LESLEY CREED | West Marin
One premium luxury of domestic living is the designation of space for very specific purposes: reading rooms, carriage houses, and painting nooks are examples that fit the bill. Such specialization within a house is often the product of either necessity or extravagance. But in Lesley Creed’s case, it has been the product of time—time spent building out a sewing studio and then a weaving studio, and also time spent quilting, spinning, dyeing, beading, and crafting—enough time to justify the existence of the two studios.
On the Bolinas property where she has lived for over 30 years with her partner Lloyd Kahn—creator of Shelter Publications, there’s also a greenhouse, an office, a storage shed, and a vegetable garden. On any given day, Lesley, whose silvery-blonde hair is braided into a long thin plait, is puttering around tending to whatever is the biggest emergency of the day. There’s often bread baking in the oven or cheese being made. And then she tries to spend a few hours working in her studios. “My paradise is here,” she says. She smiles, revealing a gap between her two front teeth. “I don’t need to go anywhere else.”
“Everything here is slow and steady ... the pace of life, the pace of change, and even the crafts themselves.”
Lesley left England early on in her childhood, and since she moved to the Bay Area, she’s never left. She landed in San Francisco for the first time in 1957. She was ten years old, and had emigrated there with her mother. It was a decade before the Summer of Love, eight years before the emergence of the Grateful Dead onto the music scene. The counterculture was simmering, but not yet in full throttle. San Francisco was a bustling center of commerce, and entire neighborhoods were being torn down and reconstructed. Lesley remembers being awed by the wide and busy streets and by the blinding brightness of the white stucco buildings as they gleamed in the morning light. San Francisco was a thrilling new landscape for her pilgrim eyes.
In 1971, she was 23 years old and living in an alleyway across from Zuni Cafe. It was terribly loud all the time, she recalls. The city had just begun building what would become the BART transit system, and construction was happening everywhere. The back-to-the-land movement spurred her toward living rurally in a place like Mendocino, but she couldn’t find anything to rent, so she moved to Bolinas instead. At the time, you could buy a house for a mere $12,000, and a parcel of land for $3000.
She met Lloyd in 1975—a lot of people their age were moving out to Bolinas and building houses at the time. Both she and Lloyd liked making things with their hands, and they began to construct a basic living space on the land they still currently live on. Over time, they’ve modified, expanded, and transformed their property, building a patchwork of different spaces. “Everything here is slow and steady,” says Lesley. “The pace of life, the pace of change, and even the crafts themselves.”
No matter how slow, Lesley’s daily work is varied, the breadth of her skills wide. She took up quilting in the 70s, when she realized that she could work in small increments that would accrete over time into a completed project: it was a hobby that could accommodate having two sons and a house to tend to. An autodidact at heart, Lesley exposed herself to diverse quilting traditions: she was especially inspired by Amish and African quilts, which didn’t hew to symmetry or tradition and had strikingly different colors and patterns than she had ever seen. She learned from books. Her own style, she says, developed as she made more quilts, which she made as quickly as possible. “Speed loosens up perfection,” she says. “It gives a quilt life and movement.” Nowadays, she still works on quilts in her sewing room, which is filled with spools of rainbow thread and inspiration boards pinned with magazine cut outs.
But now she spends more time weaving, which she began to learn seven years ago. She has two large wooden looms in her weaving studio, which is a converted cabin lined with hand-split wooden shakes—it was the first structure that Lloyd built on the property, cobbled together from scrap materials and salvaged doors. She has an outdoor station for dyeing wool. Inside, she’ll spin the wool into yarn, a process which she describes as “hypnotic.” Stacks of homespun yarn—mostly neutral, earthy colors like browns and mauves and tans—are stacked in a cubby, alongside the shawls and blankets that she’s made over the years. The vast array of handicraft here is impressive to behold. But Lesley refuses to believe that her abilities are beyond anyone’s reach. “Anyone can do the things I do,” says Lesley. “It’s not brain surgery.”