A Q&A with Codroy Valley's Megan Samms, Indigenous artist, cloth maker, entrepreneur, owner of Live Textiles and co-owner of Katalisk Sipu Gardens...
How would you describe Live Textiles?
Live Textiles – which is also the name of my business - are naturally dyed, handwoven, and finished by hand in my studio in rural Ktaqmkuk at the Katalisk Sipu (Codroy Valley, Newfoundland), near the house I came up in and where I learned to spin yarns and knit them together as a youth. Nowadays, I design textiles and weave together carefully considered fibers after applying natural dyes to them. I make functional pieces meant for everyday use – kitchen towels, bath towels, wash-up cloths, purposeful cloths, runners, shawls, pla'kit (blankets), etc. We also have a Lesser Waste Line which are products made with so-called "loom waste" – eye pillows filled with lavender, stoqn (fir) sachets, pin cushions, soap saver bags, throw pillows, etc.
Live Textiles are designed to be intergenerational pieces, staying with a person or family for a long time, to care for them and be cared for.
How and where do you find your dyes?
My natural dye palette is seasonal; I grow and harvest dyestuff from the land around my traditional territory home and farm. I have been sampling colours for years and now have a vast and ever evolving colourway library; I draw on that sampling practice to create new combinations, hues and shades. Due to the nature of this method, colours that I produce, although reliable, can vary.
Why is it important to you to use traditional methods?
My home community is called Millville (in Codroy Valley), so named for a (non-functioning, these days) wool mill right next to my parents' home. There are long roots of textile work and weaving in the Valley, specifically on the North Side of the River, where I am from. Mi'kmaw were known for basketry and hand weaving on looms right here; a loom is only a tool and allows efficient production of work and a means to make a living in a creative, ecologically sustainable way.
Like all craft, contemporary practitioners' work is built on the shoulders of those who came before. Maintaining tradition in my work, while staying contemporary and relevant, is in respect to my ancestors, the land and place and also, traditional hand work and dyework is inherently more sustainable than mass production. When textiles are handmade, with natural fibres and with a keen eye and intelligent hands, they will last generations. My intent is to integrate usefulness, beauty, tradition and a sense of shelter in a living cloth while paying mind to those who came before and those who will come after, on this land.
Not to mention, the quality of traditionally produced textiles cannot be imitated!! They're beautiful!
Organic Cotton Swedish Lace Purposeful Cloth, handwoven and naturally dyed; photo by Megan Samms
What sorts of activities go on at Katalisk Sipu Gardens?
Katalisk Sipu Gardens is an off-grid mixed mini farm and apothecary in Codroy Valley that I co-operate with my partner in love and life, Ash Hall. We offer fine body-care goods, soap, herbs, produce, cut flowers, honey, bees and more from the land. We raise up honeybees and dual purpose, heritage chickens.
Silver Laced Wyandotte Rooster, photo from Autumn 2020; photo by Megan Samms
What's different about the way you grow produce?
We grow produce, herbs, flowers and fruit with care and without pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. We feed our food with high quality compost and cultivate a closed loop system focusing on minimal wastage and maximum health and wellness for people, community and most importantly, the land.
Spring shot, gardens 2020; photo by Megan Samms
Where else can people find your products?
We organize quarterly markets in Codroy Valley. Makers & Gardeners Markets take place seasonally and are a place to purchase produce, craft, baking and more. The markets are community events too – there's always live music, food and friendly faces! The next market will be in the Valley in Spring 2021 (venue and date TBD).
Linen Halvdräll Towel, handwoven and naturally dyed; photo by Megan Samms
You also have some new and exciting initiatives in the works. Tell us about those.
Yes. In 2021, we will be undertaking a community-based studio and greenhouse build in our home, Katalisk Sipu, Ktaqmkuk//Codroy Valley, Newfoundland on our family land. The studio, like our home, will remain off grid and will house looms, dye materials, fibre and yarn, a library of books, tools and dye samples. The studio will be my working space. But more importantly, this studio will also be a place for community art events. It may be a learning hub for people (all ages) interested in textile arts and it will also be an artist in residence (AIR) space in 2022. The greenhouse will be part of the farm, but will be where we start most dye plants (some take a really long time to germinate and some require higher temps). The greenhouse and farm will also assist in feeding the resident artist for their stay. Really, Live Textiles and Katalisk Sipu Gardens are inseparable, sibling business'. Textiles are agricultural after all!
When the time comes to roll out an AIR program, we will fully sponsor an emerging, established or simply interested textile artist to come develop a body work, to learn to weave and/or dye, play and live in Codroy Valley for one to three months. At the end of their stay, we anticipate organizing a show to provide the AIR participant with an opportunity to display and (if interested) sell their work. If they are able, they will also be given the opportunity to host a workshop or artist talk during their stay. They can also learn about bees and our small farm, if they wish. Aside from the AIR program in the studio, we will also host music, comedy and other forms of art shows in a post-pandemic world!
We've already saved most of the funds to build, but will be launching a small fundraising effort in February 2021 to help with unforeseen costs. Also, when the AIR launches, we will be supporting and sponsoring the artist through money raised from the farm and any further monies raised will help with the longevity of the sponsorship.
How can people connect with you?
Live Textiles can be found at https://livetextiles.online, on instagram, Outport, Citizens of Craft and I am a juried and exhibiting member of the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador. I am the NL Representative and the VP of the Guild of Canadian Weavers and can also be reached through the GCW. Email: email@example.com.
On Jan. 6, Megan spoke with Bruno Vinhas of the Craft Council NL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWby--XYZ00
Stay tuned: Natural Dyes in Northeast America Conference; exhibitor and speaker
Stay tuned: interviews in the New Year; please watch craft streams, local newspapers and magazines