Taku River Tlingit Territory, Atlin, BC
Megan Samms is a maker, weaver, and spinner, working in natural textiles. Originally from Ktaqmkuk (Newfoundland) in Mi'kma'ki, textiles were an everyday part of her childhood. Her mother taught her to knit, and her godfather owned an old textile mill and taught her to spin wool when she was eight years old. The mill is now a museum, but its influence and heritage are carried through the traditions they have instilled in Megan’s practice. Now residing between Nēhiyaw (Cree) Treaty 8 Territory in northern Alberta and Taku River Tlingit Territory in northern British Columbia along the Yukon border, Megan credits her remote location, and the loom that she inherited from an aunt, in inspiring her work.
Mostly self-taught, Megan’s practice is guided by elu'j—an L'nuisi (Mi'kmaq language) word meaning to make things that are animate or of use, for example cloth or moccasins—which guides her concept of “Live Textiles,” textiles that come from natural materials and that will be used for multiple generations.
Megan forages plants from the boreal forest and her garden to make natural dyes. Mostly dyeing in summer, as the pigments degrade over time, Megan also uses rainwater to complement her natural dyes. The dyed yarn can then be stored for weaving in the winter months. Interested in the limited palette and subtle variations of colour available to her, and being aware of the change in pigment over time, Megan plans the warp with the idea of the textiles ageing in mind. When designing, most of the cloth is left undyed, with colour acting as an accent, a variation between individual skeins of yarn highlighting the natural pigment’s multivalent hues. Undyed natural fibres show gorgeous colour variation as well, complementing hand-woven textiles.
“Synthetic fibres are dead, it’s about how they’re produced. . . . Something living has a life of its own. It’s an agricultural living thing: plant fibres, then cloth, with dyes, then it’s a textile. Beginning as a living thing, the more you use it, the better it gets. Linen that is a hundred years old is softer than silk.”
Textiles have a “non-binary life.” For example, a cloth woven yellow, washed over a lifetime in iron-rich water will turn green. Spill some lemon juice on it, and it’s back to a yellow hue. Textiles woven for multipurpose use are Megan’s goal — the woven cloth can be used as a napkin, washcloth, handkerchief, small neck scarf or anything else a person can imagine for it.
Textiles are a labour-intesive craft. While still often considered a “humble” craft, and thus consumers may balk at prices. It is important to understand the agricultural nature of textiles and the true environmental and social cost of synthetics. Megan asserts that it is difficult to know where most cloth comes from, and very important to support Canadian production. She considers textiles a “fine craft,” and urges people to support Canadian hand-woven textiles. “There is no less work or craftsmanship in textiles. Purchase hand-woven pieces wisely, it’s something you will have for generations.”
This article was published in the Fall/Winter 2019 issue of Studio Magazine