Strange though the journey may sound, it was the panic attacks that led Ami Peyton-Kleiner to her life’s work and passion. Peyton-Kleiner designs and hand-weaves elaborate custom tapestries.
“It was Claire (Coco, director at the Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center) who helped me develop an appreciation for nature,” she said, and it was that appreciation that inspired “Sunset at the Swamp,” a piece on exhibit this month as part of the 2015 Quilt the Swamp contemporary fiber art show.
This year’s theme, “Metamorphosis,” came from the nature center’s own transformation over the past years, Coco said. The center just celebrated the opening of its new educational building, which allowed for expanded programs during the summer and for holiday children’s camps.
Peyton-Kleiner said she was excited about participating in the show, and she knew immediately what piece she would submit. “Sunset is really the ultimate transformation,” she said, and even the existence of her career as a fiber artist — even the act of learning to weave, with no exaggeration, transformed her life.
Peyton-Kleiner was in military language school learning Arabic on Sept. 11, 2001. “Life got really real, really fast,” she said. When her time in the service was over, she spent the intervening years working and dealing with anxiety and panic attacks that tended to get in the way of work. She tried and loved many jobs, including sales, culinary school and investment banking.
“I loved the clients I worked with, but stepping out of the room when I felt a panic attack coming on — it was difficult,” she said.
She’d read that knitting could be a good way to relax, so she took that up and, pretty soon, started playing around with wool and silk fibers. She decided to take a class in Kentucky to learn how to weave. From there, she visited a loom manufacturer, where she bought her first loom, and she’s never stopped weaving.
“It really turned out to be that thing I was searching for,” she said. She learned to spin her own yarn, and a friend custom dyes the yarns for her.
The detail that comes with weaving — sketching out a design, choosing the colors she will use and weaving using two shuttles so she can carefully control each pixel of color — became a zenlike meditation. She could get lost in it and concentrate on just the portion of the loom she was working on at the moment, all while keeping the broader vision of the whole work in her mind’s eye.
It’s been good medicine for her, she said, and the only thing that seems to reliably control her panic attacks.
She creates her work at her home studio near Lafayette and occasionally teaches weaving to others.
She said she was surprised how much she learned about herself from sitting down at the loom.
“I can be as much of a perfectionist as I want with it, but I’ve also learned when it’s a good time to let go of those imperfections and just move on. Not everything will show up on the loom the way it is in my head,” she said. The piece hanging in the center took her 360 hours to make. “And that’s a conservative estimate. It took at least that long,” she said.
But in weaving, as in life, sometimes, the mistakes become the strokes of brilliance. She points to a very deliberate-looking nest of green silk yarn spun into a series of loops and twirls that bears an uncanny resemblance to the water plants it represents on the tapestry, near the base of a cypress tree.
“That was a mistake. It was a custom color of silk yarn that I was going to use in the tapestry weave. I dropped it, and it got all tangled up. I spent a long time trying everything I could to get it untangled, and when I gave up, decided to try to repurpose it as it was,” she said. She attached it to the tapestry using a felting process that involves pushing the fibers through the woven fabric with a wire brush. They looked so good, she said, she later created more tangles of gray-green yarn to make Spanish moss.
Lucy Landry, a well-known doll maker in her own right, created a felted wool bowl being held upright by a pair of hands made of nude silk cloth with pink designs embroidered on them with silk thread, akin to temporary tattoo made on skin with henna dye.
“I’ve never been good at two-dimensional art,” Landry said. “I’m much better in 3-D. I see myself as mechanically included. I like to think about how to put things together and how to take things apart,” she said.
Michael Young, the president of the CFAL, said the story of how the pieces were made play a big role in the enjoyment of each piece. The individual talents of each artist comes through in the works, he said, pointing out a piece that included layers of sheer fabrics that creates an ethereal effect. “This was made by a very talented costume designer, Wendy Starn” he said, while pointing out Jane Olson-Phillips’ piece that included clay polymer pieces handmade and sewn onto a felted wool mask with a yarn beard and hair. “She is a jewelry maker, and it shows in the detail of her piece,” he said.
“You can pick just about anything up and add it to an art quilt,” he said, pointing out one quilt that included real leaves that had been soaked in glycerin, dried and sewn onto a quilted piece. Young’s own art piece includes pieces of brass that he cut to shape and sewed to the surface of his quilt panels.
For all those interested in seeing the nature-inspired exhibit at the center, the pieces will remain up through Feb. 15, Coco said.