Looming Large

A Jersey City artisan weaves her way into the fiber arts

Looming Large
Photos by Michael Hardgrove

Gabriella Quadrini swiftly ties knot after knot in a length of rope hanging from a wooden dowel. She makes the complicated work look easy. Soon enough the pattern of knots will come together and become an intricate wall hanging, the boho type that first became popular in the 1970s. The fiber arts are now back full-force. Quadrini’s company, Margaret Margaret Gabriella, is known for beautiful loom work, tapestries, and hand-knotted macrame, all made in her Jersey City home studio.

Quadrini got her start when her grandmother taught her to knit and crochet, and her mother taught her to cross-stitch. “That’s where the Margaret and Margaret come into my business name,” says Quadrini, who grew up wearing sweaters knit by her grandmother, Margaret, while complex embroidery work created by her mother, also named Margaret, decorated the walls of Quadrini’s childhood bedroom.

But she didn’t take to the work right away.

“As a kid, the process of sitting down and knitting was never something that I tended toward,” Quadrini says. “I think it was too small and tedious for me.” As Quadrini got older, she forgot about textile work for a while.

It wasn’t until a few years ago when Quadrini moved into an apartment with an awkward layout that she again picked up her spool of yarn. She wanted to cover a few unsightly unused doors in her hallway. She had trouble finding anything big enough to do the job. “I built this really rough square loom,” Quadrini says, using vintage yarn from her grandmother’s collection to make a tapestry that would hide those doors. “The first thing that I made looked like a prop from The Blair Witch Project,” she laughs.

Quadrini’s mother still has that original piece. Now they bond over a shared love of fiber arts. That project was the first of many. “After that I just kind of got addicted,” Quadrini says.

Decorate that Wall!

As her weaving improved, Quadrini began to make wall hangings for friends until she had more pieces than she knew what to do with. She was starting to think that her hobby might grow into a business.

Kristen Scalia, owner of the Jersey City lifestyle boutique Kanibal & Co. on Montgomery Street, approached Quadrini with an opportunity, “We knew each other through mutual acquaintances around town,” Scalia says. “I saw some of her pieces, and I said if you ever want to sell some in the shop, let me know.” Quadrini enthusiastically accepted the offer. “It immediately took off,” Scalia says.

Margaret Margaret Gabriella was born. Scalia says that she’s noticed a lot of growth in Quadrini’s weaving during the time that they’ve been working together.

“I’ve seen her confidence and her pieces grow,” she says. “Now she’s making these massive pieces that are sometimes five feet by six feet, and they sell. I’ve seen her be more daring in what she’s doing. Gabby is one of those artists we’ve just enjoyed having in the shop because we get to work all day surrounded by her beautiful weavings.”

Quadrini does custom commissions as well, including stunning large-scale pieces like wedding altars that can take around 40 hours to create.

Learning the Craft

Quadrini teaches macrame classes at Kanibal. “I do a plant hanger class and a wall hanging class,” Quadrini says. In each class, her students learn the basics of macrame and, with help from Quadrini, complete a project to take home. “It’s really fun because you can see when it clicks and people get it,” she says. “Then they send me pictures of things that they make on their own.” She says that it’s not uncommon for students to end up just as addicted as she was.

Jennifer Ongchin is one of those students. Ongchin had purchased a piece by Margaret Margaret Gabriella from Kanibal, so she was excited to take a class. “Not only did I want to learn, but I was fan-girling a little bit. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet and learn from an artist who made a piece that brought life to my bare walls.”

The two- to two-and-half-hour classes at Kanibal cost $50, which includes refreshments and macrame supplies.

“Gabriella was such a kind and patient teacher,” Ongchin says. “It is easy to get frustrated when you’re first learning a skill, and Gabriella helped to calm down the worried and get us back on track with humor and positivity. It was incredibly satisfying to walk away with a completed project that just two hours prior, I had doubted my ability to do.”

Meditating on Macrame

Quadrini sees many reasons why fiber arts are so satisfying for her and her students. “It’s a very meditative thing,” she says. “Your hands are working, but your mind is free to wander. For me, it’s really nice to have a creative outlet.” She works as a nurse when she isn’t at the loom. “It does get my mind off of some of the tough aspects of what I do,” she says. “It’s an outlet for me to de-stress.”

A growing appreciation for artisanal items helps her business. “I think for a while disposable things were popular, but now people are putting more emphasis on the quality of handmade things,” she says. “There’s a huge resurgence. I think the rise of Etsy markets and things like that are bringing that back.” And Jersey City residents seem to love all things local. “Jersey City is a really lovely community that supports and embraces its own,” she says.

“But I don’t go around putting ‘made in Jersey City’ stickers on things all around the store,” Scalia says. “A lot of items are made here, but the work stands on its own.”—JCM

Check out @margaretmargaretgabriella on Instagram to see more.

For custom inquiries, email margaretmargaretgabriella@gmail.com.

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