We caught up with Alex LeClaire, a Delaware fiber artist who believes in “living life in art.”
Tell us about what you make, including your processes and techniques?
I make a variety of fiber art. I usually start by envisioning a final piece then figure out what techniques will get me there. Sometimes there will be a technique I’d like to learn so I’ll use that as a starting point. Inspiration can strike anywhere, in any moment, either because of intent or at a whim, so there are drawing and writing pads everywhere I sit. If an idea strikes, I have the resource available to write it down before the ethers steal it away! I keep these ideas in notebooks then use the notes as a master list that gets whittled down to 3 or 4 projects that I’ll be actively working on at a time.
I actively engage in most of the fiber arts – I dye, spin, weave, knit, crochet, and sew with primarily wool and some bast fiber. I have dabbled in many other creative crafts but these are my main areas of passion and focus. The products range from clothing to household goods like tablecloths, quilts, afghans, and table linens. For example, I made some kitchen towels just for the pure desire to play with cotton crackle to create something soft and absorbent.
I love creating and controlling projects from start to finish, from design to end product, using a variety of fiber arts that at least in part, if not wholly, promote sustainability for our planet. For me, nirvana in fiber art is beginning with a fiber idea, planning it, designing it, researching, and then making it. Serendipity plays its part to alter the final outcome, often ending equally in disappointment or with surprising results! I embrace the idea of being a renaissance person; a multi-dimensional knower of many things. To me, creativity is an energy that anyone can pull on and manifest. Want to make something? Think it up! Learn it! Do it!
I am drawn less to final product and more to an image and the process to bring it into fruition. My Botanical Tablecloth (see below) was an idea that first started with a desire to create something for the dining table. Then the summer 2020 issues of Shuttle, Spindle, and Dyepot magazine showed a painted warp. A slow burning ember of desire slowly grew over the winter to have a garden and plant dyestuff. All of that came together into the Botanical Tablecloth journey. My current end-to-end project is the idea of seed to cloth. Planning has begun for a one-product-sized garden plot of flax which is about ten by twenty feet. My dye plants are expanding to accommodate what I will need. Research into processing flax proceeds. The end product is still morphing a bit, but currently is trending towards cloth for a sport coat or lightweight jacket. I am enamored of the idea of linsey-woolsey to bridge the gap between bast and animal fiber.
What was your path to using fibers to make your art/products?
Many of us tell the same story. We sat at our parents’ knee at a young age, and observed the materialization of something from many nothings. Our creativity was funneled by being taught a craft. Dad was a woodworker and mom a seamstress. They were both gardeners. They both insisted on a job-well-done, instilling attention to detail and the importance of quality and good energy. Sometimes their crafts were attached to revenue streams, but more often than not was for the pure creative joy. As a child, I assisted my dad on side jobs in carpentry. My sister and I crafted alongside our aunts and grandparents when they visited.
Fiber arts were always present when I was child – done as we sat watching TV in the evenings, sitting in baskets by a chair waiting for the next step, or piled on the sewing machine ready to make or fix. My first fiber recollection was learning cat’s cradle, a game of string passed between two people making endless combinations of entangled fingers! I literally learned how to sew sitting on mom’s knee at the Singer sewing machine. Eventually she let me push the cloth. Dad had a great eye for color, texture, and was very practically minded with his woodworking. Through them I acquired, and strengthened, my own sense of craft. My personal loves are gardening and cloth. Gardening has now taken the path of dye plants for natural dyes and flax for linen. My love of thread and yarn are firmly entrenched across the both bast and animal fibers. Cloth pulls all of this together into a useful form giving purpose to artistic nonreason.
My early adult years were spent trying to build a tailoring business. My desire was to move into the fashion world, however practicality and lack of access yielded to more traditional work activities. As I was entering my work years, computers came onto the scene and that pulled my fascination and influenced my work habits. I taught myself computer programming and immersed myself in that world for many decades as my source of income. Textile art moved into the background during that time period but played an important part of my life until time allowed it to resurface as a primary focus.
What fibers do you use and why?
Most of the work I do is in wool. Lately I have been poking my way around some bast fibers including cotton and linen. There is no particular reason other than wool has been more easily and widely available during my buying trips onsite and online. There is perhaps a tad of a prejudice towards wool because of the inherent softness and ease in spinning. The other crafts I exercise like dyeing, knitting, or weaving have been more widely spread across the animal/bast divide. I have the desire to bring those two sides together into one product, such as a linsey- woolsey cloth.
What are the most significant challenges you face as a maker/artist that uses textiles?
I consider myself a naturalist in transition. Though my love of our planet and the natural world has always been there, its expression hasn’t always been ecologically friendly. Mostly because of a lack of information and access to natural products than anything else. As a result, my foray through my fiber art into the natural world is slowly evolving. Spinning has always been firmly entrenched in the natural environment with primarily wool. My use of cloth and processing has always trended towards the use of natural materials. I can’t stand cheap or plastic, and to me that has always translated into natural fiber cloth and materials.
Dyeing, however, has crossed back and forth into naturalism with a desire to move more firmly and exclusively into natural dye materials. One thing hard to let go of is the dynamic of extreme colors that are so readily available in chemical dyes. The color range I am used to seems less easily made in the natural world as it is with commercial dyes since many plant materials require unique processes. Clearly there is much to learn but I’m delighted with the process of doing so.
What do you do when you’re not making/creating?
My income trade is project management. I moved from programming into managing software developers and then into managing software projects. My education has been in information technology project management leading to a doctorate degree. By day I work as a project manager for the state’s environmental agency. That has satisfied my love for computers and the planet in one swoop. My fiber passion absorbs the remainder of my life during evenings and weekends and anytime I can manage. Morning coffee is with a fiber project. Evening is with a fiber project. Daytime breaks at work, especially during this pandemic, is with a fiber project. I am teaching myself how to play the piano. I am an activist interested in the climate and the planet. I lend my project management skills to volunteer organizations. I cook for the household because I love the process of pulling together ingredients and making something practical that serves a purpose. I have sung in a chorus. I garden.
What makes you want to participate in the Chesapeake Fibershed
CF brings together my love of gardening, fiber, and the ecological health of the planet in one place. A one-stop-shop that touches upon all my passions! I recently became aware of Fibershed through some online research and serendipity. I bought and read the Fibershed book by Rebecca Burgess. After scouring the Fibershed website I looked to find one in my area. My search pointed me to CF as the closest and I reached out to join and participate. I love the activities that range from planning through manifestation guided by project management. I have always been enamored of bringing structure to the act of creation. Some might say ‘control freak,’ but hopefully I have tamed that beast! CF brings all of those interests together. CF specifically is at a burgeoning path of self-discovery. They are relatively new. They are seeking an identity. They exhibit many aspects of the inimical storming, forming, and norming stages of group development. I love the idea of participating during that process. Though I am not a parent, I love the idea and act of parenting that takes an idea and carries it through fruition
Where can we find your art/products?
Occasionally I barter with my fiber art, and am not averse to selling it, but my focus is the exploration of art. I have started blogging about my fiber exploration at https://renaissancefiber.blogspot.com.
What else would you like us to know about you and your work?
Fiber arts are my passion. They bring us in touch with our basic humanity and needs. They allow us to wear our identity. Bringing raw material together into something beautiful to look or to view is this maker’s idea of paradise. My preferred medium is fiber. As I transition into exploring more fully a natural, organic, and conservational minded engagement with this craft, I am enjoying the transitional exploration. From growing dye plants and bast fiber, to engaging with local shepherds to purchase wool from a sheep that has a name, I connect with our planet intimately in a way that is in alignment with my beliefs. So long as I know I am moving more firmly and always in that direction, then perfection can remain a North Star whilst I enjoy the sojourn.