Studio visit: fibre artist Elizabeth Miller
I just want to make stuff, and sell stuff so I can make more stuff. - EM
**Elizabeth Miller was one of the first to support me with CreatedHere, becoming the first shop to stock the magazine way back when. This interview is from 2015, but much of it is still true. Liz still has a shop/studio on Germain street, just across the street! If anything her entreprise has grown as she continues to make things and attract other makers into her sphere of influence. Thanks for the support over the years, Liz! xoxo*
Q/A with fibre artist Elizabeth Miller
Elizabeth Miller makes beautiful things, soft colourful things you just want to touch and wear. Entirely self-taught and driven by a passion to make, Liz has developed her skills in spinning, dyeing, knitting and weaving to a professional level over years of practice and experimentation. She has taught at NBCCD and occasionally offers classes, but really all she wants to do in life is make gorgeous things, which is why she recently opened Good Fibrations, a fiber arts studio and supply store on Germain St in Saint John, NB. And make she does, while inspiring anyone who meets her to make something too. The shop is a front for creativity meant to draw you into the studio and by extension the creative journey just by visiting it and its lovely owner.
I came across Good Fibrations when it had just opened, I don’t think it even had a name yet, or running water. My bellydance class had been canceled and I was wandering aimlessly down Germain St when I caught sight of a weaving loom and beautifully coloured yarn in a window. I immediately swerved in as though drawn by a magnet. I love knitting and have recently become interested in weaving so I just couldn’t help it! I introduced myself and inquired about the space. Liz and I started chatting and it turns out she knows my mom and her daughter and my brother have played music together. It’s Saint John, go figure. It also turns out that some of the most beautiful yarns I have received as gifts from my mom over the years were made by Liz! Small world. She was enthusiastic about CreatedHere and willingly assented to be interviewed.
When I came in to do the interview, we sat across from each other while Emily wove in the background and chatted easily. The cliquety-clack of the loom brought an added layer of authenticity to my interview, especially when I sat down to transcribe it later. Since that first day I have often popped in to say hi, to see how the shop is developing or ask Liz about a crafty project I’m working on. She is a wealth of knowledge and always up for a chat. Stop in to say hi and browse the beautiful hand-dyed yarns, there is always something new and maybe it’s just what you need to get kick-started on your next creative project... Here is what Liz had to share:
When people ask you what you do, what do you say?
I never know quite what to say. It's almost embarrassing to me as it always involves puzzled looks and more explanation than I'm comfortable with. In the past few years I just say I work with textiles. Heaven knows what people take from that! The thing is, I'm constantly learning new stuff, and I don't like to be pigeonholed.
What materials do you work with?
I prefer natural fibers, and generally like to use things with wool in them. I still stubbornly refer to wool as exclusively coming from sheep, and don't like the current trend to call other animal fibers 'wool'. I love silk in all its permutations, but I have to say my all time fave fiber is mohair. Mmmm. .....mohair.... Of course I also use various dyes, and various methods of combining handspun and commercial yarns in my work.
How did you get into fiber arts?
I’ve always, always done it. I seriously don’t remember not playing with yarn. I started when I was a teeny tiny kid, when my grandmother would come stay with us and taught me to crochet and knit. I had access to crochet hooks and balls of yarn and random creative supplies. It wasn’t super organized but it was just made available. I remember which house we were living in when I first started learning to knit; I was about 4 or 5 years old. I really liked knitting but it was too much for my little hands, so I took to crocheting. I started knitting seriously when I was in grade 6 and just never stopped.
How have you learned your craft?
I taught myself everything I know by reading and just experimenting. I went to university but that didn’t take. I just felt in the wrong place doing the wrong thing. I got a job in a yarn store, started teaching workshops. I had a very encouraging boss who would sell me yarn at cost and gave me a copy of each book and magazine that came out, which I devoured. I had a friend teach me how to spin and that’s when the trouble really started. I spent a day with her and she sent me home with a drop spindle and a bag of raw fleece. I made enough 2-ply yarn - on a drop spindle - to knit a sweater! It was pretty ugly, but I thought it was gorgeous and I gave it to her. I was absolutely hooked. That was 1988. I have put years into honing these particular skills, being a really good dyer, knowing my product, knowing what’s good and what’s not, what is a good buy and what’s not, what is good quality. You know you’ve arrived when you find something you made years ago at Value Village. It was a dog-fur hat in bright blue and bright green. I bought it.
What is your favourite thing to make?
That reminds me of a question I often hear, depending on where I am showing my work. If it's a craft shop featuring knitting, people assume I just knit. Same for weaving, or spinning. I love knitting. It's probably my biggest passion. I have been studying knitting traditions, methods, history, and even sociological effects for over 40 years. I even view it as an avenue of protest, or commentary. It's a great social leveler too. I've made lots of friends based solely on our mutual love of knitting.
I love to make mittens. Thank goodness I live in a climate that encourages the wearing of these perfect samplers of our craft!
What do you do when you’re not working? I make things. I am quite blessed with a partner who understands my obsession. When we go on vacation, he gets that we are going to go to the wool mill and to every yarn shop around. He loves it, he actually crochets too. Also, I love music, I love books.
Tell me about your studio space:
I used to drive by here (the former location) and daydream about this space. And one day I drove by and it was for rent! After some back and forth, I finally moved in. There was some work to be done, the heat is sketchy, but it’s pretty good daylight for uptown SJ. I wish it was bigger, the looms take up so much space, but it works for now. It’s a constant work in progress as we try to use the space well.
So, I just thought I’d come in and weave things, but people want hand-dyed yarn. They are interested to hear what it’s made out of. It was super busy right away. The only way I got anything done was to close the door and turn out the lights. I needed help, so I hired Emily (McCumber). It’s great, we learn from each other. She knows all the technical language, and can just go to work.
Also, I LOVE being uptown. There hasn’t been one day that I haven’t wanted to get up and come to work. The shop-owners are great, all the different groups out promoting the city... I’ve had people poke their heads in and say, I don’t do any knitting or anything but I just wanted to say that your shop looks great and it’s great to have you uptown”. It’s really encouraging. I feel a part of something being here, not just busy and isolated, but involved.
What inspires your work?
I'm inspired by so, so many things! First of all, by where I live. I love it. I'm brought to tears by the beauty, the serenity, the vibrancy of the Kennebecasis River. It's part of me. I'm a pretty hyper person, and the River calms me down and lets me reflect on what's important in my life.
My children. The love I have for them has shown me who I am, and that of course comes out in my work frequently.
I'm hugely inspired by the connectedness of everything in life. The way we are all entwined, all equal. It fills me with joy and hope. It makes me want to do good, and to make people happy if I can, in some small way. I'm a very cheerful person, and look for good everywhere. This informs my craft every day.
Find out more about Liz below