Whether for Fashion or Fabric, Fiber Artists Experiment for a Living
By Jennifer Fulford | Photos by Megan Authement
A native leaf. A special memory. A photo. A fabric sample. Local fiber artists are finding inspiration for new designs from many sources that defy convention in clothes and textiles.
“This is a locust leaf,” Gigi Renee’ Fasano says of a pattern she dyed on a hand-sewn garment, “and I’m using the majority of my plant material from the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains.”
Gigi has hand-dyed and “eco-printed” fabric for many years, an extension of her childhood obsession with fashion. Eco-printing is a dyeing process that uses botanicals and metals on natural fibers. Her creations become clothing for her original line of women’s wear at Vintage Moon Modern, her boutique in downtown Asheville.
“The end result is very reminiscent of antique Japanese landscape ink prints meets Monet’s garden,” Gigi says.
She finds her botanicals by wildcrafting, shorthand for harvesting plants in the wild. Akin to pressing flowers in a book, Gigi’s designs rely on small items from nature that she folds into silks and then dyes. She also experiments with such things as wild weeds and onion skins.
“Every piece is different. That keeps it exciting and new, every time you open a bundle,” Gigi says.
In a loft near her store, she creates roomy tunics and wide-legged pants, seasonal dresses, flowing skirts, each item intricately sewn and never repeated.
In another type of fiber art, Spruce Pine resident Caitley Symons designs large geometric patterns for bolts of linen destined for curtains, kitchenware, pillows, and upholstery. Caitley exclusively designs for interiors rather than clothes. She hopes her patterns have a longer shelf life than clothing.
Caitley is inspired by artists in Egypt, where many years ago she grew up with her family who were Americans living abroad. The Middle East’s ancient practices of fabric- and rug-making are keen cultural memories for her. The age-old designs of overseas artisans influence her work.
“I would say there is an element of fusion going on because I do pull from my experiences in life,” Caitley says. “I wasn’t born there. I’m not Egyptian, but you can’t help but have some of that (culture) morph into your aesthetic.”
Not far from Caitley in Spruce Pine lives the renowned Edwina Bringle, arguably the most accomplished weaver in North Carolina. Her work resides in the permanent collections at the North Carolina Museum of History and the Greenville Museum of Art in South Carolina. In 2014, she had a career retrospective show that packed the house with people on opening night. Formerly a teacher at the Penland School of Crafts and at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Edwina focuses on complex colors to change wool, horsehair, rope, and silk into stunning wearable art and decor. She says, “My favorite thing to weave is wool blankets.”
For her, it’s slightly less about the weaving itself—although she’s always trying new techniques—and more about summoning bold or new blends from her dyes. After 50 years of experience in textiles, she continues to aim for the wow factor.
“For me, I’m not sure how it comes, it just comes,” Edwina says but gives some credit to her photography. “I can be looking through old slides and go, “Hmm, that’s where it came from.’”
Edwina sells her work in her twin sister’s pottery gallery in Spruce Pine, Bringle Gallery. She gains the most joy when a shawl, tapestry, or throw goes home with an appreciative customer.
Edwina is a touchstone for many local fiber artists, including Karen Donde, a weaver in Mills River. Karen says she’s as fixated about developing exceptional patterns as Edwina is about color. Near Karen’s workstation in her walkout basement, she pins samples of fabric from her travels and clippings of outfits from fashion magazines. She works with a fashion designer, who takes her hand-loomed fabric and pieces together chic custom clothes. One dress is priced at $1,600.
“I want it to be popular,” she says. “There’s no reason hand-woven has to look like it did in the ’60s. There’s no reason.”
Karen uses a computer program that plugs directly into her loom, helping her track the intricacies of each new design. She creates her own patterns and marries a hands-on process with high-tech. She finds satisfaction by trying new techniques that she can teach to other weavers.
“I’m not specialized in any particular area or any particular fiber. I kind of jump from thing to thing. I’ll kind of stick to one thing for a while, then I’ll see a new book,” Karen says.
For more information about Gigi, visit vintagemoonasheville.com; for Caitley, caitleysymons.com; for Edwina, edwinabringle.weebly.com; for Karen, karendondehandwovens.com. Jennifer Fulford is a novelist and freelance writer based in Western North Carolina. See her blog at livingonink.com.