From lumpy crochet through thread-painted tropical birds

My Journey as a Fiber Artist

My mother sewed and crocheted, which she saw as practical and necessary skills, and I learned while tagging along with her. I particularly remember making clothes for my stuffed animals, and the feeling of sitting in a cozy corner of our cabin, my hands filled with yarn and scraps of fabric. I also remember a special “airplane dress” that my mother made for me when I was five. It had rainbow fabric and heart-shaped buttons. Most importantly, it had a secret pocket inside the regular patch pocket, where I could safely keep my passport. This is burned into my memory because once I actually began my journey, no one ever let me carry my own passport, not once, not ever at all, and that beautiful, clever secret pocket was never able to fulfill its purpose in life. 

My fiber arts journey continued with crocheting and knitting through high school and college. Back in those days before YouTube, my mother and I checked out a book about knitting from the library and brought it to our remote Alaskan cabin, along with plenty of yarn. Our plan: learn to knit and make a baby blanket, with each block a knitted portrait of something important to our friend. So without knowing one stitch of knitting, no one to teach us, and whatever random tools we picked up from the second hand store, we embarked on not only a huge finished project, teaching ourselves how to do intricate color work, and designing knitting patterns ourselves.

I have always known how to work a sewing machine and stick things together with a needle and thread, but I always felt tense and disappointed when I sat down to sew. I felt like there was so much I could be doing, but I got mired in the details. One day, I decided that was enough, and I was just going to learn how to sew properly. I checked some books out of the library, looked up internet articles for specific problems, and just… kept sewing. When I finished two baby carriers and my first entire quilt, I decided that it was worth rewarding myself with a good quality sewing machine. 

I have designed, sewn, and quilted several of my own quilts. I love the process, the combination of traditional and contemporary techniques, the colors, and the flow of free-motion quilting. 

A year later, none of my clothes fit correctly after my latest pregnancy, and I decided to try sewing my own. After I made (and re-made, and re-made) my first t-shirt, I said that I was proud of it but the clothing industry didn’t have anything to fear from my garment making prowess. My prediction turned out to be wrong – once again, I just kept going and kept making myself learn more. Within a few months, I had a competent “me-made wardrobe,” and within a couple of years, I grew confident in detailed sewing and fitting techniques. I have designed and sewn virtually all the clothes that I wear. (NB: I don’t design the patterns — I deeply appreciate pattern-makers! I do, however, make extensive fitting adjustments, select the fabric and details, and often I made adjustments on the pattern as I go along.)

Through the years, my fiber arts journey has meandered through dyeing, rigid heddle weaving, making Waldorf dolls, and all sorts of other projects you do with your hands. There isn’t time to do everything, and I also study other artists’ work and techniques. I am particularly interested in weaving, and I have a very special collection of handwoven baby wraps.

A few years ago, I began looking for a fiber art that I could do while managing children (which is how I spend a majority of my time!). Crocheting granny squares had worked for a while, but I never had the opportunity to attach them together. I had done knitting and crochet projects periodically, but I found it stressful to worry about kids tangling up my yarn or losing stitching when I had to pick it up and set it down. I loved quilting, but that takes a huge amount of space and concentration; it was nice for when I had an hour while all the kids were busy, but I couldn’t sit in the living room and quilt while they played. I decided to test out hand embroidery, which only takes a few materials, is very small, and the stitches don’t fall out if you set it down. Hand embroidery has been my artistic passion ever since.

I have explored a number of different techniques, both traditional and modern. I have learned by following patterns and tips from other embroidery artists, and used patterns to experiment with a wide variety of different styles. This has developed into designing my own patterns. I use a combination of planning out the general design and free-form stitching. I believe this keeps the art focused on the particular strengths and benefits of the technique and materials. 

Although I still work in a variety of styles, I have developed two particular interests. The first is thread painting – a very meticulous way of combining small stitches and similar colors to get a flowing and painterly effect, especially of natural subjects. I also enjoy mixed media embroidery, either as part of surface embroidery, or using wool felt as a base for adding all sorts of embellishment. I tend to work with wool felt in the winter, but then as the weather warms up and the light is stronger, I dive into detail work again.

Christy Matheson in blue and white me-made blouse
Christy Matheson posing in newly finished Roscoe blouse
Thread painted embroidered Quetzel