Using a variety of materials such as vintage textiles, multi-colored threads, and carefully curated appliqués, Meghan McAleavy creates masterpieces of fabric art in the form of silken banners. Highly inspired by esoteric iconography and sacred symbology, Meghan often works with tattoo artists to produce incredibly intricate pennants to hang at conventions or on studio walls. Her clients have included Liam Sparkes, Sarah Schor, as well as Guy Le, but she also works with luxury restaurants, Masonic orders, and small businesses like Metal House Cider. Devoted to authentic creative evolution and mindfulness methods, each piece she makes is unique. Furthermore, they are wonderfully illustrative of her intuitive color sense, formidable fabric expertise, and ingenious grasp of motif aestheticism.
In this interview, Meghan McAleavy shares how she became a working artist, what inspires her vivid gonfalon's, and the philosophy that empowers her process.
Can you talk a bit about your background as an artist and creator? When did you become interested in sewing and textiles?
Ever since I was a young child, maybe age 5, I have been creating. As a toddler my grandmother babysit me and she was big into crocheting wildly patterned colorful blankets and crude hand embroidery. So as soon as i could pick up a needle and thread she taught me hand stitching. These experiences at such a young age really instilled a love for fibers arts and anything hand made. For my 14th birthday she gifted me her refurbished electric sewing machine from the mid 1900's. I was self taught on that machine and I would make patterns for clothes using old paper bags. Ive always been very intuitive and driven to learn by trial and error. In 2005, I graduated with a BFA in Textiles from Oregon College of Art and Craft. Not long after graduating, I taught art to K-12 at a private school for 4 years.
How has your style or working process evolved over the years? Who are some artists who have inspired you?
Many years ago, maybe 10 or 12, I was trying to figure out a way I could make a living from my craft. In order for this to work I thought that I had to make utilitarian objects. But I wasn't' sure exactly what, so I started by making so many different things from pillows to bags to custom upholstery jobs. I was so scatter brained and frustrated from trying to figure out that one perfect item to market so I took a break, not from creating but from trying to force an idea. Around that time my husband, Robert Ryan, asked me to make him a banner for The Bay Area Tattoo Convention. He received many compliments on it, because at that time the only hand made tattoo banners were painted and not sewn. My first commission was from Bubba Reeves, may he R.I.P., who was a tattooer and a member of the I.O.O.F.: International order of odd fellows. Before my business took off, much of the work I was making was on a smaller scale.
Once I started making banners, I began incorporating appliqué with embroidery because of the size of the work. Appliqué is when pieces of fabric are cut out and layered on top of a larger piece to create an image. I like to combine embroidery and appliqué to create a sense of depth and texture.
I feel that my number one inspiration is definitely my husband, Robert. He is constantly creating, whether it be painting, tattooing, playing music, or his spiritual devotion. His passion and drive push me to try harder and do better not only as an artist but as a human being. I am constantly in awe of the work coming from the incredibly talented crew of Ft. Lonesome in Austin, TX, particularly Kathie Sever and Christina Hurt Smith. Their stunning handmade Western suits are embroidered with vintage chain stitch machines. The list could go on really, especially with so many amazing artists now on social media.
How do you go about creating a custom piece for a particular artist or shop? What is the process like? Where do you source your stunning array of designs and fabrics?
Each project is unique; most of the time my clients will send me a reference or line drawing and give me freedom to choose color, and design the cut and overall shape of their banner. Occasionally, they'll have an exact idea of what they want and send a Photoshop mock up of the banner. I'm always trying to evolve with technique and designs of my banners so I almost never duplicate overall shape unless requested by the client. For each design, I make several thumbnail sketches. The source is my imagination and sometimes I'm lucky enough to come up with the design on the first sketch but often times I'll sketch out 3 or 4 different options until I feel the shapes and imagery meld as one. I've been sourcing textiles and trims over many years. Some of it is from travels over seas but mostly I order my materials from many different manufacturers online. Occasionally, I will make a trip into NYC's fashion district or my local mom and pop fabric store here in NJ.
What have been some of your favorite projects over the years?
I'd have to say the banner I designed for Lux Lunae, a Masonic Lodge in Chicago. I was honored to be given the opportunity to create a piece of history for their Lodge. Occasionally, I get to work with high end design and advertising agencies, one of them being Doubleday & Cartwright in NYC. With their designs, I made a series of 6 banners for an amazing restaurant, The Cherry Circle Room. This restaurant is located inside a stunning historic 1890's monument transformed into a boutique hotel in Chicago. They framed each banner which really elevated the work.
Probably one of my favorite tattoo banners I've made was back in 2014 for Guy Le. It was a super fun and detailed Mahakala. One of the more challenging designs I have stitched. Honestly though, almost every single piece I make for fellow artists or small businesses become one of my favorites.
Do you have a philosophy behind your work? What are some really important aspects of your creations that you hold dear?
My work primarily takes influence from mysticism, symbology, and esoteric art. Sacred art and iconography were a big part of my childhood and I have always been fascinated by religious icons and symbols. Attention to detail and craftsmanship are of the utmost importance to me. I'm constantly trying to innovate without stealing. That's what's most important to me in my work: to be unique and mindful.
Any projects, collabs, events, future plans or goals that you’d like to share? Any custom projects you wish you could do or people you’d like to work with that you haven’t yet?
I am in the midst of collaborating with Ben Venom, a quilter from San Francisco. He makes large appliquéd quilts using mostly recycled heavy metal band T-shirts. He is making a body of work for a show at Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco and he asked me to create a handbag using his appliquéd fabric. The show opened March 7th, 2020.
I'm hoping to do a collaboration in the near future with prolific illustrator, Gary Baseman. My goal for this year is to make time to release a small line of banners for sale on my website. I also try and participate in at least one group show a year so hoping to make that happen as well.