In the hierarchy of craft cachet, fiber arts are often less discussed than other media such as pottery or metalwork. Maybe that’s because textiles are, by nature, a quieter genre: no hammers to wield, forges or kilns to stoke or clay to sling. But Western North Carolina’s textile artists are not only thriving, they’re taking traditional forms and adding a modern twist — and many of them will be showing at The Big Crafty on Sunday, Dec. 1.
Celebrating the handmade, the area’s favorite local indie-craft fair (so voted by Xpress readers in this year’s Best of WNC poll) showcases a full and exciting range of artworks. “We wanted to create an indie-craft version of the lively markets we'd seen on travels abroad that showcased the vitality of the homemade movement,” organizer Brandy Bourne explains. “We wanted to bring the social, community element back into commerce.”
Now in its sixth year, the semiannual event at the Asheville Art Museum will feature about 75 juried vendors. Bourne recalls that when she and her partner, Justin Rabuck, launched the community fête-meets-artisan-expo, many area artists were developing their business online but didn’t yet have a local presence. Bourne and Rabuck’s vision brought interested consumers together with talented craftspeople. “As we said then, Asheville has craft-and-indie cred in its bones, and it was time that local indie crafters came out of their basement workshops to show their wares and party handmade-style,” says Bourne.
One of the changes to this year’s Big Crafty is the addition of VIP early admission. For a $5 ticket, shoppers can gain entry from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. After that, the doors will open to the public, admission-free, from 1 to 6 p.m.
“Of course, many, like us, love the hustle and bustle of a lively crowd,” Bourne explains, “but we also know that there are people who travel to the event, some from great distances, and are less interested in the social aspect and more interested in an in-depth experience with artists and their wares.”
From sheep to sweater
Natural fibers are Asheville knitter Emolyn Liden’s passion. “My mother has been raising sheep for over 30 years, developing wool that can be worn against the skin,” she reveals. “Often people react oddly when they first feel the fiber from her sheep, because it defies childhood memories of ‘the itchy sweater.’” Sourcing her fibers from WNC, Liden then uses natural dyes made from onion skin, marigold and madder root to color the yarn.
Selling her wares under the business name Emolyn Knits, Liden says her personal challenge is creating products that are affordable while still employing locally and ethically sourced material. “I think people have forgotten how wonderful wool is,” she observes. “Wool has a breathability, which means you don't sweat like you do in acrylic. Instead, it feels as comforting as a wood stove warming your living room.”
And maybe, by wearing a wool hat, we’re demonstrating our interdependence with the sheep that produced its fiber. With the exception of the primitive breeds, notes Liden, sheep have to be shorn in order to survive. “They need us, and I think we're realizing, once again, how much we need them.”
Learn more about Emolyn Knits at TheRovingKnitter.com.
When Karie Reinertson and Rob Maddox moved to Asheville from the Green Mountains of Vermont, they carried their business on their backs, so to speak. Their company, SHELTER, uses luxe materials such as waxed canvas, leather and Pendleton wool to make knapsacks, purses and clutches.
“In Vermont,” notes Reinertson, “we lived in an area that has thousands of blueberries, raspberries and mushrooms to forage. We spent much of the summer that we started SHELTER swimming in the lake, picking berries and foraging for chanterelles. We were also in the midst of building a timber-frame cabin for a friend, so we had endless needs for chisel wraps, tool bags, berry-picking and wildcrafting bags.”
The carry-alls that Reinertson and Maddox make refer to that wilder life of hunting and gathering. And amid attention from mainstream media outlets such as Better Homes and Gardens and NYLON, SHELTER’s stylish products are more than just fashionable accessories: They’re built to be functional, durable tools for contemporary outdoors lovers.
Learn more about SHELTER at ShelterProtectsYou.com.
A stitch or nine
Focused on the fine detail work of embroidery, Liz Stiglets of CozyBlue produces a modern-day take on an old tradition. Her patterns include well-thumbed, hipster-approved images such as sea captains, foxes, palmistry and Mom heart tattoos.
Assisted by her husband on the weekends, Stiglets sells both finished embroidery pieces and, for the DIY-inclined, patterns. The latter can be purchased either as screen-printed fabric that crafters can stitch over or as digital downloads via Etsy.com. Think of it as embroidery meets technology.
The Asheville-based Stiglets says she’s grateful to be part of a supportive community. “It’s always been such a lively and creative place to be and live,” she notes. “We’re very lucky to have so many like-minded people who love and encourage the creative culture here.”
Find more information at CozyBlue.etsy.com.
This ain’t your Granny’s quilt
It’s been only a few months since Amanda Lanier of Hey Baby Craft Co. launched her website. “When my little sister became pregnant with her first child, I made a quilt for her baby and fell completely in love with quilting,” she explains.
The craft’s meditative aspect is what drew her in. “When I began quilting, I was in an incredibly chaotic period in my life and was searching for something that would bring me calm. Channeling my inner little old lady brought me to quilting and gave me peace.”
Quilt-making might seem like an old-fashioned craft. And there’s certainly some of that sentiment behind Hey Baby. “Sewn into every quilt and scarf is the love I have for my precious sister and little Eli; my admiration for my grandmother, a prolific quilter and superseamstress who has inspired me to cultivate my creativity and passion; and my gratitude for my family and friends who have tirelessly supported me in my journey to find happiness,” Lanier’s website proclaims. But there’s more than nostalgia running, like a thread, through the end product.
“I want my quilts to have the feel of an old, comfy blanket that your grandmother made, with an aesthetic that will fit into a contemporary home,” she says. “I like to blend traditional patterns and repurposed fabrics into my creations with more bold, modern colors and accents.”
Find more information at HeyBabyCraftCo.com.
— Steph Guinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
what: The Big Crafty
where: Asheville Art Museum
when: Sunday, Dec. 1
1-6 p.m., free admission; 11 a.m.-1 p.m., $5 VIP early admission