In the corner of her craft room, 33-year-old Jessica Fern Facette sits at a three-foot-tall wooden floor loom, weaving cotton or wool into fabric, inch-by-inch. The loom is a complicated device and the set-up (which determines the texture and pattern of the fabric) is so time-consuming it comprises more than half the time it takes to make an item. But once Facette is sitting at the bench, using her feet to work the treadle and her hands to throw the wooden shuttle and pull the beater bar, weaving becomes almost meditative. She weaves bold, geometrical patterns in 1970s hues while listening to the latest This American Life podcast. Facette is part of a growing number of Edmontonians – young and old – involved in the textile arts, which include weaving, sewing, quilting, knitting, felting, silkscreening and more. The resurgence of these traditional handicrafts is part of the larger hand-made movement that has spawned local hand-made fairs, like Make It! Edmonton and the Royal Bison Craft & Art Fair. Edmontonians are purchasing household textiles like wall hangings, rugs, pillows, placemats and fabric sculptures to add texture, colour and whimsy to their home decor.
Facette figures the recent interest in textiles has something to do with a growing appetite for all things local and handmade: “People put more value in objects and consider them more special when they’re made by a human, not a machine.” While Ikea has its place, people enjoy owning unique items that their friends won’t have. There are all kinds of ways textiles can add visual interest to a space. “Cushions are a really fun way to display weaving, because it’s a small piece and easy to make it a temporary accent in your home,” she says. Placemats are also a popular thing for weavers to make, and can add texture and colour quite inexpensively.
A photographer by day, Facette is studying at Olds College to become a master weaver through a five-year program and is having success selling her textiles around town. The last time she attended the Royal Bison Craft & Art Fair, Facette sold 18 handwoven cushions and came close to selling out: “I was racing home to weave more every day,” she says. Recently, she wove fabric – a cream-and-taupe fabric in a straight twill pattern – for local fashion designer Malorie Urbanovitch, who created a coat that will sell at gravitypope Tailored Goods in the fall. Facette is also planning to weave upholstery for a local carpenter making a walnut bench. Another creative entrepreneur, 30-year-old graphic designer and artist Victoria Wiercinski, also sells her brightly patterned wares at the Royal Bison, as well as other local markets and through her website. Her textile work began a few years ago, when she decided to start working on textile goods as a sideline to her usual two-dimensional work. During a six-month sabbatical in Halifax, Wiercinski took some courses through the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University. She then began silkscreening her designs on pillow covers and tea towels. “There’s a joy to textiles – a joy to something you can use every day,” she says. While people may flinch at idea of buying an expensive piece of art, an artful object can add colour and whimsy to a home without demanding as much from the buyer in terms of money or wall space. Wiercinski is convinced that there’s a growing interest in textiles and for original household objects, in general. ” [My customers are] looking for something unique in their lives and something that isn’t sold at Wal-Mart, basically,” she says. People also appreciate goods that don’t wear out quickly and most hand-made textiles pass the test of time, says fibre artist Diane Krys, 52. She’s had the same mutli-coloured rug (made of old clothing and wool) in her kitchen for the last six years. It was one of the first things she made after she learned rug-hooking from a shop owner during a visit to her home province of Nova Scotia.
“I immediately felt like I’d found something that just spoke to my soul,” she says. Part of the draw came from the history of the traditional Eastern Canadian craft, in which homemakers used feed sacks and strips of old clothing to create durable rugs.
Krys soon began crocheting, knitting, and felting – and she experimented with ways to combine techniques and materials in creative ways. “The whole world of fibre and textiles just opened up in front of me,” she says. Over the last couple of years, Krys has pursued textile art full-time and has exhibited her work in shows at the Royal Alberta Museum, Alberta Craft Council and the Edmonton International Airport. Her works – wall hangings, sculptures, rugs and pillows – are highly tactile, since they are made from some combination of rug hooking, felting, knitting and crocheting. They’re also made with adventurous colour combinations, like royal purple, lime green, cerise and aquamarine. “I love making practical, beautiful home-made textiles for a home environment. There’s something satisfying about making something both beautiful and useful,” Krys says. And while they may look too pretty to use, handmade textiles endure the test of time: “They become part of your life because they do last. They’re more durable than you might think.”
Krys thinks people are drawn to textiles because they’re sustainable, but also because they contain stories of all kinds: “There’s a lot embedded in these pieces: Traditions, your own personality, your own experiences. There’s so much to them besides a technique and an outcome.”