Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Hands & Hearts: An Interview with Katie Mayflower

This is the second installment of a weekly summer series showcasing various Canadian artists and delving into who they are, what they make, and why they do what they do.

I first met today’s featured artist, Katie-May, while studying up at Haliburton School of the Arts. We lived just across the hall from each other and could often be found often wandering into each other’s studios to see what the other was working on. Katie’s quietness, gentleness, and reflectiveness were such a comfort to me and I think these qualities shine through her work.

See for yourself…

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Katie-May. I live on Vancouver Island in Victoria, British Columbia and I work in various textile mediums, predominantly weaving. I also knit, sew, dye, and spin on occasion.

How long have you been working at your craft? Tell us about your journey. 

My relationship with textiles has been life long though sporadic. Between my mother and grandparents on both of my parents sides there is the ability to knit, weave, sew, crochet, and quilt, so it’s something that I have been exposed to throughout my life and it certainly runs in my family. I learned to knit and crochet when I was about five, and did both very casually off and on growing up. About two years ago I came back to knitting and found myself fixated. I spent the entire winter learning to knit as many different garments as I could, and found that I was yearning to learn more. In the fall of 2014, I completed a four month full-time Introduction to Fibre Arts program at Haliburton School of the Arts. The program had an enormous scope that quickly helped me narrow and develop my specific interests.

During the program, I had the opportunity to work at a loom. I knew immediately that it was what I wanted to spend my life working at, and upon returning to Victoria, I joined the local Weavers’ and Spinners’ Guild. I was given a loom that was in need of a new home, and since then I have been dedicated to practicing. I am really only now becoming able to actualize some of the ideas that I have in my head. I’m really excited about that.

Weaving is very repetitive and relaxing, and within it, there is a home for my personality, a quiet making, and the opportunity to work through ideas and themes very closely. It takes commitment, even just to house the loom, and a lot of time and patience to learn to weave well. The acts that constitute weaving are all quite simple, but require attention and accuracy and can be challenging. There is a beauty in the dedication, the ritual, and also the pace. Nothing goes quickly. Weaving offers a wonderful chance to slow down and be attentive to the discipline.

What inspires or influences you and your work?

The biggest motivation for me is having meaningful work-- something that I can really commit myself to and be connected to the results of my labour. Simplicity and minimalism both play a large role in my life and that definitely carries over into the aesthetic of the things that I create.

I opt for classic patterns and natural materials, often in subdued and muted tones, that allow for the medium and fibres to speak loudest. I like functional, simple pieces, those that can be used easily and comfortably, the things that become an extension of the self.

Tell us about your process.

Craft is very ritualistic, and I enjoy the repetition of the processes that go into making cloth and fabric. It starts with a feeling, choice of material, colour, fibre, or pattern, and then from there it’s mainly labour. I don’t have a specific method outside of the bounds and techniques of each craft, and the way I arrive at each project is from a different place. There are so many phases, and sometimes I have boundless motivation and ideas, and other times it can be really hard to figure out what it is that I am wanting to make or what ideas I am working through.

With weaving, there is the winding of the warp, which measures out the length of string from a cone or bobbin onto a warping mill. On the mill, you make a cross which preserves a specific order that the string must maintain as it goes onto the loom to keep things in line. The warp is then, with even and strong tension, wound onto a beam on the back of the loom. From there, each of the individual threads are put through the heddles which have a large eye, much like on a sewing needle. The heddles are all on individual harnesses, and it’s the harnesses that are raised and lowered lifting different threads and allowing the pattern to form. The threads are then put through the reed which spaces and determines how many threads are in each inch of cloth, and finally, the string is tied to a rod that attaches to another beam at the front of the loom. In weaving, it is the setup that constitutes the bulk of the work.

I love the act of weaving, the throwing of the shuttle back and forth, beating the thread down, and watching the cloth form. There is something about the way that the loom and the body combine, it’s quite physical: the feet and hands all occupied in an ambidextrous dance, and when rhythm is maintained, the body almost disappears.

The most important aspect of my process is developing a daily routine, something that aids in allowing as much time to do creative work as possible. I find that having a stable lifestyle is an anchor to the spontaneity and chaos of creativity and ideas.

Describe your workspace.

My workspace is intimately tied with my home. I live in a one bedroom suite in a 120 year old heritage home in Victoria with my partner who is incredibly supportive, and allows my workspace to inch its way into much of our living space. My floor loom takes up a good portion of our small living room, as do my shelves and baskets of yarn. I have a lot of tools that I keep in our one closet which I assemble and use in the kitchen, on the floor, the table, wherever it is I can find a good spot to get the job done! I dye in the front yard and kitchen, knit in bed or on the couch, and use coffee shops to read, write and think. It’s tight, and has definitely taken some effort to establish work/home balance.

Tell us about a time (art-related) where you absolutely and utterly failed and what you learned from that.

It seems that making is constantly dealing with the feeling of failure, of using material to actualize theoretical ideas, and sometimes they work, but often they don’t. There is a constant process of revamping the idea, casting aside what doesn’t work, tweaking something to fit better into the imagined design, and often, the idea transforms and becomes something very different from what it started as.

When I learned to weave, I was taught warping the loom from front to back, but have recently taught myself the back to front method. A few weeks ago, I put a big warp on, planning to get some solid practice with the act of weaving, and it was my first time trying out the new method of warping. The piece was more than 800 individual threads, and 5 yards long, and when I went through the many hours of setting up, and finally reached the much prepared for time to weave, my tension was haywire! There was no way I could throw the shuttle with any ease, and I knew I had to go back, unwind from the back beam, and try to wind back on with more tension and evenness. When I attempted this, everything got lost in unmanageable tangles, and there was no other option than to cut the entire thing off.

It was a really hard lesson, but at the same time, kind of liberating. Sometimes I can take things so seriously and really feel like things hinge on a particular project. I think that can overwhelm the process and distract my attention. If the worst that can happen is something doesn’t work out and I lose some material, it’s really not such a serious matter after all.

Where do you want to be in five to ten years (in art or life or both)?

Things are so new and in flux that I find it hard to think too far ahead. I am pretty open to the future and sort of taking it as it comes, moving my hands and learning to try to catch up with my ideas. I definitely have dreams of having a proper studio. I imagine it either in its own designated room in the home, or perhaps a small shed turned weaving cottage in the yard. If the right spot became available, it would be interesting to rent a space in the city too, even doubling as a small retail/workshop space. The point that I am at now can feel a bit isolating- there is so much learning and practice that needs to be done, that I sometimes feel as though I’m tucked away by myself. It would be neat to create a space where makers can come together, and I would love to have the opportunity to collaborate with other makers, as well as to teach. I am enrolled in some classes this fall for pattern-making and garment construction techniques, and I would love to be able to create simple, classic clothing in the future from my woven and knit fabrics.

Why is handmade important?

There is an importance in understanding the pace that the human body naturally moves at and in slowing down and connecting to the results of our own making. Watching something take form in the hands cultivates a connection with the objects that are created, and it encourages a thoughtful interaction. I’m hopeful that with the resurgence of handmade, we can appreciate and care for things that we use in our daily lives, and be more mindful of the way we consume as a culture.

Where can we find or purchase your work?

You can find my shop Maytherebeflowers on Etsy. I’m working on having the shop stocked for fall!

To learn more about Katie-May, follow her journey on Instagram (seriously - it is super neat!) or check out her Etsy shop.


  1. It is so nice to see what happens beyond the Haliburton School of The Arts. Katie-May weaving in the Great Hall of our campus inspired many and enhanced the warmth of the Haliburton campus during those chilly fall days. I wish Katie-May the best of luck as she continues to discover her path as a fibre artist. Thank you for sharing :)

  2. Beautiful work and presentation. Love your studio space, Katie-May, and look forward to seeing more of your work.