Dear Textiles Podcast Episode 3, Interview with Thao Phuong of TextileSeekers

podcast, textiles

For episode #3, I’m speaking with fashion designer, consultant and entrepreneur Thao Phoung, who runs textile impact retreats in Vietnam with her company TextileSeekers!

You can find Dear Textiles episodes and this episode over at SpotifyStitcherAnchorApple podcasts and more!

The beautiful journal that Thao has worked on during the pandemic about textiles and Vietnam, which we discuss in the interview can be purchased at this link: 2% of the journal purchase is donated to the Pacific Links Foundation, which supports survivors of human trafficking.

To learn more about Thao and TextileSeekers, you can check out or follow @textileseekers on Instagram.

The photo of Thao above is by Bèla Adler.

In the carousel below, the photos of the journal are by Celia Suárez. The photos from Vietnam were taken at the last TextileSeekers retreat and the captions on the photos were provided by Thao.

If you’d like updates for new podcast episodes, please sign up for my newsletter by clicking this link!

  • Sapa’s magical sunset lights

Dear Textiles Podcast Episode 2, interview with Sigrún Bragaddóttir

craftivism, healing, podcast, textiles

Dear Textiles now has an audio component! You can find Dear Textiles episodes over at Spotify, Stitcher, Anchor, Apple podcasts and more! Yay!

The Dear Textiles logo is by Clarisse Hassan.

Episodes will be released biweekly. The first episode is about my journey to textiles and how they helped me feel again and connect with my creativity after being numb for a long, long time. You can hear it here.

For the second interview, I talk to Sigrún Bragaddóttir a teacher, artist, crafter and craftivist from Reykjavik, Iceland. We talk about using craft as way to heal and connect and about Sigrún’s own work and journey. 

You can connect with Sigrún at her website, and on Instagram @sigruncraftivist and on Facebook:

If you’d like updates for new podcast episodes, please sign up for my newsletter by clicking this link!

Jem Olsen, Ballarat, Australia

Australia, embroidery

Dear Textiles, 

Like for so many others, my love for you began with a dear Nana who taught me how to sew. Whenever I think of her, I can’t but help also think of you, so strong is the connection between my early memories of my Nana and of textiles. I am so grateful that she introduced me to her own love of you at such an early age. And now here I am, some 35 years later, a textile artist, creating works that allow me to voice my thoughts and concerns and that through their completion make my heart sing!

The town of Ballarat where I live and the place of our many collaborations together thus far, was established during the gold rush in the mid-1800’s and is the site of the Eureka rebellion and massacre of 1854. The latest piece we’ve created together is inspired from that time – a 3.5m length of calico onto which is stitched the statement of a police officer’s wife who lived on the goldfields, a lady by the name of Catherine McLister, of the sexual harassment she experienced from her husband’s boss – the town’s Police Commissioner. 

When I first read Catherine’s statement and learned more about her story, I had a very emotional response and strong yearning to connect with her through you. Catherine’s words resonated so deeply – both in terms of the growth of the recent #metoo movement and some pretty awful workplace harassment I’d experienced the previous year.

In working together to connect with Catherine and her story despite the 170 odd years between us, our daily stitch sessions together provided an outlet to channel a lot of the pain, grief and loss we’d both experienced, at times right there at the very site of her former residence here in Ballarat! And as we slowly came to the end of our daily stitch sessions, all the while against a backdrop of some very high profile men being finally brought to account for their own sexual misconduct and abuse of women, it was like we were helping bring about a sense of peace; a laying to rest of experiences past, to make way for a more hopeful today and tomorrow. I will be forever grateful for the wonderful collaborations I’ve shared with you; especially this one dear textiles. This one was and will always be, a very special one indeed.

Lots of love,


P.S. You can find out more about Jem at and on Instagram at @jemolsen. The photos in this post below are by Louisa West. The photo at the top, a cropped photo in of the work in progress, is by Jem Olsen. To see a video that Jem made about this piece, click over here:

Denise Voie de Vie

indie dyer + designer

For the last four summers, I have been coordinating a worldwide summer design project: “Progress, Hope, & Happiness.” Conceived and started in 2017, the project was my (albeit humble) antidote to the worldwide contraction starting to occur (Brexit, the U.S. election results, etc). I wanted a way to continue to work with my fellow indie designers during a time in the year outside of the holiday season, when the Indie Designer Gift-a-long usually takes place. 

Incorporating indie dyers as well, creating these summer collections of knit and crochet wearables has been an absolute balm and joy. The accompanying make-a-long is always friendly, composed of makers around the world, and most participants walk away with a sense of accomplishment as well as new friends made. Most importantly, our collective ability to create some things both beautiful and functional across time and space each summer has been nothing short of amazing. Many designers have created designs for multiple collections, and makers return each summer to chat with and make alongside fellow hand stitchers. 

I have been a designer, artist, and maker of many things over the last nine+ years, and the Progress, Hope, and Happiness textile project remains one of my brightest ideas – it has brought me so much light and comradery.

To find out more about Denise’s work, see and on Twitter @denisevoiedevie and on Instagram @denisevoiedevie

Flo Awolaja, London, England


Regarding creativity and the art of storytelling through our practice, @Maverikartz shared this with me via Twitter: 

“Textiles can accrue meaning and significance, acting as triggers to people, places and times, but all too often they lie in limbo, unused, too precious to throw away but in need of a new purpose.” Zoe Hillyard 

Fragments: Memories of my past. The interweaving of physical emotions. Exploring the narrative of textiles in a digital age. Memories of the past and dreams of the future. An exploration into the physical manifestations of this through Afrikan textiles.

I have often wondered about the art of textiles and the conversations therein. The making of African materials is not an insular activity it is collective. Within African societies the art of fabric making is a communal and labour intensive activity. 

My interest in creating the collages stems from identity and looks at ways in which stories can be told and conservation had. Much in the way Zoe Hillyard describes an opportunity to rediscover and celebrate…. reviving a worn-out out favourite item or creating something new.

“Mother Tongue…Who says it has to be English!”

There is a richness that speaking in your Mother tongue brings….it binds and strengthens you to your roots, culture and heritage. A means of preservation a means of continuity, passing on why would anyone want to lose that?

A graphic designer by trade, as a textile designer, Flo now mixes oration, and communication within her work.

They are pieces constructed from snippets of conversation through oral history, serving to maintain a rich cultural identity and heritage.

Flo’s current work focuses on the playful relationship between language, proverbs and the textiles practice.

Mah Rana, London, England.

textiles, embroidery, dementia, Mah Rana, Fiona Hackney

“One Day When We Were Young” is a short film by Mah Rana; made as part of “The Power of Making: Material Affect” by Professor Fiona Hackney and Mah Rana. In contrast to mainstream filmic representations of dementia care that often focuses on caregiver burden and a resulting poorer quality of life, “One Day When We Were Young” shows how crafting together can uncover an alternative narrative of care that is reciprocal, strengthening, and liberating.

You can find out more about Mah on her website,, and on Twitter, @itsnicetomake.

(Fiona Hackney is a professor of fashion textiles theories at the University of Wolverhampton.)

Heather Burgess, Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland



[Note: Heather Burgess, of Rag Button, sent me the following text and photographs (see gallery at the bottom of the post), about Volume 1 of The Collar Series’, which follows being diagnosed with thyroid cancer. You can learn more about Heather and the series on Twitter (@ragbutton) and on Instagram (@ragbutton).]

The Collar Series

Volume 1: The Delinquent Butterfly

“Hidden like a sentence deep within”

In 2012 I was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer at the age of 32 (this type of cancer effects the Thyroid gland that sits in the front of the neck). In response to this I have been developing a series of collars, an item sometimes worn on the neck for decoration. They are an expression of the above event, my therapy and my catalogue of information. The Collar Series is made up of 3 volumes containing 3 collars in each, Volume 1 – Diagnosis, Volume 2 – Treatment and Volume 3 – Recovery.

There was nothing to see before my diagnosis, everything that was happening was hidden deep inside and on the surface all seemed just fine.

The collars progress and appear altered from the first to the last. Small changes and hints are discreetly added. Text from old books and printed words will offer an insight into my feelings and the information revealed at diagnosis. The pieces are created using techniques I love and that give me comfort, patchwork, machine embroidery, hand stitching and using little bits of materials to construct the body of each collar. To those viewing the pieces they will look like nice pretty collars, decorative and aesthetically pleasing, but with an undertone of things that were to come, the darkness that is a cancer diagnosis.

I have chosen materials that give a fragile or delicate appearance, as the neck is a delicate part of the body. The stitching is a combination of both hand and digital embroidery; I employed the use of digital embroidery to stitch out the thyroid cancer cells (taken from my own pathology slides) and butterfly, these can be seen on the left hand side of the butterfly, a dusky purple colour (thyroid cancer cells are roughly this colour).

Dimensions and Materials

One collar 28cm (L) x 29cm (W) x 1.5cm (D, flat)

Blue wool fabric, linen, silk, silk crepeline, vintage fabric, embroidery thread. Machine stitching, hand stitching, digital embroidery, template patchwork, patchwork and inkjet printed fabric.

Jess, Scotland


(Note: I put a call out on Twitter for people’s stories of textiles and resilience. I received replies and photos in DMs and in emails. The following is what Jess kindly sent via a series of direct messages. Thanks, Jess!) 

There’s a few things I could say on this topic. But I’m choosing to tell the story of Gromit.

In March 2019, I got a copy of “Knit Now” magazine which had a Gromit kit & pattern. By then, I had ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) for 5 years & was housebound for 3-1/2 years. I started knitting in 2013 and loved it, spending hours each day after work, with my needles. When I got ME, this was not possible anymore. Like many with this illness, I pushed to try & get better, which made me worse. I lost a lot but I’m gonna focus on the topic. As I got worse, I struggled with holding a pen, typing, so of course, knitting too.

The longest I’ve gone without knitting was 9 months. I got so sad then I had to hide all my knitting stuff as seeing it was a reminder of not being able to do what I love. I knew though that I would come back to it, try again. I did, and since then, my knitting is sporadic. There are still periods when I can’t knit for months (I’m at 2 months now). Anyway, Gromit came as a kit in March 2019. I decided that he would be my priority project, that he would be finished. It took 4 months to get him done (it’s supposed to be a quick knit Face with tears of joy).

At first, I could cast on the toes on one of his legs. Then I managed to knit a few rows. I was really happy to see him coming through! I was so determined that I would knit! So determined that I would finish him, no matter how long. It didn’t mean I could work on it everyday. I had to have breaks (sometimes a couple weeks) as ME doesn’t care what I want. But I started Gromit and I even managed some of his parts in 2 days each (I was in a decent knitting roll!).

He’s now sitting on display & when I look at him, I’m reminded not to give up on knitting, on being myself. I have a dream to become a knitting designer. It’s in motion. I’m slowly brewing my first design (I managed 2 full swatches this year so far, I’m in the 3rd). Your call for stories comes at a time when I feel quite low about my (current) inability to knit. So telling you this story reminds me I will not give up, not on knitting.

ME can take many more things from me, I can’t take anything for granted. But until I have no other choice, I’ll keep getting back to my needles. And I pray I will always be able to get back to them, even for a few stitches. Thank you for asking, for listening. Keep making. Be well.

Justin Connelly, 35. Anacortes, WA, USA.


Dear Textiles,

If you traveled back to 2015 and, after the prerequisite warnings about the last 4 years, told me that in 5 years my full-time job would be running an international fiber-art-activism project that I started with the woman I had just met that summer… well in hindsight it might not have been the wildest part of the conversation, but it certainly would’ve been shocking.

Back then I’d have told you that I’m not a crafter. Sure, I’d done the occasional crafty thing – everyone remembers making those beaded geckos in the ’90s, right? – but they never developed into a hobby. To be honest, I’m not even sure how I’d describe myself now. Am I a crafter? An artist? An activist? Data analyst? Researcher? Science communicator? Who knows? I’m just a person who cares deeply about climate change and loves spreadsheets more than most. So… how did all this get started?

(Click all photos to see them in a larger version) 

(Left to right: The Tempestry Project founders: Emily, Justin, and Marissa.)

I guess I should start at the beginning – meeting my partner, Emily. We met in the summer of 2015, a few months after she’d moved from New York City to my small town on the west coast, and our friendship quickly became a partnership. She always had something soft on her needles, from scarves to cowls to lovely lace shawls. Knitting had been her passion and pastime for a decade by then. As for me, I’m a tinkerer. I’d had many jobs, most of them revolving around drafting and 3D modeling, and have something of an engineer’s brain. That fall I was tinkering with a DIY 3D printer kit from a Kickstarter I’d supported, and had done a few prints of simple little things. Then one evening Emily got frustrated.

She often used rubber bands to keep her knitting and needles together after having those annoying rubber point protectors pop off one too many times in her project bags while walking to and from work at our local yarn shop. On this fateful evening, it was a fine lace shawl on the needles, and the yarn got bound up in the rubber band and the process of untangling the mess broke the delicate yarn. My brain went into problem solving mode and after asking a few questions about common needle sizes, I told her I’d do some tinkering and get back to her.

A week later I presented her with the very first Needle Wrangler, hot off the 3D printer – a simple little gadget to keep needles together and stitches firmly in place, without frustrating tangles. She was delighted so I printed several more for her various projects (or WIPs, as I came to learn). Over the next few months local knitters were noticing the Needle Wranglers on her projects at the shop and it turned out there was a market for them. Soon I had the printer running nearly 24/7 just to keep up with our LYS’s demand.

We’ve since been granted a patent and trademark for Needle Wranglers and graduated from 3D printing to having them injection molded for us by a small company in a nearby town, and they’ve been picked up by Bryson Distributing and are available in local yarn shops around the country! Whew! 

And all of that is really just tangential to our primary focus – the Tempestry Project.

Around inauguration in 2017 we were reading all these articles about hackers and scientists working together to download and save scientific data (particularly climate data) from government sources for fear of the incoming administration deleting it or removing access to it. We joked about how ephemeral modern data storage is, how massive amounts of data can disappear at the press of a button, and how we should be recording important data sets using ancient techniques like cuneiform tablets or tapestries that last centuries or millennia. Given Emily’s background in knitting and her involvement in the local knitting community by way of the yarn shop, we realized that maybe we were on to something with the tapestry idea.

Knitting temperature wasn’t a novel idea. Knitters and crocheters have been making temperature blankets for ages, but these were always individual efforts and often focused on the current year as a very personal mindfulness exercise.

Knitting temperature wasn’t a novel idea. Knitters and crocheters have been making temperature blankets for ages, but these were always individual efforts and often focused on the current year as a very personal mindfulness exercise. We wanted to create a framework through which people could create temperature tapestries (Tempestries) that would be comparable from place to place and, crucially, from time to time. We wanted people to use historical temperature data to make Tempestries that could show the effects of climate change, an issue I’ve been obsessing over for decades. We spent several months working out the details. It would have been great to use yarn from our LYS but all of their yarn is hand dyed and we needed colors to be consistent. We also wanted to keep costs down because we didn’t want that to be a barrier to entry for anyone wanting to participate. We worked out a spectrum of 32 colors representing temperatures ranging from less than -31°F to greater than 121°F in 5°F increments. We settled on the linen stitch as our suggested stitch because it makes a beautiful, sturdy fabric that hangs nicely without stretching or curling.

Once we’d worked out all these details we put it all up online for free.This included my spreadsheet for processing NOAA weather data into a knitable worksheet, the knitting pattern (more like suggested guidelines), a guide for how to download data directly from NOAA, a printable color card template – everything we could think of that someone might need in order to make a Tempestry. We started showing our work to the local knitting community as soon as Emily finished the first one in May 2017. They were very excited about what we were doing, but many of them just wanted to knit a Tempestry without doing all the behind-the-scenes work of data research and spreadsheets. At their request, we started making kits that would have everything they needed. People would request a year and location, I would track down the data and process it into a worksheet,  and Emily and our roommate, Marissa, would hand-wind all the yarn colors into exactly the right amounts needed for each temperature range. And that’s how our business accidentally got going.

And that’s how our business accidentally got going.

After making the first Tempestry (for Deception Pass, WA, 2016) Emily and Marissa got busy making four more that were displayed that June as the first showing of what would become our Deception Pass Collection. This collection now includes over twenty Tempestries depicting temperatures from years ranging from 1948 through 2016, knitted by over a dozen volunteers.

Since that first local exhibit in 2017, I quit my day job to do this full time (“this” mostly consists of finding and preparing custom temperature data for people). We’ve made thousands of Tempestry kits including for all 50 states, over 30 countries, and for all 7 continents. We’ve carried our Tempestries like medieval war banners to climate protests and marches. Tempestry collections (in progress or finished) have been created for places ranging from Australia to the San Juan Islands and Philadelphia to Mexico City, with more and more cropping up every year. There’s even a National Parks Tempestry Collection (click the link to view an image gallery) with about a hundred participants organized by an avid knitter, environmentalist, and writer for the National Parks Traveler Magazine. We were invited to enter our work in the 2018 Creative Climate Awards in New York; a Tempestry workshop was hosted by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and we’ve been featured in various publications from Smithsonian Magazine to the New York Times. Our New Normal Tempestries, based on Professor Ed Hawkins’ Warming Stripes data visualization showing global and regional warming trends over the last century, have been displayed in classrooms, public libraries, universities, and even government offices — made by knitters and crocheters around the country.

It has been an incredible, at times grueling and stressful, wild ride up to this point, and this summer we’ve taken on two more new and exciting endeavors.

It has been an incredible, at times grueling and stressful, wild ride up to this point, and this summer we’ve taken on two more new and exciting endeavors.

In June, we started a project with my daughter where she keeps track of her daily mood and we knit a row every day representing the color that best fits the day — red for anger, blue for sadness, yellow for happy, etc. It’s been a simple and comforting way to think and talk about emotions during these staggering times we’re living through. The Tempestry community liked this idea so much that we’ve started offering Emotion Tempestry kits, with the hope that others will benefit from the practice as much as we have. 

And our biggest project to date is also in the works: creating an entire line of custom milled and dyed worsted weight Tempestry yarns in all 38 of our colors. We’re excited to be working with a a Pennsylvania-based fiber mill and a Pennsylvania-based dyeworks, and delighted that our kits will soon be using US-sourced merino wool — and supporting American jobs.

I feel incredibly fortunate that my life has taken this drastic turn for the worsted, and grateful that the textile community has welcomed me into the fold. I got to fly in a plane for the first time when we went to the Creative Climate Awards in New York, we’ve been interviewed on a couple podcasts, and I even did a pair of brief interviews on the Weather Channel. 

Five years ago I would never have imagined the life I’m leading, and while I’ve only knit one and a half hats so far, my whole life now revolves around textiles — and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Justin Connelly

Our website:

We also have a Tempestry Project Instagram,FaceBook page and a Facebook group for Tempestry Project Participants (or those interested).

Vanessa Marr – Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, UK


 (Click on photos to see them in a larger version.) 

Dear Textiles,

Like many others, it was my favourite Grandmother who truly introduced me to you, although I remember my Mum and other Grandmother sewing and knitting too. I spent a week every summer with ‘Granny Bye’ for the whole of my childhood, a precious week without my siblings where I was spoilt rotten. She taught me to cross stitch on pieces of cloth she called binca, with easy holes to follow, which became sampler-style mats for family cups of tea on bedside tables. I still have a sampler she’d stitched on the same cloth. From then onwards I always had a textile project on the go; a knitted hot water bottle cover for my Dad, a wrap top for my Mum (on reflection I’m impressed she wore it out as it wasn’t well made!) This continued into adulthood when I went to University and trained a graphic designer, following my love of all things visual through a steady career, with textiles sitting firmly in the ‘craft’ box, outside of my professional aspirations.

Fast forward to my late 30’s, I grew tired of the graphic design client’s demands and found my place teaching, also enrolling onto a Master’s degree. This changed my relationship with textiles forever. As part of my studies I explored the domestic origins of fairy tales and discovered their role as narratives told by and to empower women, often as they worked with cloth. I sought out an object that could sum up the invisibility of domestic tasks and yet was also beautiful. I choose a duster, a ubiquitous bright yellow cloth used commonly in the UK to polish dust away from household surfaces. It’s the sort of cloth that my Granny would have used to do it properly! I began to hand embroider onto it, tentatively at first, then encouraged to embroider a set of seven dusters I called ‘Promises and Expectations’ that reimagined fairy tales promises told to women and girls. This expanded into a project asking other women to stitch their domestic experiences onto dusters. To my pleasure and surprise, they responded and the ‘Women and Domesticity’ duster project began. It’s now over 100 contributions strong and still growing. It has become the focus of my academic research and is regularly exhibited. I got to know my dusters back in 2012 and I’m still working with them, now as the focus of my PhD. And so, this should really be a letter to my dusters:

Dear Dusters,

I look at you now, littering my workspace and wonder what my Granny would have said (except to tidy up!) and I hope she’d be proud. The route to this point in my life has been one of domestic challenges: a family started young, divorce, the challenge of higher education with children in tow; experiences that reduced me to a perception of you. Invisible, domestic, but waiting for the opportunity to shine.

You are now an enticer, keeper and presenter of stories, both mine and those of other women. I am forever imagining new ways to transform you, to stitch my story with and onto you. When I stand with others, surrounded by you on each side when hung for display, you are transformed into a spectacular performance. When I sit quietly with you with needle and thread, you become a catalyst for my voice. You unite us, just as the fairy tales did hundreds of years ago.

Without you dear duster I would not have discovered that textiles could change my life, that a cleaning cloth could emancipate me, or that you could free other women too.

So, thank you.
Vanessa Marr

To find out more about Vanessa and Domestic Dusters on Instagram, see @vanemarr and @domesticdusters respectively, or at