SYNERGY: Fiberart International 2019 is off and running!

by Mary Towner

A few weeks ago, the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh held its kickoff meeting for Fiberart International 2019. Setting the tone with her signature enthusiasm, FI Director Rae Gold presented with lots of information and more than an armload of volunteer sign-up clipboards.
Much of the FI2019 groundwork has been laid. We have three outstanding jurors; the prospectus and calls for entry have gone out; jurying has been structured; events are solidifying.
With five previous Fiberart Internationals under my belt, I was familiar with this meeting’s scenario, but each International begins fresh and new. As the meeting moved along and Rae explained the myriad of tasks and bodies needed, I was once again struck by two things: a) The sheer magnitude of this undertaking, and b) the unflagging commitment and enthusiasm of our Guild members. As often happens, I felt proud of our organization.
Then my mind went back to the beauty of those previous Internationals, and I felt gratitude and respect for past and future artists who share their work with us and our audience. A Christmas-morning type anticipation filled me over viewing the 2019 International artwork.
Then it hit me: Synergy.
Synergy is defined as, The interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their separate effects. Or more simply, The creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts. More than mere cooperation or combined effort, Fiberart International becomes something magical that couldn’t happen without both its artists and its producers.
I for one am looking forward with great anticipation to the synergistic undertaking of Fiberart International 2019!


Focus On: Beading, one stitch at a time

Welcome to the last entry in our August, 2015 blog series celebrating the final days to enter your artwork for consideration into FI2016! We’re highlighting different artist’s interpretations of fiber art that we’ve loved seeing in past Internationals.

According to textile scholar Elizabeth Wayland Barber (Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years), some of the very oldest evidences of fiber we know about are the strings and sinews that were used to link pieces of bone and stone together: the very first beads.

Textile artists have come a long way from stringing shells together. We’ve developed embroidering, weaving, looming, stitching: all ways of bringing thousands of glittering separate pieces together to create a work of art. Flat or sculptural, as an ornament for fabric or as a dense, shimmering fabric of its own, beadwork is a significant part of the fiberart tradition.

Urban Artifact Undulation

Annette Tacconelli, “Urban Artifact: Undulation” featured in FI2007. Found metal, beads, and thread; weaving with beads, loom construction and assemblage. 6.5″ x 1″ x 8″

In her “Urban Artifacts” series, Annette Tacconelli uses beadwork to transform found metal bits into sculptures that feel surprisingly alive, complete, and whole. About “Urban Artifacts,” Annette says:

My urban artifacts are one of my most beloved and philosophically truthful bodies of work. I begin by harvesting discarded rusty bits of a forlorn modern world. I wash the metal. I shut my eyes and see the metal’s next incarnation. Most pieces are made from over 10,000 beads, built one bead at a time. Using only the bead, thread and tension I create the ruffled volume or flat expanse. It takes approximately six months per creation. Here the mundane, the soulful and the imperfect become prayers.

You can draw a visual comparison between Annette’s beadwork and the shimmery scales of a snake, or the pattern of bumps on a lizard’s back. Here’s some more of her work from FI2010: an almost anthropomorphic form you feel might flip over or crawl away at any moment:

Urban Artifact 13

Annette Tacconelli, “Urban Artifact #13 – Moving Still” featured in FI2010. Found metal and wooden wheel, seed beads, thread. Peyote stitch work. 6″ x 10″ x 5″

Urban Artifact (detail)

Urban Artifact #13 – Moving Still (detail of Peyote stitch beadwork)

Taking the anthropomorphic one step further is Christy Puetz’ 2005 piece, Magdalena.


Christy Puetz, “Magdalena” featured in FI2007. Glass seed beads, cloth, wood, milagros, doll head. Glass beads embroidered onto cloth form. 7″ x 12″ x 6″

Christy’s beadwork also shimmers seductively – making for a piece that you’re torn between wanting to reach out and touch… or back away from.

Beadwork can also be synonymous with decorative excess, and my favorite example of this over-the-top ornamentation is FI2013’s sumptuous She Speaks Folly in a Thousand Holy Ways by Samantha Fields.

She Speaks Folly

Samantha Fields, “She Speaks Folly in a Thousand Holy Ways” featured in FI2013. Recovered afghan, beads. 78″ x 43″ x 22″

Beadwork has a seductively tactile quality to it, and when picked up, is often much heavier than you expect it to be. Samantha plays on this idea by deliberately letting the piece sag and puddle on the floor – as the viewer, you’re compelled to both straighten it up and, at the same time, run your fingers through the glossy, messy excess.

Close up, the resemblance of the beads to some kind of sugary, cancerous growth is emphasized.

She Speaks Folly (detail)

She Speaks Folly in a Thousand Holy Ways (detail)

Samantha says:

I create hybrids of form, social constructs, and disparate categories. I see these hybrids with their excess of ornament as an elevation of what has been traditionally considered devolution of a sophisticated western society. I am interested in a visual language that has been associated with the feminine, the infantile, the primitive or relegated to be superficial, excess, and considered unworthy of serious consideration.

Whether your beadwork is flat or sculptural, organic or precise – We’re exited to see what new forms you’ve been creating with beads.

Focus On: Video

Welcome to our ongoing August, 2015 blog series celebrating the final days to enter your artwork for consideration into FI2016! We’re highlighting different artist’s interpretations of fiber art that we’ve loved seeing in past Internationals.

OK, really? Video? Wasn’t the last post bad enough with the lottery tickets and the glass? Where’s the fiber art?

Hear me out. It won’t take long!

Ritual often makes use of fabric. Maybe it’s a piece of special clothing adorning the body, like a baby’s christening gown, or a cloth that’s employed in ceremony, like a chuppah at a Jewish wedding. Or the bit of lace veil that both conceals and reveals a bride’s face in many traditions.

Video is a wonderful medium for recording the act of ritual itself, and April Dauscha uses it to great effect when she films the use of her unique handmade needle-run lace artifacts. April uses her custom-made ceremonial garments to stage intimate personal rituals of penance, contrition, dressing, and undressing.

Act of Contrition still

April Dauscha, “Act of Contrition” (still). Featured in FI2013. Video; handmade needle-run lace veil

This is a still from April’s 2012 silent video, “Act of Contrition.” View the entire video here. It’s about 4 minutes long and well worth it – remember, even though you’ll see her lips moving, it’s a silent video so don’t fiddle with your speakers; nothing’s wrong!

April says:

Lace speaks of purity and sexuality, it reveals and conceals, it is humble, yet gluttonous in its ornamental overindulgence. Lace is the ultimate dichotomy. I use it as a potent symbol to represent the duality of body and soul, right and wrong, good and evil. The story of the fall of man and the origin of ‘original sin,’ was developed around the story of Adam and Eve. Act of Contrition is a video piece that highlights this fall, our struggle with imperfection – the veiled mouth focuses on a site of imperfection, the water becomes a symbol of cleansing, and the fall of the lace portrays our struggle.

As the artist voicelessly whispers her confessional, the lace serves to simultaneously highlight the fact that she’s speaking and silence her voice. It’s as if she can only speak through its refined filter.

Video is the perfect medium with which to view this lace ritual. We see the lace contact the skin, the movement of the lips, the drip of the cleansing water; we get to watch a practice begin, sustain, and end. At the heart of the act is the piece of handmade lace, shining light on yet another facet of our complex, long-standing, human relationship with fiber.

Watch April’s other videos here!


Focus On: Fiber content… or technique?

Welcome to our ongoing August blog series celebrating the final weeks to enter your artwork for consideration into FI2016! We’re highlighting different artist’s interpretations of fiber art that we’ve loved seeing in past Internationals.

All work must be either fiber in content or executed in a fiber technique.

Sometimes artists ask if the International accepts multimedia work, and we point them to the above line from the Entry Requirements page on the FI2016 prospectus. Does it sound prescriptive? Restrictive? Well, this is a show about fiber art, after all. The host galleries, the Society for Contemporary Craft and Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, should be full up with cottons, linens, wools, and silks. Right?

Sort of. And sometimes they are. But sometimes, they are full of other things. Like moss. Lottery tickets. Glass. Plastic feed sacks. Metal tape measures. Zip ties. Pipe cleaners. Anything, in fact, that can be woven, knotted, stitched, quilted, felted, dyed, spun; or made to look like it is. Anything that makes use of our human relationship with fiber to comment on the world. Anything that uses or references a fiber technique. What seems restrictive on the surface can be a pretty deep pool.


New Natural Occurence

Claire Taylor, “New Natural Occurence” featured in FI2010. Crushed plastic lid, cotton thread, french knot embroidery. 6″x5″x1″

Part of a series called “Objects of Affection,” “New Natural Occurence” by Claire C. Taylor features a trashed coffee cup lid which the artist chooses to lavish with painstaking french knot embroidery. The tiny knots mimic mold or moss accumulating around the rim and lip of the lid, where a hand might have grasped or a mouth might have touched.

The fiber material and technique serve to bring a commonplace piece of trash sharply to our attention. With the addition of embroidery, the coffee cup cover becomes a fetish object: the placement of the knots recalls lips brushing the lid, the inside of a palm wrapped around a warm vessel. It’s also a bit of an embarrassing remnant of a moment’s need for instant gratification, rescued from oblivion and put on display. Portability and convenience have a price, we’re reminded: nothing disappears. The half-covered lid reminds us of the decades plastic takes to degrade. It’s only been partially digested. Efforts to hide the problem are ineffectual –  the objects of our affection still peek out at us from among the careful trash cans and landscaping designed to make us forget.

The non-fiber material, plastic, is at the heart of this piece. A mock coffee cup lid made of fabric wouldn’t have the same disconcerting effect – we need the contrast of the actual mass-produced object with the handmade, the disposable object adorned by careful craftsmanship.  It’s a jarring partnership.

Let’s continue the “mossy” aesthetic… but in a totally different direction!

Greetings from the Forest

Anna Goebel, “Greetings from the Forest” featured in FI2013. Cellulose, moss, hand-made paper; own technique. 70.75″ x 94.5″

Yes. It’s moss.

Greetings from the Forest detailI’m not sure how Anna Goebel does what she does. In the FI2013 catalog, she lists her method as “own technique,” which generally means that the artist has spent painstaking hours figuring out how to extract something that only exists within her own imagination, and doesn’t care to give away her secret. The result is ethereal but ineradicable, like a sky full of clouds or a windy grassland seen from the air.

Anna says:

My works are the result of my imagination, my longings and my searching. They have been conceived from my fascination with nature and express my attitude towards it. By using and transforming simple, common, available and even useless materials like wrapping paper, grass, leaves, straw… I try to give them a new meaning and value. To create my last work Greetings from the ForestI combined white cellulose with materials which I got directly from nature.

Like “New Natural Occurence,” “Greetings from the Forest” tries to give importance to something simple. But in this case, Anna is placing the fibers of the moss itself before us for contemplation. The original material from the natural world is given pride of place here, embedded within the fibrous art of papermaking.

Stepping away from the natural world:

Captain America Suit

Rebecca Seimering, “Captain America Suit” featured in FI2013. Found lottery tickets, dental floss, man’s suit. 72″ x 30″ x 24″


Discarded lottery tickets and dental floss? Far cry from those embroidered pillowcases in the last post. But Rebecca Siemering works her fiber knowledge 100%.

Rebecca says:

The lottery is the most democratic of ways to make a buck. Any day, someone can climb to win, and then turn around and slide down a serpentine slope the next. There is no time to waste, and the lottery is anybody’s game. Captain America Suit is part of a collection that reflects the desire for something better… and in the end, the good life is manifested from one’s own labor. To sew, cut and knot these items is to make something from nothing; inch-by-inch and stitch-by-stitch, to get through the day and make it shine.

Sewing, cutting and knotting: fiber techniques applied to non-fiber objects weave a cohesive whole. These are great techniques, as Rebecca observes, to make something from nothing and give dignity to the discarded.

Last one for the day, because you’ve got to make time for the playful knitted glass of Carol Milne.

Free & Easy

Carol Milne, “Free & Easy” featured in FI2013. Knitted wax (stockinette stitch); kiln-cast lead crystal (glass), lost wax casting technique. 7″ x 6″ x12″ (per sock)

Carol says:

Knitted socks exude comfort. They are soft, cozy, and warm. But just as one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, these socks have lost the comfort qualities we associate with knitting. Where once we noticed the touch and pliability of the material, the emphasis shifts now to the structure of the material itself. We see the twisting interconnection between the stitches, the deepening of color where the stitches overlap, and the spaces between the stitches. Once flexible fabric able to mold to our bodies, it is now rigid and fragile: nice to look at, but totally impractical to wear.

An unexpected switch in materials leads to a switch in what we notice about an object. The structure of the knitting is clearer than ever in the crisp glass – even as our brains struggle with the impossibility of what we’re seeing!

So bring us your metal artifacts lined with peyote-stitch beadwork. Let’s see those embroidered teapots, and please don’t forget the x-ray piecework you know you have tucked away somewhere. This, and more, is fiberart. This is how we relate to objects in the world we live in.




Focus on: Embroidery: a “gorgeous gut punch”

Welcome to our ongoing August, 2015 blog series celebrating the final month to enter your artwork for consideration into FI2016! We’re highlighting different artist’s interpretations of fiber art that we’ve loved seeing in past Internationals.

The Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh, who produce the International, started life as the Embroiderer’s Guild back in the ’60’s. As embroiderers, they were technically excellent at their craft.

But something happened to change their focus. Jay van Wagenen writes in the Summer 2015 issue of Fiber Art Now:

Back in 1976, the needlewomen of what was then the Embroiderer’s Guild of Pittsburgh looked forward to their biennial member show. Their best work, meticulously crafted over the previous two years, had been submitted to the juror and preparations for the event were well underway. But the juror declined to cooperate. Instead, he delivered the verdict that changed the direction of the group: Technique is not enough to carry the craft to art form.” There was no show.

A period of voracious research and reevaluation followed, and by the 1980’s, the Guild was producing Fiberart International in the more expanded, challenging format we’d recognize today. But even though the tablecloths and pillowcases disappeared, embroidery remains.


Last Word

Kate Kretz, “The Final Word” Featured in FI2013. Black cotton velvet, French knots, embroidered. 20″x16″ United States

Kate Kretz self-describes as an “obsessive maker… endlessly perfecting the gorgeous gut punch.” Her 2012 work “The Final Word,” featured in FI2013, is stark and precise. Its technical merit would have won favor with the Embroiderer’s Guild back in the early days.


The Final Word (detail)

The Final Word (detail)


But Kate uses the repetitive, obsessive French knot technique not for its own sake, but as a means to crystallize a sense of destroyed innocence, helplessness, finality, and grief. Each tiny knot is another nail sealing the fate of the doomed animal.

Kate says:

Art strips us bare, reminding us of the fragility common to every human being across continents and centuries. Often I meet someone, and the visible weight of his or her life becomes almost unbearable, it rips me open. My art attempts to articulate this feeling….I work until my hands shake because the world does not care. I am banging my head against the wall, but the stain is beautiful.

Embroidery, in the hands of an artist like Kate, is a tool conveying both weight and fragility. The thousands of fine stitches, feather-light, come together to create an image that seems ineradicable as a rock, and that weighs just as heavily on the viewer’s heart.


Erin Endicott still embroiders tablecloths. But her work is not something you’d put your dinner on.

Healing Sutra #3

Erin Endicott, “Healing Sutra #3″ Best In Show, FI2010. Antique cotton tablecloth (passed down from artist’s great grandmother), cotton embroidery thread, walnut ink. Hand embroidered. 22″x24”

In her “Healing Sutras” series, Erin references the Sanskrit word ‘sutra’ which translates roughly to ‘a thread or line of connection; to stitch.’ Embroidery is her weapon of choice to create ethereal stains across her family’s heirloom linens, exploring concepts of lineage, inheritance, and psychological wounds.


Healing Sutra #3 detail

Healing Sutra #3 (detail)

In an excerpt from this interview, Erin says:

The “Healing Sutras” grew out of years of work examining psychological wounds (mainly my own), their origins and how they insinuate themselves into our lives. I’m particularly intrigued by the concept of inherited wounds, specific patterns, behaviors, reactions, that we are born with – already seeded into our psyche at birth….

…All of the “Healing Sutras” are on vintage fabric that has been passed down from women in my family. My history is literally woven into these garments…

The stitching, the meditative process of it, is where I think the real healing comes in for me. I come from a more “Fine Art” background – drawing has always been a real passion – but I was never able to truly capture the essence of what I was trying to say until I began exploring this really process oriented work (embroidery). To me these are a type of drawing – REALLY slow, deliberate drawings!

Healing Sutra #5 (detail)

Healing Sutra #5 (detail)

Slow, deliberate drawings allowed to sprout from seeds planted inside us without our knowledge or consent: embroidery let Erin slow down enough to absorb the full meaning of her healing process.

The simple challenge to add intent to technique produces a bountiful ongoing harvest, and we can’t wait to see how embroidery will inspire and challenge us in 2016.


Focus On: Using Fabric to Tell a Story

If you’re just joining us, this is Entry #2 in our August, 2015 series celebrating the different interpretations of fiber art that we’ve loved seeing in past Internationals.

Fiber artists are particular about sourcing our materials. Mindful material use might enrich a work that focuses on a specific time or place, or help us achieve just the end result we want. We can grow our own dye plants, spin our own thread, weave just the right fabric to carry our point across. That’s part of the beauty of fiber as a medium.

But access to ready-made materials is an important part of our tradition too. The same eye for detail that leads one artist to hand-gather thousands of seeds for a project can lead another to source a pre-made fabric that infuses a piece with meaning and creates just as much impact on the viewer as something custom.


Oh, You Know... The Colored Girl

Joy Ude, “Oh, You Know… The Colored Girl”, featured in FI2013. Nigerian fabric, etched brass plate, printed jacquard fabric. 9″ x 27″ x 9″

In her piece “Oh, You Know… The Colored Girl”, artist Joy Ude uses Nigerian wax cloth to line nesting boxes that tell a story about race relations, social injustice, and the fact that the names we choose to call each other reflect our society as a whole.

The outside of each box in the series is covered with a bland beige fabric printed with a different label that Black Americans have been called over time, repeated over and over. They are arranged in order of age, with the smallest box being the most outdated and the largest the most recent (bearing in mind the work was created in 2011). Starting with the smallest & oldest, the labels are: “colored,” “negro,” “black,” and “african american” (my lack of capitalization here reflects the artist’s choice not to capitalize these words on her work). The brass plaques on the front of each box detail Ms. Ude’s research into the historical context for each term.

african american

Beige text reads: “african american”. Brass plaque reads: “Proposed as a replacement for “black” in the late 1980’s, the main goal of the switch was to give blacks a cultural identification with their heritage and ancestral homeland. It was also seen as broadening society’s perspective about blacks and placing it in a global perspective. On a deeper level, the shift to a culture-and-homeland based term like that used by most other groups reconceptualized blacks as an ethnic group rather than a race. Cultural objections included the contention that the term was too inclusive, that Africa was not a culture but many cultures. Furthermore, many African cultures such as Arab, Berber, and Coptic were unrelated to the sub-Saharan cultures to which blacks trace their heritage. Others asserted that “African American” calls for identification with a culture to which almost no actual ties exist.”

Even though there’s still a lot of custom work that’s gone into this piece (the pale printed fabric on the outside of the boxes, the brass plates), it’s the bright Nigerian cloth on the inner lid that draws the eye and immediately gives the viewer a visual clue to the theme of the work.

Once you get close enough to read, the richness of the printed fabric defies the bland, pale labels. You’re left with the uneasy feeling that there’s still more story there to tell, and that the refined and repetitive outer covering is trying (and failing) to restrain the vibrancy within each box. It’s smart use of a ready-made material, and an effective way to create contrast between internal and external surfaces.

Read Joy’s artist’s statement about her piece below, and see more of her work here.

“In my artwork, I explore Black culture as a subset of American culture by addressing sociological issues involving education, employment, and race-relations. Though use of the term is not currently acceptable, I wondered if and when in America’s history the word “colored” was considered an acceptable label for Black Americans. I was also curious about additional racial labels from previous decades and generations that had fallen out of usage. I researched previous and current labels, their duration of use, and the events that fostered change in the way that Black Americans refer to themselves as a cultural group.”


Focus On: Shibori

Fiber art can be an elusive thing to define. In past Internationals, we’ve featured glass sculpted to look like knitting, baskets spiked with plastic cable ties, and even a video of an artist interacting with a fiber artifact.  What is fiber? What is the International about?

To explore that idea and celebrate the month leading up to the FI2016 Entry Deadline, we’re going to dedicate this blog page for the next few weeks to exploring some of the many interpretations of fiber art that we’ve loved seeing in past Internationals. Hopefully, we’ll encourage you to include your own work in our festival of fiber, and dig into the possibilities of the medium!

We’ll start with a traditional technique used in an extraordinarily painterly way by one of the Fiberart Guild of Pittsburgh’s own members, Jan Myers-Newbury.


“Wildfire” by Jan Myers-Newbury, winner of the Louetta Heindl Kambic Memorial Award for Outstanding Use of Shibori in the Fiberart International 2010

“Wildfire” by Jan Myers-Newbury, 2008 

Dyed and discharge cotton, Arashi shibori, machine pieced, machine quilted.

48.5″ x 72″


Shibori, at its most basic, is a Japanese cloth-dying technique based in binding, stitching, folding, twisting, or otherwise putting pressure on cloth so that parts of the cloth receive dye and other parts resist it. According to its Wikipedia entry, shibori dates back to the 8th century in Japan. It’s a favorite technique among many fiber artists because of the infinite pattern possibilities available by simply using fabric, string, and dye. Arashi shibori, the variation that Jan has used here, is also called “pole-wrapping” shibori. The fabric is wrapped up a pole and then bound with string, resulting in the diagonal lines you see in the piece.


Wildfire detail

“Wildfire” by Jan Myers-Newbury, detail shot

Jan’s incredible eye for color and detail can be seen here in the careful layering necessary to get these vivid, multi-hued results. The resulting diagonally-striped fabric blocks are mindfully placed so that some of their bright branches flow organically into their neighbors and some crackle uneasily away. You can see in the detail shot how well the flow of the shibori rivulets is emphasized by the lines and furrows created by the machine quilting that leads one block into another.

Shibori is a traditional technique – but this is a great example of how something that’s rooted in tradition can be used to explore an abstract concept. When a traditional technique like shibori is expertly used, the technique itself vanishes. We forget the pole, the string, the careful wrapping and unwrapping and become lost in the contemplation of the moving lines, the shifting colors, the sense of both flow and disconnect; viewers gazing into the heart of a wildfire that subsumes technique for its own brilliant ends.

Meet the Jurors for FI2016: Chunghie Lee

“I see this patchwork as a metaphor for human life. We may feel ourselves to be as random pieces of fabric, alone and without meaning, but God’s hand places us together in a beautiful composition which has great harmony and meaning.”

∼ Chunghie Lee




Chungie Lee is a fiber artist and writer who lectures in Seoul, Korea; the Rhode Island School of Design; and the Evtek Institute of Art & Design in Finland. Her study of Pojagi (traditional Korean wrapping cloths) has inspired wall pieces, sculptures, and wearable work.



The heart of Ms. Lee’s work is the theme of “no-name woman:”

“My main philosophy of my work is about the “No-Name Woman” who lived faithfully under some limited and oppressed society in the past. (These “No-Name Women”) worked so hard for their family… they grew the plants, and out of them they made the thread that they hand-spun and wove. And then, they made clothing for their family, and out of scraps they made wonderful pojagi, which is a Korean traditional wrapping cloth, which is my main medium.”

Hear more from Chungie Lee about her work, visit her website, and get a glimpse of her lovely exhibition at the 2011 Kaunas Biennial: