Fiber artistry is woven into our everyday lives whether we know it or not. We wear it, we cozy up with it, we walk on it, we hang it on our walls, and more and more people make it. This practice involves weaving, knitting, pressing or knotting together individual pieces of natural or artificial fibers. The tradition spans global cultures as one of the earliest human technologies — dating back more than 100,000 years. Apart from providing shelter, warmth or vessels for goods, textiles took on a decorative value in many early civilizations. In the 1960s and ’70s, a group of primarily female artists elevated this craft into high art.

Sheila Hicks's famous fibert art sculpture

Sheila Hicks was born in Hastings, Nebraska and received her BFA and MFA degrees from Yale University. In 1957, while visiting Chile, Sheila developed an interest in working with fibers. She’s pioneered this art form throughout her life and is still creating at age 85. This is one of her colorful, cozy installations from Venice Biennale 2017. Image: Shutterstock

Over the past few years, social media has catapulted fiber arts into the feeds, minds and homes of people all over the world. And many people are turning to hands-on art to channel creativity, cultivate community and relieve stress. Fiber art is in a lane of its own. The materials and manual labor of the artist become part of a work’s significance. It prioritizes aesthetic value more than utility, but unlike paint that sticks and dries, or stiffer media like wood and stone, textiles are soft and inviting. Touchable, tentacle-like and dripping in playful color, fiber art invites its beholders to be part of the story. Dive with us into fiber artistry, meet some of our favorite Southern artists and, perhaps, your new creative hobby.

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A Nashville dancer-turned-weaver

Claire Roberts was a professional contemporary dancer until a herniated disc forced her to find a new creative outlet. “I was browsing Instagram one day and came across the beautiful works of Erin Barrett with Sunwoven Wall Art & Interiors,” Claire says. From there, she began to spiral down a rabbit hole of fiber feeds. She started following a slew of fiber artists on Instagram, watched YouTube videos for beginners and researched techniques. Maybe this could be her new “thing.” Before Claire invested in a well-crafted loom, she wanted to see if she could make something from scratch and if she enjoyed the process: “I created something myself from a canvas wooden frame and what seemed like hundreds of nails. Now, I have three beautifully crafted wooden looms in various sizes made in Belgium.” Claire launched Nashty Threads in 2018, and in less than two years, she is already filling homes, businesses and art fairs with her delectably colored mixed media decor.

Claire Roberts and her pup pose in front of her rainbow wall hanging.

Claire says, “Even though it’s a static art form, I see movement, interactiveness and sensations in all fiber art creations. The patterns, textures, dimensions, colors and materials breathe life and movement into the art form. It’s a physical representation of the artist’s vision or emotions.” Image: Claire Roberts

Textile and fiber arts are provoking and malleable  — they can be manipulated into anything: fashion, wall hangings, rugs, sculptures, interactive installations (think: Nick Cave) and more. Claire attributes the rising interest in this medium to a rising desire to be heard. “As a society, we’re becoming more confident and want our voices to be heard, and much of this translates into art,” Claire says. “I see many fiber artists creating provocative pieces through color, texture and scale as if to challenge societal norms and be seen as their true selves.” Fiber arts are objectively so diverse that any artist and any viewer or consumer can find what speaks for them and to them. From giant exhibits in famous modern art museums to the new piece you bought at your local craft fair — it’s an art form that spans cultures and bleeds into everyday life.

Colorful door and hanging fiber art by Claire Roberts

Pops of unexpectedly paired colors tie together this door and hanging piece. Image: Claire Roberts

Claire's neutral creation hanging

We asked Claire to name a few fiber artists she particularly admires: Trish Andersen Studio in Savannah, Georgia; Natalie Miller Designs in East Kangaloon, Australia; and Black Sheep Goods in Nashville, Tennessee. Image: Claire Roberts

If you can’t buy it, make it!

Hop over to Atlanta, Georgia, where mixed media artist Lauren Williams puts her own twist on fiber art. While Claire uses her professional looms and colored fibers, Lauren relies on gravity and hand-dyeing. Lauren’s foray into this art form was born of curiosity and necessity. “When my husband and I moved into our first home, I knew I wanted a large piece of art for the wall in our dining room. Unfortunately, my budget for art and my taste for art did not align,” Lauren says. Her new focus became creating her own piece of art for that empty wall. But this self-taught painter sought an alternative to canvas art, and eventually, the vision came to her: fibers.

“By suspending hundreds of single fiber strands from a dowel, I created a canvas with movement,” Lauren says. She deepened the texture by adding multiple layers of dye — often dipping each strand one by one — and the result was a one-of-a-kind wall hanging that added texture and originality to the space.

Lauren perches on a stool in front of a piece of textile art

Lauren creates different types of art, but she’s best known for her Canvas With Movement® tapestries. She and her husband also run Lauren Williams ART+HOME — an online market for her fiber art, paintings and home collection of pillows, throw blankets and more. Image: Carley Page

Lauren installs a piece of fiber art

Lauren describes her work as “a bold statement piece, but with an organic and peaceful approach that has ultimately taught me so much about letting go.” Each piece takes on a life of its own, and we can really witness that here. Image: James Williams

“My form of art demands cooperation,” Lauren says. “Although I begin with a plan, the fibers have a mind of their own. I can fight it, or I can cooperate. The more freedom I give each tapestry to come alive, the more beautiful the result. Over the years of creating my Canvas With Movement® fiber art, I have grown to love the process of letting go and watching something beautiful develop in my hands.”

Rather than call fiber art a trend, Lauren nods to the deep history of textile artistry. “Fiber arts, tapestries and woven sculptures have been used for centuries and in so many different ways, so I don’t see it as a trend; although, there has been a very steady growth in the popularity of my work over the last few years. I like to think it’s due to a new take on an old art form that is creating the buzz.” Lauren continues to learn to work the fibers in different ways and soak up the inspiration of the thriving fiber arts community in the South and beyond.

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Hand dipping fibers in dye

“Texture and depth are what drew me to work with fibers in the first place. I love seeing the shadows from the dimension of the work,” Lauren says. Image: Carley Page

Lauren hand dyes fibers in her studio

Sheila Hicks is a favorite of Lauren’s and an inspiration who turned fiber art into a long and successful career. A few of her other favorites are Nike Schroeder, Windy Chien, Studio Nom and Ben & Aja Blanc. Image: Carley Page

Fiber art’s place in a digital world

Every artist we spoke to believes fiber art is resurging due to its magnified presence on social media. It is aesthetically interesting, beautifully weird and expressed in so many different ways from artist to artist. “This art form has become more accessible for people who feel like they’re creatively lacking in their lives,” Claire says. “It has enlivened a new group of interested followers and makers and reawakened the seasoned artist.” Lauren suggests the following hashtags on Instagram as a way to find new fiber artists and their works: “I love searching #fiberart, #fiberartists, #textileart and #textileartist.”

The internet can be a loom at your fingertips and a great source of education. “Many contemporary fiber artists have written their own how-to books, created online tutorials and some provide hands-on experience by offering workshops where they teach basic techniques at different skill levels,” Claire says. Check out the offerings in your area with a quick Google search, or pick up a copy of The Woven Home by Rainie Owen, which features beautiful photos, easy-to-follow instructions, and creative projects. You could even attend the Fiber Arts Festival in Oxford, MS. Whether you feast your eyes on your favorite artists’ feeds, you’re an avid fiber art collector, or you’re learning to create it yourself, there’s a place for everyone within this intriguing artistic medium.

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