I was asked at my last art walk if I’m able to make a living from what I do with all my fiber work. I didn’t hesitate when I responded with YES. However, I was well aware that the intent behind the question was asking me if I could support myself BY making a profit from doing what I do. And that was not from the well of which I answered. I answered from the place of; to use my hands – to create – gives me life. To do something that is this life giving… I am quite literally making a living.
To be in such a position in life where I can acquire such feral and relic of fabrics, breathe new life into them and pass them on like a steward of ancient textile tradition, that gives me life. This privilege is not lost on me and it is an honor.
When asked what I do, I often fumble over my words because I know no matter what I say, it will sound odd. There will be follow up questions. Sometimes I think of making things up. “I’m an international spy.” Or something else super outlandish just to play a game of trying to guess their reaction just to avoid me stumbling over my words of trying to quickly articulate what I do while also not getting overly excited at the chance to talk about rare and endangered sheep breeds. Or how xanthoria lichen dye photo-oxidizes and changes color from pink to blue. Or why I’m so upset about all the plastic that is in our clothing and how its shedding from our washing machines into our waterways and affecting our eco system and why you should also be upset and care about this too.
But instead, I put all that energy and excitement into my work. For example;
To be able to expand the life of a dye bath into a tiny concentrated palette of color to create more beauty trough the reflection of nature, seeing with my eye and reflecting it back to others like a mirror from the ground to the clouds, this gives me sustenance. I’ve been learning through a few other natural dyers I admire the process turning left over dye baths into lake pigments for my watercolors. It’s a pretty labor intensive process and takes days, but it is so rewarding. Preserving the pigments.
Another example, I collect second hand textiles from garments to house linens made only from natural fibers. It doesn’t matter if it was made last year or 200 years ago. It doesn’t matter if it’s in pertinent condition of filled with stains or mouse holes or torn to shreds. But it does matter if it’s a light enough color to dye. These textiles that were made and are made of all natural fibers (wool, silk, cotton, linen, hemp, nettle, angora, cashmere, mohair, bamboo, camel, alpaca, llama, bison) need to be honored, cherished, and not forgotten. That’s where I come in. As much as use recycled fabrics for all my work.
In times of overwhelm which is daily for me because of my autistic brain, to have these spaces, materials, access to share with others, this all gives me life. Therefore, I can live. So it is here I am literally making a living. Just as the Irish created land from sand and seaweed on top of the rocky landscape, they took the materials left behind, passed it through their hands, mixed it together , gave it patience of their time, and cultivating a literally living so that they were able to feed themselves and their animals.
It still can be easy for me to forget that what I do, though very unorthodox, not the norm, it does not bring in the mortgage. I am however able to share, study, take time, explore, play, and any and all revenue I receive is fed back into materials, and experiences I feed myself with. All so I can continue in this work. I am a better human for it. When I can’t or don’t access my studio time, the effects of it creep into my bones and spirit. It can feel like I haven’t been drinking enough water in days.