Textile artist Megan Samms on weaving and the reciprocity of the natural world
Megan Samms married her partner in a sheltered cove yellow with daffodils. The textile artist returns often to that field planted by her great-great-great grandmother, on occasion tenderly retrieving bulbs for her own garden.
“Yesterday, I moved three bulbs,” the Indigenous artist, clothmaker and owner of Live Textiles says during an interview from her home in the west coast of Newfoundland’s Codroy Valley. “I dug them up with my fingers and carefully carried them home.”
Lessons passed from generation to generation.
Megan’s work is guided by elu’j, a word meaning to make things that are animate, or of use. Live textiles are naturally dyed, handwoven and finished in her studio in rural Ktaqmkuk at the Katalisk Sipu, near the house in which she grew up, learned to spin yarns, and knit them together.
The ebb and flow of seasons past, present, and future set the pace. Megan grows and forages plant dyes from the rich soil in her garden and the woods near her home. Her loom moves with the rhythm of a heartbeat, creating functional pieces meant for everyday use.
“I was raised with the understanding that we are all a part of something much bigger than ourselves,” Megan says. “We are so embedded in nature that I don’t think of it as a place or being separate from the day-to-day. I visit the plants in all seasons to see how they are doing and to stay connected. I’m not just extracting; it’s a reciprocal relationship. My work is inherently a part of the natural world.”
The self-taught weaver perfected her craft while working with Alberta Wildfire as a lookout observer. Megan set up her loom in the two-room cabin that was her home for half the year. She returned to Millville with partner Ash Hall in 2020. Her online business was growing steadily, and she saw opportunity in the province’s flourishing craft industry.
Millville is named for once active sawmills and a wool mill. There are long roots of textile work and weaving in the Codroy Valley. Mi’kmaw were known for basketry, and eventually, hand weaving on looms, a tool that allows efficient production of work and a means to make a living in a creative, ecologically sustainable way.
Megan integrates usefulness, beauty, tradition, and a sense of shelter in living cloth. Live textiles are produced on wooden floor looms, with natural and organic fibre and plant dyes. Un-weavable fabric is re-purposed into useful items in the studio, or used by other craftspeople. Spent dyestuff is composted. Rainwater is used in the washing and dye process.
“My colours and patterns are inspired by nature, time spent on the land, and the ideal functions of each piece,” Megan explains. “Everything I produce is meant to be versatile. I use sustainably produced materials to create fabric that, I hope, will last hundreds of years.
“I held a 250-year-old blanket in my hands,” she adds. “I felt its life, the love and care that went into it. I hope the blankets I make will last that long.”
Her mother, Renée Samms, expertly finishes her daughter’s one-of-a kind pieces. Megan and Ash are committed to giving back to the region that Megan comes from and that welcomed her partner with open arms. The two own Katalisk Sipu Gardens, a mixed mini farm and apothecary. They raise honeybees and chickens. They organize seasonal, community-driven Makers & Gardeners Markets.
In the future, they hope to fulfill a long-time dream. The Loom Shed will be an off-grid, community-based studio, workspace, and place to house community art events. It will become a learning hub for people interested in textile arts, and an artist in residence space in 2022. Live Textiles will sponsor a textile artist for one to three months. The sponsors anticipate organizing a show to provide the participant with an opportunity to display and sell their work. A partnership with the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador is adding to their artist library, making books available to the community. Megan is also working with a textile studio, Edmonton-based Gather Textiles, to supply yarn to the artist. Megan and Ash have spent part of their summer building a greenhouse and honey house.
Textiles are a labour-intensive craft. Collaboration is important in the small community of handweavers. “In the textile world everyone is supportive of each other because there aren’t that many of us,” Megan says. “For some reason, textiles are not as highly appreciated or valued as some of the other crafts, and yet there is no less work or craftspersonship involved.
“It’s important to understand the agricultural nature of textiles,” she adds. “I encourage people to support Canadian hand-woven textiles and to purchase hand-woven pieces wisely. It’s something you will have for generations.”
Megan is a juried and exhibiting member of the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the provincial representative and vice president of the Guild of Canadian Weavers.
Find Live Textiles at livetextiles.online