The first time I can recall experiencing textile work-as-image was on March 5, 2008, as my husband and I were driving past a mural at 46th and Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. I asked my husband to pull over the car and I got out and took some photographs.
The “Wall of Rugs” mural had been created by my one-time neighbor, Kathryn Pannepacker. It was fun to find it, but on that particular day, we were somewhat distracted, as we were literally minutes away from meeting and holding our first child — our daughter Claudia, born six days earlier — for the first time. We would remember, though, and talk about how I had (as I frequently did) managed to pull us off our intended track to look at fiber art — even on the way to the lawyer’s office to adopt our first baby.
Almost three years later, a friend was in our home leafing through a copy of my Knitting Tarot, and telling me how much she loved images of textile work. It made sense to me that “images of textiles” was now a category unto itself, particularly with the surge of “hip” knitting and proliferation of pro-knitting tattoos in the last decade (we’ve all seen them, if not in person, online).
It was this line of thinking that made this exhibit take shape, and even as the idea jelled, I realized I was seeing more images like this one:
In gallery settings, and in mass-produced fashion (I believe I snapped this outside of Diesel on Walnut St. in January 2011), the knitted-balaclava-covered face was beginning it’s mini-iconic moment in the sun.
I knew that if i wanted to curate a show in a gallery, I would want it to be something more significant — to the artists who had created the pieces — than flavor-of-the-month screenprinting. No portraits of needleworkers, either — that was out. I wanted images of needlework itself, by people who embraced it, and valued those stitches in the way that they re-created them.
I also wanted to feature the work of an artist whose drawings I had come to admire, as I had received three of them as a Christmas gift from my husband in 2010. Again, in an era where knitters both young and middle-aged wished to tout their “hardcore” and edgy status in their craft with tattoos showing their fealty, it was still only with mocking that I ever saw any reference to websites and images for wool and knitwear fetishists. It seemed (and still does seem) hypocritical to me that after so many years of being told by the publishing and handknitting industries that knitting wasn’t just for grannies anymore, that when it was actually taken to a level of extremism — literally, fetishized — that all people did was make fun.
I communicated online with knitwear fetishists, fetish models, and knitters who did custom work for those who wanted and needed mohair bodysuits, and these were some of the most interesting conversations about knitting I had had in years. When I happened upon someone who did not just wear and photograph the kinds of knitting that attracted him, but made drawings and sketches, I felt passionately that this was work I wanted to support and to bring to an audience that might treat it with respect. I am proud that this artist’s work will be part of this exhibit, as I am proud that the work of the others will be as well — featuring a range of art made to celebrate textiles, art made to preserve textiles, art made to create textiles, and art where textiles are part of a larger narrative.
Amber Dorko Stopper