Following Threads: Interview with Whitney Crutchfield, AIR Cycle 1
Recently I had the amazing opportunity to meet with one of our first AIR residents, Whitney Crutchfield. She received me in her Brooklyn studio, and we talked about her career after AIR , her own business, We Gather, and her upcoming projects.
What inspires you?
Visually, the things that inspire me are little compositions that I see throughout the day. It is one reason why I continue to travel around the city and make sure that I am going to new places, or stepping back at the subway platform and notice the weird chip in paint and the layers underneath it. Things like that; architectural details, colors. Living in the city we don’t see a lot of nature, and I know that colors in nature are so inspiring for many, but I just don’t see that on a daily basis. So when I do, I can be inspired by that. And then, I would say I am also inspired by what I see other people working on, so if I see a really cool color combination in advertising, I’ll often be inspired by that.
Did you find textiles or did textiles find you?
I think textiles found me. The first textile related thing I ever did was that my mom taught me to sew. She used to sew all of her clothes when she was a teenager, so she was trying to pass that hobby or passion on to me. I learned how to sew doll clothes first and I never learned how to sew with a pattern, so I just started cutting my own patterns when I was 12 or 13, and making pajama pants for all my friends. Then, my former babysitter taught me how to quilt, so I made my first quilt when I was 12. And then from there, the textile influence just got heavier and heavier in my life. When I went to college I was a Liberal Arts major, but I took an elective arts class which was surface design and entanglement. As someone that wasn’t in the art school, I had no idea what I was in for. The first day we had to wind the warp, a two-color warp and do all these different structures, and it was such a great way to learn because I was completely naive and I fell in love with it. Then I went to get an M.F.A. in textiles, and just continued to work with thread, fabric, and fibers.
How did the residency influence your work?
Well, I did the very first round of the Textile Arts Center Artist in Residence Program and it was also one of the first places I went when I moved to New York City in 2011 after I had graduated from grad school. I knew I wanted to move to New York, I got the residency at TAC, and that’s why I lived in Gowanus (Brooklyn) and continue to live in Gowanus.
The only place that I had a foundation was at TAC. What the residency did for me was put me in touch with a community and other people who cared about the same things that I did as far as art, textiles, design, and those ideas. When I was in the residency, I was mostly focusing on screen printing and surface design on textiles, which is what I focused all throughout grad school as well. It gave me the time and the space to figure out what I wanted to do at what time and it was pivotal of being like a home base, like a new arrival in the city and in Brooklyn. It also allowed me to create long-lasting relationships with people I am still in touch with.
How has your work evolved since the residency?
As I mentioned, I focused on screen printing and surface design. At that time, weaving was a free-time hobby for me, and also in grad school I would weave when I needed to disconnect from the work I was doing. Since the residency, which was over 6 years ago now, I have pretty much completely switched sides from surface design to construction of textiles. Now I am focused on weaving and creating the fabric, as opposed to designing the surface of the fabric or decorating the fabric. The thing that has remained consistent is my use of dyes, because when I was working on screen printing and surface design at TAC, I was almost always working with dyes so that’s something I have really gravitated towards ever since I started formally learning about textiles, like surface design through the use of dyes. While I am not doing surface design now, I am dyeing my own yarn and using all that knowledge and all that experience that I gained over those years to create the color that I love, and colors that reflect what’s going on around me.
Why New York? And Brooklyn?
I knew that I wanted a career in textiles after getting an MFA, and then if I wanted to stay in the United States, New York was the place I wanted to do textiles. That has changed in the last few years, because of this slight resurgence of support for the textile manufacturing to come back to the US. If I were to make that decision again now, instead of six and a half years ago, I might have few more options, like moving to South Carolina or LA. But I was always meant to be in New York, I wanted to go to college here and then decided against it the last minute, so I was very happy to come back. In addition to the TAC Residency, which was an official reason for me to move here, I also when I moved to New York had an internship at Martha Stewart so I was doing those things concurrently, and just wanted to be where all the action was!
Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to share?
I do! I am currently working on a collaborative project for New York Textile Month, and Ill be having a stand at the same location that TAC is going to be the weekend of September 23 and 24 at Dekalb Market, in City Point, Brooklyn. I have collaborated with a firm called Design Techs who was helped me to collaborate with another textile manufacturer named Wallace Sewell who are in the UK. Wallace Sewell makes scarfs, ties, blankets, rugs, and things like that, but it is all small-batch of handwoven products. When they are finishing some of their products, they have all of theses selvages that they cut off from the finished fabric. So there are all these beautiful, 100% wool, 1 inch-wide selvages that they don’t really have anything to do with them. Wallace Sewell kindly donated these to me, and I worked with an industrial company called Tenax who donated this ground fabric, and together these two make a project that I like to call a community rug. With We Gather, I have started doing a series of events that turn into products called “Community Cloth,” where I will take my loom somewhere or invite people to the studio and sit down at the loom and experiment, and whatever cloth comes off the loom I’ll make it into products and a 100% of the proceeds of the sales of those go to a charitable organization.
So this (the selvages and the ground fabric) is a little spin from that, instead of being a community cloth it is a community latch-hook rug where I’ll invite people for the two days at the Dekalb Market to come up and participate, almost like a community installation piece. We’ll have the selvages cut into shorter lengths and I’ll give everyone a short tutorial on how the latch-hooking technique works. The goal is to create a 6×8 ft functional rug, made by the hands of countless people. I’m hoping to be able to donate the rug when it is finished to a charitable organization to either use or hang up, or to sell and use to proceeds for a charitable organization here in New York.
I also teach workshops here at my studio, weaving and dyeing workshops, and I am in the midst of developing new fall programming. I’ve also been doing a lot of outreach workshops where I am traveling to corporate offices or private residences to do workshops for groups of people. In addition, I’ve also been working on creating a set of kits that will be for sale and will give others the opportunity to create something on their own. Education is such a huge part of what I do; teaching people how to use their hands in a way that makes them excited about textiles, or psyched about learning something new. The workshops play into that, and the kits definitely expand from that and are an intermediary between a product and a workshop, they come with full instructions and they either dye for merchandise process or use the We Gather “Kaleidoscope Dye” technique. We also have the “Kaleidoscope Dye” kits, and weaving frames, and I’ll also be developing some additional kits for the holiday time.
Photos and videos by Laura Erazo Santanilla.
Following Threads is an interview series intended to reconnect with AIR Alumni, and explore what they have been up to since the residency.