Fiber Art Information
Throughout history, fiber art has been seen as the art of domestic life, filled with utilitarian function. An example of this is fiber items like baskets, quilts for the bed, and hand-tatted lace for a wedding gown. Although fiber art is not for women only, is has typically been viewed as an art particularly derived from homemaking skills. For me, fiber art that is most exciting is fiber art that directly distorts the happy homemaker tradition and breathes life into complex and artistic subjects. An artist’s choice to work in this field today is often loaded with the recognition that fiber art is often seen outside of the context of the world of fine art. The raw materials used in fiber arts are tactile and versatile, which adds to the impact of this art form. It is also interesting to so many people because fiber artists use familiar materials in novel ways. For instance, have you seen the wave of contemporary fiber artists who knit sleeves to decorate tree trunks? It is a fun, funny, and new way to enjoy fiber art in the world.
When is Fiber Art “Art”?
Fiber art, like fine art, is a creative endeavor that has a variable value in our world today. Throughout human history, functional items were made out of organic fiber like wool fleece or reed fronds for both domestic and utilitarian purposes, and we refer to this kind of creativity as fiber art. For instance, a basket woven out of reeds by an unknown artist in 400 AD could be part of a famous museum collection and is rightly seen as a masterpiece. The same sort of basket woven today by an unknown artist may be seen as a craft project. Fiber art is a wonderful visual art that has many cultural stereotypes surrounding its value, which is only important to a small group of people. For most of us, fiber art still has important domestic and utilitarian purposes, and it continues to fill our homes and lives with valuable handmade beauty.
One of my favorite resources was FiberArts Magazine, and they always did a great job of helping me question my beliefs about fiber art.
“What are the criteria for evaluating art? How does one tell good art from bad art?” FiberArt’s contributing editor and art critic, Janet Koplos reminds us all that the factors that define art today include originality as well as the ability to communicate an idea or emotion or some sort of message. Koplos goes on to explain that there is always a depth to art that holds our interest and allows the art work to be reinterpreted over time.
Fiber Art is like a Family Art
Fiber art is a style of fine art which uses textiles such as fabric, yarn, and natural fibers. While fiber artists love their materials, they consider the techniques used to create fiber art to be historically significant as a connection between themselves and fiber artists of the past. It is like a familial “passing down” of the wisdom of generations that have gone before. In this way, fiber arts are a blending of communities, nationalities, generations, ethnicities, and faiths.
For centuries weaving has been the way to produce clothes as well as to make home goods. In some cultures, weaving skills demonstrate social status. When certain symbols or colors are used in weaving, it designates class and position. Many of the tapestries in Europe were created to tell family history, record lineage, and display religious piety.
The fiber art I began my career with was quilt making. Quilting has not been a fiber art as long as weaving, but it continues to be an extremely popular part of our American history. Quilted fiber art wall hangings have become popular with art collectors. If you are lucky enough to have a family member teach you to quilt, it can be a fiber art that fills not only creative impulses, but also helps you build a social life that is filled with sewing, good friends, and often, great food!
Popular Needle Art: Dry Felting
Using the technique of dry needle felting, you will bond fabric and wool roving together without the use of thread, glue, or sewing needles. A variety of textures and surface design can be achieved. Felting needles are long, barbed, and very sharp. Consider the safety of all who try this needle craft; young people will need close supervision. You do not hold a felting needle like a sewing needle. The motion required is more like a punching or stabbing than it is a sewing motion. (My son tells me this is similar to tattooing with fiber instead of ink.) When you punch the barbed needle up and down into the roving, it pushes the wool through the fabric from top to bottom. I like to work with a single felting needle as I create the outline of the design I am creating. I then pick up my needle felting tool, which is made up of multiple felting needles housed in a handle of some sort. They make pen-style tools with 4 needles, knob-style tools with 6 needles, and retractable tools with 4-6 needles. These multi-needle tools allow you to punch or felt large areas of your design quickly. You can really cover some territory!
When you select the fabric or garment to embellish with needle felting, consider the motion of the needle. For the wool roving to cling properly to the surface of the fabric, you will need to be able to push the barbed part of the needle well into the surface of the fabric. If you are trying to embellish a jacket collar, and there is a heavy stabilizer sewn into that collar, it may be difficult to pierce the barbs fully into the fabric.