Textile terms are frequently woven into phrases and metaphors for describing shared bonds: close-knit, common threads, social fabric, spinning a yarn, stitching together. Reading the newest book by textile artist and designer Jen Hewett, titled This Long Thread: Women of Color on Craft, Community, and Connection and published by Roost Books, it’s easy to see why. As Hewett writes, “Craft and community go hand in hand.”
The marigold-colored cover features an illustration by Meenal Patel depicting three brown hands with fingers twisted into a current of threads, hinting at the expansive creative practices effervescing within. (The inside pages also include original illustrations by the author.) This Long Thread tells stories of the contemporary fiber art and craft world in the United States and Canada through the candid, personal voices of women and nonbinary people of color.
The book includes interviews, personal essays, profiles, and excerpts from an online survey. The survey forms the structure, drawing out stories that compose an expansive and nuanced tapestry of what it means to be both a woman of color and a maker in this present moment. “They are the people not often a part of the craft narrative, but they are here. We are here,” Hewett writes. “This book is for us.”
Inspired by the survey format of the 2014 bestseller Women in Clothes, a book about style and how women present themselves through garments, Hewett created her survey, with input from friends, to collect stories and perspectives from a broad cross-section of people of color who craft in the US and Canada — a white-dominated industry, despite, as the author notes on the first page, the long history of Black women quilting in the US. The 287 people who responded span a range of racial and gender identities, ages, means and resources, and levels of experience with their chosen crafts, which include knitting, crocheting, sewing, rug making, natural dyeing, weaving, mending, making bojagi, and embroidery. Some pursue their crafts as their primary profession. Others consider themselves hobbyists, but a subset recoil from the term. “I have a hard time separating my making from my daily life,” writes survey respondent Lia Rose. “I don’t like to use words like ‘hobby,’ and I don’t think of making as separate from the work of living.”
The multitude of shapes a craft-filled life can take comes across on every page of the volume, which can be savored equally, whether read from cover to cover or enjoyed in smaller segments. Open to any page and you’ll find a window into a creative life. Themes that emerged in the survey responses serve as the book’s organizing principles, with sections focused on origin stories, learning and teaching, the business of craft, craft and politics, traditions and intergenerational tales, representation, othering and racial stereotyping, and finding and building community.
Taken together, the stories and lived experiences told in This Long Thread blend elements of oral history with a celebration of diversity and craft in many forms — a sort of patchwork quilt of narrative. Throughout each section, the contributors’ voices shine, illuminating personal truths and tales that stitch together their creative practices and lives: milestones and catalysts, loves and losses, joy and grief, and webs of connections and friendships formed through knitting circles and craft nights.
“If there’s one thing that writing this book has driven home,” writes Hewett in the conclusion, “it’s that we need each other — to learn, to critique, to praise, to guide.” This Long Thread is like an armchair road trip to visit a network of friends, all connected by yarns and threads and overlapping experiences of moving through the world. Reading its pages feels like listening in on the real talk of sharp creative minds, each thoroughly immersed in the nuances of fiber art. Each voice and each eclectic individual experience intersects to reveal the collective chronicles, struggles, and triumphs of women of color in today’s craft landscape.
This Long Thread: Women of Color on Craft, Community, and Connection by Jen Hewett (2021) is published by Roost Books and is available online and in bookstores.