My Creative Friend | Priscilla

My creative friend Priscilla is the studio manager at New Urban Arts.  Whenever I'm sewing with my students, Priscilla pops over to see what we're working on, and we've talked a bit about how she likes to quilt, too.  Priscilla studied textiles at the Rhode Island School of Design, and has worked with many professional artists to further her skills.  Her work is so beautiful, and I am so excited to learn more about the thinking behind it!

Priscilla, on left, at New Urban Arts
What is your medium, and how did you get started with it?
Lately my creative medium has been hand and machine sewing old fabrics. That entails quilting, making stuffed objects, or mending clothes. I like painting a lot and I think that will always be part of my creative practice, too. I really enjoy making patterns that are repeating especially for home spaces. I worked for a wallpaper company for a year called Studio Printworks and my favorite assignments were putting drawings (mine or other artists) in repeat. Patterns can create a new rhythm and feeling in a space and depending on the design make a room livelier or calm it down. Recently with the hand stitching and quilting I’ve been focusing on geometric shapes. I feel like I’m still just learning with quilting, so right now I’m most comfortable with geometric designs. In general I like things that are related to being or feeling at home, which is why I guess I like decorative arts and creating things for interior spaces. 

How did/do you learn and improve your creative skills?
I was pretty exclusively interested in just drawing and painting until around my junior year of high school. Then one summer at New Urban Arts I learned how to use a sewing machine for the first time Tamara Kaplan was my mentor and the sewing pusher. She helped me and a small group of us sew our first tote bags that summer. It was awesome. It was also an addictive, meditative activity which is what I liked about it. For me it went from a one time workshop to a fanatical interest in fabric construction. It was also really good for me to do something creative that wasn’t drawing exercises. That space is where I started to try new mediums. Sometimes failing with it, but I got to explore more materials and techniques in art making. Also, attempting new techniques is pretty meditative and I like having to focus and pay attention to what I’m doing because I’m trying to learn how to do that something well.

When I think about how I improved my creative skills I owe a lot to Cindy Treen. She is an amazing textile artist and mentor who has spoiled me. Cindy is very bright, and is basically a black belt with needle and thread. Follow her. There is so much I learned from her in her studio over these years I think I owe her some kind of tuition. We met when I was 15 or 16. My friend and I walked into her studio and Diane Horton’s shop called Cloth one day afterschool and we awkwardly blurted out, “Can we do an internship here, like starting now?” We weren’t looking for internships or work either, but just had some kind of impulse. Diane and Cindy were pretty sweet and let us. I watched them be amazing business women with amazing creative skills. So that was a huge influence on my work ethic, creative practice and also shaped what I did at school and the internships and work I sought out afterwards.

How do you make time for your creative practice?
I don’t know, but I try to make it important by putting it in my schedule each week. I do best when I do not multitask, but I still try and multitask and it gets me into trouble. I like having a good chunk of time to quilt or knit or whatever, so for those things I try and schedule a day of just making stuff. I like working on a project and not having email or phone access, too. I get distracted and if I really have to get something done working all day and just listening to podcasts has been helpful. I’m also more productive when my space and things are organized. It makes everything even thinking easier. I like instant things too, so if I really don’t have time to take a day to just quilt or whatever I like doing things like mending clothes or some small activity to keep me happy. Craft clubs and knitting circles are also how I make time for my practice. It helps to do things with friends and in groups, too.

What creative projects are on the horizon for you?
I’m working on a quilt right now for a friend. I’m making it with her father’s old blue jeans and their family's many bandanas. He was a quahog fisherman from Warren, RI and it’s a tribute to him sort of quilt. The friend gave me a lot of creative control, so I’m extra excited about how it’s coming along. It’s going at a snails pace, but it’s also my first solo quilt project, so I get me some slack. Then, I think for this summer I want to make two more quilts. Hand stitched, too. With my own scrap fabrics. I’ve wanted to do this for a while, so that is what I will be up to.

Have you ever been in a creative rut?  How did you get out?
Yes. Travel. Going to a new place and getting out of the same routine helps a lot.  Learning something new helps. It’s like your stiff in the neck and need to exercise your creative muscles to get going again. We’re like athletes. I went to Alabama for an internship and learned how to stitch and embroider at Alabama Chanin. That was a time that just sucked out the rut and made me really excited about handmade apparel design. Also, Alabama was cool. Working at New Urban Arts is amazing for curing creative ruts, too.

What was a successful creative moment that you've had?
I spent one summer in Santiago Atilan, Guatemala working with a nonprofit  called the Cojolya Association of Maya Women Weavers that supports Mayan women weavers. They do traditional back strap weaving in this area. It is a skill that younger Mayan women are not continuing as much as they once did because of how the market is today, and because there are more opportunities for women in terms of career and higher education and those things are good. The Association is really important for preserving the tradition and supporting those who are continuing to weave and whose livelihood depends on the goods they sell. The shop sells hand woven textiles by these women, which allows them to continue their traditional craft and support their families. The Association offers a way for these skilled artists to make a living wage. It’s pretty amazing. I went with my friend Kathryn Maresca who was also at RISD studying textiles. We just went because we wanted to design and learn traditional back strap weaving. Learning it was slow, and the whole summer was slow too because the pace there was radically different from what we were used to in our design world. It was great being able to sit with the weavers though and talk with them about what they were making, and being able to work that closely with someone to make the product was very impactful for me. I got to create two new bags for their permanent line which was satisfying and also what made it so successful for me.

What is your creative ambition?
I am influenced by native cultures and traditional textile skills, so my creative ambition would be continue to learn traditional textile techniques in weaving, stitching and knitting and create pieces with that at the root of it. I would like to follow their methods of traditional craftsmanship and continue to design things that are slow process art making. I like the connection to handmade pieces a person can have and lately I have became more concerned with the craftsmanship, community involvement, and sustainability of a material piece. I love organic and recycled materials constructed with care by artists who live and work in their communities. Artistic traditions have resonance in the places we live and work it’s important to nurture them.

Thanks for sharing, Priscilla!  You can learn more about Priscilla's work by emailing her.   


**My Creative Friend is a series of blog posts featuring the creative practices of creative women in my life, (usually) posted on the last weekend of each month. By sharing our processes, my hope is that we can all learn, grow, and be inspired in our own work. If you're interested in being featured, please contact me!**

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