The handmade revival of the past five years has revolutionized the way we think about the arts, craftsmen and the fine art market place as it relates to average folk like you and me. This month I am stoked to talk to with Gwen of Fibrevolution, the crochet miracle worker and visionary who makes craft look modern, sexy and functional. Read on for the background on this fibre revolution, Gwen’s fibre evolution and her tips on starting your own crafty business.
Junkyard Arts: The beginner stuff: when did you start doing crochet? It’s crochet right? Not knitting? I definitely always mess that up!
Fibrevolution: I learned to knit (that’s with two pointy sticks) as a senior in High School, but to be honest… I’m one of the worst knitters I know. On my first winter break home from college I traded lessons with my best friend from back home. She’d always been a crocheter (that’s with one hook), and I remember being mesmerized as I watched her swift hands work growing up. To this day I’m primarily a crocheter and she’s primarily a knitter, she got me hooked!
JYA: What was the first thing you ever made? I have a friend who tried picking crocheting up in college and let’s just say we had a LOT of doilies lying around.
F: I made a lot of blankets at first, but now I hardly have the patience for them.
JYA: Any major disasters?
F: When I was first learning to crochet, I made a very common beginner’s mistake and the scarf I was making was getting narrower and narrower as it got longer! I think it’s really important to work through all those mistakes and nuances at the beginning… I think it’s really informed my pattern-making skills. Now if I need to taper something at that angle, I know how!
JYA: ha. so rule #1 of crochet is: persevere! Can you tell me a little about why you got started?
F: My father taught me to sew, and my earliest memories on the sewing machine involve me making clothes for my Troll dolls. Working with my hands is a necessity in my life, and as an artist I crave rich tactile input and impeccable craftsmanship. Crocheting satisfies all of those needs plus allows for the spontaneous design freedom and control that I could not achieve in knitting.
JYA: Why or how did you go from sewing to working with fibres and doing something much more traditional like crochet?
F: I’ve always been into fibers and am attracted to their inherent sense of history. Even when I see a crochet piece fresh off the hook and I know it’s “new,” I can’t help but think about how I could have made the same thing over a hundred years ago.
JYA: Lets talk about the 100 years old part. How do you manage to make crochet something sexy, relevant and feminine without it being ‘grandma-y’?
F: When I started fibrevolution and began photographing my work for it, it became immediately apparent that crochet can be difficult to divorce from its crafty grandma connotations. I wanted fibrevolution to have a modern and future feel, while appealing to people of all genders. Portraying strong women in my product photos became one of the driving factors in my design concept. I had heard visual artist Ann Hamilton speak at Walnut Hill School for the Arts a couple years back, and she said that the best artists dance along the line of gender, exploring aspects of femininity and masculinity and juxtaposing them in new ways in their work. It was like she took the words right out of me! I think masculine and feminine are extremes, and to grasp or convey one aspect one must explore the other. Undeniably, my youth interests in goth/industrial/Victorian subculture inform my aesthetic choices today.
JYA: So who are your influences then? You are clearly inspired by history and tradition but also fashion and I’ll venture to say color theory based on your varied palate, and music (I know you love to hit the dance floor :) ). What about fine art, culture, performance, etc?
F: Cindy Sherman has long been one of my number one influences, many years before I began photographing myself for Fibrevolution. There’s pretty much music on all the time while I’m working, so musical artists inspire and inform my work a great deal, notably Melora Creagor, Kool Keith, and Joanna Newsom.
JYA: I do love how your original photos for Fibrevolution showed a girl (you) in action, caught in a moment – like “look, I’m about to do something awesome in my new wrappinghood!”. You managed to make the self portrait fun and marketable without being pretentious – a tough bit to pull off!
F: Ha, well I make accessories, so styling is everything! That and great and consistent branding as well as gorgeous professional photos of your work help people not only to remember you, but recognize you again in the future.
JYA: I absolutely agree, and I would say your branding of Fibrevolution has been really successful – the feel and motivation behind your work is easily recognizable through every element of your site(s), business cards, promo materials and garments. Can you talk a little about how you started the business?
F: It all started when I had an image in my head of a brim hat I wanted but I couldn’t find it in stores. So, being a resourceful artist, I made my own. Then everyone started asking where I got it… can they have one… can they get it with a stripe… can they buy one… then after gifting everyone to death I decided to open my own business.
JYA: What do you think it takes to bring your craft to the mainstage?
F: Some of the key things involved in turning your craft into a business revolve around legitimacy and professionalism. Registering your business certificate, opening a separate business checking account, opening shop online and having an active social media presence all serve not only for you to take yourself more seriously, but for others to take you seriously as well.
F: I must say that most bloggers and wholesalers have found me through Etsy. More and more it’s becoming the go-to place to find interesting and personal handmade items.
JYA: That’s where I first checked our your stuff! Do you ever get ancy and want to stop crocheting and pick up something else and give that a try?
F: I’m an artist, so it seemed that Fibrevolution would be the ultimate outlet for all my creative needs, such as fibre work, sewing, photography, digital editing, graphic design, web design, and putting together an overall impeccable package. Fashion designing hence came by accident. I wear all of my own pieces, so I just make what I like to wear and enjoy making.
JYA: Let’s talk a little about your design and pattern strategy. You continue to create items, that to me (a scarf lover!) are always familiar but exciting and new at the same time. Take the ‘continuity’ scarf. I first bought one from you ages ago and I had never seen one before in the mainstream – now they are all over the place. How do you stay ahead of the trends?
F: My vision for Fibrevolution has always included a sense of timelessness, like not only could all of these pieces had technically been made in a different decade or century, many of them could have been worn fashionably at the time. Fashion, by its very nature embraces trends and constant change. Style is ultimately independent of fashion and time. I design my items themselves with timeless style, and promote and present Fibrevolution with fashion and trends in mind.
JYA: The Wrappinghood, in my mind, is a thing of beauty. It’s functional and dare I say…fabulous. And impenetrable to wind! I survived many walks this winter with that guy.
F: I’ve heard my Mega Wrappinghood described as anything from, “Gorgeous,” to “Glamourous,” to “Gangster.” I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the universal appeal of the pieces in my line, especially the Wrappinghood. When you see a trend up and coming, it’s probably already too late to try and produce to catch that market before the trend’s played out. The only way to stay ahead of the trends is to design with enduring style.
JYA: Well said. So what is on the agenda for you now? What’s coming up for Fibrevolution?
F: I just designed a new hood, and I believe it will have a charitable donation component. More details to come on that! The Luxury Wool line that I had at my winter shows is now finally available online. I’ve also redesigned http://thefibrevolution.com and it will have its own fully-integrated shopping cart. The new design will launch soon! In recent developments, I’m moving to L.A. this summer!!! I’m looking forward to collaborating more with some west-coasters and expanding Fibrevolution.
JYA: Just don’t stop making scarves – I don’t know what I would do with myself! Ok. I have to know out of a Victorias Secret-like morbid curiosity: tell me about crocheting a custom bikini…
F: Ha! When I used to (yes I said used to!) crochet bikini tops, they could take me 10 hours+ and hurt my hands to make! I’m extremely detailed when it comes to fitting and finishing a garment properly, which is usually fine but not when each and every time you make a new one it’s almost like your brain is starting all over again to figure out how to fit it to the customer. They were beautiful but taking up an imbalanced amount of my energy so I had to stop, but I can be speedier and easier on my hands when I crochet with the bulky yarn. The repetition of production has allowed me to master and perfect each piece over time. They call me a cro-bot!
JYA: On that perfect note, I’m ending the interview. You really should trademark that…cro-bot…genius.
The same questions we always ask (sorta)
What is your favorite work of art?
Liza Lou’s beaded Kitchen – I got to see it when it traveled to Smith College… outrageous in person.
Materials most often used?
Besides yarn, I work primarily in a digital mode so Photoshop is one of my most versatile tools. I designed and coded my current website and designed the upcoming one. I’ve also been known to work in fabric and tend to incorporate layers and transparencies into my artwork.
Favorite color to work with?
My favorite color is burnt orange, similar to the signature Fibrevolution logo. My apartment’s painted that color, my gmail theme is that color… I’m even looking to achieve that hair color! Luckily I have a yarn in my line that color, it’s a stunning Acrylic Wool blend called Rust. Love!