Next up in our artists series is an extra special, behind-the-scenes look into the studio of Maura Ambrose of Folk Fibers. If you didn’t catch our first feature, we’ve partnered with MSN to peek into the creative lives of three super talented and very different artists, and today’s subject is no exception. After spending the day with Maura, I still left her home with a burning question: How on earth does she do it all? While quilting is intricate and involved as is, Maura throws the art of natural dying into the mix to create quilts that are altogether classic yet modern. If you’ve already seen her work, chances are you have a Folk Fibers quilt on your shopping bucket list, and if you haven’t…well, we’re thrilled to introduce the two of you. Wynn accompanied me to Maura’s charming home and studio on the East Side to capture her in action.
Describe your art in 5 words:
Necessary, colorful, artistic, cherished, and cared for.
(Maura stands in front of the Dark Star quilt)
When did you first become interested in quilting?
My first interest in quilts started in my grandmother’s attic. She had stacks of vintage fabrics and gave me free range to take what I wanted. I coveted every piece of those fabrics, and still do! Early on, I couldn’t figure out how I wanted to use the materials to make special things. I often had ideas for making fun skirts or shirts with the vintage loves, but worried that a fashion garment would fleet through my life and not commemorate the beautiful fabrics that I wanted to have around my home forever.
How long does it take to create a single quilt?
I get this question often. I’m not keen on giving it a quick answer because my process for making quilts is detailed, emphasizing the value and quality of hand craftsmanship. It varies from 20+ steps, depending on the overall dimensions, natural colors, design, details and intricacy in the patchwork. Overall the steps and time it takes to make a quilt varies greatly! The short answer is anywhere from 40 to 200 hours, and for some special quilts, even years.
What are some challenges you face as an artist and as a business owner?
My biggest challenge is finding the time to do all that I want to do. My husband Chap helps with the business logistics, allowing me to focus more of my time on what I enjoy most: dying fabrics and making quilts. Sometimes he is too busy with his own work, and those days I spend more time on the computer than I would prefer.
What advice can you offer to a young artist trying to turn their passion into a business?
Being an artist is one thing, and being an entrepreneur is another. It’s a magical combo if you have a personality that can be both. And if you don’t, partner with someone who complements your strengths and weaknesses.
Maura and Chap will soon be moving to a newly purchased home in Bastrop. With 10-acres of land for gardening, Maura’s looking forward to distancing herself from social obligations and spending more time with her fulfilling work.
What is the process of creating natural dyes (for dummies)?
Natural dyes are most often plant base materials that I collect from around my home in Austin, such as pecans, etc. I cook the dyestuff to extract the color properties, strain the dye bath and add my natural fibers (such as cotton, linen, silk and wool) to the dye bath; re-heating to create quality colorfast fabrics, that I then use in the making of my quilts!
Because they come from the earth, all natural dyes have a harmony with each other. Maura keeps a book of dye samples of raw silk, cotton and wool, which she uses to log color results. She does this for every dye bath since each turns out differently.
Maura creates quilt thumbnails in watercolor for clients, and sometimes just to play. Since different fabric weaves create different hues, the watercolor shows variation in color consistency that’s true to the way naturally dyed fabrics look.
Short on inspiration, Maura and Chap went on a 4-month meditative trip in this VW van a few years ago to find her calling. She thought about how she loved the dependency and teamwork involved in farming, and recalled that her favorite classes at SCAD were quilting and natural dying. And so it “just made sense”. When they returned, she created Folk Fibers.
Where do you find inspiration?
Amongst nature and in the company of good people.
What are you favorite materials or dyes to work with?
All natural (plant and animal based) materials, always and forever! My favorite dyes change with the season, but the magic of indigo continues to impress me.
When dying with indigo, the fabric comes out green, then slowly undergoes an oxidation process that turns it to the rich blue color seen in so much of Maura’s work.
Last year you announced that you’d be making quilts for Levi’s. What is it like partnering with them?
I love my partnership with Levi’s! The small team that I work with is lead by Jay Carroll and he truly understands makers. When working on projects with them, I feel my needs and contraints are understood. They have a love for skilled craftsmen making small batches of handmade goods, and that is what is takes — love. It is a labor of love.
(Maura gives one of her patchwork denim shirts an indigo overbath, soon to be available at Levi’s.)
How is your creative process influenced by your environment? By Austin?
I employ 3 skilled hand quilters here in Austin to help with my larger projects. I also collaborate and receive help from other makers in my community for projects like the custom cedar boxes I package my quilts in, and artwork for the brand. Communication and building relationships around me have become a large part of running my own business.
(branding by Ryan Rhodes and Renee Fernandez, cedar boxes by Kelly Dewitt)
What’s been your favorite quilt thus far in your career?
My favorite quilt is always my next quilt. I feel refreshed with every new project. My creative process has a forward energy, and I am always learning and building from the present and preparing for the future, chasing my inspiration.
(Maura holds the Arc indigo wholecloth quilt)
What are your top 5 favorite places in Austin?
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*all photos by Wynn Myers
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