Interview with Alexandra Walters of Knit-R-Done
Alexandra let me pick her brain a few days ago. She's one of my favorite contemporary fiber artists, and I'm thrilled she let me interview her. I'm in awe of her boldness, honesty, and originality that comes through so beautifully in her work.
Tell me about your background as an artist. How long have you been working in fiber art? I see you're a knitter and a spinner too, Yay!
My grandmother taught me to knit and sew when I was 7. I’ve never stopped. I used to paint in acrylics in my teens and twenties. In 2003 I found out that painting isn’t very compatible with raising kids, so I’ve stuck to fiber for the last 6 years. (I read http://www.amazon.com/Womens-Work-First-Years-Society/dp/0393313484 last year. It’s all true.)
The great thing about working in fiber is that there is no end to the medium. The day I started spinning my own wool for embroidery, I cried for the first half hour of stitches because it was so frickin’ exciting to me.
How would you describe your style?
My stitching style is loose and messy. I try to mimic painted brushstrokes. I want anybody who knows my work to be able to pick out my stitching style as distinctly Alexandrian. I’m getting there.
Do you sketch out your pieces first and work from a pattern, or do you see where the stitches take you?
For something with a rigid, technical structure, I’ll draw an iron-on transfer with a pencil and stay true to the basic lines. I don’t want my audience to work too hard trying to find a good representation. The vast majority of people who admire my work can name the make and model of a gun from the thumbnail. That’s important to me.
For something with rounded edges or an organic shape, I sketch the basic lines with a water soluble marker, then I stitch layers and layers of threads until I get what I want. (For example: a spoon might have layers of robin’s egg blue, spruce green, light gray, eggshell, bright white, pewter, navy, eggplant, taupe, black, brown, tan, cream, palest sea green, and six more shades of gray.)
Tell me about your work. What themes are you drawn to and why?
My themes come directly from my life. The best advise people give writers is to “write what you know.” I am a military wife--camouflage and Prozac are something I deal with daily. As bad as it sounds, I know guns and drugs.
How does needlework help you explore that?
My military themed work was started as a long love letter to my husband and my country. It quickly because a way to document my own life. These images are precious to me. They are the symbols of intense devotion, struggle, illness, and pain. My battles deserve honor. My story deserves to be heard.
How do people react to your work? I know that some people have been uncomfortable with it, do you think it's the subject matter, the medium, or both?
When people are uncomfortable with my work, I instantly get defensive. I’m not promoting violence.
I see my stitched M9 as love and longing. I see my husband crawling into a bulletproof vest. I smell the gun oil and burnt powder that clings to his hands. I hear his radio screeching in the dispatcher‘s voice. David is an MP. If he were a doctor, I’d have embroidered stethoscopes and tongue depressors.
I’m learning to ignore knee-jerk reactions from people. You’re offended by my quilted gun? I’m offended by mothers who neglect their children to smoke crack. I guess we all have opinions of what is and isn’t offensive.
I’m not trying to be provocative. This isn’t a gimmick. I am honest. My work is the most I can possibly expose myself. It’s more naked than naked.
What do you hope people take away from your work?
Chills. That’s what I get when I see really good fiber art. If that’s not possible, I want people to see my honesty. If that’s not possible, I want people to wonder how the hell I got so much damn floss on a tea towel.
What other artists do you admire? How have they influenced you?
I’m a big fan of Orly Cogan. She is exposed and raw. I want that kind of communication with my audience.
Kim Sooja is one of the bravest human beings on the planet. http://www.kimsooja.com/
Benjamin Shine makes his hand visible in every portrait he does. http://www.benjaminshine.com/art/artworks_home.html
I’ve also loved the work of Sherri Wood on her www.daintytime.com site. Her tattooed baby doll project inspired me to return to embroidery back in 1999. Before her, I honestly didn’t know that fiber could be considered “art” instead of “craft.”
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a series based on the poetry of Pablo Neruda’s Odes to Common Things. Long live still life!
Do you have any advice for budding artists?
Find your own style and tell your own story. Never turn down the opportunity to learn a new fiber craft. You never know when you might be inspired to combine tatting and tattooing.