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Featured Artist: Nicole Constantin of Rose Nectar Fibre Couture

by The SpinArtiste on March 29, 2012

Publisher’s Notes:  Nicole Constantin — in one word:  Beautiful.  Her work and talent shine as brightly as her kind and giving spirit.  Even her fiber name, Rose Nectar Fibre Couture, evokes beauty and femininity.  For those of you playing the current round of Secret Stash, I’m sure you were delightfully surprised by the exquisite origami birds made by Nicole.  With great pleasure, I turn you over to the interview with Nicole.

Spin Artiste (SA):   From reading about you, I know you have formal education in fashion design which shines through in your work!  Describe how you were led to the fiber arts.

Nicole Constantin (NC):  Yes. I did go to school for a BAA in Fashion Design, at Central Michigan University, and then I even worked in the industry for a while after I graduated from school.  I grew up watching my mom sew everything for us kids from everyday clothing to elaborate formal gowns.  My first job out of college was in Computer-Aided Design for Dillard’s private labels at their corporate headquarters in Little Rock, AR.  I was actually recruited by them because I was very advanced in a fashion design software called U4ia which is so strange because, although the computer part of my education came very easy to me, it was my least favorite.  I was obsessed with hand-illustrating, flat pattern drafting, and the actual sewing/construction of the garments by hand.  My dream was to go into the couture/handmade part of fashion, not the computer-aided mass production part!  Looking back, I realize I was kind of wooed by Dillard’s, at first, and the many perks and benefits. I found myself being flown across the country several times for interviews, then apartment hunting, etc.

It was a bit much for a 24 year-old, to be put in beautiful hotels, taken out to nice restaurants, etc., by a major company like that and my feet left the ground.  It felt so refreshing, after all of my hard work, to be finally recognized and rewarded for my skills.  But reality quickly set in, and corporate life is so not my roots!  I grew up with my parents running a successful business of their own.  I have always been very counter-culture and became even more so in my six years of University.  There I was, at the computer all day, working on textile designs for Dillard’s women’s, men’s and kids lines.  I was not happy in the position, in the corporate setting, or in Little Rock, so I left after about 7 months.

After my brief stint as a corporate fashion designer, I took off to Sarasota, FL, where I have family, and did waitressing jobs in fine dining restaurants (which was how I put myself through school) to support myself until I found my niche.  I was searching.  I would rather have waited tables and worked on my own things, with my hands, on my own terms, than stay on a path that I wasn’t passionate about.  In Sarasota, I became excited about the idea of having my own organic cotton clothing line using low-impact and natural dyes.  I was just starting to get to the practical parts, of starting something like that, when I met and married my husband, bought a house, travelled to Europe, then had my first baby girl.  So, you see, the path has definitely not been a straight one.

As a pregnant woman my creativity flourished.  I felt a constant need to be making!  I was really into beading jewelry and doing origami paper folding while I was pregnant because they soothed my anxiety.  Pretty much as soon as my daughter was born, I felt the need to begin knitting.  I wanted to make wool diaper covers to put over her cloth diapers.  I used to take my daughter to Barnes & Noble to peruse the knitting books, and bought way too many of them!  That was when I found Lexi Boeger’s book, “Intertwined”, and instantly upon laying my eyes upon those magical images, my head just about exploded, as did my heart, and I said ‘I have found it.’  I took the book into my local yarn shop, Picasso’s Moon in Sarasota, and I showed the book to Debra, the owner, and said ‘I want to do this’, and she got a little smile and nodded and said, ‘Yeah, i know, isn’t that cool?”.  So there were some talks and pretty soon she got a spinning wheel in the shop and started learning and getting some fibers in.  I watched that place go from an amazingly cool yarn shop into a total fiber utopia, and I went along for the ride with it.

SA:  Wow, I have so many things to touch upon from your answer, but to pick just one — mainly I had the exact same experience that you are describing when I first saw Lexi’s book AND it was in Debra’s shop, Picasso’s Moon.  Luckily, I get to vacation there each year and always look forward to going there because it’s mecca!  And, I can’t wait to get down there this year for the SWAY Guild Art Yarn Fiber Festival next month. 

One of the aspects of your work that is captivating is how rich in texture your pieces are.   Which fibers do you tend to use and how do you approach your fiber preparation to achieve the results you are seeking?

NC:  In some cases my pieces are very textured due to the fibers/fiber prep, mostly big, textured, crazy batts, and in some cases they are textured due to the spinning techniques.  I learned many amazing techniques from both the Jacey Boggs Insubordiknit and the Camp Pluckyfluff workshops…and then of course there are the styles, of my own, that have morphed from those originals.

As far as fiber, I like to mix the intact locks and unprocessed fibers with some processed rovings and tops.  I am a big merino girl…also, mohair, alpaca, CVM, cormo, silk, bamboo, Wensleydale, BFL, and plenty of sparkle.  I actually love washing fleeces, checking in and waiting as they dry, then combining them with other fibers and colors that set them off.  I think it is like an artist who harvests the materials and makes their own paints from scratch…all while the ideas are brewing in your mind.  It’s similar to the slow-food movement…it’s soulful, peaceful, deliberate, meditative.

SA:   What equipment do you have and why?

NC:  I have a Majacraft Aura spinning wheel, a Louet classic drum carder, a Deb’s Delicate Deluxe carder and the Pat Green Triple Picker.  I really took my time before investing, trying to select the most perfectly suited vehicles to get me everywhere I want to go.  I can’t say enough good things about the Majacraft Aura…pure genius and luxury in one!  The things it is capable of are inspiring in themselves…and I do push that thing to the max!

SA:  That is an awesome set up…and what is your studio/work space like?

NC:  Ha ha!  My workspace is wherever my two girls are, and are content to be playing, while I spin, knit or crochet.  I work a lot on the floor, so I am down on their level, while they play and I can still interact with them.  We also have a huge bed, so we will all sit on the bed and they will play while I play with my yarns/designs/ideas.  I do have a spare bedroom and office-type area where I keep everything and I have a high table to keep my drum carders on.  My oldest daughter, who will be 4 this month, is in love with drum carding.  She helps choose colors and we make batts together.  She is the certified sparkle-adder when we drum card and she makes sure there is plenty in every batt!  Then, when I am spinning, she will stand next to me and add little bits of angelina, silk noils, or mohair locks before the yarn makes it into the orifice.  Between my hands and winding onto the bobbin, alot of my yarns get some add-ins from my sweet daughter.  So, I am usually creating with children climbing on me, nursing at my spinning wheel, walking around the house crocheting with my baby in the sling, etc.

SA:  With that kind of environment, the girls should turn out to be quite the artists themselves.  In the meantime, what are your plans for Rose Nectar Fibre Couture?  Are you planning on expanding your Etsy shop or focusing on custom orders?

NC:  I love the custom orders and I will continue to do them as long as I have alot of creative freedom.  I love making people feel good and seeing them happy with something I created just for them.  One thing I will have to continue to do is make it perfectly clear, with a custom order client, that we can work together on a vision, but that I cannot just be an executor of other people’s ideas — I will die, creatively.  This is an artistic process, for me, and trying to conform to some else’s vision brings me no joy.  I am happiest and most productive pursuing my own ideas and then people either like them and want to buy them or they don’t, but for me it was something I needed to create.

I have to admit that I have not been super inspired when it comes to my Etsy shop and I have not put a lot into it yet, either.  I have actually had more sales and custom orders on my Facebook page!  I will have to see where this path leads me and where I will shine the best.  I appreciate Etsy for its virtual community and ability to reach people all over the world.  Frankly, though, for right now, I really would rather get out in the face-to-face community and do trunk shows, fashion shows, exhibits, etc. and actually meet, and talk, in person, with those who are interested in my work.

I am hoping to blog alot more on my website, soon, too!

Honestly, right now, I am just creating…and seeing where it naturally takes me.

SA:   What would you like to learn this year?

NC:  I would like to go further into weaving and learn natural plant dying.  I am really hoping to manifest myself a spot in the Earth’s Palette natural dying workshop at the Taos Fiber Festival in November.

SA:  That is a great thing to manifest and that is a festival that I hope to get to some day as well.  Speaking of traveling, tell us about going from Sarasota, FL to Vail, CO — In terms of being inspired by your environment, what artistic shifts were created by this relocation?
NC:  The artistic shift has been dramatic. I believe that when you are in a physical place, head-space, or life situation that really supports you and your uniqueness, it will definitely show through in your work. The place I am living in right now is so much more of a fit for me in every way that I am flourishing with my work instead of struggling to even want to work.  Also, it is not a surprise that this climate, with tons of snow, cold winters, cool springs and falls is more conducive to grander design schemes in terms of using wool as a material!

Sarasota is a magical place with amazing people.  It has a very special place, in my heart, and it is where I first discovered wool and spinning as my creative path. One natural element I miss dearly is the vast, sparkling water and the amazingly gorgeous beaches…the dolphins, the manatees, the birds and tropical flowers, too.  I plan to visit there often.  But this place, WOW!…this place, here atop the Rocky Mountains, has just blown my mind and I am so excited to continue to draw off of all the natural inspiration around me…as well the as more wool-conducive climate!  I feel that my fiber creations will be appreciated here, in the glorious, winter wonderland, mountainous area, on a whole new level.  It just fits.

SA:  What and or who inspires you creatively?

NC:  So many things inspire me…inspiration is absolutely everywhere!  What inspires me the most is the ultimate creation…Nature.  Lately, space and the extraterrestrial world is like inspiration candy for me.  I am designing something right now on the theme of ‘orbits’ and ‘rings’.

Also, the entire process of pregnancy, birth, nursing, and seeing my babies grow into little people has definitely busted open my artistic expression and drive to create.  Something about the miracle of life creation really ignited something that was slightly dormant in me and set my passion to create even more ablaze.

I am also inspired by my husband who is always incredibly hard-working, kind, compassionate, giving, calm, and able to live in the present moment, even under the most intense pressure or uncomfortable situations.  I call him my Buddha.  My children inspire me, in their pure joy, love and ability to be just be happy, present, and free, without the need for any type of standards or ‘perfection’.  I am also very inspired by any type of renegade, be it, social activist or artist.

And finally, my very initial inspiration, which lead to my entering this fibery form of creative expression, was Lexi Boeger.  She continues to inspire me constantly, in many ways including being a truly free-spirited, outside the box thinker, but also someone whom wants to build community and whom generously offers her time and ideas to inspire creativity in others.

SA:   How do you feel about the use of the term “art yarn”?  What term do you prefer for the type of yarns you produce?

NC:  I like the term “art yarn”.  I feel that it implies perfectly that yarn can be a finished object in itself, if that is what you want it to be.  It also implies that the yarn in and of itself, is an artful expression of the fiber artist.  But, I do think the term can be a little bit pretentious, at times, because not all of these creatively spun yarns are actually made for the intent of artistic expression.  For example, I refer to the yarns that I produce in two different categories.  I have the initial yarn that is inspired, and an expression in and of itself, and that I would usually consider to be an ‘art yarn’.  Then, if I want to use that yarn in a design, I will spin “supporting” yarns that I need in order to execute the design.  The ‘supporting’ yarns are still creative and textured, and even expressive, but they are definitely not as elevated as the initial expressive ‘art’ yarn that I am building from.  Therefore, if it is more of a functional ‘supporting’ yarn for a project, even though it is very creative, then I would probably not call it an ‘art yarn’ just on it’s own.  On the other hand, the supporting yarns could be referred to as art yarns because I have spun them as part of my artistic process, to be used in a fiber art piece…so, they are actually ‘art’ yarns, in that way…but, then, maybe not on their own.  I guess it is just not a matter of black and white, it should be a personal thing.

In general, when I am speaking to people outside of the industry, or very traditional spinners, and trying to describe to them what I do, I will use the term ‘art yarn’ because it perfectly expresses that it is not just yarns for function.  They are also just for creative expression, and possible art in themselves.  As a fiber ‘artist’ I think it is important to use language that will cause your work to be perceived in the manner that you intend.  If you intend it to be art, first and foremost, then you should use that language.  If it is meant to be just functional and serve it’s purpose, with less artistic expression then that is the language you use.  I think intent is the most important.  I believe that if a yarn is art to you, then, it is an art yarn.  End of story.  I am not going to look at someone else’s yarn and say, that is not art.  If they intended it to be and the process was artistic for them then who am I to say?

As a name for the entire genre of  funky, chunky, textured, novelty spinning, though, it may not be the appropriate term.  I think all of these yarns can look very ‘arty’ or ‘artsy’ to people who are used to traditionally spun yarn and commercial yarn.  These yarns just blow their minds!  But, ultimately, I can see ‘art’ yarns as, more appropriately, falling under the bigger umbrella of Creative Handspinning…or, something like that…{laughs}.

 SA:   What is your fiber-filled dream?

NC:  Runway Shows!…Paris, New York, barns in the country, on ships at sea…wherever!  Runway shows are an art in themselves.  First and foremost the designs, but also, the hair, the make-up, the expression on the models faces, the way they walk, the music, the lighting, the drama…it is the pinnacle…like a gallery showing for a fine artist…it’s the culmination.  For me, fashion is so not about materialism and labels, or the latest trends. Fashion is handmade, it is art, it is design…it can be political.  Fashion is a cultural aspect of humanity, it’s social.  What you wear can transform you.  We dress a certain way for certain reasons, or we dress a certain way to change certain things, or to influence our mood, etc. It is a matter of practicality, yes, but it is also an emotional and very personal thing, even if you just wear jeans, t-shirts and Chucks everyday, that is your personal style and it is fashion.  Everyone adds to the culture with their own personal style.  One of my favorite aspects of my schooling was studying Dress and Culture and Dress and Psychology.  I would like to do runways shows that celebrate all of this.

I would also like to have a community space, like a shop, but not just a shop…more of a creative studio space that is open to the public to come in and try the fiber arts.  It will still be a shop, to sell finished items, yarns, fiber, materials, etc., but definitely an open space, in the community to relax, connect, learn, explore, create, and possibly have your mind busted open, as mine was, when I first discovered all of this!

SA:  Great dreams, Nicole and my crystal balls predicts they will come true for you.   When do you remember breaking away from following the instructions/recipe/directions and taking off on your own?

NC:  In the apparel and textile design program that I went through, it wasn’t a matter of breaking away because from an original idea is where we started.  All we did, day-in and day-out, was learn the process of designing from the ground up.  It was a struggle, but in such a good way.  Many sewing, pattern drafting, and draping skills were required to get you where you wanted to go, but we learned to figure those out, as we went, too.  So, when I started in the fiber arts, the mentality was already there.  In many ways, designing with my own handspun yarns is much easier because it is already a more customized, and more 3-dimensional, starting point.  I can go in more directions with it from the beginning.  In apparel designing, with pre-made fabrics, you are starting with a 2-dimensional material, totally flat, and need to make that into a 3-dimensional finished product which fits around the human body.  I find that almost counter-intuitive for me.  I think it is much more productive to start with the fiber, make the yarn and build a piece from that.  It is  more e sculptural process, rather than a flat fabric, which you then have to cut up, and sew it back together, into a structured piece.  Obviously, we need flat, pre-woven fabrics for many things, but as an artist/designer I find the process of starting from scratch, and using a 3-dimensional designing process, more natural for me.  Now I am designing the textiles, specifically, for my own end use, instead of using a pre-made textile and trying to manipulate that into doing my will.  Once I have the yarns,  it really is just an instinctual process of turning them into what they came here to be.

In knitting, I initially started knitting with patterns, as most people do.  After a few months, a dad at play group saw me knitting and asked me to make a tam for him to wear over his dreads.  I couldn’t find a good pattern that he or I liked, so, I just kind of figured it out. I definitely had to rip back a few times, mostly due to gauge problems, of course.  Also, I was using cotton, and when the finished hat didn’t have the stretch or memory that was needed I went out and bought a ball of Cascade Fixation, ripped the whole hat out, and carried the elastic core yarn in places to give the hat the elasticity it needed.  It turned out great!  Ultimately, that experience, though time consuming, was so much more fun, and satisfying, than knitting with patterns.  With knitting, half of the battle is figuring out how many to cast on, cause then you are kind of stuck in that number.  It takes some planning and trial and error.  That is why I needed to learn to crochet once I had all these bulky, textured yarns and my ideas, there were certain things that I couldn’t achieve with knitting, certain freedoms that I couldn’t find.  I have no idea how to crochet from a pattern!  I tried once or twice to start there, while learning, and it didn’t work out for me.  I just picked up some of my own yarn and started crocheting.

Designing and making without patterns, and with these creatively spun yarns, is a very intuitive process for me.  People have asked me for a pattern and I have none to give them.  It is good to start with a loose plan based on a pattern, but every yarn is different…and it is a process.  I can only say, I would love to guide you through the process, but I have no pattern for you.  I may try to start writing some out, eventually, but I would rather show others how to go about creating without patterns, on their own, too.

SA:  That has been my experience in working with a lot of my own handspun yarns — I just sit down and start knitting with some type of notion in my head about where I’m trying to end up.  It is hard to explain to people how to do it.  What one piece of advice do you have for someone thinking about starting a fiber arts based business?

NC:  I have a tattoo on my right-hand wrist, to remind me everyday, and in everything I do, it says, “follow your bliss”.  That is pretty much my first concern with whatever path I am on.  If you are following your bliss then you are on your ultimate, highest path. I believe that if you are passionate, authentic, and truly happy in what you are doing then the success will follow…in fact, that is my idea of success in and of itself…and, I think the money will usually follow.  Don’t doubt yourself.  I would also say to stay true to your own vision, even if you look around and many others in the field are doing, or focusing on, certain things, only your own vision is what is uniquely yours to offer, and staying true to that is going to be your authentic creative path…and give you the most chance of success.

SA:  Such spot on advice!  Thanks so much, Nicole — I know I found your words personally very inspiring and I know others will too. 

2011 Readers' Choice Winter Carnival Contest Winner - "Long Winters Nap" by Nicole Constantin, Rose Nectar Fibre Couture

Oh, my gosh, Readers — you are not going to believe what else Nicole has in store for one of you!  I’m so happy to announce that Nicole has graciously offered to do an online mini-workshop on Patternless Design using funky, chunky yarn.  The winner of this giveaway will work directly with Nicole via email and Skype sessions.  Nicole will walk the winner through the making of a hat with the goal of how to get the look you want while still getting the right fit and function from the design without using a pattern.  This is a good opportunity for folks who want new ideas on how to use these yarns or artists looking to experience another artist’s design process.  The winner should have basic crochet skills and will need to supply their own creatively spun yarn in order to take the workshop.  In order to enter, please leave a comment on this post and let us know what you’d like to get out of a workshop such as this.  You may gain additional entries by sharing on FB, Twitter, etc..  Just leave a separate comment letting me know that you did.  Entries may be made up until this Sunday at 5 pm.  Best of luck to all! 

Until then, all my fibery best, Arlene

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