(Self Portrait, Sahara Briscoe)
Sahara Briscoe is an internationally renowned textile developer and fabricator. For close to three decades, Sahara has engaged in a wide spectrum of textile-related activities from curating fiber art shows to costume design for theater, product development for fashion houses, plus writing about art fabrics for magazines and her own blog. Commissioned textiles, developed and produced by Sahara, have been shown at the 2010 Shanghai World's Fair, the Stedelijk Museum, The Netherlands and in galleries in New York, Dublin, London, Amsterdam and Sweden. This February, we requested that some of our respected local artists contribute to the Knitty City blog and tell us about how their combined interests and talents have influenced their current work. This is Sahara's answer to our question.
A lot of folks believe that "true creativity" is a form of magic: A supernatural power that a divine ancestor has bestowed upon you. A force that can be called up at whim and SHAZAM––a beautiful object appears. It is not. While I have certainly felt the power, it wasn't brought forth by magic, but by asking a magical question––what if?
As the descendent of generations of custom dressmakers and tailors, spanning from New Orleans to Harlem, drawing and sewing was the skill set I inherited. Back then, it was favorably looked upon as respectable employment, or, even better, a business that provided the more fashionable members of the local community with personal style, not obtained by shopping "downtown". I was fine with my family's trajectory for me until middle school. I had a vision, exposing me to my first what if moment.
(Photo: Shishi Yiming Dyeing & Weaving Co., Ltd.)
Walking home from school in the Bronx on a warm afternoon, I turned along a block of textile manufacturers and small factories. Many had their windows or garage type doors open for air. It was a dye house that caught my attention. There were rows of giant pressure cookers (kettles). Above each, was a circular rack containing many fat cones of natural-colored yarn. A timer sounded and the cones descended, then the lids closed. I was transfixed; punishment for being late wasn't gonna stop me from seeing this show! Some minutes later, another timer sounded. The lids of the pressure cookers opened and the cones ascended in a bevy of spectacular colors! After that moment, the question became, what if––I could do that?
Embracing the myriad answers and influences to this question has since led me down a sometimes studious, sometimes serendipitous road that has included the following: formal training (from high school to college) in sewing, design, couture techniques and art, frustrating garment jobs, and success at selling my accessories to Upper West Side boutiques, like Lynn Dell's Off Broadway.
(Photos from left: Off Broadway Boutique; Lynn Dell)
Asking another "what if" question landed me a job at School Products, where I learned machine knitting, hand-knitting, weaving, and spinning under the Kleins, the shop's influential owners at the time. I discovered that hand knitting is a supernatural power—it only requires needles, yarn and math, a process far less expensive than clothing design. Machine knitting can create fabrics both shaped or flat that can be cut and sewn. Weaving is an act that can produce fabric with or without using a loom: totally supernatural! And hand-spinning? Well, without fiber, there IS NO fashion!
From left: Sahara Briscoe (fire escape spinning in the Bronx); machine knitting; multi-textured hand-woven scarf
What started out as home skills––sewing and crochet––became joined by numerous strands of fiber-related crafts: machine knitting, embroidery, hand-knitting, weaving, spinning, printing, dyeing, fulling, writing words, photography and technology. These crafts and their mediums, their visual influences and influencers (of which there have been many) are flexible strands of knowledge that allow me to arrange and form large scale textiles that have been commissioned from my studio, now eight years old.
Knitty City was central to my greatest "what-if" moment of all. When internationally renowned artist Jennifer Tee needed a textile collaborator, the store referred her to me. Her series of commissions were pivotal to the growth of my creative identity. These helped to formalize my studio and allowed me to branch out, using the full gamut of my powers to produce a diverse array of projects united by the use of textiles.
"Gridding Sentences," Sculpture/performance piece; The Stedelijk Museum, The Netherlands.
From left. "And On The Seventh Day, They Rested" quilted pillow; "Modern Shunga" a Japanese inspired pillow book for a wedding gift, private commission.
A recent project, The Mondo Bouclé Cowl Kit, distills a number of techniques into a simple project. Together, in a recycled bedding container, are a hand-spun, complex bouclé paired with a smooth, sport weight Shetland yarn. Both are richly dyed, and inspired by photos of New York City landscapes. A clearly written pattern and ring stitch markers complete the package.
I create my projects to be easy, creative pick-me-ups that show off big results. This kit was the answer to what if I combine a beautiful, hand dyed and spun yarn, with an easy technique? Can I produce an elegant, luxurious cowl that can be knitted over a weekend? It worked, and it answered my question. I hope you enjoy the answer, as well.
Please note: To find out more about the current availability of these kits, please contact Sahara directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org. We also have it on good authority that more kits will be available at Knitty City very soon. Not surprisingly, the original collection sold out quickly!