Defining the woman behind TAFA. An interview with Rachel Biel.

Defining the woman behind TAFA. An interview with Rachel Biel.

I’ve been looking forward to sharing this interview with Rachel Biel. She is the founder of TAFA [ ], a fiber artist, a

 business woman and a innovator. Rachel is interesting, informed and candid. Rachel Biel has a lot to say, that

you’re going to be interested in hearing.

#1-What first interested you in fiber art?  How did that lead to a career in that field?

I’ve always enjoyed making things. My parents both kept themselves busy with projects that were utilitarian,

but creative. I learned how to embroider when I was around 12, taking classes with a scary old lady down in Brazil

who was a master embroiderer. Even though I didn’t much like her,  I loved the threads and what could be done

with them. In my 20’s, I started making hats and bags from fabric I found at thrift stores, then became interested

in quilts. I continue to explore stitching in different ways, but would not consider this my career. For twenty

years I worked with handicrafts from the world, selling them through various enterprises in Chicago and then

 online. My primary interest all along has been in the economic  development potential that crafts have in contributing

 to a more sustainable and beautiful way of living. I would like to see artists, villages, and people in general have the

option to choose a handmade and green lifestyle and be able to have their needs met while they do it.  I finally

focused on textiles for practical reasons: easy to ship and store, not breakable, ect. I buy vintage textiles and re-sell

them online, figuring that if they don’t sell, I can always use them in something I make. This path has been a winding,

wonderful process of discovery!

# 2- Your resume shows a long history in the field of fiber art. Are there any

highlights which stand out in your mind? 

I am fascinated by the use of found materials, of the conversation between traditional and contemporary, of  building

bridges between cultures and people. Textiles are such a tactile and personal expression of who we are and I am

constantly inspired by what I see. I also believe in the healing  component that comes  from doing anything with

your hands, whether it is gardening, sewing, turning wood, spinning clay on a wheel. We have removed ourselves

 from the creative process and become sick as a society. Art can heal us.

# 3- Do you recall any decision or choice you made or choice you made which changed the  

of your life or career?

Yes, the decision to become self-employed  when I was 28 removed the security net under my feet. I have

been without health insurance since  [ I’m 50 now ] and often financially stressed. This is something so

many of us struggle with and  it  has definitely affected my life. In the beginning, I thought it was

my choice. About eight years ago, I tried to get back into  the regular work force and found that there are

 only entry-level  jobs available to me. I was forced to look at my skills and find a way to carve

out my own niche. I was able to do that, but it’s a daunting task.

# 4- Do you have any advice for a person who wants to pursue a career as a fiber artist? 

You have to be passionate about anything in the arts in order to make a living at it.  Competition is fierce.

It takes quite a bit of discipline to produce work, document it, market it and then sell it.  I enjoyed the

process of making  more than selling what I create, so have other skills to support my lifestyle: launching

TAFA, providing technical assistance, and re-selling the vintage textiles.  Last year I focused on learning

how to use WordPress and have since been helping other artists update or launch their websites. So,

for a beginner, my suggestion would be to develop a second set of skills that can help earn some money

 and be ready to have a long wait to succeed as an artist. There are two reasons that I see this: it takes

time to build a body of work, to experiment, to find the muse, and it takes time to develop the skills that

will define the work. Other advice : don’t copy what’s already out there. Find your own voice. There are

millions making the same things or similar things and it is only by being “original ” that you will stand out.

We are all “stealing” from the past, nothing is new under the sun,  and yet we live in a fascinating time

when the old is reinterpreted into something unique.

# 5- In pursuing a career as a fiber artist, you have needed to develop into a strong 

business woman. Do you have any advice for women who  find themselves in similar

 circumstances and goals?

Learn some basic business skills. Take a workshop, research online…There are tons of resources out there.

Make a 5-year business plan, You don’t have to stick to it, but it will help you to get an idea of where

you are headed and what you need to do to get there. Learn to use some social media platforms. My favorite

is Facebook. Not the personal pages, but the business ones where you can really build a network of people

who are interested in what you are doing.

#6- -What five words would you use to describe yourself?

Visionary, persistent, calm, flexible, overwhelmed

# 7- What do you feel is your greatest strength and greatest flaw?

Greatest strength: ability to take risks.

Greatest flaw: too stuck in my comfort zone.

# 8- You may be most recognized  as the founder and dynamic force behind

TAFA. What was the  inspiration that led you to found TAFA?

Tafa is the result of years of trying to figure out how to access markets for my stuff, working with small

importers who had the same needs and seeing artists struggle to get their work seen. When social media

started to take off, I kept bumping into the same people, all trying to do this as well. One example is Susan

Sorrell from Creative Chick Studios [ ].

Everywhere I went, there she was, ahead of me. She seemed so savvy and knowledgeable. I  figured if

we all banded together and drove people to the same place, it would be easier to be found. My mantra

has been “Together we can do great things.”

# 9-What did you hope to accomplish in creating TAFA?  Do you 

feel that is has been successful in accomplishing it?

The # 1 goal is “Markets for Members” and that hasn’t really happened yet. I have to say that I am a bit

disappointed that more members don’t blow TAFA’s horn,   but it takes a while to build an organization

and as they start seeing  the results, I am confident that they will jump in and be more vocal about

what we have. There is a core group that is active and vocal about what we have successfully

accomplished, is sharing tips, insights and supporting each other.The collective knowledge is amazing

and it’s a consistent source of learning and inspiration for me.

#10-TAFA is  culturally diverse representing over 30 different countries . Was it your

intention to provide an avenue for economically challenged artisans to sell their work,

improving their economic situation? If so can you tell us anything how  TAFA  became


We’re actually up to 44 countries now and I have made it a priority from the beginning to have an

international focus. One of my goals has been  to build a bridge between the ethnic textiles and the contemporary

ones. We all face technological challenges and it’s even more difficult for those who don’t have an infrastructure

in place to sell their products effectively. For example , PayPal is not active in most African countries and many

postal systems are unreliable and a mess. So, many places need intermediaries who can speak up for them or

help them access those tools. The world economy has changed dramatically in the last ten years and the United

States is no longer a stable economy that can support the arts like it used to.  As other emerging economies

begin to have more disposable income, they also begin to show an interest in the handmade lifestyle.  So, for

me. it’s not  only about giving the Guatemalan weaver a shared platform with the weaver in Santa Fe, but it’s

also about giving the New York quilter  a possible audience in Russia or Japan. We’re not there yet, but it’s

something to think about and watch.

#11-You have seen this organization grow in a relatively short time to

 include many members,  including  nationally recognized fiber artists.

Does this growth level meet your expectations?

I feel very proud of what has been done so far, but I long for the day when it will truly become an organization.

Several members help out with routine tasks which helps a lot, but we really need  to reach the point where

we have an actual staff with salaries and jobs.

# 12-What do you foresee in the future for TAFA ? Any

long term goals?

My long term goal for TAFA  is to get it to onto a stable financial footing, shape it’s organizational

structure, and then spin it off to the members. It will be an S-corporation and members will be able to buy

shares and own it. I intend to see it reach a point where we can truly provide services, technical, financial

assistance, and fulfill our mission of helping our members to sell their products. I believe that  this will take

another five years to get there, but you never know! It could happen a lot faster! In my mind, I see a huge

website with thousands of members, and then a core group that helps define the programming and needs

of the larger membership. We don’t know where the world will be in 10 years. When you think about it, ten

years ago we didn’t have Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or so many things we take for granted. So, we need to

be flexible, be alert and and respond appropriately. I envision local hubs becoming active where members

can support each other on a local level, having international conferences with business workshops, having

traveling  exhibits or a couple of brick and mortar retail store,or having our own online shopping venue

and so on. It will  be exciting to see how it grows, morphs, and becomes it’s own reality!


Barbara Olson a Cinderella Quilt Artist

An Interview with Barb Olson

Barb Olson, you’ve seen her award winning art quilts, beautiful, bright glorious color with intricate design.

You may have read ‘/

Her work has received much recognition; magazines, books and certainly quilt shows too numerous to relate here. Perhaps the highest accolade she’s received is that one of Barb’s quilts was chosen as one of the top 100 quilts of the century.  Continue reading → Barbara Olson a Cinderella Quilt Artist

Ann Johnston- A multifaceted woman

Here’s a quilt from 2010, Balance 32. 49″ x 93″ there will be an article Ann wrote in an upcoming SAQA journal titled “Variety” that discusses contrast in designs and refers to this one in particular.

Ann Johnson is multifaceted.
Her start was as a traditional quilter for many years.. With some experimentation, she branched out into art quilting. which in turn lead to her other lines of pursuit, She is perhaps most recognized with newer quilters as an international expert on fabric dyeing, an author, and educator. Ann is very successful in all of these areas, her reputation is international.

However, she is a quilter first and foremost. These many facets of her talent sprang as a natural outgrowth of her work as a quilt artist

When you pursue her online resume,  it is quite impressive, more solo and group expositions than you can begin to imagine. The list of publications, books  & magazines that have featured her work is extensive.. Then there are the many  books she has authored herself, very respected and

As an author and educator, her publications have established her as an expert in fabric design and dyeing. Her updated expanded  version of  the extensive “The Quilter’s Book of Design”, published in 2008 is considered a complete guide for those wishing to move from commercial fabric to creating  their own dyed and  designed fabrics. ve career as a quilter! A career that anyone would be proud of.

Yet she  has not rested on her laurels, she  expanded into what could almost be called a second career and gained as much respect and success as her “first”.

As an out growth of her quilting,  she began to dye all the fabrics for her quilts, which has led to her  international reputation as a fabric dyer and educator.   In her  books  & workshops she has shared her experience & expertise with other quilter’s.

Would you like to gain more insight into this amazing woman? Of course you would. so read on….

Questions and Answers:

1-For many new artists, it is difficult to find their own voice and not simply emulate those whose style they admire. What has helped you to develop your own voice & perspective?

My first reaction to this question is to say that after making quilts for over thirty years, I am still looking for “my own voice.” I do admire many other quilters’ work, so I make a conscious effort not to be imitative or derivative. I am not trying to make a body of work that looks like it is all from the same person, I just make them how I feel, and they come out as mine. Of course, using my own hand dyed fabric with marks I made and colors I created makes it much easier to differentiate my work from other people’s. As I develop an idea for a quilt, I make sure it is exactly what I am interested in, and as I construct a quilt, I continually ask myself if the choices fit my idea and if they are what I feel like doing—in the end my work is my work.

2-You obviously have a successful career as a quilt artist, & are known for your fabrics and books about fabric dyeing. I know they go hand in hand, but do you have a preference for one over the other?

I do love teaching, and the book writing and publishing has been exciting. Both take huge amounts of creativity and energy and are extremely rewarding, but I prefer making quilts! I am focusing on the making right now, that’s where the mystery is.

3–Who or what have had the most influence on your work?

I would say that the greatest influence on my quiltmaking is my fabric. I haven’t used commercially printed fabrics since the early 80’s. For some time now, the fabric itself has been prompting ideas for quilts.

4- Do you feel that gaining recognition has affected you as an artist?

Yes, probably. It has made me busy doing other things. I do spend some energy trying not to look for recognition for the wrong reasons.

5–What has been your proudest accomplishments to date?

Well, as far as my quilting career, my books are going to outlast anything I have done. Being my own publisher has allowed me to make quality choices that I would not have been able to have elsewhere. I hired an experienced photographer, book designer, color and text editors, proofreaders and high quality printers, etc, and so my books are high quality as well as full of good solid information.

6–What do you do for fun [besides quilting and dying and teaching and writing books? ? What time?] ?

I have a close family and spend a lot of time with them, near and far. I travel and hike with my husband all over the place. This summer we walked across England on the Coast to Coast Trail and this fall we walked the Rogue River Wilderness Trail in Oregon. We have two grandchildren that live close enough to be with us at least several times a week. Now, that is fun!

Did you ask when??? I don’t get everything done on my lists, but the things that I must do, get done. I must make quilts, so I have always found time.

7-How have you handled the business side of your career?

This is a question I have been working on for a long time, and answers have evolved. I am at the point now that I get help when I need it and listen to advice when I ask for it! The business world would shudder at my attitude towards profitmaking, but I do get to make decisions that fit my world.

8-What has been the most helpful in achieving your success?

I would say that I work very hard and I have kept at it for a very long time. All the work and time has contributed to my growth as an artist.

9–How would you describe your artistic style?

I can’t. I don’t really want to.

10-Describe yourself in 5 words.

Waiting to make another quilt.

11-What have been some of your biggest obstacles?

I have been very lucky in everything that is important.

12-In creating a new work, what part of the process do you enjoy the most?

I enjoy seeing how it finally looks when all the decisions are made, so I can go on to the next one.

13- What advice would you offer to someone just starting a career in fiber arts?

Keep your eyes wide open, practice, practice, practice, and keep learning.


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