The featured gift shop artist for the month of December is Janet Shipley Hawks. Jan is a fiber artist who specializes in ‘sculpted threads’, an art form made of machine embroidery thread.

Q: What paths led you to fiber art and how did you learn your techniques?

I grew up with sewers and needle workers as role models. Mother sewed and knit as did my aunt who never sat down without having some kind of handwork in her lap. I think I must have been stuck with a knitting or sewing needle as a baby!

Q: What advantages do you feel you have as an artist living in Oklahoma?

There are great organizations in Oklahoma that support craft artists, from the statewide Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition and Fiber Artists of Oklahoma to the whole Brady Arts District and of course the shining star there, 108|Contemporary.

Q: How do you draw from your childhood in your craft?

I have always enjoyed creating and “working with my hands” then, and do so even more now. I was encouraged to experiment and “color outside the lines” and was always praised for my creations, however odd they were. This gave me an early confidence in trying and doing and sharing my skills. As a pre-teen, I taught crafts to a group of young girls one summer. I was always encouraged to not do the same thing as everyone else so I would put my own twist on things.

Q: How do your materials relate to your artistic concepts?

A: I enjoy the challenge of using materials in an unexpected way such as my jewelry made entirely of sewing thread and created on my basic home machine. Experimenting with fibers traditionally used for clothing has led to some exciting 3-dimensional projects usually made of non-flexible materials as well as metallic fabrics used in traditional quilting pieces.

Q: What is your favorite material to work with?

It’s a real toss-up between sewing thread and yarn.

Q: What has been your biggest source of inspiration?

My inspiration frequently comes from a “What if?” scenario that presents itself to me during a problem solving event. For instance, my Sculpted Threads technique was developed as I was trying to come up with an idea for a Christmas gift for a couple of other artist friends. Both our husbands were woodturners who made bowls among other forms and we traditionally traded handmade gifts at the holiday. So, I was thinking “bowls” and asked – What if? —- I took water-soluble stabilizer and did free motion stitching on the machine? I did and that was the beginning of Sculpted Threads.

Q: What has been your greatest challenge in pursuing your craft?

Time. There never seems to be enough time to create all the projects that I envision. It’s not uncommon for me to work on one idea, and while doing so, come up with another idea in my head as an offshoot and start working on that one. My mantra for many years has been that I could get a lot more done if I didn’t have to stop to eat and sleep!

Q: What developments do you hope to see as your work evolves?

More education for the public about fine craft, particularly the fiber arts. I think appreciation of the end results would be increased if the knowledge of the techniques and the amount of artist involvement was better understood. I’m also interested in teaching more people the basics of knitting and crochet as I’ve seen first hand the positive effect that creating with these crafts have on people through my volunteering with the Women In Recovery program at Family and Children’s Services.

Q: What is one lesson you would like to share with emerging artist?

A: To keep creating but also to pay attention to your techniques and end product. Avoid sloppy, poorly constructed, faddy products. Create quality lasting craft items that are stable and show an understanding of the techniques you are using. Be purposeful in your artwork.

Q: What is the strangest tool one would find in your studio?

A “spring hook”. I don’t think you’d find one at Home Depot, Lowes, and True Value or on Amazon. My father, in the 1930’s was a repairman for Burroughs Adding Machine Company. The mechanical typewriters, adding machines, etc. were reliant on springs and levers to make them work. He made this tool with a very, very fine hook on the end to use when attaching the tiny springs to the levers. It’s amazing how many times I reach for this to solve problems unrelated to typewriters and adding machines!