Knotty business

Fun with fiber: Western North Carolina’s fiber arts tradition started long before student fashion and yarnbombing. Fiber Weekend at the Folk Art Center showcases the best of traditional and contemporary art forms. Photo courtesy of Southern Highland Craft Guild
Fun with fiber: Western North Carolina’s fiber arts tradition started long before student fashion and yarnbombing. Fiber Weekend at the Folk Art Center showcases the best of traditional and contemporary art forms. Photo courtesy of Southern Highland Craft Guild

Fiber Weekend explores textile craft forms

“Knitted graffiti” is how local textile artist Judi Jetson describes yarnbombing, the art form that tags public objects with colored strands. Yarnbombing interests her because “it’s a little bit wicked and a fun way to express myself with a group of knitters.” Jetson is part of a collaborative called Operation Colorstorm, which will be creating an installation piece for the upcoming Fiber Weekend event at the Folk Art Center. Demonstrations, hands-on activities and a wearable art fashion show take place Saturday and Sunday, May 10 and 11.

“We’ve designed tree sweaters, pole wrappers, a pond and other amazing embellishments in keeping with the spirit of Fiber Days,” says Jetson. The weekend event will showcase a full spectrum of the artistic genre, ranging from the traditional to the contemporary. Yarnbombing fits into the latter category, along with upcycled clothing by Patte Vanden Berg and deconstructed screen-printing by Betsy Morrill. Traditional fiber crafts, including natural dyeing, sheep shearing, weaving and crochet, will also be demonstrated at the Folk Art Center.

On Sunday, local artist Liz Spear emcees the 15th annual Fashion Show of Wearable Art at 1 and 3 p.m. In previous years, highlights have included nuno-felted pieces and repurposed apparel. Spear says that she intends to speak to the “enduring inspiration of traditional techniques, for the textiles of the future.” One such example, she says, is the “digitally enhanced handwoven pieces by Geri Forkner.” Also included in the show is a collection from the students at Haywood Community College Professional Crafts program.

Western North Carolina’s fiber arts tradition started long before student fashion and yarnbombing. Dating to the 1800s, the weaving of wool and cotton was a cottage industry that provided income for mountain families. Area craft organizations such as Southern Highland Craft Guild and Penland School of Crafts were formed from this wellspring of textile know-how. In present day, fiber arts are still being made. While some artists focus on preserving the historic processes, others seek innovative interpretations of traditional forms.

Black Mountain weaver and yarn spinner Eileen Hallman uses her engineering background to develop tools to refine and streamline the process. At Fiber Weekend, she will demonstrate spinning raw fiber into cotton yarn using a tool called the book charkha. “This spindle wheel was developed for Gandhi’s Constructive Programme [in India],” she says. “It’s a miniature version of the spindle wheel Sleeping Beauty was spinning on when she pricked her finger. It folds up to look like a wooden book.”

Spinning and weaving have their own vocabulary, and Hallman enjoys sharing that language. The educational aspect of public events like Fiber Weekend provides a chance to consider the twist of the yarn, the intersecting weave of fabric and the process that results in a colored pattern. One weaving technique for which Hallman uses the book charkha is to produce what she calls “single-shuttle plaid,” where she “changes color with each arm’s length of spun yarn.”

Another exhibiting artist, Betsy Morrill, works in a process called deconstructed screen printing. Her wall hangings piece together one of a kind hand-dyed and hand-printed fabric. The resulting textile works are sometimes abstract explorations of pattern and color, while others combine the fabric into flattened scenes from nature such as a mountain landscape. Morrill describes her method as improvisational. “It doesn’t feel like production work since it’s always a little different — and that keeps it interesting,” she says.

Although her current process is a new form of fiber art, Morrill is well-versed in the basics. “I started working with textiles when I was young — learning sewing, knitting, needlepoint and embroidery from my mother,” she says.

According to Morrill, there is a large fiber “family” in WNC: lots of weavers, quilters, dyers and surface designers. An event like Fiber Weekend  is an opportunity to extend that clan. “I think that when we demonstrate our craft, the public, young and old, can be exposed to our techniques,” she says. “Maybe they appreciate the work that goes into handmade, and maybe they are inspired to pursue an art of their own.”

WHAT

Fiber Weekend

WHERE

Folk Art Center, craftguild.org

WHEN

Demonstrations and activities on Saturday, May 10, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; fashion show on Sunday, May 11, 1 and 3 p.m. Free.

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