6 minute read

Life Mindfully Woven

Life Mindfully Woven

Everything this artist makes is crafted for usefulness, beauty, tradition and sense of shelter.

by Connie Boland

There is a rhythmic movement that gives weaving its language. Megan Samms feels it in the yarns that dress her loom. Language exists in the woven cloth and careful handwork that creates Live Textiles.

Born and raised in Codroy Valley, NL, Megan is a textile artist guided by elu’j, a L’nuisi (Mi’kmaq) word meaning to make things that are animate, or of use. Her woven goods are handmade on a variety of floor looms. All fibres are natural: organic cotton, wool, linen, hemp and occasionally silk. All colour comes from plants and is applied by hand, utilizing captured rainwater.

“Every fibre I use is natural and organic because that is important to me,” Megan says from her studio in Millville. “I have been lucky to hold a 250-year-old blanket in my hands. I felt its life, the love and care that went into it. I felt its presence in the room.

“I hope the blankets I make will last that long,” she adds. “I ask people to let my work become a part of their life and the next generation’s life. When they are done with my work, when it is no longer of use, I suggest they put it in the compost and let it go back to the land. Let it be a living thing because humans are not the only valuable life on this planet. Without the rest, we could not exist.”

Megan’s studio is located near the house she grew up in, and where she learned to spin yarns and knit them together. Her grandfather, Edwin Gale, started the carding mill that gave Millville its name. She inherited a loom from her aunt. Her mother, Renée Samms, works by her side expertly sewing and finishing her daughter’s pieces.

All of Megan Samms’ textiles are made using natural fibres and plant dyes, so that when they are used up, they can be returned to the land as compost.

The self-taught weaver perfected her craft while working with Alberta Wildfire as a lookout observer. In a sky-high tower, Megan scanned the area for forest fires, watched the sun rise and the night settle in the woods around her. She lived with her thoughts and dreams.

Lookout observers occupy a small house equipped with a propane refrigerator, stove and heater. There’s no running water; rain is collected in barrels and boiled for washing. Observers devise their own bathing and shower facilities. Drinking water is provided. There is an outhouse. Along with the basics, Megan transported a stationary bike for the tower, and a loom for the two-room cabin that was her home for half the year.

“I would spend six months by myself, so I had a lot of time to learn to weave,” Megan says. A garden, chickens and honeybees provided company and sustenance. She learned about plant dyes and foraging in the boreal forest. “Spending that much time alone, you really learn your role as a human animal. When you are constantly around humans and human inventions, you can feel separate from the land. But we are the land. We are a part of nature. It is easy to forget that. I think everybody should spend some time alone on the land if they can.” Megan returned to her hometown in spring 2020. Her online business was growing steadily, and she saw opportunity in Newfoundland and Labrador’s flourishing craft industry. The move with her partner also fulfilled a dream three years in the making. “You know how it is when people leave, and they want to come home,” Megan says. “It was sweet relief.”

The couple rented a U-Haul, set up a bed in the back of their pick-up truck and headed east. “It was one of the more fun times we’ve driven across the country,” Megan adds. “We had to take what we could get, which meant we camped in interesting places we did not stay in previously. It was really fun.”

Megan spent a lot of time practising her loom weaving while living alone in the Alberta wilderness, as a wildfire lookout, for six months of the year.

The textile artist is a member of Citizens of Craft, and Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador. Her work was recently featured at The Craft Council Gallery in St. John’s.

“My designs are simple and reflective on the natural world,” Megan explains. “When you look at patterning in the natural world, sometimes it is very intense and dynamic, but usually it is simple, repetitive patterns. It is pleasing because of that.”

Leftover cloth is used to make pin cushions, eye pillows, small bags, pillow shams and home goods. Thrums, short lengths of waste yarn leftover after woven cloth is cut off the loom, are repurposed as pillow stuffing, or in embroidery, mending and sample weaving. Megan also donates them to embroidery artists or people who sew by hand.

“Having a low environmental footprint is important to my work,” she says. “If you are making anything, you are contributing somehow to extracting a resource. I reframe it as contributing back and making something with its own life.

“My intent is to integrate usefulness, beauty, tradition and a sense of shelter in a living cloth; craft that is meant to bring comfort and joy through the generations of families they belong to, changing along the way, maturing and developing a life of their own. Live textiles.”

Megan and partner, Ash Hall, operate Katalisk (gah-dal-lisg) Sipu (seebu) Gardens, a mixed mini farm and wildcrafted apothecary focused on self-care goods, soaps, herbs, tinctures and other wildcrafted herbal remedies, produce, cut flowers, honey and beeswax items. Katalisk Sipu is the Mi’kmaq name for the Grand Codroy River, translating loosely to Unbraiding River. In Alberta, Megan worked with a beekeeping mentor and developed organic gardens.

Since moving to Codroy Valley, the couple has organized Makers and Gardeners Markets, as well as bulk organic food purchasing through Speerville Flour Mill. Plans for 2021 include building a new studio and greenhouse. Megan envisions hosting an artist-inresidence. “We will sponsor the artist with food, studio tools, space and lodging, whether they are developing a body of work, learning to weave, exploring a technique or aesthetic,” she says.

The artist will be responsible for their own material but have access to looms, sewing machines, spinning wheels, knitting tools, dye garden and other necessities. Ideally, Megan would like to accept an artist from Newfoundland and Labrador, but will look outside the province if no one comes forward.

The artist will have the opportunity to show their work, give an artist talk or offer a workshop in Codroy Valley. “If they are interested, they can also work with our bees or in the gardens,” Megan says.

Megan’s work and Katalisk Sipu Gardens can be explored through her social media pages, on Facebook and Instagram, and her virtual shop: Livetextiles.online.

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