Colleen Davy, Quilter, Seamstress, & Dyer
Naturally-dyed contemporary Quilts, and other sewn goods
Horseback riding, cooking, baking, hiking/camping
How did you first start sewing and quilting, and how has your practice evolved over the years?
When I was a little girl, my Aunt Kitty taught me how to sew. She sewed professionally, and I was completely drawn to watching her and hanging around with her when she worked. (We lived right next door, so I was with her a lot.) She could see this interest, and she took me under her wing and started to teach me. From then on, I was hooked! My sewing has been part of my life all along, either as a hobby or as a part time job while I pursued other things.
It’s crazy to think that as far back as high school, I was working in fiber. I played around with dyes, learned batik, stitched wall pieces… even sold at local craft fairs. Through my college years, I worked for a small company making handmade futons. Then, after college, I worked as a seamstress for an upholstery shop. Later, I took a full-time position as a seamstress in a custom interiors workroom, and stayed there for several years. Eventually, I started to view my work in fiber in a more serious light. Now, I feel so much more engaged with my work, and its evolution. It feels like once I realized my ownership of these skills, it propelled me to take my work seriously, and to grow even more.
I think this evolution was unplanned, organic. I never really planned to sew professionally, it just sort of happened. When I was young, I thought I would “be an artist”. I won a scholarship to an art college in Philadelphia, apprenticed with a sculptor, and with a lithographer, and did a lot of works on paper, but never put in the serious work and dedication that it takes to become a fine artist. I also never considered my sewing to be compatible with these pursuits. It was just a hobby, and a way to earn some money once in a while. I’m so glad that I’m finally beginning to bring these two parts of my creative identity together.
What has your professional career journey been to get you to this point?
Well, as I said, I’ve been developing the hands-on skills for many years, but I didn’t really step into my full potential until I viewed my work more seriously. Though, I had to first step away from it all together before that could happen.
When I transitioned away from commercial custom sewing, it was because of the toll it was taking on my body. I was developing some serious problems in my hands and surrounding joints, from the pace and high volume of work I was producing. It was a hard time for me, because I was facing the reality that I couldn’t keep sewing at that pace, or I would probably wind up with some permanent impairment. The thought of having to toss away the skills that I had built over the years, and with which I earned a living, was pretty scary.
Thankfully, after some time off, I realized that I could keep on working in fiber, just not in the high-volume production model. There was no shortage of ideas and projects I wanted to work on. In fact, usually, the challenge for me is narrowing my ideas down to what’s realistically doable, and to what fits into an overall cohesive aesthetic.
Now, the bulk of my time creating is not spent behind a sewing machine. A huge proportion of work hours are spent on dyeing fabric, and also on designing new pieces. Learning the business side of things has been a big piece of the puzzle, too. That, and learning some basic graphic and web design skills has actually been pretty fun. It’s like learning a whole new way of using my creativity.
What made you start using natural dyes? What types of plants do you use for natural dyes?
I’m deeply drawn to the color palette that can be achieved with natural dyes. They’re subtle, ethereal, almost transcendent, like they could have been plucked out of paintings from ancient times. Yet, at the same time, they are very earthy and grounded in the natural world around us right now. The textures of linen have the same qualities, so, to me, natural dye on linen is the perfect combination. A lot of people assume that I choose to work with natural dyes because of the toxicity of commercial dyes. Non-toxicity is definitely a good thing as far as I’m concerned, but to be honest, it was a choice based primarily on aesthetics.
At first, I purchased all of my materials from a supplier. I still do for some colors, but I have narrowed my core colors down to dyestuffs that I source locally. The avocado pits are from a restaurant in town, the pomegranate skins are from an orchard in Artesia, and the black tea comes from a coffee shop in Las Vegas. I harvest snakeweed from my own property, and from a friend’s ranch nearby. It’s satisfying to use materials that are considered “unusable” to create beautiful objects. Also, it feels like a very natural thing to be part of a circle of sharing and trading with individuals and businesses in my community.
What makes Santa Fe special to you? What are some of the challenges of living here?
I love the amount of good food, creative events, emerging contemporary art, live music, and just generally interesting goings-on that can be found in Santa Fe. It’s really unique for a town of this size to be so culturally lively. Also, there are so many people here giving it a go at “doing their thing”, that it feels like a safe place to do the same. That feeling of safety is pretty special.
One of the biggest challenges of living in (and around) Santa Fe - and I hear this from a lot of other people, too – is that folks tend to keep to themselves, so it can be hard to meet people socially. Of course, I say this, yet I am the queen of keeping to myself! Maybe it’s just to be expected, in a town with so many artists and creative people focusing their work.
What are you passionate about outside of your work?
Getting up in the mountains on horseback! My partner and I met way back when I used to pack mules in the Sierra Nevadas. We both worked at the same pack outfit. When he moved out here to work on a ranch, we started exploring the mountains here in our free time. The best times I’ve had – and still have – are up in the high country, camping and exploring with our horses. A few years ago, we took a big leap and started Cloud 9 Trails, taking people out on horseback rides in the Pecos Wilderness. Between this and Cloud 9 Stitching, I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, for sure, but I couldn’t be more excited about how it’s going. We’ve had to work our butts off to achieve it, but we both actually get to spend most of our time and effort working at what we really care about. It is a lot of work, no doubt, but it’s all building towards the bigger picture of independence, creative freedom, and doing work that provides joy and satisfaction.
At the end of the day, why do you do what you do?
It’s kind of the only option for me. I’ve tried the 9 to 5 thing many times, and always wind up feeling diminished. I have to be creating, building something, with the freedom and time to do it on my own terms. For better or worse, it’s simply the way that I’m built. Sure, I’ve sacrificed the financial security that comes from being on a payroll, but like many artists and artisans, I’ve chosen to make some material sacrifices in order to keep my expenses low and have the freedom to do my work. A friend once said to me that I need my time in the mountains and my time in my art studio like food and water. I think he was right.