Work in Progress: Karyn Lao

During the month of February, we have the pleasure of hosting Karyn Lao as our Work In Progress (WIP) artist here at TAC. She is a multimedia artist who explores the idea of interconnectivity through play. Her medium of choice is pompoms! They can take many forms, but no matter what you can expect to see something colorful and fuzzy. I had the pleasure of making pompoms with Karyn and chatting about her work and the effect it can have on a community.


On her textile background:

“I entered MICA thinking I would study illustration. I noticed in my drawing and illustration classes, I was creating projects that were more hands-on in the process and 3-dimensional. When I took the Intro to Fibers course… I don’t know. I felt at home. I was immediately drawn to the social engagement that fiber allowed and the relationship people have one way or another through textiles.

My earliest memory involving textiles was watching my Ama* crochet. She was always crocheting hand towels for family members. I remember times I would sit next to her, watching her hands move so quickly and methodically– it was mesmerizing. I was lucky to spend a lot of time with Ama growing up. She emigrated from the Philippines to take care of my brother and I while my mother worked at the hospital. My Ama died recently in December back in the Philippines. When I’m in my studio, I think about her hands making and how every action she did in her life was out of love. Early photos of Ama and my mother are in my studio as reminders of two hard-working, compassionate women who shaped my life.”

*Ama means grandma in Hokkien.


Why pompoms?

“I started working with them out of curiosity. Summer before my thesis year, I was exploring themes of comfort and playing around with different techniques, one of them being pompoms. I was hooked after the first bunch I made. (I still have them in my studio!) The structure to me is so fascinating– yarn continuously wrapped as one strand, cut into separate pieces, then tied together. It wasn’t until I “broke” a pompom, that I began to think about common threads between people, places, and the little things that can bring people together. ”

On the different forms your work takes:

“It depends. There are personal things and ideas I try to understand alone in the studio. In ways, I see that as a form of self-care. I also really enjoy teaching, learning, and meeting new people. When the work is shared with others, specifically interactive or community-based, I think a lot about the person or people and their experience with the work. That excites me because it always reminds me why I do what I do in the first place.”


On the community aspect:

“Like many fiber techniques, pompoms require a bit of patience and repetition, but you are able to see the results of your work pretty quickly. It’s soothing and instantly gratifying all in one ball of fluff! Not only that, but you can personalize your pom at any step of the process– from choosing the color/texture/weight of yarn, how much you wrap, and how you trim it. This allows for many unique pompoms, each person creating their individual flair.

Having community projects allow others to learn a new skill and also be part of the work. My drop-in times for workshops make it flexible to fit in one’s schedule. People stop by with a genuine curiosity and excitement to learn. My favorite moments happen when strangers share the space either through conversations or teaching one another how to make a pompom. Generosity and kindness are infectious, ya’ll.

The banner that’s being made at TAC reads, “Grow in Love.” I participated in Art in Odd Places: PLAY and my project invited people to make pompoms and decorate them onto the trees in Downtown Orlando. AiOP happened the weekend after the US presidential election. In all honesty, I felt completely drained going into the event, but that weekend felt like an immediate response to heal and unify. On the last day, I was documenting the trees and found this note that said “Grow in Love” attached to a pompom. It’s a message that has stuck with me that I wanted to share with others.”

Karyn studio

On her time at TAC:

“I am completely inspired by TAC– the amazing people that keep it going and the resources they provide for fiber enthusiasts of all ages! I’ve enjoyed strangers who stop, stare, and (sometimes) wave from outside. Little moments of connections. During my second workshop, I met someone who grew up not only from the same town in NJ, but just around the corner from where I live!”

On what the future holds:

“Teaching, making, and helping others through art. Pompoms included! I am also a Community Habilitation Worker and this has made me think a lot more about tactile objects as therapy toys. I am opening an Etsy soon called “Part of Many” that will have accessories and other things inspired by the POM… so be on the lookout for that!”

Karyn studio-3Photos by Stephanie McGovern and Sam Crow.

You can visit Karyn’s installation for Work In Progress from February 1-28, and learn more about her work and process during Artist Open Hours, on Saturdays, 2-5PM at our Manhattan studio.

Pompoms Grow In Love:

Saturdays, February 18 + 25, 2-5PM

TAC Manhattan Studio

During Open Studio hours, join February’s Work In Progress resident Karyn Lao in the creation of a mural with the words ” Grow In Love” composed by pompoms. Visitors will learn how to make a pompom and learn more about Karyn’s work and process. Learn more + RSVP.


  1. Kelly Ryan

    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE have Karyn Lao as an instructor!!!
    I attended her pompom be-in yesterday…and HAD A BLAST!!!
    Ms. Lao was SO HELPFUL to a pompom novice like me and my friend Lukas (who also joined).
    I told ALL of my other friends about it….we want to attend a pompom course at your place PLEASE!!!
    Kindest regards,

    • Caitlin

      Thanks for sharing, Kelly! So glad you had fun learning how to make pompoms with Karyn. Depending on student interest, perhaps there is room in our course schedule for future pompom making workshops.

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