ACrafty Interview with Arlee Barr – Part 1

Welcome to today’s ACrafty Interview with Arlee Barr, textile artist. Arlee’s responses are so thorough and engaging that the interview has been split into two parts!

Here’s Part 1 to start your fascinating look at her art and process: acrafty interview - arlee barr embroidery for vest from original pen and ink drawing

When did you start making art? AB: I’ve always considered myself an artist, whether it was my first realistic renderings of an airplane (the family having lived several years above a hanger when i was quite young!), drawings of plants and animals, writing poetry and critiques for a Canadian literary magazine when i was 16, moving onto pen and ink renderings of fantasy elements in my late teens and then in my 20’s, with a child added to the mix, translating my drawings into embroidery and making clothing for myself and my son that were way past the considered norm of the time. ( I could find that boy in *any* crowd 🙂 )

I come from a long matriarchal line of women who Did simply because they had to, and knowing that it was the way of their lives. I credit my mother first and foremost. She taught me to break the rules, to think as an individual and to re-invent the wheel, teaching me to sew by hand when i was five: i created a series of Barbie type dolls with all of their clothes sewn on, seams visible and impossible to take off unless i cut them! When i was seven, i had lessons on a sewing machine and by the time i was nine, was making all of my own clothes. When i was 13, my grade 8 home ec teacher was bothered by the fact that while everyone else was busy figuring out the intricacies of an apron or pyjama pants, i was already making more complicated gusseted and gored mid Eastern styled dresses.

My mother was widely read, immersed herself in museum and gallery visits, bringing home a new sensibility about world apparel and style, almost a hippie in her wanderings through those respectable findings. Because of her, i see things differently, and she encouraged me to experiment and explore what could be done with a needle and thread. It wasn’t until my teens though, that i realized that what i was doing could be art rather than craft. I was also lucky enough to be hanging around with a bunch of students who were taken under the wing of an incredibly talented art teacher would take us to Hamilton and Toronto to the galleries and art colleges, on his own dime.

acrafty interview - arlee barr street pretty

What mediums have you tried and what is your current favorite? AB: I painted, i wrote poetry (still do), i created mixed media collages and shrines, i dabbled in everything i could but nothing really held my interest unless i went back to a needle and thread, whether on a machine or by hand. In my 30’s i started selling my wearable art and with the encouragement of friends and a helpful counsellor, entered a 2 year Textile Arts programs at North Vancouver’s Capilano College (BC), 1993-95. (Now known as Capilano University and with the program cut and gone, sadly…) I joked for years after that all i learned was how to better my machine applique from that 2 year period, not knowing how much of the art history and design ethic actually sank in. I’m grateful that it did, finally seeping up from the depths to colour what i am and how i do things almost 20 years later.

acrafty interview - arlee barr tawdry rose 3

acrafty interview - arlee barr hand of the fatherWhat project are you most proud of? AB: All of my work is full of pride and satisfaction. It’s as simple as if it didn’t work and i don’t like it, it never gets shown, or even finished! If i had to choose a favourite piece, it would be like saying i loved one child more than another, but i have a special fondness and memories for “Beautiful Bones” (2009), “Hand of the Father” (2010), “Raggedy Black Heart” (2011) and and my most recent completed piece, “Mother’s Heart”. All of them relate to certain emotional issues i have dealt with: the ubiquitous feelings of mortality and the sense that we are all beautiful and the same under the skin, my father’s death, a friend’s very confused and sad life ending and a response to Mother Nature (and indirectly to my own mother).

acrafty interview - arlee barr beautiful bones

What is the silliest question you’ve received regarding your work? AB: I was working on a complex, cloth woven and hand and machine embroidered piece while waiting in a doctor’s office, and a woman asked me if there was a pattern for it. When i said no, she sniffed and walked away—i think there are people who believe patterns, kits and someone else telling you this MUST be the way to do it and that it’s the ONLY way, is a very sad approach to “creativity” and being either artist or craftsperson. I also get tired of someone scanning over a piece i’ve spent months on by hand, and then asking me if i could make placemats for them. Nope.

acrafty interview - arlee barr haystack

What is your most popular (or bestselling) project? AB: I’m very grateful to have discovered the wonders and mysteries of natural dyeing and ecoprinting. I rarely use any commercial fabrics now, unless they are bits of scrounged or thrift shopped articles. This means that anything i create now is really built from as close to scratch as one can get without actually weaving the cloth first! I “share the wealth” by selling one of a kind fabrics for other artists who incorporate it into their own work.acrafty interview - arlee barr original fabrics

Do you sketch most of your work before you begin, or do you work without a pattern or plan? AB: Yes and no! My sketchbooks are full of very rudimentary scribbles and notes. Words are more important to me as inspiration: bits of poetry, a strange turn of phrase, an overheard bit of conversation. I then audition my fabrics and the one that speaks most emotionally to me is the one i start with. I’d rather have the actual art made than make art of the notes themselves. I’ve seen wonderful sketchbooks from other artists, but for me personally they are a waste of time, a waste of resources, and leave me no energy or inclination for the actual art! I’d rather be making it than planning it. I do lightly audition certain bits in a loose way on some paper, but that’s not always the case or a comfortable way for me to develop what i want to say. The only “serious” sketchbook work i do, is to sometimes do a print out of the base fabric with a few ideas and then overdraw on it where i might use certain stitches or motifs. I keep all of these print outs in a workbook divided into either dates worked on or thematically. I can then look back for ideas for future work, or see how things are evolving, and building a library of personal iconography.

The most important tool i have in the documentation process is my notebook of thread ends with the company, colourway and number recorded: since i do a lot of projects at once, i need to be able to refer back to which threads i have used in each one.acrafty interview - arlee barr imperfect world

 

– End of Part 1

Many thanks to Arlee for her participation in this ACrafty Interview series! Part 2 of her interview will be posted next Thursday, October 17, so stay tuned for the rest of this glimpse into her work. Also thanks to fellow ACrafty Interview subject Betty Busby (original interview and followup) for suggesting that I approach Arlee for the series.

In the meantime, you can follow Arlee’s adventures on her blog, her FacebookFlickr, and her shop

Update: Link to Part 2

Please note that Arlee does not want any of the images that she provided above copied, Pinned, or used in any way without her permission. An excerpt from her Flickr profile: “Please do not add my photos to your Pinterest without asking me–this violates the copyright clause that say *I* have exclusive right to decide where my work is distributed–my photos are ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.”

Would you like to be a part of the ACrafty interview series? Just contact me! You might also be interested in reading some more ACrafty Interviews with multi-crafter Diane from CraftyPodneedlepointer Haruhi Okubo of Cresus-Parpitatter and chainmailler Jeff Hamiltonpotter Nancy Germond, basketweaver Tina Puckettquilter and pursemaker Linda Martin, and cross stitcher Meredith Cait.

Needlepoint Sampler in a Eugenia Loli Collage

I wanted to share that my needlepoint sampler has been used in a collage by artist Eugenia Loli. How interesting and fun is this piece:

 [FemNanoBot by Eugenia Loli via Tumblr]

I think it’s a very worthy use of the image of my original sampler from 1996, although the sampler on it’s own is pretty awesome in it’s own right. Love this project!

Needlepoint Stitch Sampler - 1996

I encourage you to check out Eugenia’s Flickr Photostream and take a look at her interesting and provocative work.

ACrafty Interview with Meredith Cait

Welcome to today’s ACrafty Interview with Meredith Cait, embroiderer of Hardcore StitchCorps.

When did you start crafting? Did anyone help get you started or did you find your own way? MC: We were always an artistic family in general, but I wouldn’t say I started seriously crafting until I was 17. I’ve pretty much always found my own way with craft. My mom taught me to thread a needle and make a stitch when I was a kid, a friend showed me how to cast on, knit, and purl, and after that I work out the rest for myself. With cross-stitch and free embroidery it was very much on my own. A felted knitting pattern I did involved embroidery, and the book showed you how to do stem stitch. After that I just tried to mimic embroidery I’d seen before. When I found a piece of Aida floating in my craft supplies I decided to give that a go.

What crafts have you tried and what is your current favorite? MC: In high school I did a lot of collage with found objects (I eventually ran out of small, interesting trinkets) and had a stint making earrings. I used to be an extremely prolific knitter, and had a recent period carving linoleum stamps. Embroidery probably is my favorite though, in part for the ease of creativity. You can do SO much with counted and non-counted embroidery. People are also really easily impressed with embroidery!

Unlikely Small AdsWhat is the silliest question you’ve ever received about your craft? MC: Other than “How do you get the back so neat?” I don’t really know that I’ve received any! I don’t talk to many people about my crafts, and never have much opportunity to do it in public. I’m also sort of rubbish at making friends online (especially for someone who grew up using the internet), so I’m still in that “How do I befriend these other crafty folks, oh no I’m sure I’m annoying them, run away” stage.

 photo embr_zps514cdfdd.jpgWhat craft project are you most proud of? MC: It’s a pretty old piece, but I’m so proud of the Mercer Mayer illustration I did on a onesie. I didn’t have any transfer materials back then, so I just looked at the illustration, penciled it on the fabric, and free-handed most of the details. I’m also proud of my Roman mosaic, since it’s the first pattern I made from an image (granting that image was a mosaic…).

 

 

 

 

It Gets BetterWhat’s the largest craft project you’ve ever tackled? MC: I haven’t done much that’s very large. As far as most stitches my Roman mosaic had 12,000. Because I’m disabled and not able to work, I tend to use crafts as my sense of being productive. This makes me focus a little more on the number of pieces I can finish, since that generally lifts my mood when I’m down. I’ve got the most immense pile of finished pieces just sitting around.

What is your most popular (or bestselling) project? MC: Bestselling is definitely my Dalek pattern. It was one of the first in my shop. My most viewed on Flickr is the Robert Frost piece “Never be bullied into silence” with a rainbow border, which makes me quite happy.

 

 

frida photo frida.jpgHas a craft or craft project ever challenged you in an unexpected way? MC: I’m the first to admit that I’m a lazy crafter. Since my focus is generally keeping occupied and finishing things, if something’s hard I often don’t attempt it. I have a piece of non-counted embroidery that’s a portrait of Frida Kahlo. I started it after learning more about her, and feeling like after one of her surgeries she might have developed the same nerve pain disease that I have, given the descriptions. My usual reluctance to tackle more involved stitches or designs was forced to take a backseat because I felt so strongly about working on a Kahlo piece, and had such a strong vision of how it should look. Of course it’s still unfinished, but I’m getting there.

DMC color project finished!How has crafting affected your character? MC: People think that embroidery must require patience, and if I weren’t disabled maybe it would have made me patient, but I do literally have all the time in the world. For me I think it’s helped me calm down or slow down a little. I put on an audiobook, start stitching, and that’s meditation for me and it’s very much a way to help control the pain. I think maybe it’s made me more sharing as well. I want other people to feel the joy of creating their own patterns, even when it means less business for me.

May Cthulhu Devour This House LastCan you share a story about how your crafting has affected others? MC: I have a niece and nephew who live in the same town I do. I mostly give them homemade gifts, and my sister emphasizes it to the kids when something was handmade. When they come to my house they see even more handmade things. The last few times they were here they asked if I’d made pretty much everything they touched. I love that this is their first thought, versus “where did you get/buy this.” Long before kids know how much work goes into something, they do value the handmade, and I’m hoping to start knitting or stitching on canvas with my nephew this winter.

Rice pudding...What is the one question you’ve never been asked about your craft that you’ve always wanted to answer? MC: I suppose it’s maybe WHY I craft. Crafting really has saved my life over and over since I got sick, in a lot of ways. When I had literally no disposable income, opening an Etsy shop meant I could still buy new socks and underwear, afford cleaning supplies and Christmas presents. Having something to keep my hands and brain busy helps cope with the day-to-day tedium and pain. I can’t draw anymore really, and embroidery helps me let out creative energy. Making things lets me feel productive and that’s really important to me.

 photo blackworkquiltfini01.jpgWhat crafty goodness do you have coming up in the future? Why is it appealing to you? MC: I have the start of a series of traditional quilt block designs worked in blackwork going, and I’m hoping to expand on that again soon. I’d love to eventually make a proper quilt out of them. I’ll never be able to become a quilter, as you really do need a lot of sitting up for that (and precision is not my strong suit), so I keep thinking of ways to cheat that. I have plans for a patchwork piece, made of scraps of evenweave fabrics of different counts, colors, and sizes as well.

Thanks so much to Meredith for participating in this ACrafty Interview series! I’ve admired Meredith’s work for a while now through her Flickr Photostream. Her pieces are definitely the kind of pieces I would stitch! She beat me to the punch on the DMC sampler (8th photo down), and I was also inspired by her hilarious “Unlikely Small Ads” (third photo down). That project, based on a segment from the UK TV show “Mock the Week” was one of the reasons I tackled my recently completed “Blazing Saddles” project. I always look forward to seeing what beauty and/or snark she will stitch next!

You can follow Meredith’s adventures on her blog and on her Etsy shop

Would you like to be a part of the ACrafty interview series? Just contact me! You might also be interested in reading some more ACrafty Interviews with multi-crafter Diane from CraftyPodembroiderer Ellen of Schindermania!needlepointer Haruhi Okubo of Cresus-Parpitatter and chainmailler Jeff Hamiltonpotter Nancy Germond, Tina Puckett of Tina’s Baskets, and quilter and pursemaker Linda Martin.

ACrafty Interview with Linda Martin

Welcome to today’s ACrafty Interview with Linda Martin, quilter and pursemaker!

acrafty interview - linda martin bargello quiltWhen did you start crafting? LM: I think I have always worked on craft type projects. I remember as a child getting craft kits as gifts. Making collages, animals, painting, knitting, sewing, and crochet were always something I did. My Mom and Grandma always worked with me on them and taught me many useful skills along the way.

acrafty interview - linda martin painting of son jasonWhat crafts have you tried and what’s your favorite now? LM: I probably have tried most every kind of craft. In addition to those I already mentioned I have made many clothes, curtains, tablecloths and pillows. For many years I painted with oils and acrylics. I made many landscapes, portraits and animal paintings. Working with color and design was always part of my life. My favorite now is quilting. It’s been a natural progression of my interest in color and design projects.

 

 

acrafty interview - linda martin musical quiltWhat project are you most proud of? LM: Right now I’m very proud of a project I created this summer. I was asked by a friend to make a “music” quilt. I thought a lot about it and came up with a very free form kind of create as you go project. Of course I had the help of a friend as we brainstormed ideas back and forth. The quilt took me outside my normal comfort zone of making quilt blocks and putting them together.

acrafty interview - linda martin purse 2Have you ever started a project without a pattern or a plan? LM: I can’t think of a time when I didn’t have some kind of a plan, pattern or design in my head. Sometimes things change along the way, but I have a picture in my head.

 

 

 

 

 

acrafty interview - linda martin seaside quiltHas a project ever challenged you in an unexpected way? LM: Some projects have challenged me for sure, but I have always found a way to complete them. Sometimes I will put a quilt away for a while and let it rest! Really my head usually needs a “vacation” from it while I figure out a way to make it work.

 

How has crafting affected your character? LM: Since I have been making some kind of creative projects most of my life, it’s hard to tell if my character has developed because of my life experiences or creative experiences. I suspect it’s both.

acrafty interview - linda martin purse 1Since I was an elementary school teacher for over 30 years my organizational skills from teaching have certainly help me be better at my creative projects. When I began teaching we had to create our own classroom environment. That gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to draw and paint. I had always been too reticent to to take art classes because of fear of criticism. But as I got compliments and “oh wows” on my work from fellow teachers, my confidence grew. I gradually began painting. This taught me lots of perseverance because painting is very much a developmental process. Observing details is also important to a successful product. (whether it’s painting or quilting). Color and patterns in nature transfer to the finished painting or quilt.

acrafty interview - linda martin regatta quiltEven though I’m no longer painting, many of these skills apply to my sewing and quilting. The balance of color and design elements are also very important. This is often the most important part of the quilt. Without the right balance the quilt will not work. When I finish a project whether it’s a purse or a quilt I’m really proud of it. Sometimes I look at the result and say wow, I did it!

As I’ve gained confidence in my work, I’ve definitely become more adventurous to try new things. This summer I made a landscape and a portrait quilt (wall hangings really)! I guess I was brave to try those things.

acrafty interview - linda martin quiltCan you share a story about how your crafting has affected others? LM: Some of my friends who are not quilters have been curious about what I do. I have shared my skills with them as well as the process of creating a quilt. I helped and encouraged one to make a purse and a pillow! I have also given many quilts and purses as gifts.

acrafty interview - linda martin purse 3What crafty goodness do you have coming up in the future? Why is it appealing to you? LM: I’d like to continue with making purses and quilts, trying to expand my horizons with new kinds of projects. Another goal of mine is to do more free hand quilting on my long arm quilting machine. That’s a whole other learning curve!

 

 

 

 

Thanks to Linda for taking the time to participate in this ACrafty interview series, and thanks to previous interviewee, jeweler Ron Buhler, for recommending her for the series! Best of luck with the free hand quilting…

Would you like to be a part of the ACrafty interview series? Just contact me! You might also be interested in reading some more ACrafty Interviews with multi-crafter Diane from CraftyPodembroiderer Ellen of Schindermania!, needlepointer Haruhi Okubo of Cresus-Parpitatter and chainmailler Jeff Hamilton, stone artist Jerry Locke, potter Nancy Germond, and Tina Puckett of Tina’s Baskets.