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Featured Artist: Sara James of Sara Norine

by EBlack on August 31, 2014

SJ-SN Self Portrait

Publisher’s Note: As many of you know, I am fortunate enough to get down to the Tampa, Florida area at least once a year where many of my wonderful fiber friends and artists work and live including the fantastic Sara James of Sara Norine.   Sara was born into a fiber art family, and has made a dual mark in fiber and photography. With her light textures and bright friendly colors, Sara’s work both behind the camera and with a wheel or a needle is remarkable.  This interview was not only fun, but truly inspiring. Sara is one great artist.   

Spin Artiste (SA): You have quite a dynamic artistic bent — how do you characterize yourself as an artist?

Sara James (SJ):  I am a lifelong artist, craftswoman, and maker of things. At 37 I have explored many crafts but I always come back to fiber and photography. I am currently moving into a period where the photography and fiber are merging.

SA: And what a beautiful merging it is! Who was most influential for you during your early years of fiber artistry?

SJ SN BichromateSJ:My childhood was a perfect setting for fostering a lifelong love of fiber art. My mother taught me to sew, knit and crochet. I traveled a lot as child and lived in Europe from age 6 to 9. Wherever we went, we were surrounded by art, from the frescoed ceilings of the guesthouses repurposed from renaissance mansions to the sphinxes that my brother and I played on as if they were playground equipment, to the more formal artwork displayed in the many museums. It was a place where people kept their hands busy. I had the opportunity to learn bobbin lace at the age of 8, while staying in Finland. We always returned to my mother’s family in Michigan for summers at the family cottage on Lake Michigan. Gathered on the porch were my grandmother, aunties, and cousins, all stitchers. We all keep our hands busy with needlepoint, crochet, spool knitting, macramé, and sewing during our visits home.
SJ-SN Fiber projects

SA: Sounds like you didn’t choose art, art chose you. Would you say your affection for fiber art helped to open the creative door for photography? If so, how?

SJ: My primary motivation for improving my photographic imagery was fiber. I was immersed in virtual and local communities that were producing beautiful fiber art. Rarely were the images (including my own) as beautiful as the fiber items themselves. I loved being a very early member of Ravelry and learned about knitting and crochet from that community at an accelerated pace. I spent hours adding patterns and books to the database. SJ-SN SWAY sampleI noticed that as my imagery got better, the patterns and projects associated with the image drew the attention of more knitters in the community. I also enjoyed going to spinning gatherings around the state of Florida and was motivated to tell the story of those gatherings in a beautiful way. Each time I missed a shot or made an image that failed to describe the color of the fiber accurately, I went home and researched the problem.


SJ-SN Criativity Open cardingSA: Ah, I see — It is always interesting to hear how an artist’s passion developed for a particular discipline!  How does the creative process for making your fiber pieces compare to the creative process of photography?
SJ: I love this question! My photography friends ask this often and have offered me their own observations. My sense of design and color is the first thing they notice. But, for me, it is the appreciation of a hands-on processes that is slow enough to allow for consideration of the most subtle elements. I love working with film and processing it in the darkroom. My most creative and personal work as a photographic artist most frequently comes from working this way. SJ-SN Self Portrait DarkroomThe dark room is as much about physical rhythms, timing, and intuitive decision making as is spinning. That magical feeling that we all feel at our spinning wheels is how I feel moving between trays watching images develop.

SA: That is  a great answer. You clearly love what you do, both at the wheel and in the dark room. Your knitting is full of such beautiful detail. What inspires you to create such a depth of character in your pieces?

SJ: I have always lived in temperate climates and have never needed to knit for warmth or functionality. Knitting for me, is purely for the pleasure of making a beautiful adornment. SJ-SN Handspun ShawlI enjoy knitting lace and love spinning yarn with long color gradients. I think the quality that lends itself most strongly to the depth of character is my interest in negative space. My favorite shawls are very translucent. Light is the medium in photography. My inspiration to create knitted cloth that is full of openings or apertures may come from my photographic work.

SJ-SN Early Handspun

SA: Though you never need to knit for warmth, your pieces are never lacking a strong sense of warmth.  You seem to use a lot of warm colors in your work. Would you say your color pallet reflects your personality?

SJ: My color choices change with season and mood, but golden yellows always seem to pop up.
SJ-SN Improvised shawl

SA:  I must say, I love the gold tones in your pieces! I also absolutely adore your prayer flags. Can you tell us the story behind those pieces?

SJ: Whether at a beautiful waterfront or at large music festival, I find camping to be a very social activity. Stretching 30 feet long, The Peace, Love, and Life Camping Garland started as a way to help us find our way back to our campsite in a maze of other campsites. But as I worked on it with the assistance of my young daughter, she started adding important symbols to the garland; SJ-SN Prayer flags 1Sculls, butterflies, hearts, peace signs and tiny Buddhas. I found myself explaining to her that it also served as a way to give our camping neighbors clues about who we are. I am finding that when we hang our camping garland, the stitchers and crafters come out of the woodwork to speak to us and begin friendships.
SJ-SN Prayer Flags 2

SA:   Tell us about your home studio.
SJ: My home IS my studio and always has been. Throughout history, fiber art has been a home based activity. Some of the world’s greatest needlework and cloth has been created while cooking, childrearing, and tending to the other activities of daily life. SJ-SN Kitchen TableMy kitchen has one cabinet for food and the remaining cabinet space is split, 50/50, between kitchen storage and art supplies. My living room, dining room, and bedroom closet, are also split the same way. Actually, my bedroom closet is probably only 10 percent clothing! The only rooms in the house that do not have art supplies or craft equipment are the bathrooms. Sometimes it feels overly chaotic to work this way, but I have never done it any other way. Creativity is often messy.

SJ-SN Spinning w: Lincoln logsSA: What is your all-time favorite wheel?

SJ: I learned on an old and sturdy Ashford traditional, and took serious consideration when replacing it. I choose my Majacraft Suzie almost 5 years ago and I am looking forward to using it for decades. It is so versatile and eliminates the need for me to have a “herd.” I can spin while my children play around me and not worry about moving parts hurting them. At this point in life, I am a spinning wheel monogamist.

SA: “Spinning wheel monogamist;” that is hilarious! I can’t say I’m as faithful to just one of my wheels; good thing they can’t ask for a divorce!! Not only are you a phenomenal fiber artist and photographer, but you are also a teacher! Tell us, what motivated you to move into a teaching role?

SJ-SN Daughter CrochetingSA: Honestly, I can’t help it! All of my work and education is in the field of art, education, and design. I have worked as a gallery girl, children’s librarian, teacher, and many other things. I am a lifelong learner and gain energy and inspiration from the time I spend in a variety of learning environments. I feel very strongly about passing on the techniques of the fiber arts to all generations. People can only appreciate what we do as fiber artists if they gain some understanding of the techniques involved and the pleasure of soft materials in their hands.

SJ-SN project sneak peakSA: It is great that you value education so much. Teaching the importance and pleasure of fiber ensures the art will live on. Thank you so much Sara, for spending time with us today and sharing your passion for fiber and creativity with us. Before you go, would you tell us about one of your current projects? 

SJ: Recently,  I worked on a project that I never would have predicted. I in collaboration with my friend and fellow multi-media artist, Sue Woodall. Together we have designed 9 looks for an Upcycling Art-to-Wear fashion show that was held in St. Petersberg, FL.  We had 9 models clothed from head to toe in knitted, crocheted, and woven plarn (yarn made from cutting up plastic bags). SJ-SN Project Sneak peak 2We used found doilies and a whole lot of plarn to construct our garments. As a fiber artist that can spend 6 months on a shawl, constructing this quantity of work in a few months’ time has been very liberating. It gave me the feeling of being totally out of my box and I loved it!
SJ-SN Trashion Fashion materials
For more fun pictures and to hear more about this event, please visit Sara’s website.

…AND, Sara’s got a big event coming up with the SWAY Guild coming up in November.  She’s going to be leading a two day workshop on Photography for Makers, Artists and Craftspeople.   This is going to be an amazing workshop and if there’s anyway I can swing getting away, I’m there!

Thank you so much, Sara!  I love your work and am so glad we finally got to tell a little of your fiber story here!! 

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