Thursday, 19 August 2010

Portrait of a Textile Artist

Deborah Robson has agreed to let us do a portrait of her as a crafts person. We decided to call her a textile artist as her answer to the first question about what she sees as her main craft was: 'spinning, weaving, knitting, crochet, braiding, sewing, basketry ...'. Apart from textiles Deborah also loves books. She is an essayist and short-story writer and is the editor of Nomad Press. She blogs on The Independent Stitch about her passion for textile crafts and independent publishing. She is currently working on a book about animal-grown natural fibers that will be released by Storey Publishing next spring. You can also follow her on twitter (effortlesszone) - we are!

Have fiber crafts always been a part of your life?

Well, the women in my mother's family always sewed, and I began to sew before I could read. When I was about 9 years old, my grandmother taught me to knit. I already knew the basics of crochet, although I don't remember when I learned them. I also had my first taste of weaving when I was given a child's loom. Unfortunately, when the warp ran out no one knew how to replace it and I didn't have another opportunity to weave until I was in my early 20s and worked as a camp counselor. Not long after that, I took four lessons in weaving, using a rented loom that I carried back and forth to the classes on the bus, and then I bought a table loom and began teaching myself using books from the public library. I took up spinning at around age 25 when a friend brought over a spindle and some wool, gave me an introduction to the ideas, and left the stuff behind. Working with textiles is a permanent part of my life.

How do you feel about learning new craft techniques?

I'm eternally curious about the things one can do with yarn and thread. Basically, if I haven't tried a technique . . . I have just not gotten to it yet. I am learning new techniques all the time. While I learn primarily from books, I have also attended a few classes and am always learning new things from friends.

What materials do you prefer to work with?

I am very passionate about fibers. For years I have been studying natural fibers, especially those produced by animals and with an emphasis on the vast diversity of breeds of sheep. I am worried about the survival of these traditional breeds, some of which are already extinct. There are aspects of traditional crafts that we will not be able to maintain if we lose access to these materials.

Do you have any preferences when it comes to tools?

None whatsoever--except that they must be comfortable to use. I use my hand spindles and my spinning wheel. I have both floor and table looms (Glimakra and Schacht), along with knitting needles, crochet hooks, inkle looms, cards for card weaving, frame looms, combs, carders, flickers, nostepinnes, ballwinders, and swifts. My philosophy is that if it looks like it will do the job, then I'll use it. I do prefer aesthetically pleasing and functional tools.

Why do you think crafts are important?

I think it is important that we as a society remember how to MAKE things that are useful to us. In addition to remembering how to make things, we must also remember how to make them well. It is culturally essential that these skills are not lost and I think doing crafts has a strong positive effect on the individual crafters. The only way to keep traditional crafts alive is to enjoy and share what we do - both the skills and the crafted items themselves. I also think it is important to keep traditional crafts alive in their traditional forms. Otherwise we lose knowledge of what they were, and are. Creativity grows from skill, and there's a lot of skill to be found in traditional crafts.

Do you think much has changed in textile crafts since you began?

I am really heartened by the number of people who are currently engaged with textile crafts. There are so many more than there were in the 1970s when I really got going with these activities! Now we have access to materials and tools that those of us who were doing these things back then couldn't even imagine. Having said that, I have been quite dismayed recently that I can't obtain linen for handspinning of the quality that was available 40 years ago. The more people who engage in traditional crafts, the more ability we will have to support the suppliers of the finest materials!

The photo in this post is copyright of Deborah Robson. If you wish to use the images please request permission from Deborah.

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