KOEL Kid: Rebecca Riel

“I wanted my tapestries to have sentimental value to people, so they could stand the test of time and trends.” And with that in mind, Canadian based weaver, Rebecca Riel, started weaving mapestries (map + tapestry) to pay homage to special places in people’s hearts. Starting with weaving the map of her home province, Manitoba, Rebecca now gets commission requests to weave a ‘little piece of home’ for her clients. We had a chat with this weaver and mother of 2 on how she fell in love with her craft, her creative process and more.

1. Tell us more about your background and what led you to choosing weaving as a craft?
It happened really organically. My background is in social work, and until my early thirties, I wouldn’t have considered myself as a crafty person. I was one of those people who said “I’m not the creative type!” when in reality, I had never explored my creative side. After having my first son, I found myself getting anxious easily and a little stir crazy on my maternity leave so I began delving into the world of DIY projects. I started with woodworking, which I love to this day, but it’s pretty noisy and messy. I wanted to find something I could easily pick up and put down when my son was napping. One day my aunt asked me to join her at a weaving workshop and the rest is history… Just kidding! Weaving did not come naturally to me at first. In fact, I was a disaster at my first workshop. Despite having no idea what I was doing, I absolutely fell in love with weaving. I just loved playing with fiber and mixing different textures. I brought my loom home and slowly began to learn and experiment with it. I definitely wasn’t one of those people who aspired to sell my work or own a shop. In fact, if you told me at that workshop that this was where it was all heading, I would have laughed pretty hard. Life certainly is funny that way. About a year after I started weaving, people close to me started asking to buy my work and then it was friends of friends and it sort of snowballed from there. Suddenly I found myself with a wait list for commissions and now I’m doing it full time. Although most of my work is commissioned, I also have an online shop, Riel Finishings, and some local stockists – which I try to stock when I have time.

2. What makes you a KOEL Kid?
First things first, pinch me! I am so honored to be included with all the other amazingly talented KOEL Kids. From the moment I started weaving, I really wanted to carve my own path, which I knew meant finding a style and design that’s original and unique to me. It’s a tough market right now. There are a lot of really amazing fiber artists out there and I think for newer artists, the most important thing is to find your own thing.

Early on in my weaving, I had the idea to weave a map of my home province, Manitoba. I wanted my tapestries to have sentimental value to people, so they could stand the test of time and trends. I figured a map could be just that; a way to pay homage to a special place in a woven piece of art. The Manitoba tapestry became very popular, especially for people living out of province. From there I started getting requests to weave other provinces, states, and even lakes! Somewhere along the way the term “mapestry” (map + tapestry) came into my head and it became my thing. I don’t only weave maps, but I think it’s definitely something that distinguishes my work and makes it unique.

3. Share with us the creative process behind each of your project.
I’m all over the place, really. I’m usually working on a number of projects at the same time. I start by sourcing the perfect fibers and during that process I wait until a design idea comes to me. I rarely sketch out my pieces beforehand and if I do, I usually don’t stick to that design. As soon as I feel stuck or lost, I will back away from the piece and do something else. This is why I always have more than one piece on the go. I don’t weave unless I’m in a good place, which is why some pieces can take longer than others.

4. Pick one of your favourite designs and answer these quick questions.

The inspiration behind this design is… Lake of the Woods (the largest map I’ve ever done!)

The dream store in which I would like to stock this design is… I’d love to see my mapestries at Anthropologie.

Which celebrity house can you picture your design at… I’d love to weave a map for Chris Pratt. Andy Dwyer anyone?

If this design made it big, I would… Faint.

If this design could talk, it would say… How’s your back? (I was very pregnant while working on this haha…)

5. Great things take time, so how much has changed since you first started weaving and where do you see it in the next five years?
A lot has changed. I have two sons now (the youngest is 6 weeks old). My business is thriving and if I’m being honest, I sometimes have trouble keeping up. Juggling parenthood and the entrepreneur life can be tough and I’m constantly reevaluating how I do things and how I can do better – as a mom and a business owner. Right now the only plan I’ve got is to take things day by day. So far that strategy has served me well, and let’s hope that continues!

Photo Credits: Rebecca Riel & Janique Fortier

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