The bag on the left is made from Jacob wool. The bag on top right is made with Shetland wool; the bag lower right is made from border Leicester. I use the same amount of wool and the same form for each bag. All three types of wool are medium-to-coarse in texture. I particularly like Jacob because it felts down relatively hard and tight. Bags were shrunk down more and embellishments and simple button closures were added.
When I was a kid I watched a TV program called “My World and Welcome to It.” I don’t remember much of it except its star, William Windom, his raspy, sarcastic voice, and the incorporation of cartoons into the story in a way that seemed dreamy yet matter-of-fact — a seven-year-old’s introduction to the surreal. I’ve always loved the title, which, like the material for the show, is based on the work of James Thurber. It seemed like a nice world: a man drawing for a living and telling us his story while the drawings come to life as vivid punctuations.
My world now contains two brindle greyhounds, a garden, and lots of fabric, dyes, sewing, and sheep fleece. I make felt, dye and sew stuff: small pillows, bigger pillows, purses, curtains, skirts. Rather, I’m planning to. I like to recycle old and worn clothes, preferably ones made from wool, silk, cotton, and linen – and it takes my breath away how easy it is to find castoff clothing made from natural materials. I’m not a purist – I also work with new fabric, but I do want to re-use castoff material when I can.
My work is a work in progress. I have some knowledge and experience but I’m working mightily to get more experience. The determination behind dress-a-week projects blows me away – I’d love to be as focused. I’m a maker, but for much of my adult life I have sabotaged my need to make stuff – not practical not enough time I’m not good enough I’m just a hobbyist my friends are the real artists etc. etc. But now I’m at mid-life — not old but not young either, I’ve explored what I can of the traditional work world, and all my life I keep coming back to textiles. So, time to set focus there.
Coincidentally, today is the 75th anniversary of the birth of my mother, May. She had a difficult, impoverished childhood that formed her into a jagged, paranoid persona, stunting her expectations for herself and souring our family’s life. It’s a shadow that she never escaped and whose chill I still feel. What times I do remember her happy, she was making stuff – a garden of sunflowers in the fire escape of our apartment, making head cheese from scratch (that is, from half a pig’s head), setting up the right shot for a family portrait. She taught me to knit, crochet, and sew and always admired my color choices and my embroidery when I was a child. But imagining that she had artistic or just creative endeavors and the right to nurture them was not something her life experience would allow for her. As her making time decreased as I got older, so did her happiness, and she had nothing to allay frustration, anger, depression.
If now I focus on creative work with textiles, it’s not only a mid-life indulgence, but also a life-saving step, because I understand that creating is essential to mental health and happiness. And when I make stuff, I think of my mother, and the happiness that making brought to both of us.
My name is Ava Chan. I live in Boston with two greyhounds. I make felt. I dye and sew fabric. Studying, seeking, making textiles.