Welcome to Speak With Your Craft, a (semi-)regular feature that profiles the many creative individuals in my life and my attempt to shed light on what inspires them. I also want to expose readers to crafts, talents, and skills that may be slightly offbeat or unusual and encourage the support of the movers and makers in the handmade world. The first profile of 2017: Bailey Raha! Bailey, an Northwest CT-based artist, is an incredibly talented quilter, who specializes in natural dyes and recycled and natural fibers. Her designs merge traditional patterns with a modern, thoughtful perspective and one that is heavily rooted in nature. I could get into a major discussion of quilting and its relationship to modern feminism and self-expression, but I'll refrain for now and let Bailey speak for herself. Settle in and learn more about Bailey and her beautiful wares!
When did you first realize that you like to create?
As a small child I was always making, creating, and collecting things. I think I took to creative outlets to help quell anxieties I had about the world. Working with my hands continues to bring me peace.
Who or what are some of your creative influences?
Maura Ambrose, Andrew Wyeth, Season Evans, the women of Gee’s Bend, Edward Hopper. The collective history of the quilting craft and all the female quilters who came before me.
Describe your process: Do you map things out? Just go for it? How do you get to the end product?
I spend a lot of time looking at quilts in books and online, both old, and new. By looking, I collect little fragments of things I like, things that stick with me. On the whole, I tend to be drawn to traditional, simple patterns. I sketch a lot, but most of my drawings will never become quilts. Even after I’ve settled on a design, there’s always a bit of improvisation that goes on as the fabric I use speaks to me in a different way than a paper and a pencil. I trust my ability to make decisions and don’t take the process too seriously.
A lot of your work (as seen on your Instagram feed) has a strong aesthetic, with a focus on natural light, textures and colors, and, well, nature in general. What inspires you about nature, or, more generally, what inspires you to create?
Every breath yields new ideas, new processes, new excitement. With every inhale there comes an exhale, but the landscape plays on. I look to honor that cycle through my process. My work is materially born out of the landscape. The fabric I use begins in the ground. The dyes I use are both harvested and foraged. There is something about being in nature that is so humbling. I am reminded of how minute my existence is, as I couldn’t do what I do, live the life I live without the natural world in all its quiet grandeur.
Your quilting work uses a lot of repurposed or natural fibers, and you dye your own fabric with different roots and flowers. Why did you choose to integrate sustainability into your wares?
Being able to spend my time creating is such a privilege. As an artist, I believe it is important to be conscious of how I source my materials. I use only natural fibers and naturally hand dye my own fabric. Beautiful dye colors can be achieved with food scraps, weeds, and natural debris with little to no chemical mordants or modifiers.
What’s one of your favorite projects - past, present, or one in the works?
Every piece I make teaches me something new. My two most recent quilts were satisfying for different reasons. The Winter Sky quilt for its large size, and the Cowgirl in the Sand quilt for the way all the naturally dyed fabrics interact with each other. One of my goals for the new year is to expand my natural dyeing practice.
What’s the best piece of advice/quote that you’ve received about creating? Or, conversely, what would you recommend to other artists?
Bonus: What are three of your favorite books and why?
- East of Eden by John Steinbeck, for its extensive multi-generational narrative.
- The Betsy and Tacy series (a childhood favorite) by Maud Hart Lovelace, for its quiet scenes of girlhood.
- In the Company of Women by Grace Bonney, an incredible catalog of successful women, all of whom inspire me to keep pushing forward.
Have an idea for Speak With Your Craft? Know some interesting makers, crafters, cooks, bakers, food growers, woodworkers, herbalists, photographers, writers, actors, musicians, painters, fiber artists, and creative forces in your life? I have friends lined up in the near future, but I'm open to suggestions! Leave a comment or contact me! Remember, makers or creators need not fit into a neat box to be featured. So, here’s to more creating, crafting, listening, learning, and collaborating in 2017!