Sasha and I met in the textile art program that was unfortunately cut from Capilano University and have since enjoyed a lot of memorable adventures together including one where, pre-kids, I crashed at her pad in Inuvik NWT for a week to decompress before going back to BC after teaching textiles for Aurora College's Ulukhaktok Handicraft Program. She and Patrick threw a Janna-themed party (whatever that is, lol), fed me amazing food and filled me with the best coffee ever. At the time Sasha was executive director of the Great Northern Arts Festival, an annual art festival featuring all northern artists. She and her family have since moved back down south to Victoria, BC where she is running the Metchosin Summer School of the Arts, a summer camp for adults (!!)
Sasha's art practice has long inspired me; her aesthetic choices are always spot on, and she is always challenging herself. She was a resident at the Sointula Art Shed Artist Residency where she naturally dyed something like 90 yards of silk, and was also one of the luckies who got into the Gees Bend Quilting workshop in the Maiwa Symposium this past fall. Sasha is a master embroider and quilter. Her gorgeous quilts are made with natural fabrics like silk and organic cotton, and some vintage and vintage repos, too. Most of her work is made with fibre she hand-dyes with natural dyes and she is an incredible hand-stitcher. Just look these perfect stitches!
Lucky for us Sasha sells her work on Etsy and there happens to be a sale right now for 25% off everything until her birthday on winter solstice. Visit her shop here and use the discount code WINTERSOLSTICE
NOTES: I found it super hard to edit the amount of pics in this post since Sasha's Instagram feed is FULL of goodies, and I HAD to include at least one embroidery piece. Her quilt backs are too good not to show, so note that all of the quilt fronts are followed by a photo of the back of that quilt, with the exception of the wonderful hand-quilted, natural dyed silk one directly below, which I highly recommend as a baby gift. Sam has one and he is such Lionel with it.
Enjoy the interview!
VY: It's obvious from your beautifully detailed and labour intensive work that handwork is a true passion of yours. If I remember correctly your quilting endeavors started at a vacation in Hawaii in the early 2000s where you took a quilting workshop. To this day you are making Hawaiian inspired quilts. What is unique about Hawaiian quilting traditions that inspired you so much?
SG: l crave demanding handwork, and hand turned applique demands your attention in every moment. I love the textile traditions from our hideous colonial past: such beauty created from destruction. Hawaiians took their traditional bark cloth patterns and created a venue for them in woven cloth. I love Hawaiian applique because it is portable and difficult. My heart lies with large scale quilts, but reality of being a working mom who is often on the road requires that I have a lot of small hand work on the go to keep me sane and productive.
VY: I love that attitude, and I completely share that love for slow textiles which, as you know from our days in textile art school, wasn't always the case. You however were on that track back then with printing with natural dyes, quilting and that crazy curlytooth woven yardage you did that had something like 800 warp ends.
I have to say I am flabbergasted by your productivity since having your wee one two years ago. By my count you've made around 20 baby/lap quilts and 8 large quilts since she was born, and that's not counting the Hawaiian applique you work on, too! How the heck do you get so much done?
SG: Wow! Thanks for counting! That is awesome!
I get up early and stay up late! And keep my hands busy at all times. Most of my making is done while Gemma is sleeping, or in May 2015 when I had three afternoons a week of childcare after I finished working a big contract. I am very strict when it comes to her bedtime: she sleeps from 6.30pm until sometime between 7:30-9 each day. I have a whole second day after she's down. It is so important to my sanity that I have uninterrupted studio time! Makes me a better mother and wife.
Before I had Gemma I was working full time at a super demanding job that I loved: but didn't leave me a lot of room energy for creativity at the end of the day. Since having Gemma I have worked part time and have a little more left at the end of the day for my own projects. Starting a quilting business has always been my dream, and I was lucky to have some time in the spring to really get the ball rolling. It's still in the early stages though, but each sale or quilting connection I make online/in person is a thrill.
I am about to start work again, part time for another awesome arts organization. I will have two days of childcare that will be taken up with work for them, and then a few more hours during the rest of the week. I am hoping to schedule in one afternoon where my mother in law comes to watch Gemz and I can workout/get some studio time. As all mom's know you have to schedule your life completely if you want any alone time! I am thankful for my supportive husband, champion sleeper and helpful family members.
VY: Yeah, I'm really learning how important it is as a primary caregiver to take care of yourself, whatever that looks like, or you will go insane. I am relishing in the idea of having family around starting next summer when we move back to BC. We've been away since before Sam was born, so part of me doesn't even know what I'm going to do with that kind of support, or how it will feel to live in a small city or town again. You're having a similar experience but different in that you moved back to BC in the spring from a small town in the Northwest Territories. How has that transition been? Also what kinds mukluks, mitts and quiviut goods do you have the great honor of wearing now?
SG: The transition has been rough! We knew it would be, but it's harder than I thought. Life in Inuvik was beautiful and simple: the town is so tiny that you can run six errands in 20 mins and see a few friends in the process. I became a mother up there with some fantastic women, and I miss them (and their babies) everyday. Victoria is a new community for me entirely and I've only been here for 2 month: 1.5 of which I was on the road working and travelling. We've had many come to visit (thankfully we have a great guestroom), but most of my southern soul sisters are on the mainland. The salaries are tiny, jobs are hard to come by...but our main reason for moving was to be closer to family and closer to good food and water. The wild game up north was fabulous, but the water and produce were not ideal. We knew it wouldn't be easy, and it will take time to make friends here.
My new job as the ED for Metchosin International Summer School for the Arts (missa.ca) should help me make some friends and contacts down here. But at the moment, I feel like my heart is still up north. Inuvik had a wonderful creative community, the quilting guild of my dreams, a great economy and so many rad babes.
And the outfits!!! I miss northern winter wear so much. My mukluks are "retired" for the moment, hanging on a wall so I can witness their beauty on the daily. My qiviut is perfect for coastal weather, thank goodness, and incognito! No one knows what it is, which is fun. I found extreme northern style much more straightforward to achieve: coastal rain makes for distinctly unglamourous outfits. And it's cold down here! And grey! I got way more sun up north than I ever have on the coast.
But hitting up the beach on the regular, enjoying our 3 hens, picking chard from our garden in the dead of winter is pretty sweet. And Gemmi and I can take dance classes. My life is charmed from all angles. Time to join the quilting guild!
Janna Maria Vallee is a tapestry weaver, longtime knitter, and 2013 graduate of Concordia University's Fibres and Material Practices program. In her art practice Janna combines textiles and socially engaged media. She founded VY in 2008.