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I think the answer is - I'm a textile artist.

Because you are. Your understanding of colour is REMARKABLE.

I think about this all the time in relation to the odd thing I am trying to figure out how to do myself. If I'm reluctant to try and describe it, that's a mark of shame or embarrassment, isn't it? At least by society's standards. It FEELS like I'm hiding.

Listening to Abby Franquemont expound on the importance of textiles was illuminating. They ARE vitally important and the awareness of what it takes to make and create the textiles that are fundamental to our lives IS important work. I know you're not confrontational, but have you considered coming back with incredulity at the limitation of THEIR perspective?
Seeking protective cover in a bubble that loves you - something about it strikes me as unhealthy in the long run IF that's the only place you find recognition.
I hope this doesn't feel critical - it's a really huge question, deciding how much you want to fight to be treated with basic respect.


First, let me second Juno's observation about your color sense - it's extraordinary! And I grew up with a textile designer (my dad) who's color sense was amazing and from whom I had the genetic luck to inherit at least a little bit of it. Your ability to *see* is light-years beyond his - and his was pretty damned good.

My first impulse is to say that most people just don't understand. Textiles aren't done much in this country any more and it's possible that when you tell folks what you do, they associate that with squalid little rooms in the far east where children work for pennies a day under horrendous conditions.

But it's also possible, given that knitting has been a popular craft over the last several years, that many of them are afflicted with a mother or an aunt who makes lime green washcloths. Not that that isn't a perfectly legitimate method of expression, but it does nothing to further the understanding of what goes into the creation of a truly beautiful design - be it the garment or the yarn from which it's made.

You do awesome work, but the fact is most people aren't going to understand the hows and whys of it. That they *think* they understand enough to give you the reaction they do simply proves the point.

Here's the thing...


You are forging your own way along your own path and God knows that's a tough enough task without having to explain and/or defend it. Do you think Jackson Pollack met with unmitigated acceptance all the time? Some folks will get it; most won't - and that's fine because it's *your* path. You're expressing what's in your heart and mind. You're sharing with the world what is an essential and fundamental part of your being and that can be a scary thing. Most folks will never understand even that concept, let alone the wherefores of dyeing and designing.

And you don't have to convert them :)

All you have to do is embrace and pursue your own path. Even if it means you're preaching to the choir most of the time - so what? And as a member of said choir, I'm grateful.


Textiles and arts aside, you're doing something you love and making a living at it. You have your own business, it's successful, and your work makes you happy. I'm sure that's more than most of the people who don't understand the art of textile design, or appreciate the effort that goes into it, can say for themselves.


Here is what you say:
I run a small but ever growing business out of my home. I work hard to keep up with the demands for my products and to design new ones for the burgeoning market. I support my family and contribute to my community and the communities of those from whom I buy my supplies. I feed my spirit by doing work that I love. What do you do?


And if they still look at you like you are crazy, just laugh and know you are right, and maybe so are they.


My two main careers have been in areas that people have no clue about (data administration and book indexing) so I identify in a way with what you write. There seem to be two reactions when I tell people I write indexes for a living: some people can't grasp it and quickly change the subject, and others who are fascinated and ask me lots of questions. I hope you'll find some of the latter in real life, but I agree with other commenters that you do not need to defend what you do.


As long as you are happy it makes no difference what other people think.

By the way Ruth Happy Birthday this beautiful day.


Oh Ruth, I know how hard the reactions you're getting can be. But, as many more eloquent people have already commented, you don't need to defend your fabulous creativity. I too mourn the gulf between what most people think about textiles and what we "in the know" know. But, and it is a big but, you are an artist and you are making money at it to support your family. Does it really matter what anyone else thinks except those who know and love you?

Jenny in Duluth

It's a terrible shame that some occupations are looked down on, and also a shame that a person "is" what they do for a living. My husband has an elementary ed degree and taught school for about 4 years. He left that field involuntarily, but has actually been glad to be gone, school politics being what they are. He now works for the highway department, outside most of the time, plowing snow in winter and doing road maintenance year round. It pains him to tell people what he does for a living, and he almost always explains that he used to be a schoolteacher, and that he is now also a small-time landlord. I called him out on it once, and he explained that he doesn't like to just mention his day job without embellishment, because he has seen people's faces when he does this. They assume somehow it means he is some ignorant, uninteresting laborer. It's so sad. He likes his job more than most people like theirs, me included, and it certainly does take brains to do. It's also a vitally important job! And he is certainly not an uninteresting person.
I like the "textile artist" description above, or just say you run your own business. The title "businesswoman" probably has a better cachet to it than "knitwear designer" (or whatever) in people's minds... But not my mind!


"To friends and mentors in the business community, who granted me a fair degree of legitimacy for creating jewellery, the reaction I now get to the knitwear design and hand-dyed yarn business is awkward silence, and a quick change of subject."

I think this may be because of the presentation rather than the content of your statement---you're saying you used to create Art X but now design Product Y. In fact, you create Art Y. It's more that you've expanded the range of your artistic medium from metal to include fiber.

"Since food and clothing are both fundamentals of human survival, let's consider food for comparison. Someone who cooks a fabulously delicious meal from fresh ingredients is generally admired... Making clothes, on the other hand, is perhaps akin to picking through the dump for scrap metals - base work done by illiterate unskilled labour from "somewhere else" who are grateful to be able to feed themselves on the pennies a day earned."

Yeah, but no one admires the people who come up with McDonald's recipes. And everyone admires the creation of a well-cut suit or a lovely evening gown.

So to me, the frustration is that what you say is correct, and what the real-life people you talk to hear something else because they aren't in our community. Thus, you have to come up with a way of describing what you do that communicates with them. (Full disclosure: I have an analogous problem and have not solved it. At all.) Here's one suggestion: tell people you create wearable art from metal and fiber, some of which has assembly required. Like many artists, you also sell modified raw materials to lay people. The "some assembly required" is kits, and "modified raw materials" is dyed yarn. But you don't have to mention that unless people ask.


You are a textile artist who creates beauty. My husband always says "Art is what any one person says it is." And I say your work is Art.


Definitely agree. Just say you're an artist. If they ask what kind of art you make, say jewelry and hand-dyed textiles. :) And carry your business cards with you! Sounds like you get asked a lot.


I have way too much to say about this than will fit here, so I will blog about it (eventually). But I wanted to thank you for a thought-provoking and passionate post.


Robyn makes a point: You don't have to defend it. We live in a wide and diverse world, it would be impossible for everyone to know, understand and appreciate what everyone else does/loves. Do what you love, be who you are, that's representation enough.

My working life revolves around computer technology. My home life revolves around a spinner's flock of sheep. I can bore sheep people to death talking about computers and put computer people into a coma talking about sheep. But that doesn't matter, because it all makes ME diverse. And every now and then I find a computer person who really wants to know more about sheep. So, I tell them.

There will always be people who don't get it, or turn away from what you do. It's okay. I create a business wardrobe out of what I find at thrift stores and "make" into smart modern clothes. I get postive comments almost daily. Some people are facinated and some people are completely repelled. It does not diminish what I do. And sometimes I make a conversion.

Thank you for a thoughtful, penetrating post.


I think there may be more here than the type of product you create (which I totally believe is art). From the outside, you don't LOOK like a business OR an artist. You don't have a store. You don't go to a studio or an office to conduct your business or create your art. You aren't even a tortured artist who creates while her agent deals with the public. From the outside, you look like a mother with a nice hobby which you use to make some pin money.

I don't think that's true. You're producing larger and larger quantities of a wide product range of a product which changes to meet your customer's needs, and which draws on your artistic vision to create. But I could imagine that to those who know you in person, you are first and foremost a mother who spends a lot of time with her kids and hangs out at home. You just play with dye and colored stones in your spare time. That's not what a legitimate artist or a real businessperson looks like, at least as we traditionally picture it.

How to change that, short of cutting off an ear to show you've suffered for your art or having skeins of yarn auctioned off at Christie's - I have no idea. But I hope you find a way!


I like to say, "I do lots!" :o) Which is not particularly helpful, but amuses me.

I know what you mean, and I agree with your thoughts, and it all makes me crazy. I've been reading a lot of Marilyn Waring's work lately, and have been rampaging around the house muttering about the economy. Sigh. What I do know, however, is that making clothes, and good food, and anything else we actually need, and being able to do it in a way that is pleasing and beautiful, is far, far more important than it is given credit for...

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