Of Onion Skins and Local Linens
Lizz Berry weaves beauty into every corner of her life, from kitchen rags to wedding favors
The weaver has just returned from Europe. It was her first time, she explains somewhat giddily—a belated honeymoon. The couple packed five countries into three weeks, and now they’re about to move house too. But Lizz Berry still has time to talk about textiles. She almost always does.
Berry is a cloth fanatic, a plant lover, and a recent convert to the Maine way of life. She moved from Pennsylvania to the Pine Tree State in 2018 to work as the program manager for the Maine Craft Association, and since then she’s become deeply enmeshed in the local arts scene. Her day job brings her into contact with many different makers, from potters to metalsmiths to knitters. When she’s not on the clock, Berry works on her own business, an online shop called the Wild Textile, where she sells cloth goods and select textile art pieces. Currently, her inventory is fairly low, though that will change soon enough. “I weave in the winter,” she says with a smile.
Surrounded by a lush jungle of bromeliads, palms, and succulents, Berry unwraps a selection of her work and lays it on the blond wood coffee table. There’s a wall hanging inspired by the subtle colors of alpine plants, towels dyed with local goldenrod, and a few soft pink linen napkins—leftovers from her wedding last year. “Last year, I did a ton of dying. I dyed around 100 napkins, and his dad,” she gestures toward her husband, who is currently making himself tea in the nearby kitchen, “was the official ironer of napkins.” Their nuptials were hyperlocal, from the venue (Bumbleroot Organic Farm in Windham) to the food (grown right on-site) to the textiles (hand sewn and dyed by Berry in her small apartment kitchen). “It was important to me that guests could take something useful home from our wedding,” she explains. “And at one point, during dinner, I realized we were eating at Bumbleroot using napkins I had dyed with beet scraps from my CSA with Bumbleroot. It was a full-circle moment.”
For Berry, these kinds of connections are common. Her work feeds her artistic practice. “I’m actually getting a new loom for the new house,” she tells me. “It’s going to be just like that one, only bigger.” She stumbled upon it by chance during a studio visit to Brunswick-based quilt artist Catherine Worthington. “She said she was looking to sell and asked if I knew anyone who might want it. She didn’t know I was a weaver! It was amazing how it worked out.”
Her new loom will be much like the one that currently occupies a corner of her living room, except twice as wide and with “double the capabilities.” She explains, “I learned to weave on a Schacht in college. They’re great, classic wooden looms.” Although Berry grew up surrounded by textiles (many of which her parents purchased in India, where Berry’s father was born), she didn’t realize her passion for cloth until she signed up for a weaving class at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. “I attribute my interest in textiles to the saris and silks and the things like that I grew up with,” she says. “But it really clicked in college.”
Weaving was a revelation, different from the small-scale sewing projects she’d attempted before. “Many people would say weaving is a slow process, but there’s something immediate about it to me,” she says. “I love watching the fabric form in front of my eyes. I love the act of creating something out of nothing. You start with a cone of yarn, and you create this piece of fabric.” Weaving is also physical and meditative. “Unlike other crafts, where you have to plan and think the whole way, with weaving you can shut your brain off. Your arms are moving, and your feet are dancing, and before you know it, you’re weaving inches, then you take it off the loom, and it’s 30 feet. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
She speaks in similarly glowing terms about the hues and tones of the landscape. While dying doesn’t sound as relaxing as weaving, there’s something similarly satisfying about coaxing golden yellow from goldenrod, soft pink from sumac berries, and lime green from lichen. “When I first started dying, I was using the powdered, synthetic kind of dyes,” she says. “I made the name for my company first, and then I grew into it later.” Berry found herself drawn to the variation that can be found in plant-based dyes as well as the instability of the pigment. She likes that her naturally dyed towels and napkins change color with use and age. For her, that’s part of the magic of craft. Unlike fine art (“made to be enjoyed with your eyes”), craft is meant to be felt and handled. “I love and appreciate art,” she adds, “but I’m very tactile. I like that I can use these things every day.”
For Berry, cloth is a way of record keeping, a method for charting the change of time. First she sources yarn, then she weaves, then cuts and hems her textile, then she uses it, it fades, and eventually it becomes a rag. It ends up underneath her cat’s water dish or next to the sink. “Nothing goes to waste,” she says. “I can even compost my dying materials when I’m done.” Although she has yet to start sewing, she hopes to turn her leftover wedding napkins into a quilt. “A new challenge,” she says. “I never make the same thing twice.”