Meghan Shimek | Fiber artist
"I love working with roving, I love that the word rove means to wander, I think that is the best way to think about my work. The weavings want you to interact with them, to touch, to move the fiber around the warps."
Where did you grow up?
I am from Grand Blanc, MI, it is located just south of Flint, MI.
Describe that place and its people…
Flint, Michigan is known for many things, it is the birthplace of General Motors, it is also known for Michael Moore and is often photographed for its urban decay. For me it was a really special place to grow up. I was very involved in the local music scene, I worked at the Farmers’ Market and I still have many friends that live there. Flint went through many changes during my youth and has ended up as a place that for many is seen as a center of blight and crime, but that is never what it was for me. Flint is going through a huge revitalization, the people who live there are friendly and resilient.
What were you like as a child? What did you want to do when you grew up?
I guess I have always been a bit of a dreamer with hints of being very serious and grounded. My family is very reserved and practical, those qualities have definitely rubbed off on me. I wanted to be a movie star and a veterinarian, but I am quite shy and sciences are definitely not my strong suit--despite getting a science degree!
When did you first leave home? Where did you go?
I didn’t move away from Michigan until I was 27. I had just finished my second degree in nutrition and felt really stuck in Michigan. I felt like I was doing the same exact things I had been doing since I was a teenager, and I wanted to experience more. I moved to Washington, DC. I worked for an adolescent healthcare nonprofit and ran the foodstamp program at a farmers market. DC wasn’t for me, I never really felt at home. There were things I loved about it...the free museums, I didn’t have a car when I lived there and experienced the city by bicycle. The friends I did make there are still some of my closest friends, including my weaving buddy Ama Wertz!
How'd you end up in the Bay Area?
I had been living in Washington, DC with my boyfriend and I was miserable. I was working a job I didn’t like, and I never really felt like it fit. He had mostly grown up in DC and was ready for a change, so we just bit the bullet. We moved in the Fall of 2009. When we planned the move and rented our place in San Francisco neither of us had jobs. It was a huge leap! It ended up being so good for both of us. At the time we both wanted a change. I love and thrive on change.
Is there something about the Bay Area that is especially inspiring to you?
It is so magical. I don’t think as a Midwesterner I understood the magic of California. It is beautiful everyday, it is so friendly and welcoming and creativity seems to float on the air. I feel that the moment I landed here it all connected, my life felt like it was about to expand in huge ways. I cannot believe how much has happened in the last 6 years!
When did you begin weaving?
I began weaving in February 2013, so not very long ago. I was visiting my family in Michigan and decided to sign up for a scarf weaving class. I made two scarves and decided I wanted to explore woven wall hangings. A few months later I moved temporarily to Arizona, and I was able to take Navajo weaving and floor loom weaving while I was there. When I moved back to the Bay Area, I started taking tapestry weaving classes from Tricia Goldberg,
Was there a particular moment when you knew it was what you wanted to pursue?
I think there was always a part of me that knew I wanted to work with fiber. I always loved going to craft stores and looking at yarn. I learned to crochet when I was 19 and I learned to knit a few years ago. Those mediums never quite suited me, but I would occasionally pick them up and try, yet again. When I began weaving I knew immediately that I had found my craft. I never expected it to become my career, I was mostly looking for an outlet to meditate and be productive! I had been a stay-at-home mom and about a year and a half ago I started thinking about returning to the workforce, I was beginning to explore my options in my past career when Makeshift Society contacted me to teach a beginners weaving class.
What inspires your work and motivates you to do what you do?
I think more than anything the materials themselves inspire my work. Often when I begin a weaving I will not have a clear plan, but I let the fiber speak to me and I use that as my inspiration. Now that I have begun weaving I cannot imagine not doing it. Days that I don’t weave I definitely feel more prone to sadness or just less content. Weaving truly feeds my soul, it gives me purpose and makes me happy. It is also very calming for me, I am not a person who is very patient, and weaving has taught me to let minutes and hours pass and stop worrying so much about finishing.
How would you describe your designs?
I think Ama Wertz best described my weavings as textural abstract woven wall hangings. I really enjoy all kinds of weaving, but I am best known for my work with roving. I love working with roving, I love that the word rove means to wander, I think that is the best way to think about my work. The weavings want you to interact with them, to touch, to move the fiber around the warps. I also really love working small and tight with tapestry weaving. I am almost always working on a tapestry. It's nice to work so meticulously with one way of weaving and then to let the roving work be really organic and take its own shape.
Do you sketch out your designs before you begin, or do they come to you as you work?
It really depends. My roving pieces are always, completely freeform. When i work on tapestry style weaving I often use a cartoon or have sketches of what I am going to do.
Do you feel your work and designs are influenced by where you are from?
Definitely! I have always been a bit of a dreamer and I think that was hard growing up in an industrial city. I grew up with a very practical family, art wasn’t something that people I knew really enjoyed or valued. I think working with roving really lets me be free.
What are your favorite materials to work with?
Wool, always wool. I work with cotton and other fibers, but wool is definitely my favorite. I love the way it feels, smells, I like that sometimes there is still lanolin in it, or debris from the sheep it came from. I love that there is a living quality to it.
What are some non-traditional weaving materials that you like to use?
Roving is definitely becoming a pretty regularly used material, but it wasn’t always. I have used quite a bit of copper wire in my weavings, I have also used bark, kelp, paint, glitter (do not recommend), raw fleece, and pinecones.
One of the things that separates you from the flock is the scale of some of your pieces. What inspired you to go so big? And we have to know...how much does one of those weigh?
Oh man, I would love to go so much bigger! I recently completed a structural piece: a human-sized cocoon that was a part of ROVE in Seattle. I just received a loom that is 12 feet wide and 7.5 feet tall, I am so excited to make something the full size of that loom. As I said I would love to go even bigger, but I don’t currently have the space. I think I am inspired by murals and the idea of limitless expansion, taking a craft to another level by making it huge! I am also so very inspired when I see tapestry work that is enormous, I cannot imagine how long and how many sets of hands had to work to create medieval tapestries! The large ones that I have been making lately are about 8 pounds, that doesn’t seem like much, but that is 8 pounds of fiber! The largest one I've made was probably close to 17 pounds, but I didn’t weigh it. Lately I have been dreaming of moving to Detroit and having a huge live/work loft with 20 foot ceilings so I can make weavings that hang from the sky.
Do you have a morning ritual to you get you ready for the day?
I usually wake up really early and meditate. Sometimes I will fall back asleep and then my son wakes me up. I must have coffee, I am really hoping Grey learns to make coffee soon ;)
Describe a typical day...
After I take Grey to school I come home and eat a meal (it takes me a few hours to get hungry in the morning) then I get to work. Sometimes that is running errands, making phone calls or packing up orders, on really good days it means I don’t need to do anything but weave. Lately I have been working mainly with roving, I am realizing more and more that I love this because I get to move my body around so much. I absolutely love the interaction with the fiber.
What are the things that you want to fill your days with?
I want to fill my days with weaving, my son, and time outdoors. I am not athletic, but just sitting outside on a sunny or rainy day is the best. I often weave outside. I have also been spending a lot of time meditating and I am learning to read tarot with Lindsay Mack. I also love to bake and am finding so much more joy in it now that Grey can help!
What’s your favorite part about being an artist, and one that teaches her craft?
I think the first thing is that I am allowed to do what I love. I feel so grateful for that every single day. I spent most of my life struggling to figure out what I wanted to do, I had no plan and always felt like I was flailing. I was unhappy. When weaving found m,e and it clicked I couldn’t believe that I had found my purpose. Even if I go back to a normal 9-5 job at some point in my life, I will always have this special gift that I can come home to. I also feel incredibly grateful that so many people have allowed me to teach them to weave. It's helping me to support myself and share something I love. I find the sharing to be so special and fulfilling.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
At the beginning of August I completed my first gallery installation in Seattle concurrently at Glassbox Gallery and LoveCityLove. Working through each piece was incredibly healing. At LoveCityLove I wove a human-sized cocoon and worked with Babette DeLafayette Pendelton, who is a dancer and performance artist to interact with the cocoon on the night of the opening. Her partner recorded and projected the performance both at LoveCityLove and at Glassbox Gallery. Watching her brought up all these feelings about death, life, rebirth and everything that those feelings encompass. It helped me to realize how much that weaving in particular meant to me! The pieces that were at Glassbox all represented particular feelings and emotions that I have felt in the grieving process.
Separation is a piece that literally represents the separation of my marriage, my father, the way that I have had to separate myself from who I was and who I want to be. Bound is a weaving that is split down the middle with cords tying it up. While I was making this piece I really reflected on all the things that each of us choose to bind ourselves to, through obligation, fear, comfort, love, joy, pain, curiousity. I thought about how the things I chose to bind myself to had shaped my life and once those cords were broken I now have the opportunity to bind myself to new things, and this time I am being far more conscious about who and what I am binding myself to.
The weaving Abundance was really experimental, very heavy and so, so fun. There are all these layers of roving and different colors that you can’t see while it is hanging on the wall. Over the last year I have felt such a huge abundance of emotion, of course grief and sadness, but at times I have felt overwhelming joy. I feel I have been given this understanding that each moment is a gift, even the hard ones. My tarot teacher talks about death as being a sacred fertilizer, by letting go we allow the space to open ourselves to what can grow next. I am humbled by the people who have come into my life, I have been encouraged and pushed to be vulnerable and honest and to face my fears and keep pushing.
Wave is another weaving from ROVE, wave is all about how life takes many directions, there are times we present a perfect picture to the world, times when we are suspended, and times when we have to pick up the pieces and realize that there is so much life ahead of us and so much of it will be so good. Working with the people that helped put this show together was the most healing and incredible thing I have ever done. I met people through this process that I will never forget and who have become such huge parts of my life.
One thing that we love about you, aside from your beautiful work, is your realness. Do you feel a need or responsibility for more honesty in social media? To not only paint the pretty picture, but to share our imperfections along with the beautiful imagery?
I really think everyone needs to do what feels right for them. I have been struggling in my life and I wanted people to know they aren’t alone. I remember a few years back when it seemed like social media was a place for people to air their grievances and then there was a shift to being super excited and happy all the time. I don’t think either is right or wrong, but for me I felt it was time to open up a little. I am sure there are some people that it rubs the wrong way, but going through this last eight months it's helped me to know that there are other people out there experiencing love, joy, pain, excitement, whatever. We all need each other. In January I was an artist in residence at Have Company and Marlee and I talked a lot about just being yourself on social media, it really struck a chord with me to open up further. I know there are things I am terrible at, like answering emails, and it's OK to admit it as long as I am also willing to work on it!
What does the word authentic mean to you?
This is a hard one. Authentic, it seems to be a word that is thrown around a lot lately, yet it feels hard to define. I think more than anything it means living your truth, and that changes constantly as we have new experiences and meet new people. I think it means doing your best, admitting your mistakes, but not letting those mistakes hold you back from trying again and moving forward. I also think it means that you have to show up and be present.
What is the biggest risk you’ve taken that you feel has paid off?
I would definitely say the move to California. At the time it felt right, but it was scary to move somewhere without a job in the middle of a recession. In hindsight, or rather at this point in my life, I cannot imagine taking a risk like that. Although some of the things I am doing currently will probably feel like huge risks in a few years. I am a newly single mother and I am trying to make an art career instead of finding a job with a steady income. If it all works out I will say it i was a risk that paid off, if I end up living in my Mom’s basement then I will probably not be too happy with my choices.
What's your biggest challenge?
I am terrible about responding to emails. I have really good intentions, but sitting down at a computer is getting harder and harder! I am a single mom and only have about 6 hours a day to work. I am always trying to fit in more than I can handle. I want to work all the time and I want to be with my son all the time--it is really difficult to balance the guilt.
What's the biggest lesson you've learned along the way?
It is better to put in the time upfront than to wait for them to pile up. I am really trying to work on this right now.
Any badass women you love, dead or alive, that you'd like to have dinner with?
One of my biggest heroes right now is Marlee Grace Hanson of Have Company...luckily she is my friend and we do have dinner together sometimes! She is such a huge inspiration to me. I see her struggles and we talk about them, but she makes things happen and she brings together so many people and she is so supportive of everyone that enters her life. She has endless creativity and the desire and ambition to make her dreams a reality. I cannot wait to follow her journey.
I would love to meet Frida Kahlo, but I would probably be so intimidated by her that I wouldn’t be able to speak!
Who are some of your favorite makers and artists right now?
This could take days to answer! I have felt so welcomed into the instagram community and have found so many incredibly talented people out there, especially within the weaving realm! There are those who really inspire me: Erin M. Riley, Maryanne Moodie, Brent Walden, and so many that I feel we began our weaving journey at the same time and have really formed a kinship with, like Sara Berks, and Toni Brogan.
Outside of weaving there are so many others. I love Marlee Hanson of Have Company, I love how she has built a community in her home town and has welcomed the whole internet to participate in that community, it is truly breathtaking. I am totally in awe of Kristine Vejar of A Verb for Keeping Warm. She is another maker/artist who has created a space to welcome people from the crafting community, she is about to release a book about natural dyes and she is growing, milling and distributing her own line of wool.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to do what you do? Or for anyone who wants to live a more creative life?
I think the first thing is, go for it, don’t be scared. I have been incredibly fortunate because I have had so much support, not everyone has this. Find ways to insert creativity into everyday, sometimes take a break from something you do and take a workshop or learn a new craft, or pick up a coloring book and do something else. I think the other thing is that it can look really glamorous doing what I do based on my posts on the internet. The truth is that I am still not completely supporting myself financially on weaving. Most of my travel is planned for other reasons and I schedule classes, often helping to pay for my trips--travel is really important to me and I will sacrifice other things in order to make it happen. I often have to remind myself that it's wonderful to have huge dreams, but do one thing at a time. Explore lots of avenues, but take one step at a time.