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It’s my pleasure to introduce Rebecca Riel from Riel Finishings! You can follow her on Instagram, as well as check out her Etsy shop and website.
Can you tell me about yourself, your journey with weaving, and the story behind your shop? What’s life like in Manitoba, Canada and the balance between being an artist/crafter and a mother?
My name is Rebecca Riel, but most people call me Becca. I have degrees in Political Science and Social Work, but after having my son two years ago, I decided not to go back to work. At the time we were living in a very small town in rural Manitoba and childcare was limited. While on my extended mat leave, I became a little stir crazy and got really into DIY projects. I actually started with woodworking and re-finishing furniture. Until that time (like many other people I’m sure!), I had always said “I’m not the creative type.” I now realize it’s not that I wasn’t creative – it’s that I had never given myself the opportunity to BE creative.
I had always excelled in academia, but never explored my artistic side. As I got further down the DIY rabbit hole, I started signing up for some workshops – one of which was weaving. I have to tell you that I was a disaster at my first workshop! I tangled my warp thread so bad, even the teacher was surprised (haha)! In any event, I fell in love that day – despite the fact that it didn’t come naturally to me at first. So I took my loom home and slowly traded my woodworking projects for fiber projects. I had the idea to try to weave a map in the shape of my home province of Manitoba and suddenly people were asking to buy them. It started with friends and family but sort of organically grew into something else. Last fall, after much encouragement from loved ones, I gathered up the courage to open up an Etsy shop and haven’t looked back. That’s how Riel Finishings was born. It’s pretty much the ideal job for me! I’m someone who has struggled a lot with anxiety in my life, and I find weaving so therapeutic. The fact that I get to do it as my job now is just unreal to me!
How do I balance being a mother and an artist? In short, not very well! I am so grateful for how busy I have been since my shop opened. That said, sometimes it gets a little overwhelming. We have had to seek some childcare for my son, just so I can keep up – and most of the time I still feel way behind. My house is usually messy and I don’t cook as often as I’d like. That said, I wake up every day being so grateful for this opportunity and the growth I’ve experienced!
Can you tell me a little bit about your ‘mapestries’? How did you term that awesome phrase?!
The most popular items I sell at the moment are “mapestries” (map + tapestry). While I began weaving maps of my own province of Manitoba, gradually I started getting requests for other states and provinces. The term “mapestry” came to me one night at 3am when I was up with my son. It literally just popped into my head, in a rare moment of genius!
Holy milestone Batman! Riel Finishings has over a thousand followers now! I know I’ve said this before, but I had so many doubts when I started this journey and you guys continue to blow me away with your support. My custom list is a page long now (😳)and I’m also working on stock for the @etsymanitoba market on April 14. Probably won’t be sleeping much over the next month but me oh my I love this gig and I’m forever grateful for your support (and your patience – for those of you waiting for pieces)💕
What kinds of yarn and looms do you use and recommend?
Yarns: I love using a variety of textures in my tapestries. My favourite yarns to work with are hand spun and hand dyed, which I source from other small shops around the world. I’m also passionate about using recycled and reclaimed fiber in my work. You can frequently find denim, mudcloth, and recycled wool in my tapestries. They look unreal, and are also better for the environment. In terms of yarn I would recommend, it really depends on your textural preferences. I would caution against using anything acrylic, because it totally messes with your tension. Some of my favourite yarns to weave with are from: Knit Collage, Fly Yarns, Love Fest Fibers, Divinity Fibers, and Silk Divine.
Looms: I have a LOT of looms! Some of them are handmade, but my favourites are from Lost Pond Looms and Funem Studio. Both companies make excellent looms in a variety of sizes – really perfect if you’re just starting out.
What have been some of your favorite projects and commissions?
I was recently commissioned by a resort in Manitoba to weave some tapestries for their suites. This commission was the first larger-scale order I’ve ever received, which was a huge milestone for my business. The catch is that they wanted me to weave a buffalo. Yes, I said buffalo and I’m not talking about the place, I’m talking about the animal! When I read the request, I instantly panicked! If you have some familiarity with weaving, you know that some shapes are more difficult than others. I figured there was no way I could do this tastefully, but I challenged myself to give it a try. To my complete surprise, it turned out really well and I’m proud I was able to push through that challenge. I’m somebody who has always been a little insecure. I worry about failure and about what others think of me, and the thing about art is that there’s no room for those fears. You have to push through them. I try a lot of different things and they don’t always work out, but that’s okay, because sometimes they do and it’s magic!
Do you have any advice for artists and crafters just getting into weaving?
I don’t have much in the way of advice for new artists, because, well, I myself am still so new! I would have to say that it’s really important to find your own voice as an artist/weaver, which sometimes means pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. When I put on my artist hat, I try not to let the rational/analytical side of my brain rule, and instead follow my heart and my gut. Sometimes that is the scariest feeling, it means being totally vulnerable and putting yourself out there, but you will never know what’s possible until you take risks. If you would have told me when I first opened my shop that by April I would have a waiting list of commissions, I would have laughed in your face. So I suppose at the end of the day, it’s really important to believe in yourself and just keep weaving. Oh, and never take yourself too seriously! Weaving is all about exploring different fibers and textures – it’s as much about the journey as it is about the final tapestry.
*Some photos featured in this post were taken by talented photographer Janique
Fortier, see her website here.
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