I’m pretty darn excited about the growing list of bad ass artists that keep agreeing to be interviewed! If you scroll back through the archives you’ll find interviews with Yarn Vandalette in Germany, Montana Banksy in the USA, and Yarnomaniac in Denmark. They all have a passion for sharing their art with the world and in telling their tales, leave me feeling super creative and inspired. It’s a huge win to connect with these creative souls from all over the world, and it’s not over yet!
Today, I’m sharing an interview with Alyssa and Liz, of Threadwinners-a dynamic, crocheting duo who make largely for galleries and entirely for fun. Their art has social and political undertones yet remains pretty, warm and fuzzy. How do they do it? Read on to get the full scoop, including how they met and get inspired, their advice for new crocheters and their favourite clip about stress and growth!
Can you start off by telling us about yourselves, your maker-name and your art?
Liz: Sure! Alyssa and I work together as Threadwinners, and have been doing so for about two years. We met when we had an internship together at the Orange County Museum of Art in California and we learned about our mutual love for art and creating.
In 2015/2016, Alyssa asked if I wanted to be her crochet assistant for a fiber arts exhibition that she was planning revolving around the themes of body image and the mental/physical relationships we have with food. I became more and more involved with the creation of the pieces, to the point where Alyssa asked if I would be comfortable labelling myself as an artist with equal contribution and credit. This show, Pleasure Objects, was our first collaborative crochet project, and we’ve been going strong ever since!
Alyssa: Liz and I aim to create subversive works through an accessible medium. Because we often talk about darker and more serious themes in our exhibitions, we want to give our audience the chance to interact with the objects. Our blankets and installations couple as plushy toys or stuffed animals.
We enjoy the idea that our work can serve as coping mechanisms for people to discuss the deeper themes, to offer a refreshing take on crochet and to help them question the potential of needlework; a craft they normally associate with their grandmas (not that there’s anything wrong with that, we absolutely love grandma fashion!)
Additionally, Liz and I chose the name Threadwinners because it’s a play on the term ‘Breadwinner’. We’re obviously feminists and we get fed up with the bifurcation between the craft world and the high art realm. Craft art was just a way for the hegemony to relegate women’s work into a space that doesn’t give them the same opportunity for exposure or money.
Can you fill us in on your creative process? Where you work with specific themes, make for galleries on a rather large scale and do so as a pair-what does the social dynamic and creative process typically look like from start to finish?
A: Liz was the one who introduced me to crochet. I was knitting when I met her and she told me about the medium. My mother always did it and tried to teach me as a kid, but to no avail.
Finally I sat down and got onto YouTube, taught myself and fell in love. I really don’t knit that often because with crochet it’s easier for us to formulate 3-D objects, and to really crank out work. We honestly use YouTube, Ravelry and other forums on the internet to teach ourselves, or to appropriate other’s patterns to incorporate in our designs.
Practice is the biggest things here, because a lot of our work comes from improvisation.
Normally, we stumble across calls for art, or we each have dreams/visions of what we’d like to see in a gallery. We’ll then make a general outline of what kind of pieces we’d like to make and then we talk to a gallery that we think aligns with our artistic goals to see if they’d be on board for whatever theme we’re interested in exploring. A lot of galleries are very flexible and willing to take a risk on us delivering the full exhibition.
When we actually crochet the pieces, Liz and I will work together, but the majority of the items can be made independently. We prefer working together when we can, because we’re friends on top of partners and it’s just a nice time for creating and being social.
When we have everything made, we’ll come together to arrange all of the pieces and begin to sew it all together. It’s pretty demanding because we both have 40 hour a week careers now and we have to find time after hours or on the weekends to work.
Can you recall/describe the point where each of your crocheting shifted from utility to art or messenger?
A: Yes, for me it was pretty instantaneous. I always watched my mom work on crochet projects as a kid and was fascinated by her skill and speed. I never thought I’d be able to do anything like that, let alone what Liz and I are making now. But when I first moved out to California at age 23 I was determined to overcome my fear of learning needlepoint and first taught myself how to knit on YouTube. I was practicing making scarves and doilies, but then when Liz suggested I switch to crochet, I started making amigurumi cacti as one of my first projects.
L: For me, the point was when we began making our Comfort Food Blanket, which was featured in Pleasure Objects at Gallery 211 (which is sadly no longer open). Before Alyssa and I began collaborating, I had made blankets and other random crochet objects, simply because I was addicted to creating through the medium of crochet. When we began putting together all of the small food components to form Comfort Food Blanket, it was so satisfying to see the dark themes of shame, repulsion, addiction, and emotional eating culminate in this soft piece of fiber art. I still crochet for utility; I have made blankets and other crochet objects for my friend’s babies and family members. Crocheting is a stress-reliever for me, and I love how we can use this medium to create art pieces and more utilitarian pieces.
Who/What are your main sources of inspiration?
A: We look up to and admire so many artists, writers, people in general. I would say that Instagram has connected us with so many incredible fiber artists that we would never have heard of because they aren’t in the history books yet; some of those people include Twinkie Chan, JuJuJust, Elizabeth Pawle, Kathryn Vercillo, Pat Ahern (Padurn) etc.
Some of our favorite artists from the history books would include: Frida Khalo, Eva Hesse, Yoko Ono, Claes Oldenburg and Christo and Jeanne Claude. Writers: Roxane Gay, Lindy West, Jesmyn Ward, Anaïs Nin, etc. Comedians and celebrities: Beyonce and Solange and basically the whole dynasty of the Knowles family, Barack and Michelle Obama, Janelle Monae, Rihanna, Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson from 2 Dope Queens, and Alana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson from Broad Cit
Is your work all completely free form crochet or do you follow/modify patterns? Ps. I love your recent succulent photo!
L: We do a bit of both. Alyssa is way better at freeform than I am, but I’d say we do about equal parts freeform and modifying patterns. Succulent, for example, contains a lot of pieces that are based off of free patterns available on Martha Stewart!
There are so many talented fiber artists and pattern writers out there, and we are very grateful that so many of them have decided to share their skills and patterns online. (We always give credit when we use a pattern written by someone else, of course!) Our skills doing freeform crochet also stem from practicing different patterns over the years and learning different techniques in regards to creating certain shapes, angles, etc.
L: Sadly, our pieces go into storage in Alyssa’s garage after our exhibitions are over. In a perfect world, we would love to have our own studio space where we are able to display our pieces on a rotating basis, but that is just not financially feasible right now. We are always looking for juried exhibitions to submit our pieces to throughout the year, and all of our pieces are available for purchase upon inquiry. If anyone’s interested, you can check them out on our email us!
I understand that you both work full time jobs outside of Threadwinners. How many hours a week do you each dedicate to this creative pursuit?
L: When we are actively working on a project, I’d say we dedicate a few hours a day to crocheting and planning, usually after work. We always tell each other that we should count our hours, but we never do
Right now, we are taking a bit of a break before we begin work on an upcoming project, so personally speaking I haven’t been spending too much time crocheting. We’re going to start creating a new tapestry piece in the next few months, though, so things are going to get busy!
A: Yes, in our heyday, Liz and I were working hundreds of hours to create our tapestries and installations since I was only working part time and was able to dedicate more attention to our art. However, the work doesn’t stop when the pieces are made because we design our own exhibition books, graphics, flyers etc. and then for the majority of the exhibitions, we’re the ones actually installing our work. We get lucky with juried exhibitions and calls for art, because we can literally submit them and ship them off and they’ll be responsible for hanging the piece.
What do you credit as the secret to your success? 🙂
L: Thank you for the compliment- you are too kind! 🙂 This is going to sound cheesy, but I think plain hard work has gotten us to where we are with Threadwinners today. Any success that we have had thus far is because we both treat Threadwinners as a second job; something that we have agreed to dedicate time and effort to.
We spend hours practicing our stitches, testing improvised patterns, networking, scouring the internet for calls for art, and much more. It can be exhausting at times, but it’s also really fun and rewarding because we both love doing it. And we have met so many amazing artists within the crochet community who have helped us and supported us along the way! I don’t think we would be where we are today career-wise without their support.
Can you share what you are working on now or fill us in on what we can look forward to from Threadwinners?
A: We are currently in talks with Gather DTLA, a yarn store located inside of The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. Our friend and crochet genius, Pat Ahern, recommended us, and now they want us to yarnbomb their space! Thank you Pat and Tifanee!
Threadwinners also has plans for a fall retrospective outside of St. Louis at McKendree University. We will be showing all of our old tapestries as well as creating a new piece to premier there! We’ve been posting sneak pieces on our Instagram, so feel free to follow us and check it out!
What advice would you give to someone who is just learning to knit or crochet?
L: YouTube is your friend! Alyssa and I both learned to crochet from watching a ton of tutorials online, and we still refer to YouTube videos when we want to learn a new stitch or try a new, cute pattern for fun.
A: Practice, practice, practice. It’s obviously frustrating in the beginning, but don’t stop because something is hard and challenging; Being pushed helps you get better. Recently, my favorite video to describe stress and growth is this clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcUAIpZrwog
Where can we find and follow you online?
A: Liz is incredible at keeping our Facebook, Instagram and website for Threadwinners up to date and those are honestly the best places to find out what we’re doing. And of course, anyone we shouted out for inspiration, please give them a follow and support your local craft artists!
So there you have it-the Threadwinners! Aren’t they impressive? Be sure to follow them in their crochet adventure and take heed of their advice about practice and dedication (I know I will). And if you haven’t yet, take a listen to the clip on stress and growth-there’s wisdom there! I’m so grateful to them for sharing their thoughts and art and for taking the time to collaborate with us. And if you find that you are inspired by their work and message be sure to let them know, either in the comment section below or through their social media. I know they’de love to hear that their message resonated with you!