slopers, and I learned how to install various closures. The beginning of designing for me was unconventional , maybe not even appreciated by graduates of design school but was me just smashing together what I learned from online tutorials, taking old clothing apart, and sewing A LOT of patterns. 

2: what do you find most challenging about running your own business? 

The most challenging part of running my own business is making every decision alone and hoping it works out. Also, not having a real business or retail background really takes some decisions out of perspective so I research a lot and call friends at all hours for their opinion. I’m very fortunate to have the mix of friends and acquaintances which I am able to call upon. 

3: You have such a cozy looking studio! how did you go about setting that up and how do you designate that as being a separate space for work only? 

Thank you! I love the space I’m currently in, lots of character and light. My studio is part of my living space in my apartment so designating spaces for specific activities is key. Before, I had my cutting table in the living space and the ironing board in my bedroom so eventually I couldn't completely relax anywhere.The space is one big room so I needed to split that between my studio and my living area. I use a rug as the marker for where relaxation can happen and where work must start .

4: what does a typical work day look like for you? 

Gosh, there really is no typical work day. I’m still pretty small and don't have huge following yet so dresses are typically made in one sitting. It all starts with coffee and something for my Instagram account. Then I go through the motions of cutting the fabric, doing the prep work, and then piecing it together. I am very hooked on instant gratification so sometimes I’d rather make a dress one-at-a-time so I can hold it up or throw it over my clothes and say in the mirror “look what you’ve done!”. Recently, I received my first wholesale order so that does require some organization over a few days and looks much like manufacturing anything ,  just on a smaller scale with one employee. 

5: how do you practice self care while running your own business? 

I make myself something. Sewing used to be very selfish hobby and I was in a routine of making things for myself only. Once a year I dole out hand-made somethings for Christmas gifts but that's it. Now that I’m sewing almost everyday for someone else, which I love, I get a little jealous and longing for something new of my own. Making myself something is a good break because I always pick a different fabric then what I sell and always use a pattern I had nothing to do with. 

6: What gets you through your day? What are you listening, watching or reading that is inspiring to you right now? 

If it is a day of cutting, much quieter, I listen to podcasts that I like or NPR. If it is a day of sewing I usually have Spotify on so when my machine stops humming or I'm ironing between steps there's a vibe in the room. A quick cut-of-the-rug to keep my focus. I wish I could watch my shows but I can't take my eyes away since most of my work is hands-on either something hot, pokey, or machinery. 

7: I've seen your pictures of some really beautiful homemade pies. Do you mind sharing a recipe? 

I love making pies! I even used to enter a blueberry pie into the Acton Fair every year to be judged when I lived in Arundel, Maine. With the recent political drama it has proved to be the best self care because you can’t reach for the internet with doughy hands.I use an all butter crust with cider vinegar for a rich and chewy pastry , usually I make the pies open faced since I insist on home-made crust but am usually always short on time. I also like the look of the pie with the filling exposed, that's what I tell myself anyways. . .

Here’s one I use often that is a combination of two recipes that are not my own. . . they live in the bible of pie recipes, The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Emily and Melissa Elsen, gifted to me by a dear friend. 

 

Blueberry- Nectarine-Lavender pie

And one home made all- butter crust

 

Filling:

3 Nectarines washed and sliced 

2 Cups of blueberries (pref. Maine blueberries-) 

Pinch of ground cloves

Pinch of ground allspice 

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 Dash of Angostura bitters (seriously put this stuff into all fruit pies)

2 Drops of food grade lavender oil ( or 1/2 tablespoon of dried lavender)

1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice 

1 Tablespoon corn starch ( I use ground arrow root as an alternative )

1/2 Teaspoon kosher salt

 

Some egg wash 

Roll out dough evenly so its larger than the pie shell, line the pie shell and refrigerate for 10 minutes. 

While the pie dough is chilling make the filling. Assemble all of the ingredients and mix well. I use my hands and give the blueberries a light squish to get some extra juice out before baking. 

Pour the filling into the shell and distribute evenly. Fold the edge of the dough over twice to create a hem, continue around the pie until all edges are folded evenly. I use a pentagon as my general shape which also covers a fair amount of filling. Refer to the picture since this is exactly how I do it at home, it was honestly hard to describe. If all else fails make it pretty. Let the pie chill in the fridge again to let the shape set. While the dough sets, preheat a lined baking sheet in the oven at 425 F. 

 

Make Egg wash

Egg wash

One egg

One tablespoon water

Pinch of salt

Beat ingredients together. Brush the pastry with the egg wash to coat avoiding dragging into the filling. Carefully place the pie in the oven on the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Lower the temperature to 375 F and continue to bake until the pastry is deep golden brown and the filling is bubbling throughout, roughly 30 minutes. Allow to cool completely on a trivet or wire rack completely before serving. 

Recipe for one all-butter crust

1 1/4 cup unbleached flour all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

1 stick of cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces 

1/2 cup cold water

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1/2 cup ice *

 

Stir the flour,salt, and sugar together in a large bowl. Combine water, vinegar, and ice in a separate bowl, set aside. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender. If you don't have a pastry blender you can use two knives to slice crossways as a method of cutting the butter into the flour. Working quickly, cut the butter into the flour until the pieces are the size of peas and the mixture resembles a corn meal consistency. Do not overblend. 

To make the dough I remove my rings anduse my hands, its the quickest method and the most fun. Incorporate the water mixture by sprinkling it over the flour mixture in increments of two tablespoons at a time, avoiding ice chunks, and throughly mixing the water in with your hands. Work quickly as the heat of your hands will melt the butter leading to tough dough. Repeat this step until the dough does together and forms a ball, some dry pieces will be remaining. It is also ok if you did not use all the water. Shape the dough into a flat disc, wrap with plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. The pie dough has a shelf life of three days in the refrigerator, one month in the freezer, and is best used the day after it is made. 

 

* Ratio’s are those provided in the book, The Four &Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book

Photo by Annie Meub

Photo by Annie Meub

Annie Meub lives in Maine and can be found at annie-made.com or on instagram @annie___made