Established in 2012, Trial by Fibre is a group of seven art quilters from Kelowna, BC: Judith Beaver, Maureen Clayton, Yvonne Cooper, Mary Fabris, Susan Greenwell, Marilyn Mathieson and Cath Phillips. The focus of activities is usually a challenge project consisting of individual pieces, which are displayed at ArtWalk, an annual art show in Lake Country, BC.
In 2019, the group tried something different – a group project. Taking inspiration from the theme of the show, Art in Fashion, we decided to pool our resources and talents to create a wearable piece – a costume for a “Green Woman.” Across many centuries and many cultures, the figure of the Green Man has appeared in gardens and cathedrals as a symbol of the natural world, renewal and the changing of the seasons. A Green Man? Why not a Green Woman? Mother Earth, Gaia, Mother Nature or the Goddess? Who better than a Green Woman to represent rebirth, the cycles of nature and the awakening of our ecological conscience in the twenty-first century.
Trial by Fibre met eight times over the summer of 2019, to plan, review and parcel out the work. The group worked on individually on various assignments between gatherings. The following, in a nutshell, is how the work progressed. During the initial meeting, the group discussed the concept and pulled fabric from stashes. Mottled green batik for a lining was discovered, a flannel bed sheet for the interlining and both light and dark green faux satin and silk fabric for the outer layer. Afterward, two people designed and built the cape, followed by two others, who used Shiva Paintstiks® to create pattern and texture on the plain green background. Machine quilting came next. The cape was taken apart into sections for further embellishment with organza and couching. The group made decisions about final finishing and added some hand stitching. Three members worked on the front and back sections. Everyone agreed to create dimensional leaves for the final decoration of the cape.
At the same time, the hood of the cape and the mask were constructed, as well as a beaded amulet for the Green Woman’s neck. After the cape was reassembled, some further couching was added before the hem was finished. Beading was added and a number of beaded bugs were designed to add to the leaf collection.
The final two meetings were devoted to attaching the leaves and bugs to the cape. Beading and putting the cape on a full-sized mannequin used for display finished the project. Although Trial by Fibre met regularly since 2012, this was the first time the group worked collaboratively, which presented both challenges and delights. Scheduling meeting time was tricky and not everyone could attend every meeting. Each member normally worked in varying degrees of isolation, so everyone experienced the fear of making mistakes, of making some irreparable error or of letting the group down. Not everyone could do everything, which left some feeling left out at times. For example, one member, who played a major role in constructing the cape would have welcomed more involvement with the embellishment aspects of the project.
Working collaboratively was a juggling act as the group tried to keep everyone involved and productive, while remaining true to the focus of the project. Each artist felt a bit at sea not knowing exactly what the final product would look like. In the end, putting trust in ourselves and in each other allowed the project to evolve in ways never envisioned. Everyone from the group agrees the collaborative piece is beyond anything each could create working alone. When finally reviewing at all the techniques involved, it was amazing: design, sewing, rubbing, painting, stamping, burning, eco-printing, beading, hand embroidery, machine quilting and embellishment. Everyone made important and unique contributions to the final product and learned something new from working together. Friendships were solidified and appreciation for each other’s skills and talents deepened.
Would Trial by Fibre do it again? Maybe. Would this group recommend collaboration to another group? Definitely. The process of working collaboratively presents challenges and opens new insights. As always, growth is a good thing!