I met Bethany Mikell at the Orlando Museum of Art and her fiber work is glorious. She weaves and creates sumptuous clothing and accessories that are both soft and statement-making. She’s up in Asheville right now, making some new moves and I hope they know what they’ve got. If they don’t, they will soon. Let’s get to know Bethany.
It's a rather large memento that I don't currently have room for in my living space, so it's in safekeeping at my parents' home. My grandfather was a master woodworker, and before he passed in the mid-'90s, he made each of his seven grandchildren beautiful roll-top desks. Watching him (and helping, when I could) in his workshop is one of my fondest childhood memories, and I get my desire to create and work with my hands from him. I miss him very much.
Recent acquisition for your home?
A 6 ft. x 6 ft. massive tapestry loom. It's a beast. I recently warped it at fully-extended height for the first time, and I've just started weaving a full gown on it, which is going to take forever, but I'm excited about the challenge.
I make playlists as mood boards instead of using visual inspiration, so that's forever my ongoing obsession. I weave to them, and the music informs my weaving.
I love tapestry weaving, but I'm also a fashion designer. I weave pattern pieces for my custom garments, which is a little unusual, I suppose. It takes forever, but the payoff is worth it to have custom textiles that I've handwoven that can't be purchased or mass-produced.
Always on you - watch, memento, etc?
I'm not extremely sentimental about mementos, in general, but I do have a pair of laser-cut earrings in the shape of the molecular chain for estrogen that I wear when I want to feel like a powerful lady-person. :)
Favorite spot in your home?
Anywhere there's a loom or sewing machine. Easy-peasy.
Favorite neighborhood restaurant?
I recently moved to the Asheville, NC area (Black Mountain, specifically), and I'm still trying out places around here, so I don't want to name a favorite just yet (but shout-out to Moose Cafe and Rocky's Hot Chicken Shack for great Southern sides). As for Orlando, Pho Vinh, King Bao, Noodles and Rice, Nile, Woodlands, Singh's Roti Shop, and Los Generales are always favorites.
Favorite neighborhood shop?
Anywhere with good yarn. There are too many places up here. Earth Guild is a particularly good place for a nerdy weaver to spend too much money.
Favorite art museum?
Tate Modern. Need to get back to London soon.
Favorite place visited in the last year?
I just got back from a lovely long weekend in New York. Stayed in the LES, which is always fun times. I also enjoy getting lost (because GPS always craps out!) on country backroads up in the mountains. The wildflowers are starting to bloom, and it's getting really pretty up here, right about now.
Best gift recently given?
I gave my senior rabbit, Boo, a bunch of cardboard cat scratching toys for Christmas, just after she lost her bonded partner and our bestest buddy, Pip. She's adjusting well to being an “only child”, and I've never seen anyone be so grateful for cardboard. We're a simple family.
Best gift recently received?
When I graduated with my MFA in May of last year, my bff decorated the booth at our favorite pub (Bull and Bush in the Milk District) with a bunch of silly banners and signs. She printed out the meme of that Ancient Aliens dude looking really high, and she just typed “MFA” on it. It's the dumbest thing ever, but I saved it, because it makes me snort-laugh.
Most inspiring book you’ve read?
The Secret. J/k. Uhhhh, I mostly read books about weaving and textile art these days, but I really should read more substantial work. Audiobooks are handy when weaving.
The thing you most love about your city?
The Asheville area is surrounded by natural beauty, and the craft history and arts scene are so vibrant up here. But Orlando is home (I was born and raised there), and there's so much good stuff happening in music, art, and theater. I just wish Orlando would calm down with its out of control rental market. It's really unfortunate that many artists and hardworking families are being priced out of Orlando, as I think it has the potential of being an even greater up-and-coming arts city than it already is. So it goes, in the current economy.
Best thing about what you do?
I love being able to think of a garment in my mind and create it from scratch. Lately, I work in a slightly different manner, because I don't necessarily know what a piece is going to look like until it comes off the loom, after which I drape it on the body and figure out what position and shape will work best for drafting the remainder of the garment. I really enjoy working in this more experimental format.
On your bedside table?
A really good shiatsu massager for calming my shoulder and back muscles, as they tend to tense up from weaving hours on end. I'm an artist. I can't afford the luxury of regular massages!
A film that holds a special place in your heart?
Withnail and I is my favorite comedy of all time. It's just perfectly hilarious and British, and the acting is superb. “We'll buy this place, install a f---ing jukebox, and liven all you stiffs up a bit!”
Bethany is exploring Asheville, North Carolina and digging into their arts and culture scene. To get in touch with her, reach out on her Instagram.