The artists and artisans of the fiber world come to you in The Long Thread Podcast. Each episode features interviews with your favorite spinners, weavers, needleworkers, and fiber artists from across the globe. Get the inspiration, practical advice, and personal stories of experts as we follow the long thread.
Eileen Lee: From Quilts to Jeans to Painted Warps
A career professional at Levi Strauss & Company, Eileen Lee learned about dyeing, weaving, and sewing on an international scale: giant factories full of loud looms weaving 2/2 twill, pattern pieces cut out of four-foot-high stacks of cloth, and no possibility of adding a tuck here or a dart there without retooling. During her years in the industry, Eileen saw major shifts in the market for the company's signature product, as their target customer began to look elsewhere and their manufacturing shifted overseas.
A century ago, Eileen's grandmother saw a tradition on the cusp of changing, even disappearing. Hawaiian quilting grew from the basic stitches taught by Christian missionaries into a distinct cultural tradition, with large appliqué motifs and echo quilting lines. But the quilters who made these quilts didn't share them outside their families; some quilts were burned to keep their designs a secret. Hannah Ku´umililani Cummings Baker threw open her cache of quilt designs and taught the skill to anyone who cared to learn, creating both a wider market and a fresh generation of quilters. One of her students was her granddaughter Eileen, who wrote about her grandmother in PieceWork Summer 2021.
From her grandmother's tutelage to a career in mass-market textiles to her current studio and teaching practice, Eileen Lee's story is woven and stitched together.
Dr. Susan Kay-Williams, Royal School of Needlework
Part of the Royal School of Needlework's collection is in tatters . . . by design.
The collection includes some fine examples of stitching techniques, but what makes the archive more interesting are the pieces where fraying has revealed something about the stitching of a particular piece. All of the pieces support the school's mission: to preserve traditional needlework techniques and educate students around the world in stitching well.
Whether to future needlework tutors, undergraduates, or stitchers around the world, the RSN teaches foundations in needlework that emphasize skilled craftsmanship as well as self-expression.
As Chief Executive of the Royal School of Needlework, Dr. Susan Kay-Williams oversees an institution that teaches hobbyist needleworkers around the world, offers a BA degree in needlework, creates textiles for royal occasions, and above all works to preserve the techniques of stitching for future generations.
One of the school's major initiatives has been the RSN Stitch Bank, a free online database that records embroidery stitches from around the world. To prevent needlework stitches from being lost over time, the stitch bank provides written instructions, videos, photos, and illustrations for 150 stitches and counting.
As Dr. Kay-Williams remarks, the RSN may be a small organization, but it does not have small ambitions.
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Cassie Dickson, Coverlet Weaver & Sericulturist
Whether it's growing and processing fiber or embroidering with handspun, hand-dyed linen thread, Cassie has always looked at traditional textiles and said, "I have to learn to do that." She's learned to split cane and weave baskets in the Cherokee style, ret flax in dew, and weave an overshot coverlet in two weeks. Having learned the old skills, she gladly teaches anyone who wants to know, just as fiber "grandmothers" did for her.
The preservation of old textile skills runs deep in the Southeast and Appalachian communities where coverlets and silk-raising and natural dyeing took root. Cassie follows in the footsteps of Craft Revival movement, which led to the founding of folk and craft schools in the Southeast, and the Deerfield Society of Blue and White Needlework, which revived interest in colonial needlework of New England.
Cassie Dickson is leading her part of a textile craft revival—and we're invited to join in.
Laurann Gilbertson, Chief Curator, Vesterheim
The Vesterheim has 80 spinning wheels. Laurann Gilbertson says that they didn't really mean to have so many, but it seems that every woman who emigrated from Norway in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century came prepared to make the cloth she needed to run her household: the wool and linen krokbragd coverlets, linens for wearing and bedding, carefully embellished folk costume, and all the other textiles that a woman in a new country and generations after her would need to live comfortably. In time, she might switch to commercial cotton thread for her hardanger embroidery or stop spinning her own sheep's wool, but producing cloth was an important part of life, so it's best to be prepared. The spinning wheels are treasures (but the museum probably won't accept any more).
The museum also has rugs, coverlets, hand coverings, folk garments, knitwear (of course!), tapestries, and other Norwegian and Norwegian-American items from a Viking sword to Rosemaling chests to photographs and furnishings. Laurann shares the joys of working with, learning about, and caring for a museum's collections. as well as some of the difficult decisions that curators face. She offers expert advice on how to make the most of a museum—and how to make the most of your own family's treasures, museum-worthy or not. Vesterheim is one of many museums centered on a specific cultural or historic focus, but the elements of running a museum are shared across the field: collecting and preserving according to a policy, assisting in research for scholars, making the collection available to the public, and promoting education about the museum's area of interest.
Vesterheim Museum is located in Decorah, Iowa.
Deborah Robson, Wool Promoter
Deborah Robson is known to, even revered by, a generation of handspinners as the author of The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook with Carol Ekarius. She has a distinguished track record as an editor—Shuttle, Spindle & Dyepot, Spin Off magazine, and books including the massive Alden Amos Big Book of Handspinning. Deborah has devoted herself to learning and teaching about the heritage of rare-breed sheep and has worked with the Livestock Conservancy’s Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em. Her video Handspinning Rare Wools is available from Long Thread Media.
Anita Luvera Mayer, Weaver of Creative Coverings
When she married her husband, "polyester kid" Anita Luvera Mayer received an extraordinary wedding gift from her mother-in-law: a loom and weaving lessons. A weaving store owner, Marcelle Mayer gave the same gift to each of her daughters-in-law. The others didn't take to it, but for Anita it was the beginning of a whole new life. Although she preferred making simple cloth to complex patterns, weaving opened the doors to meeting other fiber artists, teaching across North America, and learning to make her own clothes, beginning with a "pukey green dress" that she wore for years and kept as a teaching tool. Exploring new techniques and refining her approach, she championed the revolutionary idea that women—all women—should like what they see when they look in the mirror. Anita Luvera Mayer is an inspiration . . . and a delight.