Artist’s page at five15 gallery in Phoenix
Pictured above (left to right): Double wranger, Strap Dandy Wrangler, and Crop Style Wrangler
Bottom left: Terissue
Recently I had a chance to talk with Amy Long, a fibers artist local to me in Tempe, Arizona. She creates very intriguing work and I’m very excited to share with you all her words on her inspirations and processes!
Becky: Where did you learn to crochet? Who taught you how to felt?
Amy: I learned how to crochet in fall 2005 in a three-dimensional fibers class at ASU. The regular professor, Mark Newport, was on sabbatical that semester so a fiber artist from Tucson named Valerie Constantino filled in. Mark knits rather than crochets, so if he had been teaching the class, I may have never learned crochet! I learned how to knit when I was a child and always struggled with it — but crocheting came to me very quickly. My first sample/practice piece turned into a chicken. I tried to teach myself how to felt and made a couple of sheets but I really “learned” it when I was shadowing Mark Newport in a beginning fibers class. I sat in, and participated in the beginning fiber class to gain teaching experience. After learning and falling in love with felt making, I went to a workshop taught by Jean Hicks. She makes handmade felt hats. Learning felt making from her really helped me fine tune my felt.
Becky: Where do you get your materials? Is it hard to find fibers locally?
Amy: I generally buy yarn from Fiber Factory in Mesa, AZ — they offer a student discount so I stocked up before I graduated. They sell fleece for felt making there too, but I need so much that I order big 22+ pound balls of fleece from R. H. Lindsay. I just order the natural cream color fleece, then I felt it, and then I dye it. Fiber Factory sells already dyed roving but pre-dyed stuff can be spendy. I keep my eyes peeled at thrift stores but it is hard to find wool yarn — it is usually acrylic which does not felt. I also have been fortunate in that people give me their old fleece and yarns.
Becky: You live near Phoenix, Arizona. Is it hard to keep making work when it’s over 100 degrees outside?
Amy: I can always crochet. I may work a little slower if I am exhausted from the heat. The creepy thing is that I don’t leave the house much — I just sit inside and crochet. Now, I suppose felt-making is more of a winter-time sport. It is quite physical and it not fun at all when one is really warm.
Becky: Once you create a shape you like, how to you keep track of it for making more?
Amy: I do not write patterns or follow them. I don’t even know how. I often make sketches and decide on what size I want the piece before hand. Then I just try to make it match up to what is in my head. If things don’t go the way I want, I just pull out stitches and re-attempt them. If I make something and I want more of it I just try to make it roughly the same. I am interested in things being roughly the same but not identical — maybe it has something to do with the idea that everything is part of a system but each thing has something different and special to offer. Now, when I am hand-felting, like when I was making felt picture frames, I kept track of my measurements so when the felt shrank it was the correct size but even that was not terribly accurate. I am a very intuitive worker. I dive in and if need be, fix it later.
Bundle (Poly Flail), 2008
Becky: When it comes to felting with a washing machine, how have you learned to cope with the unpredictability of the outcome? Are there any tricks you’ve discovered to getting the result you want?
Amy: My goal is for my forms to be very organic. Crocheting creates a grid-like structure which I am always trying to break down. For me, the more I felt something, the more it shrinks and gets fuzzier, the better — I want to crush and manipulate the grid of crochet I have created. In the beginning, I just got used to accepting what happened. If I didn’t like the way something turned out I would make myself look at the piece until I liked it. I did that with olives too — I didn’t like olives in high school so I would make myself eat them until I acquired a taste for them. I thought everyone liked olives and something was wrong with me — so I changed it! Ha! Now that I have felted many things in the washing machine I guess I know what to expect so what comes out of the washing machine is usually how I pictured it in my head. I do run my things through many cycles and because much of my crochet work is comprised of long tubes, I make sure to pull them out and untangle them between cycles for even felting. Also blocking the work afterwards helps.
Becky: Your work often explores themes of interconnection. How do you express this with wool?
Amy: For me, felt very much represents interconnection — it is fibers that have been interlocked through pressure, moisture, temperature and pH change. My crocheted pieces are again literally connection — each stitch adds and is bound to the whole. So my materials are interconnection and therefore can be metaphors for other connections. I make a lot of tubes in my work. I see tubes as conduits for connection — they can transport materials, thoughts, communication and they can reach out and touch. I also bind components of pieces with “bandages” as I see them. Binding forces components to interact but also references healing and embrace. Becky: How important is your process to the message of the final piece? Amy: The process is important to me and does contribute meaning but I don’t know if viewers see the processes as having meaning. They don’t get to see the processes and only see the results. The processes are slow, incremental buildups of interlocked fibers and stitches which definitely relates to systems of interconnectedness. I sort of see it like cells coming together to create tissue in the body — of course, the body is the system I am most interested in.
Becky: What do you plan to do next? What piece are you working on right now?
Amy: I would like to make more pieces out of hand-made felt and explore more ways of combining hand-made felt and felted crochet. Currently I don’t have a studio so large scale hand made felt will be on hold for a while. I am currently crocheting some long tube pieces. I have a lot of ideas sketched out over the years that I think I will have to revisit. My current goal is to not buy any new materials and only make work out of all the yarns, wool and thrift store goodies I have. I learned while teaching that parameters allow one more freedom to explore. I think some parameters would do me good right now.
Conversation Piece, 2008
Becky: What do you hope viewers will take away from seeing your work?
Amy: I think it would be great if after seeing the work people thought about the systems they fit in to, what there roles are, and if they are contributing positively or negatively (those are the things I am constantly thinking about). Many people see nature/body references in the work and many people are reminded of childhood books like Dr. Seuss. I think they are seeing the networks and interconnection too but those layers of meaning are muffled by the bright colors, and soft textures which are so seductive. It is not my goal to make work that preaches to people. I have tried that in the past and what I made was depressing and dark. I figured there is enough bad stuff in the world so I am happy to create objects that make people happy and excited and that they can’t keep their hands off of. I have seen people get very excited about the work and that is pretty wonderful. Some artist’s goal is to make work with a message that will illicit action and change the world. I think that is wonderful but not my forte. I do have themes that inspire my work (systems of interconnection, body/nature forms) but mostly I am concerned with creating an environment that allows wonder and peace, and allows people time to think about things that are not all that other crap in their lives.
Becky: You recently received an MFA from the Fibers program at Arizona State University. What drew you to the program? What do you think you took away from it?
Amy: I chose to get my MFA from ASU primarily because there were two faculty in the Fibers department. I figured this would provide me with more knowledge and resources. The two faculty at the time that I arrived created very different work form one another — showing a wide ranging department. I really learned a lot from my department. The professors expected a lot out of us but we also had a close knit, nurturing group. That has a lot to do with my fellow classmates who are fantastic. The most beneficial thing for me was that we were forced to be professional and articulate in regards to our work and career.
More coverage of Amy’s work on the CRAFT blog: