The Close Knit Podcast aims to hold space for conversation about the ways we use fiber to process life and world events.
EPISODE 65 :: Damien Ajavon
In episode 65 of the Close Knit podcast, I speak to Damien Ajavon. Based in Oslo, Damien Ajavon is a queer textile artist, born in France, of Senegalese and Togolese origin. Their work explores the different methods in which textiles fibres can be manipulated by hand: knotted, braided, tangled, and woven. The interaction between visual and tactile experiences has always played an important role in their process; they use their African and western influences as a vehicle for their textile storytelling and as visual markers of their creative approaches. It is through textile languages rather than oral ones that Ajavon has been unearthing and weaving connections with their ancestry.
They have accumulated substantial experience internationally that honed their expertise and technique. They learnt to weave hemp, dye cashmere in Italy and work with feathers (Bevagna, Sant’Anatolia DI Narco, Florence), felting hats and making accessories in Quebec, pattern making and knitwear in New York City.
Ajavon grounds their practice by positioning themselves in the world through their heritage. In doing so, they put into practice their mother’s teachings of African cultures and conjures artistic gestures in honor of intergenerational learning.
This conversation felt just so special to me - at a time when I have felt particularly unmoored (after getting off of instagram), it was so heartening to connect with Damien over our mutual love of fiber. Their work is so beautiful - anchored in physical movement and a wonderful sense of curiosity about how fibers can be manipulated and transformed. I loved hearing their perspective on textile construction, design, and working with human-aided machinery.
We discuss the ways the “craft” is often separated from “fine arts”, and how imperative we feel it is that that viewpoint is shifted. Damien blows my absolute mind when they tell me about their friend’s work with nuno felting, and we share our perspectives of reverence for every craftsperson out there.
We wrap up by discussing Damien’s next steps - a residency in Berlin and a master’s program in Oslo, and we realize our mutual love of socks. We delight in discussing the opportunity Damien has to explore their textile language through their studies - to move beyond 2D technical construction into a realm of expressing their perspective and history through their work. Finally, we talk about the protection inherent in fiber work - both from the elements, and just the harshness of the world - we revel in the protection that textiles bring to those who make and wear them.
EPISODE 64 :: Sharifah Emalia Al-Gadrie
In episode 64 of the Close Knit podcast, I speak to Sharifah Emalia Al-Gadrie. Sharifah Emalia Al-Gadrie is a multidisciplinary artist & community development worker based in nipaluna/Hobart, lutruwita/Tasmania. Her creative practice is responsive and explores belonging and cultural heritage in contemporary Australia, drawing on intersectional feminist theory and lived experience as an Asian-Australian woman. Emalia's work is both research and process driven and is based in mediums including painting, textiles, installation and photography. She currently works for Tasmanian not-for-profit organisation, A Fairer World, managing the Hobart Human Library and Women’s Business projects.
I have so deeply admired Emalia since I met her in 2017 when I lived in Hobart. She has been persistently living her values, doing incredible work in her community, and maintaining a thoughtful and critical artistic practice. I was particularly excited to catch up with her and hear about her life these past few years, she has been absolutely prolific in her artistic practice.
We share stories about life over the last year and compare the ways our community spaces have been altered as a result of pandemic life. She tells me about the shows she’s been part of and in particular, we discuss a project that is especially near to her heart, Women’s Business. Women’s Business is a show that explores the culture, religion, and personal journies of Tasmanian women from migrant and refugee backgrounds through the fashion of their families.
Much of Emalia’s textile work is soft and inviting on the surface, but deals with heavy subject matter - we discuss the ways in which Emalia’s use of textiles is both a response to her personal affection for textiles and their tactility and an act of political meaning. Some of her work is deeply bodily and contains references to or literal body hair, an exploration of her experience growing up on the coast of Australia as an Asian-Australian woman, being bullied for her body hair.
We wrap up by discussing Emalia’s piece Sticks and Stones (pictured above) which took a critical lens to the Islamaphobia that is rampant in Australian media. This piece exemplifies Emalia’s purpose with her art practice, drawing the viewer in with this soft pastel palette, and asking them to consider something they might shy away from. She hopes to engage her audience in these difficult conversations, even if just for a moment, or even just to have them acknowledge that the thing is real and happening.
EPISODE 63 :: Zak Foster
In Episode 63 of the Close Knit Podcast, I spoke to Zak Foster. Raised in rural North Carolina and now living in Brooklyn, New York, Zak is a self-taught textile artist whose work draws on Southern textile traditions while incorporating found fabrics and natural dyes. He practices an approach to design that is intuitive and improvisational and he is drawn to preserving the stories of quilts and specializes in memory quilts. His work has been featured in various magazines, websites, and galleries.
Zak and I start off by talking about his most current work, and how he has been developing his relationship to sharing his art practice through social media. He tells me about two concepts in his work that felt particularly tender to me, especially in light of the pandemic, his memory quilts and burial quilts.
Zak has such a special way of approaching his work, primarily working with reclaimed materials - clothing he finds on the street in his neighborhood, fabrics he’s been given in his travels. He explains that he came to working with reclaimed materials first out of interest, and then from a desire to continue to pursue his joy while lessening his impact on the planet.
I have long admired Zak’s work, and I’ve been so taken with all the work he’s shared, especially lately, and it was such a treat to sit down in conversation with him. Zak is such a brilliant storyteller, and I so admire his resolve around his practice - I hope you enjoy listening to this conversation as much as I loved having it!
EPISODE 62 :: Vivian Shao Chen
In Episode 62 of the Close Knit Podcast, I spoke to Vivian Shao Chen. Vivian is a potter, sewist, and knitter, and architect by profession. The order of that list changes frequently.
She has been pursuing pottery for almost four years. She learned sewing from her parents when she was a child through their clothing manufacturing business. She picked sewing back up as an adult in the last 20 months or so, and now she has transitioned to drafting almost all her own garments. She taught herself to knit about two years ago as a way to keep her hands busy when she’s too tired to be in the studio.
She recounts memories of her childhood in the factory her parents managed in Montreal after immigrating from Taiwan - a unique look at the manufacturing process that gave her an early understanding of garment construction. Vivian only picked garment sewing up more recently as an adult, and we talk about the ways she approaches her garment-making - from a place of form, function, and technical skill. She tells me how all of her many creative pursuits have some mix of this triad of things.
We talk about how she came to knitting as a way to occupy her hands on her commutes from Philadelphia to her job in NYC at the time, and how she came to understand knitted garment-making, and how she made it her own. Vivian is a person who enjoys the technical and problem-solving elements of her creative process, a quality that has lent itself to many pattern alterations, and overall a responsiveness to garment-construction process.
Much like in her pottery practice, Vivian’s aesthetic has come about as a result of making work - her forms organic, her materials natural, a reflection of her interest in light and shadow, and her affection for rustic and complex natural yarn colors.
Vivian is a multi-talented creative person, and it was such a treat to hear her perspective on how all of her experiences across her various practices have come together to influence each other in what you see of her present-day practice.
EPISODE 61 :: Francisco of Cisco Sew
In Episode 61 of the Close Knit Podcast, the first episode of 2021, I spoke to Francisco Diaz of Cisco Sews. Francisco is a multidisciplinary creative craftsman with a keen visual eye. A sewing newbie focused on second-hand upcycling and material transformation. Francisco aims to be constantly trying new things, sustain imperfect sustainability and remain queer af.
EPISODE 60 :: Grace Rother
In Episode 60 of the Close Knit Podcast - the final episode of 2020, I spoke to Grace Rother, a lesbian quilt-maker and writer. I have long admired Grace’s practice - her way of making things accessible and her deep clarity on how she makes and shares. We talk about her quilt raffles this year, most recently culminating in her virtual quilting bee raising funds for Assata’s Daughters, an effort of more than 100 quilt-patch makers. Grace and I discuss the ways that textiles hold a softness for concepts and ideas that might feel a bit scary or out of our norm, like defunding the police and abolishing prisons. We talk about translating cozy sweater trends through DIY knitting, and how boundaries come into play when sharing online.
Grace has shifted her practice over this year to change how she engages with Instagram, a shift I have been taking notice of and wondering if I might find a similar path - and we talk about how that shifting attention feels and looks for her. This is the final episode of 2020, and I feel so grateful that Grace joined me for this chat!
accessible & heartwarming podcast
Close Knit is the first textile focused podcast I've listened to and have remained subscribed to. The language is accessible and whether or not you're a beginner textile artist or don't make textile art at all - you'll find something inspiring here. I love hearing about all of the different ways textiles have changed something (or everything) in peoples lives.
This podcast helps me feel like I am apart of a global community of likeminded makers, it’s really special.
Like crafting amongst friends.
This is just what I need in my life. Besides mum, I don't know anyone who is into fiber arts of any kind so it's a very solitary practice for me. I love listening to Close Knit while I craft as it's like crafting amongst friends, full of diverse conversation with interesting people and is a great source of inspiration. Particularly loving the discussion around sustainability and community. Thank you Ani!