Megan Roach: Fiber Artist & Entrepreneur

 

by Zachary Johnson
Megan Roach. Untitled. Hand woven and hand dyed wool, alpaca, leather, snaps. Flex Gallery, Grand Rapids, MI. 2016Megan Roach. Untitled. Hand woven and hand dyed wool, alpaca, leather, snaps.
Flex Gallery, Grand Rapids, MI. 2016

In response to a lack of public art opportunities during winter, on January 11th, I launched Flex Gallery, a mobile public art space located on my left arm. For the project, I sent canvas armbands to six artists, requesting they turn them into artworks. Each artist works in a wide variety of media, and I provided them with no themes or limitations other than the dimensions of the band. Over the next four months, I will wear each artist’s work for periods of two weeks.

For the past week and a half, I have been wearing the work of Megan Roach, a local fiber artist and owner of Adventure Textiles as well as co-owner of Parliament the Boutique. I spoke with her last week to learn more about her work and her creative process.

Zachary Johnson (ZJ): What did you go to school for?
Megan Roach (MR): I graduated in 2010 and went to Grand Valley for Sociology and Women and Gender Studies, so it was completely different from what I’m doing now. When I finished with my degree, I was looking at going to grad school and looking at either getting my masters or doctorate and then probably becoming a professor or going into social work. Both of those sounded very unappealing to me. I really liked getting my degree but not so much utilizing it afterward. So, I found myself in the art field.

ZJ: So then how did you start to transition into what you’re doing now?
MR: I always had a studio in my apartment – mainly just a clothing studio: a sewing machine, big tables, that kind of thing, but I was friends with Elise [Marie, another Parliament co-owner], and she was going to Savannah College of Art and Design. She graduated from SCAD around 2010. So, she moved back, and we lived together from 2011 mainly because she had her business and had gone to art school and gotten a degree in accessories designs, so she wanted a big studio. I thought, “Oh, my studio could be somewhere else besides a tiny, little room in my house.” So, we had a large studio in our dining room. And that year when we lived with each other, we actually cleared our first floor during the holidays and had a pop-up shop. So, it was the beginning of having a storefront with Elise before we actually had a storefront on Division. Just watching her and her business grow made me want to do that too, and live that sort of lifestyle.

Megan Roach. Bandana Cowl Warm Marsala. Grand Rapids, MI
Megan Roach, Bandana Cowl Warm Marsala

ZJ: I’m sure that made it seem a lot more real and possible.
MR: Definitely. So, we would do dye baths in our kitchen and things like that. That’s how I got into doing natural dyes.

ZJ: Were you working with textiles from a younger age already? When did that start for you?
MR: I was crocheting and doing embroidery from a much younger age. My grandmother taught me that as a child. That took a back seat when I was in school. In college, I mainly focused on sewing my own clothes.

ZJ: It’s great that a social relationship started to open things up for you.
MR: Definitely. Just watching Elise with her business and having that connection with something I made to something that could provide an income for me, was really intriguing – and much more intriguing than going into the social work field and having that burn-out. Doing something creative was definitely the way to go.

ZJ: So then how did that trajectory take you two into starting Parliament?
MR: After we’d lived with each other, Elise moved in with her parents to figure out what her next step was. And I was at the point of figuring out what my next step was too. At that point, I didn’t have Adventure Textiles. I was going in more of the creative direction, but I didn’t know what that would look like at all. I really liked natural dying and the colors I could get from that, but my main form of art was crocheting, and crocheting just takes so long. So, I was experimenting with different media, as well as continuing my dye work. Around the same time that I started getting into weaving, Elise moved onto the Avenue. Originally Parliament was a studio storefront for Elise and [her brand] Little Wings when she first moved in there. But within a year, the space was getting too small, just because she had her studio and storefront and house in a thousand square feet. At that point she had been dating Jake [Vroon] for a while, and Jake had his studio in Have Company‘s basement. Then I had my studio at my house, and I at that point had one loom, and it was at my partner’s parents’ house, so I couldn’t really use it very often. So, we decided to move into a group studio. At that point Jake and I took ownership of Parliament with Elise. And we were focusing more on promoting local artist work than only promoting Little Wings.

Parliament the Studio. Grand Rapids, MI. 2016
Parliament the Studio, Grand Rapids, 2016.

ZJ: How did Adventure Textiles come about?
MR: It came about when I got my first loom and started weaving, and realized that weaving goes by so much quicker than crocheting. So, I could make it a viable business. I could pay myself, and be able to make my art and sell it. And then just seeing how natural dyes looked in a woven texture; it’s my favorite way to display them. So it was just all those things coming together. I started Adventure Textiles in early 2014, and then by the holidays in 2014, I started making the cowl that I make a lot now from just playing with designs. And I think that’s when Adventure Textiles really started taking flight – when I started specializing in that piece.

Megan Roach. Bandana Cowl Cool Marsala. Grand Rapids, MI.jpg
Megan Roach, Bandana Cowl Cool Marsala

ZJ: What do you enjoy about the act of creation?
MR: So, there are two main processes to my work. One is natural dying, and the [enjoyment] in that is that I can change something that’s white to something that has color. And that’s usually based-off of something I find in nature. Like, with goldenrod season in the fall, when I look at them, all I see is dyes now. And to be able to cut that stuff up, boil it down, put white yarn in it, and have it come out a really bright yellow is fun. It’s fun to be able to change plain yarn into something new.

ZJ: I didn’t realize you sourced by hand.
MR: One of my favorite dyes of last year was acorns and then overdying a piece in iron to get a really nice gray. I like to harvest a lot of my own dyes, but I also use powder dyes because I can get more exotic ones. Like right now I’m dying with stick lac, which is a bug secretion. I thought I was going to get it in powdered form, which is a really nice way if I’m going to be ordering dyes and not harvesting, but I wasn’t expecting to get a hunk of bug secretion, and now I have this and I’m like, how do I do this?

And then I love all the steps of weaving. Programming the loom is really nice. It’s a tedious process of making a bunch of strings the same length, usually eight to one hundred strings seven yards or longer is what I do to set up for a batch of cowls. So, just making the warp and setting up the loom and then the actual weaving process – weaving colors together is actually my favorite part. It’s just so nice and repetitive. So, it’s just a great process over all.

ZJ: Do you feel that textiles have a special strength among the art forms?
MR: I think there’s definitely that connection to personal histories with textiles – that’s something I find with my cowls. I feel like a hear a lot of personal stories connected to weaving or knitting or crocheting and that makes textiles so important, especially handmade textiles. But I do think it’s probably a little cheapened with mechanically made textiles. One of my big focuses is on natural fibers. Everything I do is with cotton, wool, bamboo, silk, etc. I think now when you buy a shirt, nobody even looks at the fiber content of what something is, which I think is really sad. So, I feel that fibers are really important, but maybe undervalued by the general public.

ZJ: What is something that’s fascinating you lately?
MR: Something that was fascinating me last year was traveling. I did a cross-country road trip, and I feel the need to do some major traveling this year. So already I’m trying to plan some kind of trip to Colorado to go back to Denver. Traveling and being able to mix that and business, that’s something that I long for from a nine to five job. I’m trying to figure out how I can get Adventure Textiles to pay for me to go places. In the past I’ve mostly been doing [art] shows and music festivals in Michigan, but now I’m expanding that and trying to figure out how I can go to a show in Colorado or do a music festival over there. Last year we went out west, so we drove from Grand Rapids, and we ended up in San Francisco.

ZJ: Looking at the armband you made, could you describe how you created it?
MR: This is a woven band. It’s primarily a plain weave with a little bit of patterning in it. I made a couple different bands, but I liked this coloring the best, especially for an orange coat and potentially a red and black coat. So, it isn’t using very many dyes because this grey section is acorn and iron and the blue is indigo, maybe indigo and iron too. Ther’s a white cotton section, which is all is wool, and this black area is kind of fun. One of my new projects is learning how to spin yarn, so this is actually some of my first hand-spun yarn and this is all alpaca. It’s been really interesting to watch the transition from a whole pile of wool to yarn. And now I can weave it up and make it into something else. 

And then the other part of Parliament is leather working studios, so this piece was actually a leather sample we had lying around. So it’s really convenient because I can just use a lot of the scraps that Jake and Elise have left over. And, it’s great to have their expertise on what I should be doing and what I should be using. It’s a fun work environment to be in.

ZJ: Do you have any fiber artists that inspire you?
MR: One of my favorite fiber artists right now is Maura Ambrose who runs Folk Fibers. She does all natural dyes and makes beautiful quilts and lives in Texas. She has a beautiful life of harvesting pomegranates off her pomegranate tree to dye things. She has a two-year-old child and recently posted a picture of her doing her first natural dye bath and helping with a little apron on. I thought, “Ok. You’re my hero.” I want do to that one day.  So not only does she make beautiful work, but she’s living a dream of mine.

ZJ: What’s next for you or for the three of you? What do you have coming up?
MR: Definitely travel is a big one, and having shows attached to that. Last year I did my first Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago, and it’s inspired me to do more for the holidays this year. I would really like to be able to travel and do at least three of the Renegades, as well as other big shows. It’s been a pretty nice process that I’ve gone through. When Elise first moved back from school, I remember going to the Fulton Street Artisans’ Market and setting-up for one of her first shows and helping her out. Now I have my own business and am able to do my own craft shows too, either separately or with Elise and Jake. But being able to do these bigger shows like Renegade has always been a dream for me and Elise. Now we’ve done that, so it’s really nice to be able to think of the next steps, like how can we go bigger? What shows can we do?

The public is invited to attend the Parliament Studio Open House
Saturday, February 20 & Sunday, February 21
401 Hall St SW, Suite 460 Grand Rapids, MI

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Posts by Zachary Johnson are also available via instagram and tumblr under the name Vis Ed.

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