When I first met Nancy Mambi, who is the Textile Center Librarian, I had just signed up to volunteer. I didn’t know anyone in the library or in the extended fiber arts community which cradles the Textile Center like a hand knit blanket, so I simply called and spoke with the other Nancy. Nancy Killmer was so delighted someone just ‘dialed up’ that she let me pick which area appealed to me the most. Since I think working in a library is a privilege, it was an easy choice. If you are unaware, the Textile Center library houses the largest circulating textile and fiber arts collection in the US. Come and see it! The Amazing Textile Center Library
Over the past four years, I’ve gotten to know Nancy Mambi and been the recipient of her generosity many times. It’s really fun to come in and plunk down at one of the library tables and let the conversation take many directions. New magazines, books or even historic pieces launch discussions about which Nancy is extremely knowledgeable. Two years ago I asked her to be a part of the 2013 Fiber Art Almanac. I had seen some of her hand dyed scarves (they are really fiber art for the wall) and wanted to learn more about her process of creating the layers, her use of color discharge techniques, printing and dyeing with vibrant color. And to learn about her thought process when she made them.
She invited me to her home for her ‘some people come over on Wednesday morning’ group. I was unprepared for the extensive activities this group of fiber artists undertakes. Not only did I see the scarf series Nancy created and was then featured in the 2013 Almanac, but five other women were there who exhibit, teach, write color technique manuals and were very excited to show me their work! I felt completely humbled that these women would be excited to be a part of an art calendar. That’s who Nancy is; never taking the limelight alone but willing to put others ahead of herself.
Nancy attended a St. Paul Minnesota Quilters Show and discovered Susan Stein’s store booth at the event. Completely taken with the contemporary fabrics, design ideas and color, she immediately signed up for classes and and began a lifelong immersion into many types of fabric and fiber art. Some of the friends she met while working at Susan’s shop are the same people who are a part of the Wednesday morning group who gather in her St. Paul bungalow. It’s been over ten years now. They call their group Fiber Edge.
Nancy’s in-home studio completely takes over the basement of her house. It’s one giant space with areas for washing, sewing, hanging up to dry, a huge work table, and bathroom complete with shower. This past winter, while we were all frozen above the ground, Nancy completely renovated the space. It’s not only perfect for experimenting and letting the creative juices flow, but it’s gorgeous! Storage, finished walls and ceiling and a lovely bathroom door! What a great example of how fiber arts brings people together and makes for wonderful relationships.
Nancy’s love for the feel of fabric started early with her childhood chenille blanket she dragged everywhere. Her mother made clothing, did handwork and shared her needlework skills with her young daughter. Growing up she recalls an especially large repair project her mom would take on from time to time for a family friend who was a glider pilot. When he crashed, he would bring the glider wings for Nancy’s mom to repair. Nancy can remember holding the fabric taut by standing as far into the dining room as possible while her mom sewed in the kitchen!
Nancy’s textile skills cross many boundaries. She crochets, quilts, has knotted, embroidered and even spent time working with hardanger. She wet and needle felts, uses procion, acid and natural dyes, likes to use discharge paste and shibori techniques to design on silk. (this is a short list) She says she’s unfocused, moving from one medium and technique to another but I think she has a great curious drive for how materials work together. She likes to experiment and solve the puzzle of how to get from an assortment of raw materials and tools to an amazing piece of fiber art. And if she likes it, she’ll ask herself what else can I do with this?
While Nancy’s inspiration comes from lots of books, magazines and web surfing and the Fiber Edge group, her motivation comes from the fact she likes to sell her work. Using her procion dye skills, Nancy dyes white bamboo crew socks in a cornucopia of colors to sell at the Midtown Global Market. In fact, the socks are so popular, she can’t keep up! Nancy converted the simple Potato Chip scarf pattern into a crochet pattern and makes dozens which sell handily in the Textile Center gift shop. And of course, her silk scarves! When you have good products, just go with it!
These two scarves are a couple of her favorites to wear and show two examples of dyeing and printing on silk. The hand of the scarves are soft with drape even though they’ve had color added, color taken away, been printed on and have been wrapped around poles.
One could also say yarn, like water, is necessary to life. Sculptural pieces are new for Nancy. Here is an interesting and fun use of fiber representing everyday objects. She combines a hardware store wall hydrant attached to a block of wood that’s covered by a needlepoint canvas stitched in a brick motif. The sparkling water is represented by blue multi stranded yarn embellished with sequins…and the water does seems to flow!
Nancy’s quilting was a surprise to me as I’d only seen her fabulous silk pieces. As with most quilters, they adorn the walls of her house. This quilt is not quite finished as it needs a border, but the contemporary composition and fabrics are bright and fun. It has quite a bit of energy and would be the focal point on any wall. It’s easy to see how Nancy was drawn to the contemporary end of the fabric palette.
Nancy exhibits her work with the Fiber Edge group and in the Common Thread members exhibit at the Textile Center. Come and say hi at the Textile Center Library!