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Enjoy inspiration, tutorials and more from our textile and fiber artists!

In Memorium: Heather Lair


A couple of nights ago, I sent out our TAFA Member Newsletter.  Usually, I get some nice little tidbits in return from some of the members, so when I got an email from Margaret Brook of Cloverleaf Art & Fibre, I smiled.  She is a witty one and I always enjoy hearing from her.  Except this time.  In this email she shared the sad, sad news that Heather Lair had passed away during the night of July 3rd, succumbing to an aggressive form of cancer.

The world reeled and I could not believe it!  Heather had been posting the regular old stuff on Facebook just days ago.  When I went back and looked with critical eyes, I noticed a studio tour cancellation a month previously due to illness.  Well, everyone catches a cold now and then! Then I felt some confusion and even a bit of resentment at Heather that she didn't scream out about what was going on.  Instead, she had to be all stoic and long-suffering....  the cycles of grief spun around me.  The thought that this beautiful woman was gone just left me with a blank stare and a profound sadness.  Oh, life....  how short you are and oh, how precious!

Heather Lair at her quilting hoop.

Heather's comment on this photo, "See how my lipstick matches my quilt?!"

Heather joined TAFA right when I launched it, back in February of 2010.  She was one of our pioneer members and a huge support to me.  She always had a smile or a quirky, light-heated comment, a gentle word of encouragement and participated in our discussions and programs. I had the great honor of meeting her in 2011 when she and a group of quilters came down by bus from Canada for the quilt show in Paducah.  We had an exhibit and she brought a couple of pieces with her which we hung during the event.  Even tired from the trip, she just radiated with joy.  She is one of those souls who has a contagious spirit, infecting all of those around her with good humor and down to earth fun.  I feel so blessed to have had her in my life and feel deeply for the sense of loss her family must certainly be experiencing...

Heather with her children, Emily and Silas, and husband, Rickey.

Heather lived in Gimli, Canada, and was active in the quilting community there, both as an artist and a teacher.  Heidi Hunter wrote a beautiful testimonial about Heather's mentoring in her life.  Click to read: Heather  Heidi is now a TAFA member, too, and I will always think of her as Heather's friend..

One of the connections that we shared was an interest in Iceland.  My mother's family came from there and Gimli has a large settlement of Icelanders.  Heather volunteered at the local museum there and I just get a tremendous kick out of this video. If you watch it, you will also hear her sing-song voice and perhaps understand a bit about how magnetic she was:

Another TAFA member, Monnika Kinner-Whalen, had recently visited Heather and wrote a beautiful post about that time and about her feelings about this huge loss: read here.  She talks about how Heather insisted on showing her the wedding dress she had made so long ago, all hand-embroidered in silk.  She still had some of the silk and wanted Monnika to have it. When Monnika heard the news, she cried and cried.  She wrote:

"I feel like she is GONE.   gone gone.  And SO fast!  I was with her four weeks ago.  How can her spirit just vanish?  There was no warning.  No time for goodbye.  At the same time, as I ponder her, I realize she is everywhere.  Her quilts are everywhere.  Her postcards are at homes all around the world.  She taught at Quilt Canada and won awards there too.  Her wedding dress silk is here beside me, tacked up on my design wall.  Her art stickers are on my sewing machine.  Her winter postcard is on my shelf.  Those stones from the beach are outside scattered all over our front step.  Her cards are in my purse.  Her birthday  journal gift is here beside me. "

Heather's profile will stay up on TAFA.  She will stay with us and we will honor her.  Hindsight always seems to be so wise, doesn't it?  Heather's work tended towards bright colors along this line:


Her last few pieces were almost absent of color, with white as the dominant voice. The symbol of purity, of cleansing, and in many cultures, of death. 


From what I understand, Heather had had breast cancer before, had beat it, and then the cancer came back with an aggressive force, this time in her spine.  Doctors were still trying to figure out a treatment plan for her when she died. She passed on to that future place where we all must go during her sleep on July 3rd.  Both of her children and her husband were at home. This is a good death, one that is experienced within the circle of life and of love. But, it is still a difficult one. 

Our time is so short on this earth! What were the dreams and aspirations of Heather Swansburg in 1979?

She had teaching gigs and shows booked through 2015...  Heather Lair of 2013 still had many plans, dreams, and things to do, places to go, people to see.  But, when death comes, it means good-bye to the loved ones, the house, the garden, the stuff... and when it happens to someone like Heather, we can bet that she was the anchor that held so much together, the sun that brightened the sky, the flower that smelled so good.  All each of us can hope for is that what we do, how we live, what we leave behind will be good and true and that it will truly live on in the others we touched. 

I asked Emily what people could do, if there was a memorial where people could contribute in honor of Heather.  She said, "In lieu of flowers, we request that those who wish to do so, make a donation in Heather's memory to CancerCare Manitoba or the Westshore Community Foundation. People have also been leaving comments on The Winnipeg Free Press Obituary page and on Heather's Facebook page.

Other Links:

Heather's Biography

Heather's Member Profile



Bye for now, Heather!  We'll meet up again someday!

Defining the woman behind TAFA. An interview with Rachel Biel.


Barbara Harms is a member of  TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List. She paints on silk and makes quilts, often floral or nature themed. She interviewed me about TAFA, how I started it, my vision for it, and how I got into the whole textile world in the first place.  She has given permission to re-post the interview elsewhere.  If you would like to do so, please also link to the original one on her blog: Original Post. Barbara has interviewed other fiber artists on her blog, so make sure to take a look at them, too.  Barbara's interview follows below:  

I’ve been looking forward to sharing this interview with Rachel Biel. She is the founder of TAFA (this site), a fiber artist, a business woman and an innovator.  Rachel is interesting, informed and candid. Rachel Biel has a lot to say, which you’re going to be interested in hearing.

Rachel Biel

Rachel Biel, 2010, same time TAFA was launched.


#1-What first interested you in fiber art? How did that lead to a career in that field?

I’ve always enjoyed making things. My parents both kept themselves busy with projects that were utilitarian, but creative. I learned how to embroider when I was around 12, taking classes with a scary old lady down in Brazil who was a master embroiderer. Even though I didn't much like her, I loved the threads and what could be done with them. In my 20′s, I started making hats and bags from fabric I found at thrift stores, then became interested in quilts.

I continue to explore stitching in different ways, but would not consider this my career. For twenty years I worked with handicrafts from the world, selling them through various enterprises in Chicago and then online. My primary interest all along has been in the economic development potential that crafts have in contributing to a more sustainable and beautiful way of living. I would like to see artists, villages, and people in general have the option to choose a handmade and green lifestyle and be able to have their needs met while they do it. I finally focused on textiles for practical reasons: easy to ship and store, not breakable, etc. I buy vintage textiles and re-sell them online, figuring that if they don’t sell, I can always use them in something I make. This path has been a winding, wonderful process of discovery!  


#2- Your resume shows a long history in the field of fiber art. Are there any highlights which stand out in your mind?

I am fascinated by the use of found materials, of the conversation between traditional and contemporary, of building bridges between cultures and people. Textiles are such a tactile and personal expression of who we are and I am constantly inspired by what I see. I also believe in the healing component that comes from doing anything with your hands, whether it is gardening, sewing, turning wood, spinning clay on a wheel. We have removed ourselves from the creative process and become sick as a society. Art can heal us.  


#3- Do you recall any decision or choice you made or choice you made which changed the of your life or career?

Yes, the decision to become self-employed when I was 28 removed the security net under my feet. I have been without health insurance since [ I'm 51 now ] and often financially stressed. This is something so many of us struggle with and it has definitely affected my life. In the beginning, I thought it was my choice. About eight years ago, I tried to get back into the regular work force and found that there are only entry-level jobs available to me. I was forced to look at my skills and find a way to carve out my niche. I was able to do that, but it’s a daunting task.  


#4- Do you have any advice for a person who wants to pursue a career as a fiber artist?

You have to be passionate about anything in the arts in order to make a living at it. Competition is fierce. It takes quite a bit of discipline to produce work, document it, market it and then sell it. I enjoyed the process of making more than selling what I create, so have other skills to support my lifestyle: launching TAFA, providing technical assistance, and re-selling the vintage textiles. Last year I focused on learning how to use WordPress and have since been helping other artists update or launch their websites. So, for a beginner, my suggestion would be to develop a second set of skills that can help earn some money and be ready to have a long wait to succeed as an artist. There are two reasons that I see this: it takes time to build a body of work, to experiment, to find the muse, and it takes time to develop the skills that will define the work. Other advice : don’t copy what’s already out there. Find your own voice. There are millions making the same things or similar things and it is only by being “original ” that you will stand out. We are all “stealing” from the past, nothing is new under the sun, and yet we live in a fascinating time when the old is reinterpreted into something unique.


#5- In pursuing a career as a fiber artist, you have needed to develop into a strong business woman. Do you have any advice for women who find themselves in similar circumstances and goals?

Learn some basic business skills. Take a workshop, research online…There are tons of resources out there. Make a 5-year business plan, You don’t have to stick to it, but it will help you to get an idea of where you are headed and what you need to do to get there. Learn to use some social media platforms. My favorite is Facebook. Not the personal pages, but the business ones where you can really build a network of people who are interested in what you are doing.  


#6- What five words would you use to describe yourself?

Visionary, persistent, calm, flexible, overwhelmed.  


#7- What do you feel is your greatest strength and greatest flaw?

Greatest strength: ability to take risks. Greatest flaw: too stuck in my comfort zone.

 Face Collage with text 600 pixels

# 8- You may be most recognized as the founder and dynamic force behind TAFA. What was the inspiration that led you to found TAFA?

Tafa is the result of years of trying to figure out how to access markets for my stuff, working with small importers who had the same needs and seeing artists struggle to get their work seen. When social media started to take off, I kept bumping into the same people, all trying to do this as well. One example is Susan Sorrell from Creative Chick Studios. Everywhere I went, there she was, ahead of me. She seemed so savvy and knowledgeable. I figured if we all banded together and drove people to the same place, it would be easier to be found. My mantra has been “Together we can do great things.”  


# 9-What did you hope to accomplish in creating TAFA? Do you feel that is has been successful in accomplishing it?

The # 1 goal is “Markets for Members” and that hasn’t really happened yet. I have to say that I am a bit disappointed that more members don’t blow TAFA’s horn, but it takes a while to build an organization and as they start seeing the results, I am confident that they will jump in and be more vocal about what we have. There is a core group that is active and vocal about what we have successfully accomplished, is sharing tips, insights and supporting each other.The collective knowledge is amazing and it’s a consistent source of learning and inspiration for me.  


#10-TAFA is culturally diverse representing over 30 different countries . Was it your intention to provide an avenue for economically challenged artisans to sell their work, improving their economic situation? If so can you tell us anything how TAFA became involved?

We’re actually up to 44 countries now and I have made it a priority from the beginning to have an international focus. One of my goals has been to build a bridge between the ethnic textiles and the contemporary ones. We all face technological challenges and it’s even more difficult for those who don’t have an infrastructure in place to sell their products effectively. For example , PayPal is not active in most African countries and many postal systems are unreliable and a mess. So, many places need intermediaries who can speak up for them or help them access those tools. The world economy has changed dramatically in the last ten years and the United States is no longer a stable economy that can support the arts like it used to. As other emerging economies begin to have more disposable income, they also begin to show an interest in the handmade lifestyle. So, for me. it’s not only about giving the Guatemalan weaver a shared platform with the weaver in Santa Fe, but it’s also about giving the New York quilter a possible audience in Russia or Japan. We’re not there yet, but it’s something to think about and watch.  


#11-You have seen this organization grow in a relatively short time to include many members, including nationally recognized fiber artists. Does this growth level meet your expectations? 

I feel very proud of what has been done so far, but I long for the day when it will truly become an organization. Several members help out with routine tasks which helps a lot, but we really need to reach the point where we have an actual staff with salaries and jobs.  


#12-What do you foresee in the future for TAFA ? Any long-term goals?

My long-term goal for TAFA is to get it on stable financial footing, shape it’s organizational structure, and then spin it off to the members. It will be an S-corporation and members will be able to buy shares and own it. I intend to see it reach a point where we can truly provide services, technical, financial assistance, and fulfill our mission of helping our members to sell their products. I believe that this will take another five years to get there, but you never know! It could happen a lot faster!

In my mind, I see a huge website with thousands of members, and then a core group that helps define the programming and needs of the larger membership. We don’t know where the world will be in 10 years. When you think about it, ten years ago we didn’t have Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or so many things we take for granted. So, we need to be flexible, alert and respond appropriately. I envision local hubs becoming active where members can support each other on a local level, having international conferences with business workshops, having traveling exhibits or a couple of brick and mortar retail store,or having our own online shopping venue and so on. It will be exciting to see how it grows, morphs, and becomes it’s own reality!  

join us 3




The Price We Pay

What is the cost?!!!


by Ariane Mariane

I meet many students and crafters at workshops and exhibitions who dream about turning their passion into a business. I also often come across many people, at fairs and on the internet, who are astonished at the prices that I ask for my one-of-a-kind fiber art pieces, handmade in France.

Perhaps used to prices of imported Chinese products, these people are not aware of the “hidden” costs that go into a piece and therefore think that crafters and artists charge too much for their work. I would like to dedicate this post to all of you who wonder about how prices are determined, showing some of the important costs that go into a handmade creation in France in 2013. I hope that my thoughts will help both those who want to embark on this crazy adventure, becoming independent with their art work and those potential buyers who might not see the big picture of what we face.

Like many artists, I started my art business with some naivety eight years ago. I had a simple formula that I used to calculate my prices: “I want to earn 15 euros an hour so I just have to multiply my time and add the material costs.”

Like this:
price = creation time x 15 euros + material

Soon I realized that I also had to take into account the French social security taxes. In Europe you have to pay these taxes as soon as you earn a penny. They go for health insurance, unemployment (you will never get it if you are self-employed but still have to pay it) and retirement (not sure our generation will still have it). These vary between 14% to 40% of the sales, depending in which income structure you fit into (or which you decide to take). If you are “lucky” enough to sell over 19 000 €/ year, then you also have to pay income taxes (12,5 to 54 %) and if your turnover exceeds 32000 euros you have to add VAT (Value Added Tax, 19.6% goes to the State of all products sold, much like Sales Tax in the US) on your prices.

I quickly added the social security taxes to my formula. As I earn very little, I am currently exempt from income taxes and VAT.

Ariane's art vests are reversible and can be worn "upside down", too!

It took me much longer to recognize that there are other "hidden" costs that I also have to include. You may think that I’m talking about supplies and rent for a workshop or the time invested to make the art work. Indeed these are important costs, too, but I was most surprised to see what it costs to sell a work of art! This is what I mean by “hidden” costs. Many of us don’t think about them at first.

Therefore, I made this non-exhaustive summary of different modes of distribution and their costs in France:

Selling Costs in France

Wholesaling to shops:
When crafters first try to wholesale their work to shops they are often surprised about the margins merchants apply. Most of the time this margin exceeds (easily) 50%: in France generally a retailer multiplies by 2.5 to 3 the price of his merchandises. This may seem huge but it’s necessary for them in order to cover their enormous charges: rent, wages, maintenance, cost of electricity, water, taxes, VAT ...). In addition to these charges they have to invest money to buy the merchandises upfront. My parents owned a shop, so I understand their challenges.

Selling on consignment seems more attractive because many shops get by on a smaller margin - about 30% in France. Early on in my career I did a lot of consignment. I never sold much and would often have a bad surprise when getting my items back: in bad condition... I finally understood that s shops which accept consignment often do it as a parallel to a retailing activity. The consignment pieces help attract customers by showcasing original and outstanding work. But the merchant ends up having more of a vested interest in selling the products that were purchased. Often, these pieces were not handmade in France and are therefore much cheaper and offer a higher profit margin. I’m sure that this behavior is more or less unconscious. Shop owners who do consignment love handmade work and their local creators. They would love to support them but it’s impossible with the small margin!

Fairs/art markets:
Finally, many designers prefer to sell the work themselves, thinking that they can charge less when selling direct and therefore the sale should be easier. Or, they simply might not be able to find shops willing to invest in their products because they are high priced items. Such is the case with me.

Like many others, I started selling at small venues such as Christmas markets or low-cost of entry exhibitions organized by municipalities: in between 20 to 70 euro. Unfortunately, the chances to sell at these shows is quite slim, especially if you have high-end work. These shows also immobilize you for several days, often under hard conditions (outside even in bad weather, without toilettes ...).

I quickly switched over to “real” fairs which had a targeted public (people who loved handmade work and understood the prices for quality products made locally). These retail shows have a professional set-up, take place indoors, and I can display my work as I wish. These shows cost about ~1000 euros for 3 days, a significant expense. In addition, there are travel expenses, accommodation, prop costs, and marketing (business cards, fliers, etc.).

These costs end up eating about 30% of my sales. For example, if I sell € 3,000, then I spent at least € 1000 of that in fees, marketing, etc. This does not, of course, include those original costs in my formula: materials and production time! Increasingly, there have also been more shows where I don’t sell anything. This is so hard because we spend 10 to 12 hours at the booth, plus another two or three for set-up and tear down. It is exhausting physically and disappointing because the money was wasted on show fees and you invested so much time for nothing.

Of these three choices (wholesaling, doing consignment or doing shows), I would prefer wholesaling my work to upscale boutiques. A 50% margin is quite justified when I consider my financial expense, the time spent at trade shows and my physical fatigue!! The only thing I would miss is the pleasure of meeting my gorgeous customers …



Selling Online:

It may seem a lot more interesting to sell on the internet. There are many platforms where you may sell your work and often they just take a small commission. But, managing an online store requires an enormous time investment (I spend over 20 hours/week on my online shop). In addition, there are some skills that you should have or need to acquire: taking good pictures, writing descriptive and tempting texts, and if you want to sell globally, you need to be fluent in English ... Selling online is a great opportunity but it is nearly a full time job. If you want to sell well, you need to list new items regularly and you need to create a buzz on social media sites, newsletters, and blogs ... If I counted my hours I work to do online sales I wouldn’t do it!!! But, it’s still the coziest way to sell!

The reflections above are made to point out the “hidden” costs in a product which absolutely should be added to a price’s formula! I now understand that for every one hour of creation, at least two hours need to be added for all of the “stuff around” (ordering materials, accounting, filling out submissions for fairs and exhibitions, responding to emails, making and editing photos, selling (online or directly), packing orders and shipping them, advertising, writing articles, social networking, building websites and/or blogs, etc ...)

So 1 hour of creation translates to at least 3 hours of work. To calculate a selling price the formula should be like this:

The cost of creating = (hourly rate x 3) + material + social charges + selling costs + VAT + Taxes

On the net you’ll find a less complex formula but much easier to use :

Creation price = ((hourly wage rate x 3) + material) x2

In France we have a “minimum wage”. All people working in France should earn at least (for 2013) - € 7.40 / h all charges ( taxes) paid.

If I calculated my formula using this wage, my prices would be much higher. For example, my art vests take me between 8 and 20 hours to create. My material costs vary but let’s take an average of ~ 40 euros. According me the minimum wage, my art vest would be in between 435 and 968 euros!  ($565-$1,258 US Dollars)

((22.2 x 8) 40) x 2 = 435.2
((22.2 x 20) 40) x 2 = 968

These prices seemed so exorbitant to me that I made an adjustment. As you will notice on my online shop, my art vests are in between 240 € and 600€! Calculating my hourly wage on these prices I should finally earn 4.33 € an hour - but that’s correct only if I sell everything I make, which of course, isn’t so.

((600/2 - 40) / 20)) / 3 = 4.33

Final price of artwork = 600€, as in my formula, I multiplied by two to take into consideration all of the “hidden” costs I devised, so 600€ divided by 2. I subtract my average material costs of 40€. The result is divided by the hours it took to make the piece (20). Actual hours worked are the total divided by three.

Less than 4,33 € per hour!!! - I studied architecture for 6 years, worked for 7 years as a textile designer, speak three languages and am multitasking (designer, photographer, secretary, model, seller ....) Without wishing to complain - because I love what I do and would never change – I hope that one day everybody will be conscious that handmade and local creators aren’t overcharging for their work!

Creating in France today is a luxury for those who create and for those who buy! An original, unique creation of high quality, made by hand and most of the time respecting our environment is a rare and prestigious good. Self-employed crafters, artists and designers invent every day and try to make life more beautiful. Respect them and don’t compare their prices to the mass produced products made in distant countries with different costs of living.

For those who want to become a self-employed crafter, designer or artist: know that you'll be working 60 hours or more/week while seldom earning enough for making a living! You’ll do what you love so much for only 1/3 of your time (working a 40-hour job and spending 20 hours in your free time creating would be more profitable )!

But if you're as addicted as me I can only say: do it!

PS. Time spent on this post doesn’t figure in my time calculation of course – I did it in my free time!
PS 2. In the picture of me at the top (with glasses)- a portrait made by Daniel Vintrigner– I look so smart. That’s why I choose it to illustrate my “2 pennies” thoughts - thank you Daniel!
PS 3. A huge thank you to Emma from “Douces Laine” for helping me with the French version (I am German, living in France) and an enormous hug to Rachel Biel from Rayela Art for spending time on correcting my English version.

Another reason why I love my job is the beautiful people I meet always there to help each other! Thank you!


Visit Ariane Mariane's TAFA Profile

Original Blog Post in French (Check out all the comments and leave your own!)


(Go buy a vest!)

The Happy Hat Connection

Listing image

Afghan Tribal Arts on TAFA

Sometimes our paths in life cross in the most unexpected ways!  And, it can be so much fun!  Afghan Tribal Arts had the hat above listed on Etsy.  Most people who buy these older accessories or garments use them as decorative items, but Michael Brodeur bought it because he wanted to wear it. How disappointing for him when the package arrived and the hat didn't fit!

I manage that shop and told him that he could return the hat for a full refund or we could approach one of TAFA's members, Heather Daveno, to see if she would be willing to make it work for him.  Heather specializes in making hats inspired by world cultures.  She uses recycled materials and I was sure she would be able to make it work.  The question was whether she would have the time...  She did!

Heather Daveno

Heather Daveno

Michael gave her free reign on how to go about it.  Heather said she felt a few moments of terror when she took the first cut into the piece but then it all went ahead smoothly.  She chose a linen background on which she mounted the pieces.  You can read her notes on her Facebook page about the following steps:

Alteration steps

Heather did a beautiful job in keeping the integrity of the piece, making the new and old come together cohesively, successfully altering the sizing as needed, and adding her own signature elements (tassel and label).  Now Michael has a hat with a story and two new friends! (me and Heather!)  Check out the inside before and after:

inside hat

kufi top view

These skull caps are used in Afghanistan by both boys and men, often with a turban wrapped around them when travelling.  The embroidery style serves as a calling card or village identifier as each region has techniques unique to that area.  If you look closely at the image below, you will see the caps peeping through at the base of the turbans:

tumblr_lv2erww38f1qjtdngo1_1280 (1)

Khulm Cereal Market, Afghanistan (The Grand Bazaar)

Although Michael is a creative, free spirit, it's unlikely that he will be doing the turban look...   The true test would come when Michael would open the package bearing his hat for the second time: would he like it?  Would it fit?  Here's how it went down: "When it arrived, I immediately opened the box. I really liked the design and the added fabric and its color. But when I tried it on: happiness!"

We were all happy!  I had made the sale for Abdul (so, he was happy, too!), Heather made a new connection and had a sale, and Michael may have had to pay more than he anticipated, but he has one cool hat that nobody else in the world can copy!  And, whew!  Doesn't it just look great on him?!!!

kufi side view

Michael Brodeur

I love it when these serendipitous moments happen in life!  Strangers find common ground and the world becomes a bit more friendly.  Plus, there are all of the great historical and cultural connections happening here, too.

This is also what I hope to see happen with TAFA more and more as we build bridges among the members, learn what the skills are that can be tapped into, and use each other as resources.  Both Heather Daveno and Afghan Tribal Arts are TAFA members.  Now they have one shared experience outside of the organization. Hopefully, it will be the first of many more to come!  I hope that this happy story also inspires those of you who might not know exactly what to do with vintage textiles or ideas that you might have.  Just ask us and if we can't help you, hopefully we can point you to someone who can!

Visit Heather Daveno's profile here on TAFA.  (Click!)  Heather has many hats that are finished and available for purchase.  She is also open to more commission work, normally needs a lead time of four to six weeks, and prices can vary between $75-$250, depending on the complexity of the job.  Here is one of Heather's hats:


Michael Brodeur is Associate Professor in studio art (foundations, painting and drawing) at Furman University, Greenville SC. He was born in Claremont, NH and graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in art. He earned an M.F.A. in painting/drawing from Boston University where he studied with Philip Guston.  Visit his blog for his links, images of his work and his artist's statement.  Here is one of his paintings:

Brodeur -Every Boy's Dream (dedicated to Ennis del Mar)- oil on canvas 48- x 36- 2006

Every Boy's Dream by Michael Brodeur


kufi tassel view


The Happy Hat!

Doris Florig: Weaver on a Boat, Explorer of Traditions


"Grand Isle Corn" by Doris Florig
Searching for the Ruins of an Indigo Plantation
By Doris Florig
Several years ago, each time I told friends that my husband, Dennis, and I had decided to spend our winters on our cruising sail boat, the first thing they all said was, “so I guess you will have to give up weaving”.  Well, I knew that was not a possibility. I knew I could adjust to nomadic style looms, but, I had no idea that my knowledge of weaving would grow with such diversity. Weaving has given me the key to open the doors to connect with new people, their culture and history.
Doris learning about mud dyeing from a Carib Amerindian in Dominica.
Dennis checking the sail trim.
Most recently, while sailing the Eastern Caribbean chain, we sailed to the island of Maria-Galante, Guadeloupe. Before arriving, I looked through a French publication by the Conseil General De La Guadeloupe. It showed a photo of ruins of 17th century indigo processing vats. My experience with natural dyeing is extensive but lacking in any exposure to Indigo. I knew that this was to be the beginning of what would develop into an intensive study of INDIGO. We rented a car and set out on a quest to broaden my knowledge of the history and the processing of Indigo.  
It wasn’t as easy as I thought. Somehow I guess I was thinking there would be something very oblivious like a sign saying “Historic Site”. We found the general area, but not the site.  I approached an elderly French women on the roadside. Knowing that neither of us spoke the same language, I approached her with the photo of the ruins and a map. Well, the map was of no help. I had forgotten that people who don’t travel can’t relate to maps. The photo was of some help, but we didn’t connect until I pointed to the blue on her dress and said INDIGO.  I detected a slight smile and twinkle in her eye that indicated she understood. She pointed towards the sea.  So, downhill I went and quickly discovered a field with a small low stone structure, possibly an old barn. Ignoring the oxen scattered about the field, I headed toward the structure not knowing what to expect.
The oxen didn't bother Dennis.
It took a while but eventually, I realized that it could be nothing other than the foundation for the production of Indigo.
Indigo vat ruins in Guadeloupe.
The stone ruins formed three very distinct shapes approximately 12 x 12 feet which indicated to me that these were the walls of the vats. The first vat was for fermenting the indigo for a period of 24 hours. The second vat would have been used for the churning process and the third vat used for draining the fluid from the sludge used to make the dye.  The whole thing was a mystery until I saw the openings for the draining process. That was a dead give-away, I had indeed discovered the ruins from a 17th century Indigo Plantation. I felt like an amateur archeologist. The discovery of this foundation is now the beginning of my quest to fully understand and experience the process of dyeing with indigo.
Dennis discovered the remains of an old cauldron. We think it was original equipment used in  the processing.
At the next island, Domonica, we visited a Carib Reservation. They knew no history of Indigo dyeing but Dennis and I were convinced that they were cooking their Cassava bread on a broken historic cauldron:
Later, we found more evidence of the history of indigo dyeing in the region...
I couldn’t believe it. There it was in a museum gift shop on Caricou. A black and white post card with the title “Indigo Well”. I had to go see it. The women who worked in the gift shop convinced me that the only way to get there was to hire a guide. My mission was to get to the site, but to do that we had to o comply with the routine of the island guides rehearsed tour. It was all very interesting but what I really wanted was to focus on the Indigo site. I realized that sometimes the only way to get what you want is to accept a roundabout path.  
Our guide was very interesting, all day, enthusiastically telling us about the historic sites and the local lore. But when we got off the beaten path and stood at the Indigo well, he pointed at the well and said, “It was made of limestone”. He was extremely knowledgeable about island history, but could add no information about the history of indigo plantations. There seems to be very little recorded information or verbal history of the West Indies indigo plantation industry. The little information he had contained a valuable clue: lime is used in the processing of indigo so the ruins of the factory had to be nearby.
Our guide showing us the Indigo Well, Caricou, Grenada.
The well was a precisely formed oval and perfectly preserved. But, until Dennis discovered the ruins of the vats, I was unable to make a connection with the well and the processing of indigo. The well was interesting but nowhere nearly as exciting as hearing Dennis rustling threw the jungle and calling out, “The vats, they are over here!” I could just barely see him moving around in the thick undergrowth. 
"The ruins must be in here!"
The whole thing was a mystery until I saw the openings for the draining process. That was a dead give-away, Dennis had indeed discovered the ruins of a 17th century Indigo Plantation. I could see the ruins. They were totally covered with vines, roots and small trees.
Drain in the wall was proof of the indigo factory ruins.
Overgrown site where Dennis entered.
I think I need to go back, and find someone who knows something about this beautifully preserved well, and learn why no one has taken an interest in the preservation of the ruins of the vats. Maybe I can get permission to go back with a machete and do some clearing and possibly uncover the mystery of the Indigo Plantation days.
Doris Florig is a weaver/fiber artist. She teaches natural dye classes in Jackson Hole. 
Doris, in the saloon,settled into weaving her winter tapestry project, THE GATES OF NAHANNI.  The original painting for this cartoon was done by Dwayne Harty supported by the Yellowstone Yukon Conservation Project directed by Harvey Locke.
Oshiwa Designs Tutorial

Oshiwa's TAFA Member Profile


When we talk about TAFA, most of us think of the finished textiles, clothing, and fiber art that is represented on the site.  We also have many members who are suppliers or tool makers, like Oshiwa Designs.  These members, some raising sheep and spinning wool, others carrying natural dye supplies or building spinning wheels, and others still, creating materials out of recycled products are core to our desire to uphold green values.  The more we can make the whole process, from materials to a finished product, a sustainable one, the more we can contribute to making this world a healthier planet.

Oshiwa Designs is both a fair trade workshop, located in Namibia, and a green business.  They use wawa wood that has been grown in a sustainable forestry project which is also a tough wood that can hold up to the demands of a tool.  The workshop has several products in Namibia: carved printing blocks, wooden frames, and finished home accessories that use the stamp designs.  

I am their North American rep for the textile stamps which are sold through Etsy.  Clicking on any of the stamps below will take you to the shop:

Many people are familiar with the Indian textile stamps or have used rubber stamps for surface design.  We now have a tutorial showing how you can use the Oshiwa stamps to decorate fabric or paper:

Pause the video at any point if you need more time to read the text or look at the images.

Many of the Oshiwa stamps have an obvious African theme to them, featuring the animals of the continent or tribal designs that are meaningful to the carvers.  Paula Benjaminson embraces this African flavor in her work as she has lived in Africa and feels a connection to the continent.  She has led workshops on using the block prints and has examples of her techniques on her blog.

Paula Benjaminson's use of Oshiwa stamps.


Wendy Feldberg also uses Oshiwa blocks in her work, but has no ethnic reference in her results. As an eco-dyer, she incorporates other stampings and layers of translucent dyes that create an organic feel:

Wendy Feldberg's eco prints also use Oshiwa stamping.

So, the possibilities of what can be done with these stamps is endless!  Like anything else, each person must experiment, play, explore and try different things to see what works for them.

When I started working with Anita Brandt, Oshiwa's owner and founder, I suggested that the carvers stick to a set inventory of designs.  This would make it easier to photograph and sell as right now we have to create a separate listing for each individual piece.  Anita said that this was impossible as the carving process is an extremely personal experience for the carvers.  Here you see the importance of their own relationship to the creative process, where an automated product might be more profitable but have less meaning to them.  

Promote Africa interviewed some of the carvers a few years ago and these videos will help you see how meaningful this work is to them:

I encourage our community at large to invest in Oshiwa.  Use their blocks for your personal work and for workshops.  The more variety you have on hand, the more fun you will have with creating new designs.  The stamps are not cheap, but they will give you years of service.  As with most fair trade products, there are more costs involved in creating a green product.  We had quite the challenge in figuring out how to price them and finally adopted a price per square centimeter.  They are available as individual blocks or as sets.  The sets are more economical as they are priced at a 15% discount from the individual stamps.

Think about all of the good things that happen when you use the Oshiwa Designs!  You can make art, support carvers in Africa and be a part of the green movement!  We are all a part of this larger community and every connection that we make counts!  We thank you for your support.


Priscilla Stultz- A Life of Creations!


Priscilla Creations



Priscilla Stultz shares some of her story, telling us what motivates her, what inspires her, and how she spends her days, creating from the heart!
Why do you do what you do?
I have a love of fabric, threads, and anything related to creating with cloth.  I need to touch, smell, and feel it every day.  I take projects with me everywhere.  I do fiber art and wearable art because it is who I am as an artist.
What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day---if I do not have a meeting or lunch date or errands:
Arise, breakfast, take care of the dog, answer emails and spend some time on the computer. Listen to my husband doing his thing--whatever it may be for the day; he is always busy--retirement did not change that much for him.  Then, I either spend time designing, creating, finishing or cleaning up after a project. I usually spend some time in my studio every day.  Take a quick break for lunch, snack, etc. Return to the studio and work until dinner...Relax in front of the TV with my husband and dog--usually with needle and thread in hand.
Priscilla Sewing, 10 years old.
What is your earliest memory that can be linked to who you are today?
I remember being about 10 years old in the 4H club and going on Saturday mornings  to church basements to work on little black portable sewing machines with several nice encouraging ladies who taught me to sew.  The sound of the machines and the feel of the fabric spoke to me. I started sewing and never looked back.  I was a Home Economics major in college and taught for several years.  
Do you have a peer group that you look to for support?  Who are they?  What do they offer you?
I belong to a large quilt organization in Norhern VA--Quilters Unlimited.   I belong to one of their many guilds.  We meet twice a month and I belong to a 10-member laid-back bee which also meets twice a month.  Only one or two people in the group are fiber artists, but everyone always enjoys seeing my creations and are a support group.  
I also belong to SAQA and attend regional meetings, enter exhibits and anything else that look like fun.  I go to the QSDS in Ohio for a week-long class once a year--lots of support there.  I also have two friends that I travel with who are artists. My husband is a wonderful support and he has a keen eye when asked for comments.
Did you have role models who inspired you to pursue what you do?
My husband is behind my every endeavor. The teachers from QSDS such as Sue Benner.
Rosemay Eichorn and her book The Art of Fabric Collage was a jump start for me in my wearable art adventures.  Cindy Souder a local teacher who taught art quilt classes along with Judy House, who is longer with us, but was a great influence on my art.  The city and guilds classes I took over the internet for several years had advisors who were very helpful.  I am currently involved in a year-long sketching and drawing class over the net from  My advisors there are very supportive and encouraging.
What are your long term goals?
My goals...  I have been so blessed to have success that has been beyond my imagination.  My creations have walked the runways at IQA shows for four years in the Bernina Fashion Shows. I had a one-woman wearable art show at a Mancuso show in 2010 in Pennsylvania.
I sell my embellished denim vests, jewelry, and hand dyed scarves at several local craft shows. I would love to sell more fiber art and continue with exhibit opportunities.
Sewing in the 1970's on a camping trip.
Do you have a funny story that you can share?
When I was a newlywed and did not have much money, I purchased several bags of clothes from a rummage sale. I created a huge quilt using the clothes and foundation piecing to create the quilt top. I was not around quilting and did not know what the word batting meant.  I proceeded to layer the quilt top and backing with old clothes, towels, scraps, blankets and anything else that was available.  
My husband and I spent a month tying the quilt with twine.  When it was finished and put on the bed, we found that it was so heavy we could not turn over in our sleep. The quilt lived in my father's attic for decades and we discovered it again when he passed away and I was cleaning out the house. I spent one day taking it apart, washed the top and took it to a long arm quilter with the right kind of batting and new backing. She returned the finished quilt to me and commented that it was difficut stitching through some of the pockets on the shirts that I had used for the foundation fabric.
What are your favorite colors, textures, or sources of inspiration?
Colors---blue and red definitely, especially when I am hand-dyeing.  I have to remind myself to use other colors.
Textures: water, rocks, wood.
Inspiration: my personal photos.
Describe your work space.
My work space is a dream come true. When my children were small, I felt very lucky to have a small closet to use, because I could close the door. Now I have a large studio on the first floor of our home with lots of natural light and full spectum lighting. It has a sink and area for dyeing and surface design with a large cutting table and cabinets. I have two large shelved closets for supplies and fabric. My husband built me an area for my computer and sewing machine.  I have several bookcases and a tool box that is the envy of every man who enters the house---so many drawers and storage.  
I recently purchased a sweet 16 handi quilter and love it.  I have had so much trouble with my Bernina 830 that I decided I needed a more reliable machine for quilting.  I use the 830 just for sewing. 
Favorite quote?
"Art washes away the dust of everyday life."  by Pablo Picasso.  It is on the home page of my website.

Bicycle Quilt by Priscilla Stultz

Interview with Ruby Wings Designs

Peggy Wright of Ruby Wings Designs


For many years, Peggy's world orbited around beads, designing beautiful jewelry and converting her ideas into kits.  That world has opened up to include her sewn and textile work.  Beads have made their way there, too, showing up as accents and design elements.  In this interview, Peggy tells us a bit about how her journey has evolved as a creative path.


Why do you do what you do?

I have to create; I can't live any other way. I think I could not maintain my sanity if I stopped creating. It is what sustains me.

Working with my hands is important to me, too. I think that touch is an underapppreciated sense. I have painted on paper but never felt satisfied with doing so. Beading and other hand techniques are a must for me. I like to incorporate some hand work in all my art quilts.

Some years ago, I would have said that the sewing machine was not my thing....My opinion changed radically when I saw some thread painted pictures. Very shortly thereafter, I bought a Bernina. Piecing is okay, but thread painting and free motion quilting are now a passion.

I also have been painting and dyeing fabrics to create backgrounds for my beading, embroidery, and thread painting. Painting and dyeing are quickly becoming passions too. I am using the skills in color mixing that I learned in painting on paper.

The quilt on the wall is the very first quilt I ever made, and I hand-pieced and hand-quilted it.

I made it about 1990, and I then almost immediately got involved in beading, which I have focused on until the past few years.


What is a typical day like for you?

Since I work as an editor and writer, I can't spend all day working on my art quilts. I try to fit in some work every day. I try to start new pieces when I have a half day or more to work on a piece. Then I can work on the pieces in the bits of time that I have.


What is your earliest memory that can be linked to who you are today?

Sorting buttons in my aunt's button box is an early memory. The colors, shapes, and textures just fascinated me.

I also remember reading somewhere about handwriting analysis, and the source indicated that you could tell how creative someone was through their handwriting. Being a child, I thought that the process also might work in the opposite direction; i.e., I could become more creative if I started writing the way that creative people do. I did so. The point is not that the source had any validity but that creativity was important enough to me then that I made the effort to write in the indicated way. I am amazed now that I did so.


A quilt where beadwork meets fabric!


Do you have a peer group that you look to for support? 

Who are they?  What do they offer you?


I belong to four groups.

One is my beading group. We have been together for many years, and they inspire and support me in that passion.

I belong to Minnesota Contemporary Quilters. Our monthly meetings and our retreats twice a year are important as way to connect with like-minded people. I am the program chair; so I spend additional time with other art quilters in that capacity. We have challenges and show our work at various venues.

I belong to another quilt group, Evergreen Quilters, connected to Unity Unitarian Church. We raise funds for charities through our silent auction, raffle quilt, and other sales. We also do challenges as a group. I have learned a lot from them (Yes, I do piece quilts once in awhile).

I also belong to the Minnesota Chapter of SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates). I am interested in their opportunities to take classes, show work, and ultimately, to be part of SAQA's group of professional quilters. We meet every other month.


Flowers on the Bias.


Did you have role models who inspired you to pursue what you do?

Diane Fitzgerald, a member of my beading group and an internationally known beader.


Shop Ruby Wings Designs on Etsy!


What are your long term goals?

I would like to sell my work in art galleries.

I would like to teach locally and online. I have taught previously at national beading conferences. I love teaching, but I am not crazy about traveling to teach at conferences anymore. I might, however, do so again.

I would like to publish some books. I have some ideas.


Textures of beads and thread, fabric and paint.


What are your favorite colors, textures, or sources of inspiration?

Nature is a favorite source of inspiration. When I was younger, I did a lot of canoeing, backpacking, camping, and cross-country skiing. I now visit those locations in my work.

In creating my beading kits, I made 3 or 4 color ways of the kits and forced myself to work in colors other than my favorites. I now love all colors. I really have no preferences.

Texture in general, and specifically, the texture of beads and thread, are important to me. Texture is what sets fiber art apart for me.


The cat sitting on my hand-dyed fabrics on my cutting table is Sylvia. She usually has to help me work. She roams for a while but then settles down on top of something soft if I am working in there.


Describe your work space.

My studio is a room in my house. It's pretty crowded with shelves of books, supplies, and beading kits, which I sell online. It houses my sewing machine, and primarily, I sew and cut out fabric there.

I do my hand work, such as beading, in my chair in my den. I often watch TV as I work. I find that I make mistakes if I my mind starts wandering over many different topics, and TV distracts me enough that I can work on my projects without errors. Crazy, huh!



My studio is on the second floor of my cape-cod house. The room has dormer windows, being part of a finished attic, and therefore, the walls slant at odd angles. My sewing machines, a newish Bernina and a very old Viking, sit in front of a window that faces the front yard and street. I live in the city.

The studio also houses the storage bins for my beading kits and supplies as well as my fabrics, yarns, and other materials. The closet is full of yarn. I also have two bookcases of fiber books in the studio. Space is pretty tight.


Design wall.



These are some of my gelatin prints. I took a class at the Minnesota Quilter’s show on that technique and the prints are the product of that class, about 30 in total. I love doing it!


Now you have a little peek into the life of Peggy Wright!  Hopefully, you will be inspired to go on over to her Member Profile, explore her links, and connect with her.  It's wonderful that she has shared her path with us and such an inspiration to see how she has continually grown and expanded her creative interests within the larger context of community.  We sure are happy to have her as a TAFA member!

"Why I Weave Cloth", Meg Nakagawa


Meg originally posted this in her blog and I liked it so much that I asked her if we could also feature it as a Member Story here on TAFA's blog.  Why do we do what we do?  Each of us comes to our craft, our visual language, in our own way.  Sometimes that path twists and turns, while at others, a natural progression carries an interest on to a particular destiny. Meg shares her own journey with the wonderful wry humor of a seasoned story teller.  A resident of Nelson, New Zealand, Meg was born in Japan, raised in the United States and has a background in English Literature.  Her own life has woven together a fascinating pattern of multi-cultural experiences, creating a cloth of life that is personally hers.




I've always liked to make things, out of paper to begin with, using copious amounts of glue and tape, and magic markers. But I didn't like anything "freehand", like drawing, painting, or even collage. Whatever I made never met my expectations, nobody trained me in ways I would have learned, and I didn't know how to practice on my own. But I did like assembling shapes and colors.

I don't remember much of what I made, but I remember a pair of paper slippers that disintegrated in one afternoon, and several vehicles and machines using rubber bands or strings. I liked learning about and fine-tuning the "hidden" mechanism, my mother was a wonderful ally in this area.

When I was a little older Mom got me on to crocheting, embroidery, knitting, sewing and this thing with a spool with a few nails and a pin which allowed me to make long, circular ropes. I liked crocheting and I thought I was inventing stitches; I liked embroidering, especially making up the designs, (and once came up with big, bold floral designs unlike any in the books, the one and only time I received some recognition in Fifth Grade Home Ec. I could never knit with even tension, and though I loved the 3D modeling of sewing I was never good on the machine, and I hadn't the patience to practice either. And the rope thing: I loved carrying the little plastic spool everywhere and "inventing" new ways of incorporating multiple yarns or skipping stitches, but one afternoon I suddenly didn't see the point of making a multi-colored rope with a mishmash of colors and stitches, (which by this time had grown to over seven meters,) and I never touched the thing again.

When I was even older, I discovered needlepoint, (loved designing,) print making, (loved the mechanism, hated the having-to-come-up-with-the-picture part,) photography, (liked and even showed marginally more patience to learn and improve, I used to print my B&W's,) and writing.

Writing was the only thing I maintained a sustained interest and put some effort into learning and improving, but I found editing difficult; by the time I took out the overly flowery descriptions, say draft 3, my stories became telegraphic and sounded the same except for the progragonists' names, places and predicaments. I didn't know how to edit and, well, I ended up with a bunch of possibly-interesting synopses.

I also went into Ikebana, Japanese floral art, with gusto and this was one area extreme editing worked well; I'd often ended up with truly Wabi-Sabi work where most everything was absent but implied. They were my visual Haiku.


Meg Nakagawa and her mother.

All the while my mother knitted and knitted and knitted. When I was, I think, in junior high, I asked her why she liked to knit so much, (especially because I thought embroidery was more attractive,) she said she liked making the cloth/fabric with knitting as opposed to "mere" embellishments with embroidery, and that if she had the choice she would rather be weaving. This would have been in the early/mid 70's when weaving/looms weren't readily available to hobbyists in Japan, so she would have had to enroll in art school or become an apprentice somewhere, not "doable" for an ordinary mother of three back then. Though I still preferred the delicacy and ornateness of embroidery, it gradually lost its lure, and I came to think weaving as the highest form of craft.


Cloth woven by Meg Nakagawa

It was another quarter of a century before I got to pass a shuttle for the first time. I found the interlacement taking place in front of my eyes intriguing. I loved the simplicity of the mechanism of cloth and looms.  Then it was all about the interaction of colors, and then came the-whole-being-much-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts aspect. Wet-finishing also fascinated me.

1995, when I first purchased my rigid heddle and read from books and on the Internet what weaving was all about, coincided with one of the periods when I was putting serious effort into writing. As I learned more about wet finishing, I decided weaving suited me better as there was a limited amount of editing/culling one could do in a given project, and once I've reached that point of no return, moving on was the only path left. I consider weaving to have cured me from constantly wishing to do over and reinvent myself. To some extent. Or, to put on my Malapropping shoes, weaving has grounded me somewhat and slowed down my destination addiction.


Meg's studio, at rest.


I like working within the confines of weaving. I feel comfortable being restricted by the number of shafts, peddles, legs and arms. I like combining yarns, colors, textures and weaving patterns. To me, weaving is assembling more than free-hand art, and I can handle that.

Initially, writing and all other interests were only put on the back burner, but as I got into weaving more and more, I gradually gave most everything else up. Some of the partings were conscious and even hard; some I just forgot. I still have a love/hate relationship with writing, unable to completely put it behind, but for now becoming a good weaver is more important, and I'm happy for writing to take a back seat.  


"I’m getting ready to weave with mohair because I’m allergic to mohair, possum, angora and fiber dust in general."  Meg



Planning goes into making the cloth.


Nowadays, I don't think of why I weave as often as I used to; I just wonder if I can make this or that kind of cloth with the knowledge and equipment I have, what a certain idea, in my head or on paper/computer, looks like in real life, or to reduce my enormous stash. And because I find weaving difficult to do well, it requires my full concentration, and I am allowed, (required!) to switch off all the voices in my head. I find this comforting.

There is one last thing that is important to me: I find comfort in belonging to that long, wide and varied tradition/club/subset of humanity that weaves. I do see the world, at times, in those two distinctive groups; those who weave, and those who don't; I can't think of any other technology that our species has sustained, more or less in the same manner across time and distance, and that makes me feel I'm part of something really big. As are you.



Check out Meg's Member Profile for links to her blogs, where she still uses her writing skills, both in English and Japanese:  MegWeaves