Women’s right movements throughout the years have sought to give women a voice in society. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century through the end of World War I, feminists focused on the suffrage movement and not on the arts. This time was known as the “first wave” of feminism.

The “second-wave” of feminism (in the 1980s) brought rise to textile artists who chose to bring “a new focus on creating work which confronted cultural issues such as: gender feminism; domesticity and the repetitive tasks related to women’s work; politics; the social and behavioral sciences; material specific concepts related to fiber’s softness, permeability, drapability, and so on.” Fiber arts was important due to the traditional association of women working with textiles within the domestic sphere.

The three artists I have chosen to highlight are great examples for turning the textile arts of old on its ear.


OLEK was born Agata Oleksiak in 1978 in Poland. In 2000, she received a BA in Cultural Studies from Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland and relocated to New York City, where she is currently based. Through colorful yarns, OLEK’s art examines sexuality, feminist ideas, and the evolution of communication.

Crocheted Taxi. “I do not expect to be a mother but I do expect to die alone”. Tony’s Gallery. London, UK 2012.

The colors and the taxi remind me of Austin Powers. By bombing the taxi in crocheted yarn, it speaks of a time when the world was questioning the reason behind warring. The colors demonstrate that there can be hope for peaceful resolutions.

Projet B
Project B.Crocheted Wall St. Bull. NYC 2010.

I love the nature of guerilla art (uncommisioned public projects). Though many may see this as vandalism, I see beauty. The bull is such an iconic piece in NYC. It represents the opulence of western society. Taming it down with pink camouflage, seems to bring it down to represent the middle-class.

Project M-6
Project M/6. Urban Nation Gallery. Berlin 2014.

Oh, this message speaks of our society. One really doesn’t need to look any further than a social media page to see similar messages. The use of doilies and birds, lend an air of domestic disquietness.


Alice Kettle was born in Winchester, Hampshire. She studied fine art painting at the University of Reading (1979-84) and textile art as a postgraduate at Goldsmiths’ College (1985-6). She is currently a Professor in Textile Arts in MIRIAD Manchester School of Art at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Flower Helix
Flower Helix. National Maritime Museum. London 2013.

This piece shows how women are viewed as delicate figures within society. The white stairs and the black ornate railing conger images of high society. The helix represents the delicate flower of a debutante. It seems to be a lofty, unrealistic picture of how people view women within higher classes. While beautiful, it is also sad.

Rite of passage
Rite of Passage. “Mythscapes”, solo touring show, hosted by The Bankfield Museum in Halifax. January 2003-2005.

This piece is part of “Mythscapes”, an exhibit that pays homage to Homer’s The Odyessy. The image is comforting to me. I see the footprint in the sand, if you will. As a fan of Homer’s, The Odyessy, I love the picture that this paints in my mind, the adventure through many lands and sea to reach home.

Daniel and the Lioness
Daniel and the Lioness. Victoria and Albert Museum. 2006.

What a lovely piece that feels like a dream of Daniel in the lions’ den. The fluid movement of the thread invokes a dream-like sensation to the piece.


Velda Newman is an internationally recognized contemporary quilt artist, author and lecturer from Northern California. Known for her large scale, mostly organic designs, Newman creates original quilts of exceptional beauty and artisanship.

Zinnia. Nevada City, CA. 2010.

This is Newman’s largest quilt to date, measuring 171/2 ft. and over 7 feet tall. I would love to see this piece up close. The grand scale of which this work is must make one feel as if they are a fairy in a flower show. The colors pop off the quilt and have a 3D feel to them.

freedom is fragile
Freedom is Fragile. Nevada City, CA. 1986.

This quilt was made in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. What a patriotic piece to pick in an election year. The title of the piece says it all, Freedom is Fragile. The Statue of Liberty is America’s symbol of hope. Perhaps this piece needs to go on tour again.

As each of these artists have displayed, the domestic nature of textile art has changed from the old of practicality to one of sending a message. Whether that message is speaking of natural beauty or social sciences, it demonstrates that women artists have a voice.

Works Cited:

Marcus, Sharon. Tapestry Topics. Summer 2004, Vol 30 No. 2.  “Critical Issues in Tapestry.”  http://americantapestryalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Critical-Issues-in-Tapestry-SMarcus.pdf. Accessed April 3, 2016.


Unknown. The Art Story: Modern Art Insight. http://www.theartstory.org/movement-feminist-art.htm Accessed April 3, 2016.


OLEK. Olek personal website. http://oleknyc.com/home. Accessed April 3, 2016.


Manchester School of Art staff bio. Manchester School of Art. http://www.art.mmu.ac.uk/profile/akettle Accessed April 3, 2016.


Alice Kettle. Alice Kettle personal website. http://alicekettle.com/ Accessed April 3, 2016.


Robert Shaw. The Art of the Quilt. Velda Newman quilts. http://www.artofthequilt.com/newmanfreedom.html Accessed April 3, 2016.

3 thoughts on “Feminism & Fiber Art

  1. The beginning of your blog post was really nice, examining some of the history between the art and feminism and I was interested to see what pieces you were going to talk about. As I was reading about the pieces and artists you chose to highlight, I became a little confused because there was not a lot of explanation as to how the pieces really fit in the theme. For example, when you discussed what Olek’s art represented and then displayed some of the images of her art, I had a hard time finding how she displayed some of those themes like sexuality. After reading about Olek, I learned that she is a street artist and that a lot of her art is carried out in a guerrilla-like fashion (Culture.com Editors, 2015). I did like how you highlighted artists that created their art in a unique way , which I feel like makes them stand out even more and makes them more memorable.


  2. I absolutely love the pieces you chose done by Olek! I had to laugh out loud when I saw the bull in NYC covered in pink camouflage crochet work!!! It made me think back to when my mom taught me how to crochet the headbands with the flowers that were popular a few years ago, and how hard that must have been to do! I definitely can see how she wanted to put her feministic flair into each piece that she did. I’m also blown away by Velda Newman’s quilt pieces. They are absolutely beautiful and if I hadn’t read your blog I would have never taken the second glance to realize that they were actually quilts!


  3. Thanks for posting this; it was a very interesting topic, especially the sections that deal with the guerilla art of OLEK. The use of yarn is both surprising and very imaginative. I would agree with your feeling on this type of art being called vandalism. I don’t think that you could classify this as vandalism. There is no lasting damage done to any of the objects that are used. Vandalism implies a sense of disrespect and desire to destroy. Guerilla art, at least the ones that you feature, try to enhance the objects or show them in a different light. I will have to do some more research on OLEK, seeing how she views the world is very interesting.


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