With Nic White
Yarn infatuation began with a simple visit to the local yarn store while staying with my grandmother in Prescott, Arizona. My whole life changed after walking through that door. There were more color combinations than I had ever imagined and the ability to create any shape or type of garment with an infinite combination of expressions presented itself. The memory of seeing all this at once feels like it was where my life truly began.
Hi, my name is Nic White and I’m a full-time fiber artist. I never dreamed that I’d be writing about the journey of finding my personal style through Fiber Art, but I’m here today to tell you how it all came to be.
I grew up in the city of Chicago, Il. This was immediately impactful, and I haven’t realized it until recently. Within easy reach, there are Historic Museums, an Art/ Fashion community, and a plethora of neighborhoods/cultures to explore. Each facet of my life and work growing up in Chicago has drastically affected my pragmatism and approach to the Fiber Industry.
My full work history is varied and provided me with a great catalog of influence. My first job was working as an Extra for the Lyric Opera at the age of 12, at 14 I was playing Electric Bass in Musicals for thousands of people at the Frank Gerry Pavillion. I worked part-time at the Field Museum of Natural History doing photography with my mom while finishing high school and providing in home-care for my YiaYia (Greek Grandmother), styling for Runway Shows came next. By 19, I suffered from complete burnout from work and school, so decided to travel the country. Visiting my other Grandmother in Arizona is how I was introduced to Fiber Arts. She had been knitting for most of her life and had bestowed handmade gifts on all six of her Grandchildren, I always enjoyed them but was uninformed about the process and amount of work it took! Staying with her and knowing she had this beautiful skill that hadn’t been passed down yet lit a fire in me. After I told her I wanted to learn, it brought us closer together than I ever thought. She excitedly introduced me to a local business called Fiber Creek, informing me that Karma who worked there really took things to a whole new level. Meeting someone who was spinning, dyeing, and weaving so fearlessly brought about a complete re-evaluation of my life direction.
Seeing the full potential that was offered through constructing clothing holistically, I knew immediately what my next chapter in life would focus on; designing from raw materials to a finished product. I decided to move back to Chicago and work in an office, editing digital clothing catalogs and saving as much money as possible to obtain every tool that would bring me closer to that goal. After a year, I had assembled a full spinning, weaving, knitting, and crochet studio. This was the perfect time to quit and do something I had never experienced.
I spent the two years completely immersed in teaching myself every facet of production; deliberately watching no tutorials, how-to videos, museums, or art shows. My Grandma taught me to cast on and off, knit and purl, and I put the rest together through trial and error. The further I pulled my brain away from other influences and designers, the more I was able to listen to that little voice inside we all have, and not let it get drowned in outside influences.
Now not everyone needs to do that, but I suffered from a complete lack of confidence. Once I was making things that I liked, completely for my own taste, was when other people’s interest in my work truly piqued and I was ready to rejoin the world as an artist.
Where does personal style come from? For me, every facet of my life has influenced my approach. As an example, runway styling gave me insights into individuals and how clothing related to them. Visiting museums, I have seen so many different forms of media that are interpretable in infinite ways. Whether you’re being influenced by a Monet, the intricate traditional beading or weaving of an indigenous culture, the emotions felt in a particular space, or the colors of the sunset; anything can be used as an influence and there’s no right or wrong way to find inspiration.
I like to have fun with my designs. Before the pandemic, when I was selling mostly at art fairs, I told people my collection is split like The Wizard of Oz. Half of the pieces are neon with fantastic colors, the rest of my work features mixtures of natural and neutral colors. When it comes to the actual construction of garments, I find it is fun to try every approach. I spin my own yarn, but also work with mill spun. Sometimes dyeing takes place first with fiber, other times it’s the yarn or finished work that is dyed. Sometimes I write out the math and pattern first, sometimes I just make it up as I go along. Some pieces are knit, crocheted, or woven and some are all three at once! Remember when we talked earlier about an infinite number of combinations?
This is an example of a super simple design with a focus on colorwork. The majority of the body is an alpaca, carbonized bamboo, soysilk, and viscose blend. I dyed the fibers separately, then carded and spun. For the orange and green sections, I used merino, which was much loftier and did a good job of standing out against the flatter yarn on the body. I essentially knit a tube, with purl stitches on either end of each row to create a panel effect. My favorite detail was the front and back panels crocheted together for a raised shoulder pad effect. I then switched to a much smaller needle to make the neck stand up. I was inspired by a vintage Sci-FI vibe, I wanted to take a serious approach to a style that is usually regarded as “campy”
I wanted this piece (below) to be durable. The fiber I used is mostly Falkland. I dyed the combed top first, stripped it into lengths, and spun it making sure it stayed nice and compact but also soft. While a bit impractical for everyday wear, I always have fun making statement pieces that come from a more wild sense of inspiration.
These are what I used to often sell. I take a huge amount of fiber, cloth, and whatever material feels pleasing to the theme, and I felt them into a gigantic strip then crochet that together. It’s a bit of insanity mixed with high fashion, my biggest goal is to make items that are so explosively unique it changes our perception through seeing new shapes.
I love shawls, jackets, and shrugs. I always want them to be versatile, to potentially be worn differently by each person. No matter which way you turn it, the buttons will bring it together. The body is mostly silk but has a rainbow mix of tons of different fibers as an accent. I really like when something looks like a blur of colors, and having the silk dyed in a very progressive way brings the blurry section into a better definition. I had no idea what I was making for this one, it just kind of happened. And that’s ok! That’s why it’s fun to have the right skills and tools, knit first, crocheted edges, then sewn on a sewing machine.
Below is one of my favorite yarns and one I used throughout my “neutral” collection. It is many different fibers, using everything from merino to Musk Ox, alpaca to vicuna. I did not blend, just pulled and spun together, changing fibers on a whim. I really love this because having so much texture and variance keeps my mind going, I keep finding sections and pieces that appear only once. After spending so much time working in color, I went into this very neutral place for a while. I wanted something that wasn’t overwhelming or wild, but still had lots of colors and details. So I thought, why not every color of animal? The vest was knit flat and crocheted up the middle.
Interestingly, this piece below has the most work and the least to tell. I just want my work to look like it came from another universe, but also wanted a hoodie to wear and keep me cozy through the Chicago winter. I dyed merino, Firestar nylon, alpaca, viscose, soysilk, nylon, and a lot more, blended and spun.
I’d like to close with a couple of my personal philosophies that helped me along the way, take them with a grain of salt!
If trying something new, be willing to invest money in mistakes and experimentation! It might not be perfect straight away and you might mess something up, but that’s an important lesson. Just don’t pressure yourself for instant perfection!
I try to keep my work open-ended. If a piece didn’t come out the exact way I wanted, I am willing to work with what I created and turn it into something else, that way I am not losing out on the time it took to make it.
There are no right or wrong ways to make anything. Art is entirely subjective and people will always have differing opinions. I have met people that loved my work to extreme degrees and people who openly ridicule what I’m doing. I would never want it any other way as our differing opinions and sensibilities are what create differences and nuances in the world. It would be boring if we all liked the same things! Even though it can be hard to hear, accepting that not everyone is going to like what I do was an important step to move forward and be less affected by critiques. Make it how you want and have fun!