I had the pleasure of knowing our lovely interviewee, Maura Ambrose of Folk Fibers, from the fibers department at Savannah College of Art and Design. She was a radiant soul and an inspired artist then, and she has continued to evolve into a master quilter who harvests her natural dyes from her very own dye garden. Oh, and she recently caught the eye of Levi’s, teaming up with them to create one of a kind quilts from their recycled jeans. Yes, she really is that amazing. Continue reading for a glimpse into this talented lady’s life. — Ginny Branch
1. Design Sponge: What is in your toolbox?
Maura Ambrose: I have many toolboxes and there is a considerable diversity in forms and locations. I grow natural dyes, and dye small batches of fabric for my quilts. My work is process-oriented, and the natural dying aspect of my work is seasonal. When I don’t save my own seeds, I buy them online. I have found that Fedco Seeds has a good selection of medicinal herbs and dye plants. For dye-ready fabric and a fun selection of prepared natural dyes, my top shops are Dharma Trading, Earth Guild, and Earthhues. I collect an abundant amount of onion skins from the organic farm I used to work at, Johnson’s Backyard Garden; it’s always a good thing to be friends with a farm. In the making of my quilts, I patchwork my dyed fabrics with other fabrics from my shelves, both vintage and new. I’m always searching for fabrics, but I am very picky and only use all-natural fibers. I usually find my favorite fabrics at yard sales and flea market-type shops. I collect most of my dyeing materials like pots, measuring cups, and spoons at thrift stores. I have found the best place to buy an iron is at a hardware store such as Home Depot or Lowe’s. At the hardware store you will find the classic metal irons, instead of fancy plastic irons. Another trick of the trade is buying a cutting mat online; it’s a much better deal and [there are] better color options than buying it from a sewing supply shop. I sourced mine from www.alvinco.com. I couldn’t live without my “Bernina” sewing machine and “Nimble” leather thimble. I use cotton Japanese sashiko thread and sashiko needles for hand quilting. I recently asked my local sewing shop to order it and keep it in stock; this is helpful because I never found an online source that I was happy with, and because it is a supply that I use consistently, the cost of shipping was adding up.
Read the full interview after the jump!
3. Design*Sponge: What is on the top shelves of your inspiration library right now?
Maura Ambrose: The progress of my dye plants and watching the seasons to forage for new dyes is always a driving inspiration for me. I find inspiration all around me in both urban and rural settings. I am always looking or extraordinary relationships in color; for example, I am very drawn to the patchwork paint jobs that cover up walls of graffiti. When designing my quilts, I look to abstract design in early American quilts and Native American weavings. My two main guide books for natural dyeing are Eco Color by India Flint and Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess.
Maura Ambrose: As trite as this may sound, my iPhone is the biggest help to keeping organized. It’s most useful for communicating through email and social media platforms, as well as appointments and sharing photos. My favorite to-do list app is TeuxDeux, but in all honesty I don’t use it on a regular basis. I write down to-do lists anywhere and everywhere in the morning. The act of organizing my thoughts and writing a list is what sets me up for a successful day. Once it has been written down, I’m good to go, and I hardly need to refer to it. For every quilt and large order, I use a physical calendar that marks the start and end to each project and deadline; I keep this calendar on my desk as a source for visual perception.
Maura Ambrose: If I had the power to fly, I’d take to the air with the birds!
Maura Ambrose: My husband and I have formed the motto to “follow your passions.” We have chosen to work jobs that we love over other jobs with higher pay. We have found that when we follow our passions, we are proactive in shaping our lives and simply happier. My advice is for starting a small business as an artisan: Making the work matters the most. When starting your own business, there is a lot to do, and it’s easy to spend a lot of time tweaking websites, logos, business cards, and all things to do with self-promotion. The business side of things is important, but it should not take precedence over making the work. If you make great work, it will speak for itself, and the rest will eventually fall into place. Always be open to asking for a little help from your friends.
7. Design*Sponge: How do you combat creative blocks?
8. Design*Sponge: Where do you like to shop for inspiration?
Maura Ambrose: Garage sales, flea markets, antique shops, estate sales, quaint hardware stores, and garden supply shops.
9. Design*Sponge: If you could peek inside the studio/toolbox of any designer/artist/craftsperson, whose would it be, and why?
Maura Ambrose: I would love to observe Wes Anderson’s process. I want to know more about his gift for telling a story through the making of movies. All his movies share a great aesthetic beauty, and it would be a dream come true to observe, learn, or participate in his craft.
Maura Ambrose: I am in love with Joe Pug’s Nation of Heat EP, as well as many other country-folk artists, old and new. I love to listen to podcasts like This American Life and Radio Lab; I listen to NPR’s Fresh Air daily.