Fiber arts regaining popularity

Fiber arts regaining popularity

By Lisa Palmeno, Staff Writer

Traditionally known as knit and crochet, fiber arts are regaining popularity as outlets for creativity and relaxation.

Most people are accustomed to seeing crocheted and knitted scarves, hats and trinkets at craft fairs and booths at the malls, but the age-old art forms carry more meaning for those who have learned the techniques. To the casual observer, these are merely crafts for those with a little extra time on their hands. To actually create a complex piece for the home or apparel, though, a great deal of practice is involved in reading and altering patterns to fit correctly, keeping the right tension, and knowing which materials and tools will work for a chosen piece. Skilled fiber artists must also know proper washing, blocking and maintenance of the materials they are using.

Crochet originated in the Middle East thousands of years ago and developed into renaissance period pattern imitations of Guipure and Richelieu laces and needlepoint embroidery. Single motifs tied with picot bars grew out of the imitations and were then fully developed by crochet workers in Ireland, manifesting as rural Irish motifs. Later, crochet work was used for complete fabrics instead of just lace decorations (The Pattern Library, Crochet, 1981).

Fishermen used crochet for their nets as well as for Aran- patterned clothing to keep warm while at sea.

Patterns cropped up around the world, giving way to a thriving cottage industry in the mid-19th century, an industry that created thousands of jobs for people during the potato famine, and historical documentation reports that many Irish citizens immigrated to America on money made in the crochet business.

Styles have dictated patterns available throughout the ages, and those who create the originals and then sell the patterns usually go unsung, with perhaps the exception of Vanna White, whose crochet pattern books focus on beautiful items for the home. Yes, the lady who turns the letters has a brain, and anyone who has ever tried to read a crochet or knitting pattern realizes that writing a pattern takes a very experienced fiber artist.

The February 22, 2002 issue of Chicago Sun-Times gave coverage to Pate Conaway’s knitting project, “Knitting for My Soul.” Conaway’s experiment was part of the 12×12: New Artists/ New Work exhibition series at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Conaway knitted rope-thick cotton into a pair of 8-foot mittens with a 4-foot pair of needles made from pine dowels. He created the piece as a demonstration for patrons and actually spent the night inside one of the mittens at the Museum.

Local fiber arts lovers have also generated new interest in knit and crochet. Becky Maselli and Sue Gibbons at Unique Yarns, Inc. at 7969 Forest Hills Rd. and Lisa Grenlund, owner of Yarn Sellar, 6128 E. Riverside Blvd., both in Loves Park, offer classes for fiber arts. Both stores carry finer fabrics such as Dale of Norway, Trendsetter and Plymouth that were once only available at huge warehouses or from catalogs. Unique Yarns. Inc. recently held a trunk show for Manos del Uruguay yarns and hosted a learn to knit a one-of-a-kind designer jacket with national fiber arts Designer Christina Bylsma from Madison, Wisconsin.

Since forming their business partnership, Maselli and Gibbons have added summer classes for kids, an open house, and classes in spinning, weaving and dyeing. Both stores also still carry catalogs so customers can order special kits and fabrics not available in-store. To find out more about classes and events call Yarn Sellar at (815)637-9666 and/or Unique Yarns at (815)282-5481.

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