Fiber arts

My Fiber Arts Background

My mother has been doing fiber arts since she was a child.  She was the youngest by a number of years in a large Polish family in New Jersey and left as soon as she turned 18.  As she put it, she had enough of being under the thumb of three mothers.  

AI generated image of an old woman sitting in front of the fire quilting. Behind here is a window looking out to a snowy forest

Initially she knitted, crocheted, and made clothing.  I still have an number of LA cowboy shirts she had made for my father back when he was in grad school and just out of a year in the marine corps after being drafted during Viet Nam (he had a medical discharge due to Crohn’s Disease).  Then she discovered quilting and never looked back.  The knitting and crochet continued but mostly I remember massive stacks of carefully cut cotton and the endless chatter of her industrial sewing machine from the room she shared with my father’s drafting table as the tops were pieced together bit by bit.  Then the actual quilting process where patterns were stenciled onto the top with white fabric pencil and then stitched by hand into place to seal the top, batting, and base of the quilt together.  

This organized and careful process was in contrast to watching my father work.  He had a raging case of ADHD like myself and would work sporadically at projects.  Stained glass would sit for months in the garage with the lead cane and pieces of cut glass lying idle.  Then a burst of energy and one of the windows in the house would have a piece of stained glass mounted in place with redwood frames.  Or watching him spend twelve hours with an exacto cutting all the advertisements out of his copies of Architectural Digest because they annoyed him.  It took me decades to realize what our mutual problem was and how it affected my creative output.  

But back to my mother.  She would never describe herself as an artist despite having an excellent eye for color and pattern.  She has also never sold them and only gave them away to family.  This gave me two lessons.

Calling yourself an artist or not is unimportant. 

Craft exists outside of our economy.   

My initial stab at fiber arts was in high school for a sculpture course I took as a senior.  This was a mixed media course where we were usually allowed to pick our medium for each assignment.  I had a few denim shirts lying around (this being 1992 and me being a little Southern California white suburban metalhead) and my mother had a lot of embroidery floss.  So she taught me a back stitch and I embroidered some geometric patterns on the back of the shirt.  This was pretty much it for two decades.

I picked up crochet from one of my partners and worked at it sporadically.  Then knitting.  But it didn’t really start steadily working at it until 2018 when my then girlfriend now wife first started showing signs of Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis through some very difficult mental health issues.  Then I started knitting steadily as a way of keeping my emotions regulated through an extremely difficult year.  As she accepted treatment and we were married I continued knitting as it was soothing.  

My wife had been doing historical costuming for a number of years based on her love for gothic drama films, the long running gothic and occult TV drama Dark Shadows (she’s named after the witch), the Canadian occult drama Strange Paradise, and other period works.  She’s probably autistic so when she gets excited about something there is a lot of info-dumping to be had.  So through these info-dumps I had a generalized knowledge of historical sewing techniques, some corestry, and the general frustrations of doing research into historical costuming.  

AI generated image of a woman in a historical ball gown running through a candlelit hallway of a fine country estate

After we found a number of historical costuming channels on youtube such as Bernadette Banner, Nicole Rudolph, and Morgan Donner I tried my hand at some sewing and was successful in putting together a few tudor era shirts, a victorian era men’s shirt, and a pair of non-era specific waistcoats with welt pockets.  

Then the pandemic happened and due to my wife’s therapy for her MS which consists of immunosuppressants I was pretty much tied to home.  As her condition has progressed she’s lost the ability to sew herself but remains deeply interested in crafting and history.  Over the past two years I’ve turned to fiber arts as a way of keeping engaged and interested as my caregiver responsibilities in a time of pandemic keeps me close to home and limits my other lifelong hobby, photography.  

I’ll go into my specific interests in terms of clothing in another post.  But I intend to continue with some sewing, more embroidery, and maybe a bit of knitting (although I’m burned out on that and we have more blankets than we know what to do with).