Artisans of Michigan: Dyeing, weaving, and stunning | Michigan Radio
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Artisans of Michigan: Dyeing, weaving, and stunning

Apr 19, 2019

Megan Williams is a member of a vibrant community of people in Grand Rapids making all kinds of things. Williams works in textiles.  

“Textiles to me is anything with fabric, and I named my company Adventure Textiles because it's whatever I'm experimenting with in textiles," Williams said, adding, "There's so many things to experiment with in the textile category. So I started off with dyeing and that quickly moved to weaving and spinning and felting and everything together. And combining them is what I love to do most.”

LG: The first time I became aware of your work, it was because I saw some cowls and I was told that you had woven some of them, some of the cowls' fabric. I thought that was really special. Why weave it when you can buy it pretty cheaply?   

A cowl designed by Megan Williams.
Credit Courtesy: Adventure Textiles

“When I was getting into textiles I started crocheting and as I was crocheting I realized how long it took. I crocheted a blanket and then it took a hundred hours or more and I thought there's no way that I could sell this. So, I started looking for quicker ways to do it and, funny enough, weaving is actually pretty quick. As soon as you get the loom all set up, you're just weaving back and forth and it goes and weaves up pretty nicely. So that's the textile art that I started with," Williams explained.

LG: How do you describe your work to somebody if you had to tell them on the phone, what your work looks like?

So my primary work is what I call cowls. So, they're shorter scarfs that are connected with like little leather snaps, brass and leather snaps. So they're shorter rectangles or squares or triangles that clip in a weird way but look really cool when they're on. So, I primarily stick within the cowl scarf genre but I do make rugs and I make home goods, pillows, that kind of thing.”

Megan Williams dyes the yarn to get the color she wants. And she’s not using manufactured dyes.

“My most recent experiment was doing the Pantone Color of the year dye study that I do with my close friend Elyse Welcher of Little Wings designs (who with her husband were also Artisans of Michigan featured here). We've done this dye study for the past five years now. And we just look at the Pantone Color of the year, this year it's Living Coral, and try to get that with natural dyes. We didn't quite get there with our first round of experiments, but we're already talking about doing our second. But the closest one was madder (root) and maybe madder over-dyed with Kamala,” she said.

Megan Williams with dye experiments using natural ingredients to try to match the Pantone color of the year.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

LG:  Why is natural dye important to you?

I just love the color that you can get from nature. I have a dye garden at Blandford Nature Center throughout the summer and that's my favorite thing to do, actually see the color grow. Especially when I can go on a hike in late summer and see goldenrod start to pop up and just know that I can just boil up all those flowers to get a bright yellow. It’s just really special,” Williams said.

This work is a way of expressing herself and her values. And, Williams says it just feels good to be making fabrics and garments.

“It's just the feeling of making something and making something new and creative and being in that state. It's when I'm most happy. It’s when I'm watching water boil and pulling out the white skein of yarn and turning it into something completely different. And then from there, bringing it to the loom and being able to weave it. And then being able to go to show; I do craft shows often and to go to that show and talk to people and tell people that this is exactly how this thing came to be. I just really like that process,” Williams said.

LG: What are their reactions?

“I get a lot of people that can connect with what I do. That either their mother, grandmother wove too and had their own looms or that they themselves sew or they like to knit and crochet. Those are my favorite conversations to have with people, to be able to connect with them and to have them see that this is where this came from and this is why it's valued at that point.”

A Megan Williams cowl on display at Gemini Handmade.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Williams says she does most of her work alone, but she does collaborate with some of the other creative people in Grand Rapids. She says she’s inspired by them in many ways.  

We always like to ask the artisans I meet about whether they’re actually making a living with their craft. Almost all of them do, and some of them are doing quite well. Megan Williams says she’s doing okay.

“Mm hmm. Yes. And I am constantly seeing the growth. So I'm hoping that as the years go on that I can find the bigger and better shows to go to that can support me more with this. I do work a part time job that I really enjoy doing so that I do. Like two days a week. But the other three to four days I'm working on Adventure Textiles,” she said. 

We started this series almost three years ago because I had the idea that there were a lot of talented people working at a job they hate – or maybe just find boring– and I think there are a lot of people wondering how they might make a living doing what they love. So we asked Williams if she had any advice for people.

“Just to start doing it. Just start finding their feet and making the things that they want to make and finding their customer and doing different craft shows even if it's a little local show in a gym. You know bring a table, bring things you make and see if people like it,” she answered.

These days she’s doing some big shows and people do like it.

A work in progress.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Support for arts and culture coverage comes from the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs.