Sofia Gonzalez meets with Meghan Bogden Shimek of Native Textile

A couple months ago I discovered Meghan Bogden Shimek’s work on Instagram through one of those deep pits of textile and natural fiber hash tags and searches. Going by the name of Native Textile, Meghan is a fiber artist who has lived across the United States and currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She draws inspiration from the places she has been and the materials she encounters. Much of her interest in local fibers developed from a previous career in farmers markets and local food economies. I had been an admirer of Meghan’s process and was interested in learning more about her materials, her honest dedication and passion for local fibers, and the way in which she navigates the contemporary textile community in the Bay Area.

I met with Meghan on a sunny afternoon in her home in San Anselmo, a tucked away neighborhood in Marin County. Through shaded oak trees and up a steep twisting one-way road, I made my way and found Meghan’s garage studio waiting for me. She welcomed me openly with a cheese plate and tea, and we sat down to discuss her weaving practice and her involvement in the Bay Area textile community.

How long have you been on the West Coast, and what brought you here?

After I finished my second degree in Nutrition I moved to Washington, DC doing nonprofit adolescent health care. I really didn’t like living in Washington DC. It just it wasn’t for me, very fast paced, business oriented and political. My husband had been living there forever and was looking to move. So we visited both San Francisco and Denver, and then we just decided on San Francisco. It was kind of fluke; we picked a date and decided that’s when we were going to move. It was the height of the recession and neither of us had jobs lined up. We were like let’s just do this; this will be a great adventure. We lived in San Francisco first, and then when I got pregnant we moved to Marin. We really love living in the Bay Area now.

How long have you been weaving? What other textiles arts do you do?

I started weaving about a year and a half ago. I had always had this kind of draw toward fibers. I had done some crocheting, quite a bit of knitting, and felting. About a year and a half ago I took a weaving class when I was visiting my family at home in Flint, Michigan. As soon as I took that class, that was it. Weaving was all I wanted to do after that. I have taken every weaving class I could take, I have read all different things, and been following different weavers. I feel like I have way more ideas and things I want to do in weaving then I could ever have time for.

Can you talk a bit about your career in local food economy? How does that tie in with the local fibers you use?

When I lived in Washington DC and Michigan before that, I had worked at farmers’ markets as a weekend kind of thing because I always really loved being a part of that. When we moved out here, my dream was to be able to do that full time because there are so many farmers markets here in the Bay Area. So I was running farmer’s markets and teaching nutrition classes. I loved it; it was fantastic. When I had my son, we decided that I would stop working because working in nonprofits is not the most lucrative career. It was spend all our money on daycare or stay at home.

I have always been really interested in agriculture, local foods, and supporting our local economy and small farmers, so that has transferred into my interest in fibers. Especially when we moved to Arizona for a year, it was hard to find local fibers and yarns. Now that we are back in the Bay Area, more and more I am only really buying fibers that are local. I am hoping as I use up my existing yarn stash, eventually I will only be using local fibers.

Do you have a connection with the farmers or where the fibers are coming from when you buy locally?

I have met several of the farmers. I just joined the Fibershed. I am now considered one of their artisans and I am really excited about that. I’ve gone to the Fibershed Symposium, and I have met several fiber artists through that. There are two in particular, Mimi Lieberman of Windrush Farm in Petaluma and Sally Fox, who does cottons and some wool as well. I have gotten a lot of stuff from them. About a month ago there was a wool festival, which was really great. I got a lot of stuff when I was there, and made some connections there as well, so now I know more farmers. We are also lucky that at the Larkspur Farmer’s Market nearby the Fibershed people sell there. I feel like people are becoming more aware of local fibers and it is becoming really accessible. If it’s a Thursday afternoon and I really need some white locally grown yarn, I can just go to Knitterly in Petaluma instead of trying to contact somebody or driving out to a farm 100 miles away.

Being from the Midwest, it is a luxury to have that accessibility here. You don’t have that other places at all. Even in Michigan in farmers markets, a lot of the food wasn’t even grown locally. There was a lot of trades of foods to Florida during the winter and summer months in order to sell all year.

We are so lucky here because people are so interested and willing to spend a little bit more money on local goods because they see the value in it.

I have noticed you have taught some weaving classes at various alternative art spaces in the Bay Area like Ogaard and Makeshift Society. How is that going, and how did you come around to teaching?

It’s been going really well! It’s been a lot of fun. I was not really intending to start teaching. Christina from Makeshift Society contacted me and asked if I would be interested in teaching a workshop. And I was like, well, I haven’t done it before, but I will give it a shot. In my mind I told myself that if I crash and burn and its awful, I never have to do it again but at least I will have tried. It went pretty well! Right away they asked when I could teach another class. At the same time Ogaard was looking for artists to teach workshops. I had been following them for a long time, I think it’s such an amazing place, so I contacted them to teach. It was a little intimidating since both of my workshops sold out really quickly because a lot of people want to learn weaving. I was a little bit worried that I wasn’t going to be giving the students what they wanted.

Now that I have a half a dozen under my belt, I feel more confident in what I am doing. Even if they don’t always go super smoothly, it seems everyone knows how to weave when they leave and can continue doing it.

What are you currently working on in the studio?

I have been trying to work on a big loom I just bought, but yesterday I realized there is a piece that is broken so I have to get that fixed.

I am also starting a project that will be kind of a side project that I’ll will work on, and it will probably take me years before I start to show it to anybody.

There is an artist Josef Albers and he did the Homage to the Square series. So I am starting that. I am going to make a bunch of weavings of the paintings that he did.

I am just barely starting that. It will be like my in between during other things. I want to do a whole series of them before I really publicize it. I found out about him through his wife who was a really famous weaver.

Have you seen any of his work in person?

Not in person yet, I haven’t. I have only seen pictures. I have to admit that I have not been to many museums in San Francisco. When I first moved to Washington DC, I went to every museum because I thought it was amazing that there are so many great museums. So the first two months I went to everything. And then we started getting visitors who wanted me to take them to the museums again. So in San Francisco I said I am not going to any museums until we have visitors. Being pregnant and having a baby has made it hard to go to museums too. I am hoping to finally get to some this summer.

How will you be getting the colors for the Josef Albers homage series?

I am using a tapestry style of weaving in which you use really, really thin yarn. So for this first one that I am working on now, I bought the yarn at a shop in Oakland. A good friend of mine Ama Wertz does a lot of tapestry work, so she has been looking for local sources of tapestry yarn. I feel like I have just barely scratched the surface of it, so I will see what kind of research and sources she finds.

I really love to dye. I like taking dye workshops, but it’s not something I do at home. As much as I would love to, I only have so many hours unfortunately. I am so amazed by the artist Erin Riley; she does a lot of her own dyeing. She does so much stuff, and her work is so incredible. With the amount of work that she does she just must not sleep.

Are the pieces all going to be the same size?

I think so. The first one might be the oddball; I might use a different loom moving forward.

How did you find out about Josef Albers?

I am taking a tapestry weaving class right now. My instructor, Tricia Goldberg, has been teaching for several years and she started weaving when there was a lot of people in the Bay Area who were weaving. Even though Annie Albers was older than her, it was somebody that she really knew of. In taking my class we started talking about the Bauhaus school and began looking at Albers older work. My instructor began talking about Josef and Annie Albers. After that, I was up in the middle of the night researching them, and was impressed by the color theory that he has done. It has been recent that I discovered them. I hope to get his book of color theory soon. I think it’s really amazing work.

Is this the first time that you have worked with a really specific inspiration with research along side your work?

There have been a lot of weavers who have inspired me, but this is kind of the first time I have transformed something really outside of weaving into something I really want to work on. In the beginning I was looking at other weavers and copying their techniques to learn how they were working.

Tapestry weaving is based on painting; it’s weaving in a painterly way. My weaving instructor takes tons of painting classes to make herself a better weaver, which I think is really interesting.

It’s sounds like you already have a lot of great connections from teaching weaving. How have you found it to navigate the textiles community here?

I feel like I am still learning it. It is very new. When I started weaving it was the thing I did at night when I needed something to meditate to. I had no intentions of it becoming a business or anything more than something I did for my own personal enjoyment. Everything I made in the beginning I gave away to my friends or relatives. Since February I have started meeting other local artists. People often ask if I have met specific people. I exchange emails with a lot of people. I feel like I am starting to get in-roads, but I am still very new in the community. It’s been hard with my son to make it to events and openings in the evening.

Have you found that social media has been an effective way to get your work out there?

I think Instagram for sure. I have a Facebook page that I don’t keep up on as much as I should. Instagram has been phenomenal; I am shocked by it. I only started my Instagram page last September, and I feel like that has been a really great way to connect. Especially now that there is such an interest in weaving, I think people are seeking it out.

What does a typical day in the studio look like for you?

I usually spend a maximum of 16 hours a week in my studio. A lot of days, I wake up and go down to my studio in the garage at around 5 in the morning. That is my most productive time of the day. I am a morning person. I think we are a strange group. If am working on something, I will pick it right back up and just get going. A lot of times that is when I am my most creative so I like to start projects then or I’ll brainstorm the day before and start early in the morning. After I work for an hour or an hour or a half, I will come back upstairs and get everybody going for the day and take my son to school. Then when I come home I usually have a couple more hours in the afternoon.

The couple of things I am working on now are smaller, but I like to work at larger scale.

I just did my first really big weaving and I want to do more. It was over 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide.

I think when I started weaving I was very critical of myself. I am feeling excited and proud about what I am doing now, instead of comparing my work to someone else’s.

Do you have any specific aspirations in the art world? What’s next for you?

I am doing some craft shows coming up, like West Coast Craft, and I will be selling at theFibershed Symposium as well. It would be a total dream to someday be in an exhibition.

Right now I feel really good about where I am. I want to keep learning and experimenting and have more time to do the stuff that I want to do.

I also really would love to collaborate with other artists, whether it’s other weavers or people. I have talked to a couple other people about using their art and trying to include weaving in it. I would like to try that sort of thing moving forward. I think that’s the next step.

I also want to create fabric with the big loom, I don’t really know what I would do with it, I just want to try it and see how it works. I want to play around with the big floor loom and see where that goes.

I really want to, something I am hoping to do next year, start making some more connections with shops across the Bay Area and then build looms to go in their store windows and have mini weaving projects. Then, at the end of the year, we would have an exhibition with all the work so it would be an accumulation of what the community has made. Or have an auction for the final piece to give money back to the community. I feel like there is such a desire to learn to weave right now, which is really exciting and inspiring.