Three local fabric artists share their passion for design.By Lisa Cavanaugh | Photography by Julia Cumes
A house fire is devastating, so anytime items can be rescued from charred remains can offer some reassurance. For Julie Lariviere, a math teacher and prolific quilter, retrieving singed folds of fabric led her to create new art.
“It was a faulty dryer that caused it,” says Lariviere, referring to the 2016 fire that destroyed her Cotuit home. “I was dropping off the last load of my younger son’s belongings at his first apartment when I came home to find the house on fire.”
The Cape Cod native moved temporarily into a good friend’s guest house and found solace in her two passions: teaching statistics to high school students at Barnstable High School and quilting. As a participant in Mutual Muses—a visual arts and poetry project created a decade ago by local author and artist Lauren Wolk—she had been assigned a poem to inspire her. Lariviere produced “Fox,” a glorious orange and purple phoenix made from her salvaged fabrics whose burnt edges had been snipped away. “It was really good to do,” she says.
Lariviere didn’t start quilting until the early 1990s, when she was pregnant with her first child. “I was taking an education class and we were asked to come up with something we wanted to learn to do. I thought that I’d really like to make a quilt.” Her mother had taught her how to sew, so together they took a quilting class with Helen Weinman, who owned Heartbeat Quilts in Hyannis.
“She taught me all the basics,” says Lariviere of Weinman. Fellow quilters would meet at the shop to share ideas and eventually they formed the Thursday Night Quilters group she has belonged to for two decades. Heartbeat has since closed, so TNQ, (as the members refer to it), now rents space from the Deer Club in Barnstable for weekly get-togethers.” Being around creative people is wonderful. You see something they are doing and you say, ‘Ooh that’s interesting. I will try that.’” Lariviere regularly attends quilting workshops and showcases her work at art fairs, often sharing a booth with her glassblower son, Spenser. She creates both traditional and non-traditional quilts. “I make them because I have an idea and I want to try it and see where it goes—sometimes it is a terrible disaster, and sometimes it works out.”
Lariviere doesn’t see that much of a divergence between algebra and quilting. “You need to figure out how many yards you need and how to cut it. It’s just finding the missing value, and we do that all the time, in quilting and in life.”
“I want people to feel joyful at home,” says Brewster’s Amy Mason, “and I think my fabrics can evoke the happy, carefree feeling of summer.” The vivid whales, waves and sand dollars on her linen/cotton blends, especially when skillfully transformed into lampshades, cushions and window treatments, do exactly that.
Mason, whose Stony Brook Design offers art, textiles and style services out of the home she shares with her carpenter/woodworker husband, David, started her professional career designing retail displays in Boston. She had studied graphic design at Simmons College and found that her artist’s eye complemented her innate talent for arranging spaces.
Once they moved to Cape Cod to start a family, Mason began creating original cards with whimsical images and pun-filled greetings and turned her craft into a cottage industry. “It was a way to make some money and be home with the kids,” she says. “I would hand-color everything with pencils, even while we were at the beach or watching a movie.”
Segueing into computer graphic design opened up a world of possibilities for Mason and she found herself drawn to the bold imagery of block printing. She taught herself to digitally “carve” bright fish and ocean images and reproduce them on cards and stationery. Mason had long wanted to branch out into fabrics, and felt that these seashore images would make cheerful interior design products. She found a fabric printing company in North Carolina that offers high-quality materials and allows her to order smaller batches of each design. Currently she works with seven basic images, such as codfish and seahorses, with variations in color and size.
The results have been thrilling to Mason. “It was so exciting to see my images on round lampshades and squishy pillows instead of paper,” she says. She collaborates with skilled sewers, including her mother, Janie Needel, and fiber artist Jackie De Ruyter, to produce home goods and personal items out of her fabrics, and she also sells the fabric by the yard. For four years, she partnered with designer Bridget Cahill in running Deep Blue, a design services, vintage furnishings and gift store in Dennis Village, where she was able to highlight her fabrics alongside her cards and abstract paintings.
Mason adores helping her home design clients find their personal style to turn their house into a home. “I just love bringing their vision to fruition, and certainly my fabrics go with many decors. It’s a lot of fun!”
Susan A. Clark
Growing up in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Susan A. Clark was encouraged to learn how to crochet and needlepoint. But by the time she finished high school, she was eager to leave home and study fashion design at the French Fashion Academy in New York City. “My training involved learning how to make a pattern, how to drape fabric and create a garment from scratch,” says Clark.
Eventually she returned to the Berkshires, where she worked as a designer for a retail/mail order clothing company and did freelance work recreating bridesmaid gowns. She then met her husband, Daniel, and worked in bridal fashion and managed the ladies’ department at a local Pendleton shop before they and their two young sons relocated to New Jersey.
Once her children got older, the family moved to the Cape and Clark started looking for a creative outlet. She ended up taking tapestry weaving classes in Orleans and eventually joined a collective of fiber artists known as The Weaving Network.
“I had no idea what weaving was then,” says Clark. Two women in the class loaned her small, portable floor looms and soon she wanted to learn more. After taking a course at the Vävstuga School of Weaving in Shelburne Falls in Western Massachusetts, Clark returned to the Cape eager to buy one of the Swedish floor looms for herself.
“I started creating placemats, dish towels and shawls, and my work just took off,” she says. Clark enjoys using organic fibers, like wool and cotton, and many of her most exquisite wearable pieces are woven with mohair or alpaca. She says she found herself branching out to include colors that she wouldn’t normally choose. “I had an array of dishtowels on the loom in blues and purples and greens and reds,” she says.” The colors seemed to just jump out of the fabric. It was wonderful.”
Everything Clark weaves is a one-of-a-kind piece, and her work can be found at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod gift shop and at fiber art exhibitions. “I feel I’ve come full circle from fashion and using material cloth to create a garment to going back to the root where the fiber is,” says Clark. “I still consider myself a designer, just with weaving.”