Follow along with us to learn about Janet Darcher and her journey from working with adolescent offenders to creating art quilts with her custom handmade fabrics. Janet is inspired by the nature around her, and some good ‘ole rusty yard art!
How did you get started designing art quilts? Always an artist, or was there a “moment”?
I began quilting in 2000, helping with a project in my daughter’s kindergarten class. I enjoyed the processes (almost as much as I enjoyed my time with the kids).
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I took some classes at a local quilt shop. I tried my hand at traditional quilting but had a difficult time. Following a pattern, matching seams isn’t part of my DNA. It was a good way to start and I really appreciate the artistry and perfection of traditional quilting. I learned some good lessons but I found myself frustrated by the process.
At the time I was working with adolescent offenders for Washington State Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration and doing a lot of work with gang members.
I started a group called AARP (African American Rights of Passage) and the residents and I began making quilts as representational art. It was amazing what these young men were able to accomplish. Their work was exhibited throughout the state system and in 2007 at a Child Welfare Conference in Seattle.
It was at this venue that I saw an exhibit of quilts by Contemporary QuiltArts Association, it was a moment of inspiration. I was struck by the variety of techniques used but it was each pieces story that inspired and set me in a new direction.
Why textiles? How does that medium best express what you want to communicate through your art?
My mother and grandmother spent time teaching me to sew when I was young. I loved the process from start to finish. My favorite part was the shopping, looking and finding just the right fabric.
My grandmother worked as a seamstress so she knew all the good places. As a teenager I made my clothes and always found ways to embellish them.
Throughout high school I took art classes; printmaking, water color, jewelry, lapidary. Following high school, I did an apprenticeship with Zales Jewelers in their trade shop in Denver. For the most part it was repair and sizing.
I longed to do more, so I went back to school and got a degree in Public Administration and a minor in Industrial Art. I worked in metal, wood, plastic but very little fiber. I continued to work for Zales and did consignment work for a small jewelry studio to pay for college.
Following college my path took me away from creating. I worked as an Aid to a Daily Living Instructor in Wyoming. I worked for USDA Food and Nutrition Services in mountain counties in Colorado. I worked underground in a molybdenum mine and for serval years I helped my husband in his mine rehab business until we located to the PNW in 1987.
Before retiring in 2015 I worked as a social worker, public administrator and director of operations. During most of this time the sewing machine was never far away. I did costumes for the local theater and dance groups. I helped friends and family with clothing and home décor.
It wasn’t until I retired that I really found textiles. I started playing with fabric, paint and dye. I didn’t know it was surface design – I just had fun. Then I started to meet amazing fiber artists (who shared their techniques and processes with me) and began to define my work.
SAQA Global Exhibition-Light the World
September 2021-December 2024
Crepuscular Rays was the first time I submitted a piece for jurying outside of Washington state. It was accepted and I was blown away. The fabric was rust dyed during the summer of social distancing in 2020. Using an old logging mill saw blade found on our property, the piece was over dyed three times to give the movement of the sun.
What inspires you to create?
I’m lucky to live on 28 acres in rural Washington on the Naselle River. I spend lots of time outside, by the water and in my garden. The natural world has always inspired me, it is where I can calm my thoughts and refresh.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I really like working with used items and materials I find (especially on my “adventures). Collage and fragmentation allow me to add elements to a piece that some may think unrelated but somehow come together.
For Another Chair at the Table, I rust dyed my great-grandmother’s damask table cloth with a cast iron griddle. I printed images of food my daughter made when she was 12 and 13, my grandmothers mixing bowl (that I still use) and recipes written by my daughter, my mother and grandmother. I thread sketched an egg beater and a table and chairs. All this came together.
The fabric for Sentinel was dyed with plant material from the garden; weld, dahlias, maple leaves and pomegranates. I did thread sketching and hand stitching to tell the story of a hawk that I saw flying along the sloughs and over the fields along Puget Island on the Columbia River.
If we asked a good friend of yours to describe your work, what would they say?
My work tells a story and is genuine.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I like to “make do”, ‘use what’s on hand”, “scavenge”, find.
I like to keep it as simple as possible. Most times what I start out making becomes something else.
Sometimes I see something new in what I’m working on and go in another direction.
I like the saying Man Plans, Gods Laugh. And nothing helps me get a piece completed like a deadline.
How do you manage your creative time? Do you schedule start and stop times? Or work only when inspired?
The older I get the more important it is for me to stay on task and finish as much as I can. I tend to segment my work, and complete the segments before moving on to another. This way I don’t have to remember where I left off, and the segments are completed.
I’d like to say that I manage and schedule time, but it pretty much manages me. When I worked and was raising my family, I did a much better job. I had to.
Now I play and because I play and try new things, I am far more creative than I have ever been. I never know when inspiration will strike, so I like to stay open.
What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade? Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for your studio?
Hair picks. I use them for mark making and marbling. Or maybe a potato masher another great mark maker. I have a shed full of old rusty parts that were never intended for use with textiles.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I do notebooks, that include photos, sketches, ideas, samples of work, color charts, fabric swatches and supply lists. It helps me keep things straight. And it is a good reference because I have process information for future work.
How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?
I’m starting something new all the time and often have several pieces going at one time.
I do a lot of hand work. Right now I have a stack next to my sewing table in my TV room. I need something to do while I watch television and it is nice to have something creative to do while I watch news, it keeps me grounded.
Are you a “finisher”? How many UFOs do you think you have?
When I first started, I was a finisher and sometimes I would make a number of similar pieces, for the practice or to change it up.
Now I have UFOs and if I don’t do something with them after several months, they may be reworked, cut up or passed on. It is another reason I keep notebooks so I know what I have started, when I started the piece and why.
What I have a lot of, is fabric I have surfaced designed. I know that is different than UFOs and it would be nice to think that I will use it. I am starting to tag it with information on technique and when it was made so just in case it isn’t used the next generation has an idea what it is.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I have the Red House that is on the property. It is a great space; a two-bedroom guesthouse and studio.
I have a wet area with a large work table, utility sink, a washer and dryer and my Juki.
The dry area is where I have fabric and supply storage, computer, work area and a seldom used long arm that was gifted to me.
The guesthouse is often used for playdates and sleepovers. I have a big deck and put up a sun shelter in the back for dyeing outside.
But, I’m not relegated to the studio. I have a bedroom in our house that became the sewing room when my oldest daughter left for college. I’m in there a lot especially when I wake up at 3am. It has my beloved Bernina and a nice work area. And, I hand sew in the car, on the deck, at the dock. I always have a Go Bag at the ready.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
New work starts in a variety of ways; trying a new technique, a prompt for an exhibit, an idea, a request.
Let me tell you about a work I did early this year involving the Naselle River, a frequent source of inspiration and exploration.
The river flows into Willapa Bay, an amazing estuary where my husband, Ed, has worked for years in Aquatic Invasive Species control. The estuary is continually threatened by invasive species both flora and fauna.
The European Green Crab, a globally damaging predator, is currently threatening the area’s economic, environmental, and cultural resources. At the beginning of the year Ed asked me to make him a green crab quilt.
For Green Ninja (2023), I enlarged the crab to illustrate its superpower. To see this little guy (2.4 to 4 inches), it’s hard to believe it’s destructive capability. The crab is a raw edge appliqué using scrape fabrics.
The background was rust dyed with an old Oyster Basket that Ed found years ago in the bay, and free motioned quilted.
Which part of the quilt design process is your favorite? Which part is a challenge for you?
I think it depends on the piece.
I pretty much like each step from designing a new piece, to picking fabric and materials, constructing and quilting, I even like binding (even though there are times I think I’ve done 5 corners).
There are times when I hit a lull, and I have a difficult time moving forward, but if I just get into the studio and start doing something even if it is cleaning up, it always helps to get me motivated.
How has your work changed over time?
My work is so much freer, I love experimenting with new techniques and materials. I don’t fret the small stuff and try not to over think the process. And, I’m not afraid of making mistakes, or using a good piece of fabric.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
The fiber art community is such a wonderful group and I am so glad to be part of it. I am always amazed at what members produce and share. It helps to keep me interested and motivated. I know that I can reach out if I have a question or need help with a project.
Do you critique your own work? What is your process?
I would like to say that I try to use the rules of design to critique my work, but I have always been someone who pushed limits and rules
I constantly critique my work, and I usually like what I make. So I ask others what they think.
I have some great friends that I trust in giving me honest and helpful input. And my husband is someone I really appreciate his thoughts and insight.
Interview posted August 2023
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