This interview was originally published at Haute Macabre on April 10, 2020
Not to sound tone-deaf–I realize we are all experiencing these strange times quite differently, and we are coping with them in our own ways–but for me, at least, I am finding that diving headfirst into my obsessions is alleviating at least some of my anxiety, as well as that vexing tendency toward distraction, and lack of focus that occurs when I am feeling freaked out about something beyond my control.
Anyone who knows me probably can guess where I am going with this. KNITTING. In the past month or so I have become a knitting fiend, even more than I was already. I have knit two sweaters! And I live in Florida! Where am I even going to wear these heavy woolen things? Who cares? It’s keeping my hands busy and my attention on tricksy stitches, and I haven’t yet had a complete nervous breakdown, so here we are.
Another thing that helps quell the horrors, of course, is learning more about those brilliant folks who share in an interest I have…but through creativity, talent, and a much more driven nature than I possess, have put their singular spin on that mutual obsession, and who have elevated these passions to an extraordinarily beautiful art form. April Carter of Our Widow is one such individual, and I am utterly obsessed with her gorgeous knit and crocheted creations.
Using skills she developed as a child, and others acquired along life’s path, April is a fiber artist who aims to honor age-old handcrafted traditions, while also seeking to imbue her work with a distinctive unconventional quality. She believes that fashion should seek to complement the individual wearer, while also existing in a realm free from boundaries, expectations, and criticism.
I am thrilled to share with you our recent interview, below, where we discuss her splendidly heart-warming familial influences, the joy and inspiration found in breaking free from tiresome rules and dated constraints, and taking a good, hard look at what it means when you realize that your passion–or its practices, or people involved in the community built around it–has become problematic, and what you, as an individual, can do to change that and do better.
And April, thanks again, from the bottom of my heart, for taking the time to answer my questions and share of yourself during what I know is a strange and scary time for you, for me, for everyone.
Haute Macabre: You hail from a long line of creative women–seamstresses, painters, fiber artists, and “one chain-smoking, black coffee guzzling grammy with a passion for ceramics.” I’m curious as to who it is in this marvelous line-up you may have been inspired by in your own craft and does how does their influence inform your practice?
Our Widow: Every one of those marvelous ladies has inspired me in some shape or form, personally and in my craft, but I am most indebted to my mom for passing onto me the skills that helped guide me to where I am now. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of her crocheting, sewing and embroidering. She was constantly creating things for us kids, I had crocheted afghans, embroidered pillowcases with my nickname (Pumpkin), rag dolls, dresses with lace collars and pinafores, custom Halloween costumes, punch needle rugs, clothing for my stuffed animals, and even couches for my Barbies. It all looked like such fun, and not only did she let me peek over her shoulder and watch her work, but she also encouraged me to learn, taught me as best she could, and kept her patience with my clumsy kid fingers.
It was only when I was older that I realized the reason she did so much was due in large part to our financial situation, or lack of finances. Even then though, the things she created were never drab or dull, and although they were made on a budget, they always looked splendid; she loved using vibrant colors throughout her work, cute prints, pretty lace, ribbons, ruffles, and oodles of flowers. Not only did she enjoy her finished creations, but she also delighted in seeing our eyes light up with glee at each new masterpiece we were presented with. Through her I learned to be proficient in different mediums, take pride in my work, be true to myself, and to have fun with design; it also seems apparent now that I’m writing this, that I too have quite an affection for lace, ribbons, and ruffles, so I can confidently say that her influence has indeed endured long past my childhood.
You consider yourself more of a “fiber artist” than a “knitwear designer”–can you share more about that distinction and what it means to you, both personally and in terms of your business?
The distinction is not important to me on a personal level, they’re just words, and have no impact on my creative process, professionally though, they exist purely in an attempt to be direct about how I run my business. My online presence has grown quite a bit since I started focusing mainly on knitting, in that time, I have received an abundance of messages inquiring if the written patterns for my pieces are available for purchase. The short answer to this question is “Thank you for asking, but no they are not.” The long answer is a rambling list of all the reasons why it’s probably never going to happen – I’m erratic and unorganized, I hate taking notes, I rarely plan ahead, choosing instead to wing it roughly 96% of the time, I often mix mediums, I’m a perpetual procrastinator, I haven’t the faintest concept of how to write a proper pattern, and I do not swatch, ever.
Knitwear designer sounds so polished and professional, I see many pattern writers using it to describe their occupation, and aptly so, but it is far removed from where I am as a maker. I am not a fan of labels, but the word “artist” carries with it certain stereotypes that allow those labeled as such a pass when it comes to existing on the fringes. I had hoped characterizing myself as a fiber artist would allow me the freedom to create without expectations, and possibly clear up any confusion as to what individuals who stumble across my website, or social media accounts could hope to find within.
You urge your fellow creatives to “learn the rules, then break them all”–what broken rules can one expect to see in the fiber arts of Our Widow?
In this instance, the word “rules” to me encompasses that which can be thought of as traditional, or every day. Knitting, crocheting, and similar fiber-based art forms have generally been looked upon for generations as “homemaker” crafts. When I was a teenager, my contemporaries would poke fun at me for crocheting, sewing your own clothes meant you were poor, and in media, knitting was something only grannies did, while rocking away in their wooden chairs. These stereotypes persisted throughout my 20’s, and into my early 30’s, with fiber arts only becoming trendy within the last decade. I’m thrilled with the rise in popularity of my favorite pastimes but feel like bits and pieces of that tired old mentality still exist, which is why it’s important to me as an artist to continually push the boundaries. By “breaking” the rules, I’m encouraging my fellow creatives to not be constrained by what is routinely expected from a knitted design, a crocheted piece, a sewn garment, or any other discipline.
In my work, I prefer to utilize techniques that I feel are oftentimes overlooked. Mixing mediums, such as working a crochet edging onto a knit cape, adding fabric trim to a knit collar, or sewing chiffon bell sleeves to a crochet top, has been one of my favorite approaches for constructing fresh styles. I enjoy using unconventional shaping methods, like those which help to create the long defined points on my neckpieces. I like unusual designs with bold details, like the loops on my Tentacle Cowl, or my collars made with highly contrasting colors.
I refuse to chase trends, will make chunky knits in the summer, delicate cobweb knits in the winter, and am not bothered when things get a little off-kilter, or look a bit strange once blocked out, it’s not important to me that every seam line up, or that my stitches be perfect, I have more fun just rolling with it, and embracing the imperfections. I also have a tendency to shy away from traditional knits such as sweaters and afghans, choosing instead to focus on pieces that are not typically made from yarn. One of my personal favorite designs has been a cabled piece that resembles a knight’s gorget collar; I am more than just a little obsessed with it, and desperately want to make more knitted armor.
Your tagline is “Unorthodox Pieces for Peculiar Souls”– aside from family lineage, I’d love to hear about some of your other unorthodox and peculiar inspirations.
I grew up in an isolated area of West Texas, far away from any cultural centers, so early exposure to the arts was limited. I have since branched out and could say so and so designer inspires me, or this painter is where it’s at, but honestly I’m very much a product of my youth. I was born in 1980, and cut my teeth in an amazingly weird and wonderful decade, I spent my days playing Atari and Legos, riding bikes, shooting BB guns, jumping off houses, and beating up trees. Being an 80’s kid had many perks, but undoubtedly the best part was binging on bizarre TV shows, and fantastically dark movies, of which there were many to choose from. I was obsessed with The Dark Crystal, The Last Unicorn, and The Secret of NIMH, asked Santa to bring me my own Falkor for Christmas, cried when ET almost died, sang (terribly) along with the Chipmunks, and screamed my head off when someone said the word of the day on Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
I grew up feasting on the brainchildren of former acid popping hippies turned producers, writers, and children’s entertainers, and I could not be more grateful. The sheer creativity and wackiness of it all, the gorgeous (trippy) visuals, and the absolute detachment from reality that could be found in these creations was a haven for me; early on I realized that imagination was a sacred and powerful thing, with no limits to its depths. I still hold true to this spirit, spending my days immersed in my own fantastical creations, watching cartoons, reading comic books, playing Legos, and casually tossing out 80’s catchphrases to my very unimpressed teenager daughter.
Can you share anything about the pieces you are working on right now?
Since COVID-19 began spreading, it’s been difficult to find any sort of inspiration or direction, the world at large is in complete upheaval, and I’m not going to kid myself by saying what I do is essential in any way. I have never felt quite so insignificant, and motivation has been scarce. I usually have several projects going at one time that I can jump around and work on, but for weeks, I had nothing on my needles. I have busy hands though, and started to go a bit mad without anything to keep them occupied.
Fortunately, spring comes early in the south, and the fields around my house began bursting with wildflowers. They’ve been a beautiful oasis in an otherwise ugly world, and although it took a little time, I eventually found myself digging through my yarn stash looking for skeins that mimicked the poppies, bluebonnets, and larkspur outside. I usually stick to a moodier color palette, but working with these lively shades has helped uplift my spirits. I also recently purchased a collection of lovely Japanese crochet books online that have some gorgeous edging patterns; I’m very excited to tweak those for use in my collars and cuffs. Also pink, I never thought it would happen, but I made something pink; these are strange days indeed.
As someone only recently again paying attention to knitting blogs and knitters of note, I became aware, sometime in 2019 I guess, of various platforms opening up the conversation on knitting and inclusivity and reckoning with instances of racism, prejudice, privilege, and whitewashing in the knitting community. That’s tough to reconcile with a hobby or a career that you love–and that maybe you, or I, might be part of the problem, even inadvertently– but it’s also a conversation that can’t be ignored. Do you have any thoughts on this?
I was also not a very active participant in the knitting community when this subject really started gaining attention in the media, so it was only after Ravelry (an online knitting community and pattern database) sent out an email stating hate speech would no longer be tolerated on their platform, that I educated myself on what could have pushed them to that point. While what I found was alarming, it was not at all surprising– intolerance has an uncanny yet incessant way of seeping into every foundation of society. Initially though, upon realizing the scope and scale of the situation, I did not feel as if I was a part of the problem. I kept mostly to myself, stayed far away from the forums and Facebook, and, as I stated, rarely interacted with the knitting community, but after more consideration, I realized that my lack of awareness was a very clear sign of my privilege.
It is easy for me to roll my eyes and say “Are you kidding me??” at the absurdity of those who would try to spoil something as seemingly wholesome as knitting, because those same individuals would not scorn me, but instead, likely support my business. I have yet to face a situation where I was denied recognition for my work, or been unjustly criticized for my individual style, nor have I ever received a derogatory comment on my public accounts based on my sexual preferences, or the color of my skin. The same cannot be said for many others in the knitting community, those who have suffered through the discrimination, and encountered a lack of visibility, continued harassment, and probable loss of business, as a result of pages and groups specifically created to identify minorities, POC, and LGBTQ designers, with the sole intent of shunning them, and sabotaging their livelihoods.
I should not have realized all of this after the fact, it should not have taken an email to enlighten me, I should have known it was happening all along. These issues have existed for ages, and go well beyond knitting, spanning across all art forms and disciplines. Each and every one of us benefits from taking the time to inform ourselves as to what is happening within our own little worlds and beyond, be willing to accept a level of responsibility for the unpleasant things we might discover therein, and decide individually how to proceed from that point. For me, that means engaging more with my fellow yarnies in the knitting community, becoming more cognizant and compassionate concerning the struggles of my fellow creatives, and increasing my efforts to support artists of all colors, genders, faiths, and cultures.