Material Inheritance

Kayla Powers connects nature
and craft in contemporary textiles


By Kate Mothes

For Detroit-based artist Kayla Powers, a connection to the land and its natural bounty has been a connecting thread in her work since she first began to ply fibers into woven compositions. Prior to moving to Michigan, Powers worked on a biodynamic farm in Upstate New York where the early springtime routine of shearing sheep led to an intensive process involving washing the wool, carding it, and spinning yarn. “I learned to warp a little frame loom and to weave a very basic plain weave,” she says. “So my experience with fibers has always been closely connected to the land and the seasons.”

When Powers moved to Detroit in 2017, she was surprised to find on her regular walks through the neighborhood that natural dye plants grew abundantly in many of the uninhabited lots. She began foraging for specimens  that she could process into dyes for yarn and fabric, interested in how themes like human ecology, eco-feminism, and traditional craft intertwined. “My work is meant to gently remind myself and others that we are nature,” she says, as she practices consciously being in the landscape and allowing those experiences to guide her projects. She also maintains a plot in her back yard where she grows botanicals like indigo, madder root, coreopsis, chamomile, murasaki, scabiosa, and marigolds.

Tracks and paths known as desire lines that people wear through open spaces, defying the grid-like organization civic landscape design, have been of particular interest recently. Powers is guided by the act of observation, and often thinks about Rebecca Solnit‘s reflections on walking and its relationship to the city or well-known land art works like A Line Made by Walking (1967) by Richard Long. “I see walking as a form of mapping, and this informs a lot of my work, especially the fabric pieces that resemble quilts,” Powers says.

Powers reinterprets—and in a sense archives—her foraged finds in patchwork textiles that she often displays and documents outdoors, inviting sunlight to filter through a range of warm tones. “I appreciate the symmetry in language between plants and textiles. Both quilts and seeds can be heirlooms. Likewise, we can sew fabric and sow seeds,” she says. Tapping into the craft of quilting and its deeply layered geographic and cultural histories, the act of puzzling together disparate pieces into a unified whole is an “act of reciprocity, care, and love.”

Powers is set to earn an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art this spring, and in fall she will participate in a residency at the Icelandic Textile Center. Find more of Powers’s work on her website and Instagram.

“I see walking as a form of mapping and this informs a lot of my work, especially the fabric pieces that resemble quilts.”

All images © Kayla Powers. Photos by George Perez, Brian Kovach, Kate Bickel, and the artist.

Share your thoughts