A Story about Fiberart

Whether as a kid discovering fiber art for the first time (an exercise in class using strips of paper which you weave, or even a weaving done on a piece of cardboard) or as an adult discovering fiber art for the first time, there is a first time. What equipment to choose and what materials to choose are the two huge decisions you have to make. Both can be intimidating. But let me tell you a story. 

needlepoint heart made with handpainted silk

There was one huge thing missing from my life that I did not know was missing from my life until age nine. My parents had traveled to Paris and came home with gifts, of course, for the kids. My sister and I got this adorable little needlepoint kit. I had seen needlepoint in two places: the seats of the ice cream chairs my (my mother's handiwork) and the throw pillows around my Aunt's house which were original needlepoint designs based on her husband's paintings. I got to see two sides of the needlepoint story. That particular Aunt did gift our family needlepoint supplies, but the gift was to my sister, "the artist" and she had absolutely no use for them. I'll get back to that. 

I must have have stolen my Aunt's needlepoint supplies from my sister, or she gifted them to me. In any case, I had some blank needlepoint canvas, a needle and, I assume, some yarn. The next year, I saw a rigid heddle loom in a cardboard box in theeHome Goods section of Macy's. I am dating myself because I doubt Macy's sells looms these days and looms are no longer marketed to "housewives." That loom ended underneath our Christmas tree marking the beginning of a love affair with weaving.

Ultimately, I was weaving cloth to back needlepoint pillows. I believe my rate of output of fiber art back then was about one piece then to a hundred pieces now in the same time frame. It's amazing how with so much practice these things just fly from our making hands. I do not have a big trail of work from my younger years. I gave most of it away. When my Mom died I got back a couple of pillows and framed pieces and a belt. I wonder how I managed to figure any of it out seeing as I was operating in a total vacuum. I don't know where I got my supplies or how I could have afforded them. The pieces from my youth were very bright so I must have access to some bright colors somehow. In later years when I once again dabbled a bit in needlepoint and was able to afford to go to a store and buy yarn, my colors were very safe and at a minimum. I had lost my fervor for color, my youthful confidence, and needed to be color safe! In other words I had started to lose that spark we are all born with and I was operating contrary to my instincts. As anyone can tell from my hand-painted yarn, I am no longer safe with my color at all and I am having fun.

Hand-painted silk on bobbins

I fantasize about me being my child and growing up in a world of gorgeous fiber where every raw material and machine is available to weave all the colors. If only I could have been my mother for just a year or so to get thee gifts I clearly needed.

Handwoven purses and cuffs

I like to joke that painting on canvas is fiber art because it's done on fabric. But the second you give fiber art a name such as quilting or needlepoint or embroidery or knitting or crochet or weaving what comes to mind is a woman's craft. Art with a big "A" does not come into play. We are taught in school to worship the art forms that have been deemed Art. There was a slight dabbling in weaving mostly with paper or on a cardboard loom. Nothing that would inspire. It's hard to make art if you don't have the right "stuff." 

Remember I mentioned my sister "the Artist" and said I would get back to that?My sister is indeed an Artist with a big A. When she was young she drew endless fantasies with amazing characters and landscapes straight from her very creative mind. She could drawn anything from memory. It was very intimidating and it guaranteed that my path to fiber art would not be celebrated. It was just the way things were. I don't think they are as much like that anymore.

Hand-painted silk yarn

I spent my childhood looking for good "stuff" to use in what surely was my Art. My Art with a big A. I know that now. All the angst I might have felt trying to land in this rarified world has dissipated. I have hope that this very male/female view of art/crafts will morph with the explosion of weft-faced weaving. And maybe one will be able to say the world "needlepoint" or "weaving" and not have everyone imagine you are "crafting" something most likely someone else's design. 

Saffron loom with a weaving in progress

So teach your children well: give them good fiber art supplies. Let them weave on real looms and use gorgeous fibers. Give the, girl or boy, the gift of Fiber Art and someday those words will just connote big "A" Art!

So let's all make something from beautiful fiber and call it art!

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