A few months ago I took a tapestry weaving class from a woman named Andrea Butler, who is an incredibly talented textile and fibre artist in Saint John. She specializes in tapestry weaving as well as custom woven upholstery fabric for one-of-a-kind furniture pieces. As I got to know her work and her story, I was fascinated by her intense creative passion and vast knowledge of all things fibre arts. I knew I wanted to feature her on CreatedHere, and decided to include her in Issue #5 which just came out last week. (Launch party at Good Fibrations on Germain St, this Thursday, 5-7 pm!)
I wanted to share with you a little Q/A I did with Andrea and a few photos that didn’t make it into the magazine itself. This is one lady who will be making things until her fingers no longer work, and even then she’ll have her fibre stash to keep her company. 😉
How did you come to be interested in fibre arts/textiles?
I have been interested in textiles for as long as I can remember. The colour, texture and pattern of fabrics have always intrigued me. As early as grade 1, I asked my grandmother to teach me to knit, embroider, etc.
What made you decide to become an artist?
It was never a conscious decision for me. There was never any question around it or decision to choose. It has always been an innate part of me.
Where/when did you get your training?
I attended the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design from 1995-1998. I graduated with a BFA and a major in textiles. Since then, I’ve attended specialized weaving workshops from time to time.
What kinds of materials do you like to use?
For weaving I use all natural fibres: wool, cotton, silk, mohair, alpaca, rayon. For collage work and books I use watercolour, pencil crayons, markers, stickers, ink, paper, found objects… basically anything that is usable!
How would you describe your style ?
Colourful, bold, eclectic.
Aside from your artwork, do you have a day job? What’s it like juggling job/art?
Yes, I have a couple of jobs. I work for the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception two days a week running a few different programs. One of the programs is actually weaving tapestries! There are 3 Sisters between the ages of 85-95 who I’ve taught to weave. They choose a topic of interest, weave a tapestry based on that theme then gift it to the organization for which they created it. Last summer they were very happy to send a tapestry to Maud Barlow of the Council of Canadians. I work at Imperial Theatre as a bar tender in the evenings. I’ve also been teaching tapestry weaving through UNB’s Leisure Learning and through Good Fibrations on Germain St., here in Saint John. It’s never easy to juggle your passion with making money. Often, the passion gets set on the back burner for long periods of time.
You created a series of 7 woven self-portraits. Can you tell me a bit about why you chose to make them and what they mean to you?
The 7 self portraits came about after I spent a week coming home everyday and drawing a blind contour of myself as an expression of how I was feeling and how that day had affected me. I immediately turned these sketches into watercolour collages. After the week was done it was interesting to observe how different the sketches were from each other, and what similarities they had. I started thinking about how the medium we choose is so important to the outcome and overall impression of what we create. Sketching and painting are so free and expressive; they capture and portray emotion in a completely different way than say, weaving does. Weaving is a very fixed, precise and decisive method without much room for variance. Therefore, the self portraits as tapestries were a challenge, an experiment with working in a very uncompromising medium after working in such an unconstrained method.
How has your work changed over the years?
My work has evolved in many different respects. When I first graduated from NSCAD I was very interested in sculptural work- weaving in 3 dimensions. After awhile I got back to 2-d weaving. Tapestry weaving became a main focus for me. It was a process that lent itself well for me to continue with conceptual ideas, sticking within the textile medium. More recently I have gone back to weaving fabric for functional purposes. I still create tapestries, but my main interest now is weaving unique upholstery fabrics and making one-of-a kind pieces of furniture.
You mentioned that you are doing some upholstering these days. Can you walk me through a project, beginning to end?
Yes! I have been doing upholstery for a few years now. I hand-weave fabrics for individual pieces of furniture. Because each piece is one-of-kind, I first have to choose what to reupholster. I have to strip it of all the original fabric, stuffing etc and check it structurally. Most of the time I strip the wood as well. I’ll often stain the wood with water based coloured stain, or just varnish the natural wood. From there I have to decide on fabric pattern and colours. The next step is figuring out how much cotton/wool I will need to complete the weaving. Hopefully I have enough of what I need on hand in my studio. Once I have all the materials I need, I have to measure out all the threads that will be placed onto the loom to weave. Once they are all measured, I individually string them on the loom and wind it up so it is taut and can be woven. The process of winding the warp and setting up the loom can take an entire day, or longer. From there, I have to wind the yarn I am using to weave onto bobbins. Now, I am ready to weave! Depending on how many meters of fabric I have to weave and the pattern complexity, it can take anywhere from a day to a couple of weeks to complete the weaving. After the fabric is removed from the loom and washed and dried I can start the upholstery. The first step in the upholstery process is to cut out the pieces of fabric. The next step usually involves some amount of sewing. There are usually seams or piping or both to do. The in between involves reinstating the stuffing, foam, or other structural elements like springs, webbing, etc. Once that is complete, I can staple and sew the fabric pieces to the wooden frame. The assembly can take anywhere from a day to a week, depending on the type of furniture and whether or not there are pleats and buttons as well as how much piping is involved.
If someone was interested in purchasing some of your work, how would they go about it?
My upholstered pieces are available through Handworks, in Saint John, and anything can be purchased from me directly.
I can be contacted on Instagram @andreabutlerdesigns.