Today we’d like to introduce you to Ava Chan.
Ava, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Currently, I make felt and sew and as much as possible, I focus my time on making textile work. I feel like I’m making up for lost time. From childhood through my high school years, I loved traditional needle arts such as crocheting, sewing, and especially embroidery. I also got to take ceramics classes when I was in middle school and loved everything about working with clay — its tactility, how a turn in the kiln transforms squishy clay into something hard and more permanent, the way glazes could add different textures and colors to clay. But I didn’t follow up on any of these hard-working skills as an adult, regretfully, until I discovered feltmaking in my 40s. It had many of the qualities that I remembered loving about clay — texture, color, the way wool transforms from fluffy sheep hair into a durable fabric.
Has it been a smooth road?
Not smooth in that I’m getting a late start. I majored in engineering in college and worked in high tech for a while, but I was always trying to figure out another path for myself. I liked the making part, but I disliked the corporate world and its restrictions. I didn’t even know one could major in textile studies until decades after I had graduated college. There certainly are commonalities between engineering and craft, the approach to problem-solving. I also struggled, not successfully, to juggle textile work as a hobby with my day jobs, and I chose not to do the textile work because I was frustrated by the time limits that I had for it (if I can’t have it all, I want it not at all). That’s a choice I regret, to have turned away from things that I loved. Mine is perhaps more a cautionary tale: be attentive to that which you love doing and do all you can to keep it present in your life because it is an essential component to who you are and will help to anchor your identity.
So, as you know, we’re impressed with Sugin Textiles – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
I’m a feltmaker currently focusing on making bowls, bags, and shawls. Feltmaking is one of those ancient crafts that’s currently experiencing a lot of new love. Basically, one takes the wool fleece, and after cleaning and combine it so that the fibers are all aligned, lay out the fiber in fine layers, in alternating directions. Rub down these layers with water and soap, which causes the fibers to entwine with each other. Eventually, they intertwine so tightly that they form a fabric — felt. Wool is malleable and depending on factors such as the amount of wool used or how it’s shaped, the finished felt can be soft and drapey, more rigid (felt has been used as an underlayer for armor) or sculptural and 3-dimensional.
I love how well wool takes to color, and I love the malleability of fine wools such as Merino. But, I love even more the coarser textures of wool from so-called “primitive” sheep breeds such as Icelandic, Shetland, Jacob, and Coopworth. While Merino becomes fine, soft felt that is comfortable against the skin, these other breeds create felts that have an almost feral sensibility to them. They offer a tactile experience that’s not readily found in the more usual commercial fabrics.
Were there people and/or experiences you had in your childhood that you feel laid the foundation for your success?
Not particularly. My parents experienced a lot of obstacles in their lives, and the resulting tensions seeped into our family life. Now, I feel a lot of gratitude that I can focus on work that I want to make and that is personally satisfying.
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