As a fourth-generation fibre artist, Jen Manuell comes by her talents naturally. Her great-grandfather was a tailor, her grandmother and her aunt were rug hookers, and her mother was a weaver and a spinner. With yarn everywhere at home from the family’s six sheep, Jen took up knitting in high school, then began quilting, and then later followed in her grandmother and aunt’s footsteps to try her hand at hooking rugs, eventually designing her own patterns and teaching workshops, all while still working full time.
She returned to quilting after moving home when her dad died, working with her sister to stitch beautiful creations, at first just for family and friends. They discovered they had a talent for it, and both quit their jobs in January to begin pursuing fibre arts instead. Sandra has since returned to her career, but Jen has carried on with Fish Eye Sisters. The name is an homage to their grandmother. “When we were kids she would give us the fish eye – the stink eye, the evil eye – but I didn’t realize it was because she was cross. I just thought it was a funny face.”
Jen’s creations are beautiful wool home goods – quilts, pillows, table runners and table mats – that are as cozy as they are colourful. She over-dyes the wool fabric to create a vast palette to choose from.
“My focus is on creating one of a kind pieces,” says Jen. “I’ve been playing with colours all of my life. It’s just something I’ve developed over many years, I love to put different combinations together. By dyeing my own wool I can exponentially increase my choice for colour, pattern and design. When you buy wool, your choice is limited and sometimes it’s really ugly. When you over-dye it you can camouflage that ugliness and it becomes gorgeous.”
She ups the beauty factor by using double-sided Japanese fabrics for quilt turnings and pillow backs.
And she does it all – from selecting the wool to over-dyeing it to cutting, piecing, pressing and quilting, she does every step herself.
Jen recently had a great reception at both the Ottawa Christmas Craft Show and Toronto’s One of a Kind show, and she’s looking forward to showing her work locally at the Made in Muskoka Christmas show next weekend.
There she’ll be joined by photographer Kelly Holinshead, potters Tara Gilchrist and Johnathan Bullock, jewellers Miranda Britton and Shelby Hodson, knitter Toni Green, weaver Marni Martin, fused glass artist Susan Higgins, and fibre artist Pam Carnochan. New to the show this year are Dan Alonso and Candice Sheriff of Live Edge Forest who make contemporary wooden furniture and charcuterie boards from salvaged fallen trees, and Laura Gilmour of Wild Muskoka Botanicals with her vinegars, syrups and spice mixtures featuring sustainably collected wild plants and certified organic ingredients.
Made in Muskoka Christmas is co-managed by Susan Higgins and Miranda Britton, and in the spirit of sharing, they are once again partnering with The Table Soup Kitchen Foundation. In lieu of admission, your free-will donation at the door goes directly to this local registered charity to help make the season more joyful for less fortunate members of our community.
Made in Muskoka Christmas will be held at Sutherland Hall, 30 High Street. Show hours are Friday, December 9 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday, December 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, December 11 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Lunch will be available daily in the Lower Hall, with homemade soup and sandwiches prepared by the All Saints’ Church Women’s group. A bake sale will also be held on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit madeinmuskokachristmas.com for more information.
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