“Every time I purchase something new for the shop, my heart starts racing and I am lost in the land of possibilities.” ~ Eleanor L. Love
This past year has been my Year of Discovery with fiber art. In much of my new work, you can find silk cocoons, hand-dyed cheesecloth, wool roving – it’s all wonderful fodder for inspiration! Much of the credit for this goes to Eleanor L. Love, owner of MeinkeToy Fiber Art and Mixed Media Supplies. I can easily get lost in her online catalog of goodies, from silks to stamps to dyes and yarns and even Thermofax screens by our mutual friend, Sherrill Kahn.
Many of my fiber artist friends whose work is in the current FASA Exhibit know about MeinkeToy – if you don’t, here’s your chance to learn. I asked Eleanor to share some thoughts about the business of fiber art and mixed media. When you read to the end, you’ll see her list of fiber art trends and exciting new products for 2015 (plus a special discount for SHARDS readers).
Lyn : Eleanor, thanks for sharing with the SHARDS readers. I know from your bio that you were a fan of MeinkeToy long before you bought the company in 2012. As an active fiber artists, how does it feel to own the business you used to buy from? Do you find yourself too busy running the company to do much creative work of your own? Or does it give you more inspiration and access than ever?
Eleanor: I have been knee-deep in fiber art, painting and collage for about the last 20 years. Prior to that, from about age 13 until my twenties, I made all of my own clothes, plus clothes for my siblings and Mother. Then there was a long period of time when I didn’t have time to do anything creative. All of my energies were put into my career and raising my family. A friend introduced me to traditional quilting, and I can’t even count the number of quilts that I started and never finished.
My introduction to art quilting opened a whole new world for me. I didn’t have to use a pattern and cut out tiny pieces of fabric and sew them back together. I could do whatever I wanted! I started buying new, cutting edge fiber art supplies from Deb Meinke at MeinkeToy. Back in early 2012, when I found out that Deb Meinke was going to close her wonderful online shop to move on to other interests, I jumped on the chance to change her mind and let me purchase the business. I was so happy that I would be able to carry on the MeinkeToy tradition of bringing unique, hard-to-find products to the marketplace. I haven’t had too much time to do my own creative work over the last 2-1/2 years. Running MeinkeToy, plus another business that I have, has me working two full time jobs. I haven’t lost my inspiration yet. Every time I purchase something new for the shop, my heart starts racing and I am lost in the land of possibilities.
Lyn: MeinkeToy is a wonderful online shop with lots of unusual products for the mixed media and fiber artists. I love your Abaca Tissue paper, for example. Do you select the products yourself? And, if so, what makes you say, “Aha, that’s a winner!”
Eleanor: I am the chief cook and bottle washer at MeinkeToy, I do it all. I select all of the products myself. I started out with the base of products that Deb Meinke had been selling and have expanded the products carried from that starting point. I spend several hours a week on the internet sourcing products. Finding unique items that can’t be purchased in some of the big box craft stores (no names mentioned) is a huge challenge. When I see something that really excites me, I purchase it for the shop. I know that not everyone’s tastes are the same and I try to keep that in mind, but if it isn’t a good quality product and doesn’t interest me, I feel it won’t be of much interest to anyone else either.
Lyn: You have an inside track on what fiber/mixed media artists are buying and using – do you see a trend toward more non-traditional work and away from such formats as block-pieced quilting? What products are your most popular?
Eleanor: I think that the market has grown to accommodate both traditional and non-traditional fiber and mixed media artists. My experience has been that individuals that are immersed in traditional quilting tend to stay away from anything that is non-traditional. I gave a presentation at a quilt guild not too long ago on art quilts, and one of the members came up to me afterwards and said that all “of that other stuff” scared her. She just wasn’t interested in trying something new, and that is fine. I do think that the emphasis on art quilts and using non-traditional materials has been fueled by all of the wonderful teachers out there who have spent the time experimenting with new products, and then go out and teach it, as well as all of the great books that have been written. Same thing applies for mixed media. There is such a cross-over between fabric and paper and what you can create. Some of my most unusual products are Evolon and Evolon Soft, Abaca Tissue, Crystal Spunbond, Heat-Distressable tissue, as well as some of the other man-made spunbond fibers that I import from the U.K.
Lyn: When we talked on the phone, you remarked that you can run your online art and fiber supply company from almost anywhere. That’s fascinating! Is there a brick-and-mortar MeinkeToy shop? Will there be?
Eleanor: That’s right, that is the benefit of an online company. MeinkeToy is only online and I have no plans to ever open a shop. Right now, I can run MeinkeToy from anywhere that has UPS, FedEx and a Post Office. I really like the flexibility that this business affords me.
Lyn: The 40th Annual Fiber Artists of San Antonio Juried Exhibition is on exhibit now at Say Si! Gallery and the juror, Barbara Schneider, is known for her sculpturally contoured dimensional work. Is this 3-D approach to fiber construction going to be the next new thing?
Eleanor: There are already some remarkable artists making 3-D fiber constructions. The structures can be built to stand up by using heavy duty stabilizers, or they can be more rigid, using wire mesh or wire cloth as the structure. There is a really interesting product that is fairly new to the market that I am taking a look at. It stiffens fabric so that it can be sculpted. As soon as I have done all of my research, I might just decide to carry it. Actually, I can hardly wait to get it and try it out myself.
Lyn: Tell us little about your own work – what are you working on now, and what are your influences and passions? Do you have a favorite artist mentor?
Eleanor: My own work is all over the place. My favorite medium is what I happen to be working with at the moment. I love to paint and collage, scan the image into my computer, do some alterations in Photoshop and then print the image out onto silk fabric or onto a transfer paper, such as Transfer Artist Paper (TAP), which I then transfer onto fabric, generally silk. Same thing for my photography. That way I have fabric and images that are unique. I then heavily embellish them with stitching and beading. I have always had an appreciation for all forms of art and art from different cultures. I am always reading and looking at art books. I love pattern, texture, color and design. Even though we might not realize it, everything we look at informs our visual vocabulary. It’s all there in our heads, just waiting for us to draw down on it. I am currently in the process of making samples using products that I sell on MeinkeToy. I don’t have a favorite artist mentor. I appreciate all of the great artists that are out there doing their work. I don’t have an art degree, and everything I have learned has been through classes I have taken and books I have read. In the end, I always seem to come back to fabric.
Lyn: Finally, please tell us about which new product at MeinkeToy you’re most excited about as we go into 2015, looking for artistic inspiration and fresh ideas.
Eleanor: As far as what 2015 will look like, I have quite a back log of well over 100 new products to get up on the website. I am in the process of having a new website set up, so I have been holding off putting up products on the existing site so I would just have to do it once on the new website. It is taking much longer than I expected, so starting in the next few weeks, there will be lots of new products on the existing MeinkeToy website. I am excited about so many items that I have a hard time narrowing it down. I have purchased two other fiber art and mixed media businesses that I am merging into MeinkeToy. There will be lots of new fibers, fabulous embellishments, some tribal and ethnic embellishments, some collections of vintage French fabrics that will be sold as kits, authentic African fabrics that will be sold as kits, lots of new hand dyed fabrics, fibers for felting and the list goes on and on.
I like to think of myself as a facilitator. I put products into the hands of people who are looking for something new and exciting to work with. If anyone ever has any questions about products, I encourage them to contact me by email or phone. I have always enjoyed helping other people.
I would like to extend an offer to the SHARDS readers by offering them a 10% discount on their order (not including shipping) through the end of December. Just enter SHARDS10 as the coupon code when checking out.
Lyn: Eleanor – you are amazing. I have learned so much from you. Thanks for sharing!