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Featured Artist: Jane Thornley of Inspiring Designs

by EBlack on February 2, 2014

JT_ID self on river deckPublisher’s Note: I’m feeling so fortunate this week to be posting this post.  Jane Thornely of Inspiring Designs is a master fiber artist whom I find completely inspiring.  Jane is a self-taught naturally creative genius who is in love with texture, color, and creating patterns that consistently amaze. And, when she is not coming up with a pattern, knitting a shawl, or teaching members of her knitters club, she is traveling the world with a skein in hand!  It is safe to say, Jane creates with every “fiber” of her being.    

Spin Artiste (SA): Let’s dive right into it! How did you make the shift from working in the education system to being a working fiber artist/teacher?

JT-ID Ship to shore look out to seaJane Thornley (JT): Once upon a time a long time ago, Jane was a school superintendent with a big desk job, 50 schools, and joint leadership for 8000 teachers. She used to knit and write to keep her creativity alive amidst bureaucracy and politics. She had entered teaching and librarianship because she was passionate about reading and kids but ended up promoted into the grey zone leeched of color. Then illness walloped her. Wham! Jane ends up with extreme environmental illness manifested by asthma and allergies. She was forced into sick leave. After all that doing and going, all she could do was knit, so knit she did but intuitively, since her illness scrambled words on the page and she couldn’t read. Over the years, she knit herself back to health, looked around, and discovered she had hundreds of scarves but only one neck! She sold said scarves for a while until her friend, Ilga Leja, suggested she try making patterns for others to create. That launched it all.

 SA: Yours is a great story which I can relate to and, of course, I love the way it turned out!  You mentioned your first fiber project was a trunk warmer for an elephant!  Tell us more about this project and the story behind it.  

JT-ID One Thousand Branches KimonoJT: I so wanted to knit as a child. My mother, wonder woman that she was, could take two needles and balls of yarn and unfold fabric and textiles. I loved textiles! By then I made all my own clothes and embroidered so passionately I wanted to attend the Royal School of Needlecraft in London. I asked her to teach me how to knit. She suggested a scarf; I suggested a Vogue pattern. She’d always let me go my own way so a Vogue pattern it was. I began at the sleeve and it grew and grew until it certainly could fit an elephant. No matter. In my eyes, I had created a textile which was enough for me.

JT-ID Early Knitting WaterMarchSA: That story brings back some similar memories for me…I know you are a self taught fiber artist, so what would you say was the benefit of teaching yourself?

JT: Everyone has their own learning style. Mine is by doing. I always had a slightly perverse way of proceeding with things that inevitably lead to deviations. You can’t teach someone to break the rules easily once they learn them. I really didn’t learn the rules properly so I break them with abandon. When people join my club, they believe they need to be experts but I tell them that being a beginner with a quest for exploration is just as important. If someone is an ‘expert’ who says one can’t do this or that, I know they’ll never get my approach.

JT-ID Wall hangingSA: Such terrific advice! You are clearly a lover of color and texture. What is it about these two elements that appeal to you?

JT: Color and texture equal passion and art. Combinations of color and texture tell stories, evoke moods, lead the viewer deeper into creation. They are one fiber lover’s communication tools. Whether it’s weaving or spinning or knitting or quilting, we are creating stories to envelop the viewer using fibers in color and texture.

SA: JT-ID Sketch BookI love your knitting patterns. How would you describe your pattern creation process?

JT: I was just writing about this in the Inspired Knitter’s Club. So much of what I design is an evocation of a scene, a place, a mood, or a culture. Knit a Beach evokes the seashore in a vest; Vests from a Turkish Bazaar weaves in the colors and patterns of Turkey, and my January three-pattern collection is really devoted to the dusky side of purple and the bright flashes of bright against dark of night photography.

SA: Do you have yourself or a particular person in mind each time you come up with the idea for a pattern?

Those who are either creative or appreciate creativity are my target audience but I try to knit only what I would wear either now or if my body type would let me. JT-ID Ripenings ShrugMy designs aren’t conservative. Instead, they say : “Yes, I love color and I’m not going to dress like the rest of the flock!’. I often begin thinking what I want to wear and verge from there. I believe artists have a responsibility to illuminate their environment which could mean wearing a stunning textile into a mall where everybody strives to dress by order of a fashion-dictated culture.

SA: Your attitude about influencing fashion is very inspiring. Wearing what you love is what is important. Speaking of “inspiring,” describe what the Inspired Knitting Club is about?  What do you hope will be the benefit for knitters being part of it?

JT: The Inspired Knitters Club is not for expert knitters but for adventuresome ones of all abilities. Anyone weary of the same old fare, who want to explore color in new ways, or perhaps read insights on fiber, travel, or techniques with a twist, or perhaps try short, fun, projects, would love the club. JT-ID 3 shots of topsI focus on color and working expressive nuances into design. Besides receiving $40 of my designs of their choice, members also receive 6 club issues a year plus discounts on kits. I have a member’s library on my website for sign-ins only where free patterns, short videos and downloads are available. Many members have been in the club from the beginning four years ago. The club run exclusively by PDF and email.

JT-ID Taos Goes Free rangeSA: That sounds like a great program that you have put a lot of careful thought into.  I would also like to know more about the Inspirational Knitting Cadres and what has been your favorite trip thus far?

Oh, travel is such an inspiration, isn’t it? I began with Italy in 2008 because I had a craving to take fellow knitters off to this gorgeous Italian castle to eat, tour and knit. I have so many fond memories of my ‘Knitaly’ trips but the Silk Road Turkey excursions soon became my most favorite. Imagine strolling the Grand Bazaar for inspiration or learning how to bead crochet from the village women in Cappadocia, not to mention discovering the weaving techniques of some of the oldest weaving traditions on earth? Eat, forage for inspiration through history and culture, and knit, says it all about these excursions. This year the big trip will be the Mediterranean cruise with Blue Heron Yarn in October 2014. We launch in Venice, visit ports in Italy, Greece, Turkey, France, and end in Barcelona. Who’s joining me?

JT-ID SILK ROAD TURKEYMy cadres are based on the concept of bringing small groups of knitters together in gorgeous locations more accessible to many in North America. It’s not a big-box approach and the hotels and inns I choose are noted for their ambience. I guide them on the path of free-range knitting in a relaxed environment. This year I have St. Augustine, Florida in February, the Chesapeake Bay cadre in early April and the Old Charleston cadre that same month. Then comes Vancouver, BC in September and the Old Higher Ground art knitting/spinning/weaving cadre in Taos in October followed by the cruise. Then it’s home to write for the winter!

JT-ID Evocative stitchingSA: Sounds like a wonderfully full plate.  Any of these trips would be the trip of a lifetime!  How would you describe your studio? 

JT: My house. Fiber has now consumed my upstairs, hangs in swags on walls and over banisters, and my husbands ‘man cave’ comes padded in yarn. I have a bead desk in my office and a yarn room walled in yarn where I knit and design but my art, like my life, spreads like an organic being. I feed it often and well, rarely giving things a good prune.

SA: What fiber tools can you not live without?JT-ID Midnight Magic Necklace & Earrings

JT: Just my needles, I guess, and silk, lots of silk.

SA: I also want to find out more about your jewelry making – is that an old or new passion?  Have you found any similarities between jewelry making and fiber art?

JT: Actually, jewelry is more of an old side passion, something I began years ago to add a little hardware to my softwear. I used to sell to boutiques but now just post objects on my website. I don’t really do much of it these days since writing, traveling, and designing knitwear plus writing for the Inspired Knitters club absorbs much of my time. Still, there’s so much concurrent energy in everything I do. Weaving plots is only a different dimension to blending colors or choosing the right stone for a necklace composition.

JT-ID kitting and neckleceSA: Uh oh…that means we all should buy the jewelry while we can!  In addition to being a tremendous fiber artist, you are also a fiction writer. Which of the seven novels you have written has been the most meaningful to you?

JT: Definitely the latest, “Rogue Wave”, which will be published early 2014. It is the prequel to my Crime by design Series which features a knitting fiber artist as a central heroine who travels the world solving mysteries involving the textile arts as they relate to history and archaeology. JT-ID Rogue Wave front coverThough the central character is not me, many will recognize her love of fiber, the challenges in weaving life with art, and the insatiable desire to travel. The character knits to stay calm in a life that grows increasingly chaotic as she is plunged into a task of sourcing rare objects for her uncle’s business along with finding her missing brother. Crime by Design is a suspense series featuring fiber, art and jewelry as background motifs and I’ve been researching aspects of the series for nearly 20 years. The second book in the series is entitled the Warp in the Weave and is set in Turkey.

Once, before taking on the big desk job mentioned at the beginning of the interview, I had an agent, a publisher and was readying to launch into writing full-time but life can divert one’s plans in the most unexpected ways. Now, I’m fully in the flow.

JT-ID Wild Grasses SideSA: Fiber art, jewelry making, and writing – I envy your multiple creative strengths!  Last question, before we sign off – If you were to write a book about your life as a fiber artist, what would the title be?

JT: The Crime by Design series! Though the series is fiction and entertainment, I have lusted my whole life for beautiful, handmade objects in exotic locations so this series spins that world into being for all to share. There’s always a human story behind each piece touched by human hands. 

The title, Rogue Wave, the new book due out in February, alludes to the wave drop stitch which, in turn symbolizes the rogue wave that launches the surprise attack on unwary sailors, surfers or tide watchers, and in this case, Phoebe McCabe, my protagonist.  Nova Scotian born, the sea weaves a background through this book.  I love the symbolism of life’s beautiful chaos.  We plan and plan but there is always the big surprise. 

SA:  Jane, I have posted nearly 100 interviews on this website over the past three years.  Of them all, your story hits home to me the most — I don’t consider myself as having your level of talent; however, there are many things in your story and your perspective that are personally very meaningful to me.  I’m sure many folks reading this post feel the same way.  So, this is a very special thank you to you for taking the time to do this interview and allow us to learn more about you.  

JT-ID Venice with vestReaders, not only was Jane generous enough to do the interview, but she has three incredible giveaways for Spin Artiste readers.  This is amazing…how I wish I could win!!!  Jane has offered hardcopy of her new book, “Rogue Wave” once published, a subscription to the Inspired Knitters Club 2014 and $40 worth of her wonderful patterns.  To enter, please leave a comment below telling us which if Jane’s designs are your favorite (you can see all her patterns here)  Additional entries for sharing on Facebook Twitter, etc.  Just leave a comment letting us know that you did.  Deadline for entries is next Sunday, February 9th, 5 PM EST.  Winners will be drawn at random…please make sure to include a valid email address so I may contact you.  Best of luck to all!




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