It’s not exactly the season for leaves to be budding on branches outdoors. But by the end of the week, a branch inside a exhibit at the Overture Center might be heavy with new foliage.

Madison Contemporary Fiber Artists, or MCFA, is welcoming visitors to stop by between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday for the group’s first community workshop in Overture’s Promenade Hall. Anyone, any age, can drop by to create a fiber art “leaf” from a variety of free materials, using a range of techniques. More than a dozen artists from MCFA will be on hand to help get participants started.

The finished leaves will be hung from a sycamore branch called “The Community Tree.” The “tree” — now hung with only a few leaves — is part of an exhibition of MCFA members’ work in the Overture Center’s first-floor gallery through March 4.

Titled “Etudes,” the gallery exhibit showcases the work of some two dozen MCFA members, with complex and often surprising works in fiber arts such as quilting, felting and embroidery. The group was urged to find a way to involve the community in the show, and the idea of the leaf-making came to be.

“We hope to have between 50 to 150 leaves made by community members” Saturday morning, said Marty Petillo, a longtime MCFA member who works full-time at Olbrich Botanical Gardens and does fiber art, quilting and embroidery on the side.

“It will be very informal,” she said. “We will have supplies ready, so people can just walk in and hopefully within 15 or 20 minutes, they can either sew something, draw something, weave, felt, (or) embellish at different tables.”

“If some people want to do it on their own, they’ll be able to do it without any help,” Petillo said. “But if people want help, we’ll show them how to do a stitch, or how to attach an embellishment, so they can finish a leaf. And after the workshop is over, we’re going to find a way to hang them all.”

The goal of making a “community tree” is to give visitors a new creative experience. It’s closely linked to the idea behind “Etudes,” a title that translates to “studies.”

In the MCFA art exhibit, “A number of the artist statements (say) that these pieces were done through some innovation, repetition, or in learning something new,” said Petillo, whose hand-embroidered piece in “Etudes” depicts a young bird flying from the nest, bound for the next stage of life. “I think a lot of our members are interested in pushing the envelope on technique, learning new things.”

“We do shows (about) once a year in different places,” she said. “We feel it’s a real opportunity to show off the different ways people can interact with fiber. Right now quilting and sewing seem to be making a comeback along with a lot of the other hand art, which is great.”

Founded about 20 years ago, MCFA (pronounced “mick-fah”) is a mix of hobbyists and professional fiber artists. Some are nationally known for their work. Others are just starting out.

“Everyone is welcome” to the group’s monthly meetings, Petillo said.

“The only consideration we have is that we don’t want people sitting and just listening at the meetings. They have to bring work. So the only condition is that they have to be actively creating art.”

The group does not have a president; instead, each meeting is run by a different group member who serves as facilitator.

“We don’t have a very fixed structure, and it seems to fit the kind of people who come to the group,” she said. “A lot of our meeting time is sharing — show and tell. We demonstrate a technique and we all do something with fiber, be it quilting, embroidery, felting, mixed-media. There’s a lot of new work that’s being done with fiber.”

Petillo has been working with fellow MCFA members Chris Thomas and Debbie Kaufman to recruit artists for Saturday’s community workshop. That event will follow an opening night reception held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday in the Promenade Lounge to celebrate “Etudes” plus the the other winter art exhibits at Overture.

MCFA’s community workshop idea was modeled after a similar public event held last year at the Overture Center by the Bone Folders’ Guild, a group devoted to making books as art.

“They did a community workshop and they had a great response, where they had people doing hands-on activities,” Petillo said. “We think that fiber is something that lends itself to participation. A lot of people don’t sew; sometimes it’s nice to get a chance to get your hands on to something.”

There will be no sewing machines at MCFA’s community workshop; only hand stitching. Younger children will have a station to draw or color a leaf if that’s what they prefer.

Participants can take home a leaf, as long as they also leave one behind to be placed on the community tree, Petillo said.

“We want it to be an exhibit where people tell their friends and they want to bring them back and show them the leaf they made,” she said, “where they’re part of the art exhibit.”


Gayle Worland is an arts and features reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.