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The Most Local Talent

December 5, 2010

Unexpected  and extraordinary treasures can come in the form of human beings, and sometimes we are fortunate enough to have these individuals as our neighbors.

Preparing for the drop in temperatures, cold weather attire was on my mind… and so was the idea of inviting another knitter into the project.  As the concept of winter-weather garments began to develop… there was Allison Reilly–a recent high school graduate, on her way to London, to study at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design.

Our lives intersected at the most opportune moment… within several days of our first meeting, we had agreed on a project– local yarns were put into her hands, and we were off to the farm to visit the source.  Our interview and documentation of Reilly’s life began early one morning at her home just before our trip north.

Reilly casts-on with Napa Valley yarns, her art adorns the walls behind her

Reilly began her knitting life at age nine, she taught herself  from internet sites, ‘my mom and grandma didn’t know how,.. I taught them to knit last year.‘  She was employed by the local knitting atelier by age 15, and soon after was teaching classes to women twice and three times her age.  She is a prodigy–as everyone who sees her work can agree; the patterns and forms that emerge from her adept, and incredibly quick hands and needles are created by inspiration and memory.  She keeps meticulous notes of her favorite pieces, and has a collection of patterns filed away for a future book on the subject, ( we are all looking forward to that book!)

While still in high school, Reilly designed and knit the above dress, and a plethora of other projects.  ‘I love pushing the boundary of traditional knitwear design to make it something exciting and fashion-forward, but while also maintaining the art of it being a handicraft.

I’m interested in modern, well-fitting pieces, that really explore pattern… I’ve done everything by hand, we’ll see how it goes when I get onto the knitting machine.’ Reilly’s four year program is focused in fashion with an emphasis on knitwear design, and she’ll be learning a variety of techniques to take her handwork to a larger scale.

Reilly’s inspiration towards life and knitting is evident from her book collection– the Sticth ‘N Bitch series is piled amongst Don Miguel Ruez’s Four Agreements and  books on Buddhist philosophy.  It’s not simple to assign an age to Reilly–from her taste in literature to the fine art on her walls– (all of which she painted or drew herself)–her accumulation of talents and her innate wisdom reminisce of an older lot.

The older lot is very supportive of Reilly– all the grown-up folks who come into contact with her see the passion and skill that she brings to her work, and are often asking her to do the troubleshooting on their own knitwear pieces.  In preparation for her college sojourn, Reilly’s knitting circle friends created squares, each representative of their own personal style.  The pieces were then sewn together into a memory quilt to adorn Reilly’s college dorm.  ‘I’ve spent a lot of time with my knitting community, I’m the youngest one in the group… I like spending time with people that are older than I am.’  Her natural proclivity to transcend age is an inspiring and grounding element of our relationship–spending time with her is like hanging out with a girlfriend you’ve known forever.

Our trip northeast, brought us deeper into the Fibershed designation– within 45 miles of my front door, we had made our way to Mary Pettis-Sarley’s 2,ooo acre ranch in the Napa Valley.  When Reilly was asked what inspired her about the Fibershed project, her response was, ‘I wanted to make a garment from sheep to final product. I love feeling connected to the original source of something, whether that be with a sweater I knit or a pie made of berries I picked. I love tradition too, carrying out practices that people did hundreds of years before me.’

Reilly’s early years were filled with direct experience of the natural world, ‘my brother and I were lucky enough to grow up in Fairfax and we spent the majority of our time outside and up on our hill, building forts and pretending to live off the land. I read “My Side of the Mountain” when I was in third grade and was determined to live completely independently from society or anyone else, all by myself in nature with the animals and plants.’

I saw Fibershed as a chance to fulfill some of those childhood dreams, and also as an incredible way for us to meditate on how we care for our environment, our bodies, and the people around us. The processes of fibershed are steeped in traditions from around the world and I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of a movement to preserve them and share them with others.

Reilly has blessed the project with an incredible visual palate… her first pieces are the most delicious legwarmers!

Reilly created a double cable filled-in with a pattern she calls ‘moss’.  The back of the leg design took inspiration from the scotch fisherman sweater patterns… (each family had patterns that would help identify the men at sea, especially in the case of fatal accidents).

The legwarmers are a beautiful symbol of Reilly’s passions, talents, and commitment.  She has graced this project with several other garments since this first creation.. and we look forward to sharing those with you very soon!

Reilly sits and knits in her mother's art studio; a painting of her grandfather rests behind her

As Reilly herself has described her path merging her love of art and nature… she exists as living proof that young people, are, in fact keeping the ancient traditions alive, with a sensibility and desire to merge their creative and modern aesthetic with the good old ways.

Her final comments on the project: I can’t wait to watch it take on a life of its own (which it already has with Dr. Sara Gottfried’s organic experiment and all of the students you have taught in your workshops) and help spread it myself. I still plan on basing my BA final project around the fibershed of England at the end of my three year course.’

We look forward to an ancient future with Allison, and all of those involved in this blessed project!!

Thank you to the Reilly Family for sharing your home, to Mary Pettis-Sarley for sharing your time-animals and fibers, to Paige and Zoe for your documentation!

9 Comments
  1. December 6, 2010 12:49 pm

    as fibershed moves through the year, i am more and more impressed with it’s scope and intention. this wonderful young woman reminds me of one i know here, who can decipher and reproduce ancient peruvian textiles or make (spin, dye, design, knit) nifty toques and mittens.

  2. Erin permalink
    December 6, 2010 4:33 pm

    What a beautiful article.

  3. Lynn permalink
    December 7, 2010 3:20 pm

    This was inspiring article and Allison Reilly sounds very amazing.
    The photos of her dress and the legwarmers (was that knit by hand?) and all really helped to let us see.
    Can we have a pattern of the leg warmer? what kind of wool are they from? and all the pieces made up that will go into a bed warmer show how all this is done by people and what we can do together.
    Have you found local angora rabbit or goat people yet? or alpaca…(just found an open house of several ranches near my town)

    • ecologicalartist permalink*
      December 15, 2010 2:18 am

      Hi Lynn!

      I’ll see about getting you a pattern for those legwarmers! The skirt in the picture is made from Sally Fox’s cotton– she lives in our Fibershed and had lots of her cotton fabric milled when there were more mills. We are using this fabric to showcase possible future milling projects that we hope to see re-kindled in our region.

      We are using Alpaca and angora as well!! More documentation to come!! Thanks for reading.. and I look forward to more of your questions and comments

  4. Carolyn Longstreth permalink
    January 4, 2011 4:36 am

    Hi Rebecca- I met you at the Station House the other night. This is a great project, congratulations!

  5. kristine permalink
    October 12, 2011 1:39 am

    Do you have a pattern for the knit shorts? Would love to make them for my daughter.

    • ecologicalartist permalink*
      October 18, 2011 1:09 am

      Hi Kristine!

      Can you refresh me on what knit shorts you are thinking of? Off the top of my head, I’m thinking of my wardrobe, and I can’t place the ‘shorts’.
      I have knit legwarmers as well as knit leggings? Thanks for checking in….

    • ecologicalartist permalink*
      October 18, 2011 1:51 am

      Oh yes! Thanks Lynn! The swim shorts! Monica Paz Soldan did that pattern, and I just sent an email to her requesting she print up her pattern… no promises on timing, but
      we’ll have it on our marketplace as soon as she writes it! (our marketplace will be up by Nov. 1st).

  6. Lynn D permalink
    October 18, 2011 1:32 am

    Maybe Kristine means the shorts in the ecl fiber celebration fashion show, page and you tube?
    How is Allison doing?
    Have been wondering about foot coverings lately. Wonder if that can be a local type acquirement. Wish could get some comfy shoes!
    B eWell

    Lynn D

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