A Textile Arts Community Grows in Brooklyn

Summer Camp at the Textile Arts Center

I first heard about the Textile Arts Center (TAC) from my friend Isa Rodrigues, a textile conservator and fiber enthusiast who works there as the studio manager. She kept telling me I needed to meet the "TAC girls" because not only were they young and cool, they were doing something that nobody else in the city was doing - singlehandedly crafting together a vibrant community of like-minded people interested in textiles and fiber arts. I stopped by one of their free open-house weaving sessions that they have every last Friday of the month, and I was thrilled with the beauty of the space, the incredible looms, the colorful spools of yarn and the welcoming feeling that greeted me. Once I met Visnja Popovic and Owyn Ruck, the co-founders of TAC, I was instantly swept up by their enthusiasm and commitment towards forging a place where textile experts, novices, enthusiasts, and artists can learn and practice this most ancient of arts. Owyn took a moment out of her busy schedule to talk to Fashion Projects about their work and vision for the Textile Arts Center.

Fashion Projects: Recently TAC has gotten a lot of people in the local fashion and textile
 fields buzzing, even though it seems like you popped out of nowhere.
 Can you give us a little information on the backstory of the center 
and tell us about your gorgeous new space in Brooklyn?

Textile Arts Center: Buzzing?! Are they? That’s good to hear…I feel like we have our noses to the ground, pounding work out without taking a second to stop and see how much we’ve changed in the past year.

Textile Arts Center started just over a year ago in a small weaving studio in Park Slope. Visnja and I really wanted to expand to offer other programs, especially for adults, and create the “center” we envisioned. I think the main thrill was in bringing together everyone with a love for fibers, or even slightest interest, and creating the environment that was comfortable, fun and really conducive to making great work. The feeling of art school, without going back to art school.

We went through a long process of finding the right space, kind of with haste at one point… But we found this one after a few mishaps! And that’s what’s important. It felt like home immediately. Our move to Carroll St was in April and since then we’ve just sort of grown. I think a big part of that growth was feeling secure in what we were presenting to the public. The space speaks a lot for itself and we’ve been working hard to reach the right audiences with the confidence that we are doing something people could really love.

What is the overarching goal of TAC? How do you see the center fitting 
into the existing fashion and textile community in Brooklyn and New
 York City?

The whole DIY and fashion scene here is…intense. Growing up here (Brooklyn) I didn’t really ever imagine this happening, it hardly seems like the same place. But Brooklyn, and NYC in general, is amazing that way. There is always something new and exciting. People are constantly pushing boundaries here, and it’s really exciting to be a part of.

Fiber and textile arts have a stodgy stigma and one of our goals is to change that. Textiles are not only beautiful and fun to create, but also really important in our human history. Textiles touch practically everything in our lives and every industry. It’s frustrating, for example, that even those most knowledgeable in current fashion could not know the technical difference between a knit and a woven fabric! It’s important to understand how things are made, where they are coming from. We want to acknowledge that people can do it themselves, too. It’s not for a set of elite talent. Textiles are inherently social and community oriented and that should always be the attitude about textile appreciation in any form.


What are some of the classes you offer, and who is your intended 
audience? What are some of the classes, services and events that you 
hope to offer in the future?

We now offer quite a bit. In addition to the continuous Intro Weaving and Intro Screen Printing courses, the Fall courses include paper and book arts, sewing, knitting, dyeing, embroidery, quilting… We’ve really enjoyed shifting our focus to an adult audience, while finessing and perfecting our kids programs (Summer Camp and Afterschool). We want to reach anyone with interest in learning new skills, sharing their work, and being part of a larger community.

In the future, we want to keep the momentum going by consistently offering new class topics and more advanced courses. However, once that is going, our focus can come back a bit to the Gallery and fiber artists. We really have some great shows planned, as well as a textile artists residency program in the works. In addition, we’ll hopefully be adding a product line and a free program for underserved teens in portfolio development for art and vocational schools. I could go through the ideas constantly spewed out daily, but we’d be here awhile…

Brooklyn Mini-Skills: Natural Dyeing from tom hayes on Vimeo.

You have a very small team of people working at the Center, so it
 seems to really be a labor of love. How do you find that it’s working 
out? Are you looking for interns and volunteers? (something that I’m
 sure many Fashion Projects readers would like to know)

Boy is it a labor of love… Endless hours, but also endless fun. We’ve really created our ideal working life. There is never a shortage of people who want to be involved, and we love meeting new people. Some of our greatest advice and help has been 100% free. We really love this part of the community – textile lovers will do whatever they can for it and to be involved.

It’s hard when you are starting out to want to give up some dough to have hired help. But when we embarked upon the new space, growing rapidly, we quickly saw we needed real, solid help. We were drowning a bit! Both Isa (studio manager) and Kim (marketing assistant) started as free interns, devoting so much time, and are both now on staff. You don’t necessarily need a lot of people to run something like this, but you do need devotion and love for it. We’ve been lucky to have so many people around with this attitude.

We are always looking for interns and volunteers! Particularly coming up in the fall. We are aiming to be open 7 days a week, with late hours for artists, and need studio monitors we can trust in exchange for use of the studio. 

You’re participating in Fashion’s Night Out on September 10th, with an
 emphasis on Slow Fashion. In a way, this seems to be subverting FNO’s
 original purpose of spurring consumption by restoring consumer
 confidence and boosting the economy. (“Shop. For Something Good.” is 
their tagline.) What are you trying to gain and what message are you
 intending to spread by participating in this event?

I really thought hard about this when planning the event. The event started out as a small thing, since our Opening Party is the week after. But the feedback we were receiving from people was really positive so it kind of turned into something else entirely.

This positive feedback seemed to tell us there was a real place for this type of appreciation in fashion, that there are a lot of people that want to participate in FNO but not necessarily in the sense of pure consumerism.

I think FNO is great in many ways. The industry should not die out, designers need to be supported, and the economy does need a boost. There is no doubt about that. However, we didn’t feel right promoting blind consumerism. We are doing an event about the direction we think fashion should be taking, and IS taking, as we speak. Eco-fashion is the new thing…”green is the new black”, right?

As with all of our programs, the main objective is to educate. We wanted to support local Brooklyn/NYC designers that are making things by hand, with fabrics made in sustainable ways, with versatile, classic design sense. At the same time we wanted to make sure that people were walking away from the event with the understanding that “Sustainable Fashion” is not only about buying from designers who use organic fabrics. Yes, that is important, but the responsibility is on the consumer as well as the designer. “Slow Fashion” is buying what you need, what you love, buying locally, reusing and repurposing materials, learning about and knowing how to do-it-yourself…It’s imperative to understand the industry you are buying from and having the knowledge to make the right decisions of what and who you want to support with your well-earned cash.


As part of your commitment to Slow Fashion, you are also participating 
in the 6 Things challenge that was recently profiled in the NYT. Your 
blog about the challenge is
 fascinating as it reveals a lot of the anxiety, frustration, but
 ultimately liberation that you all are going through. Do you think 
that once you have finished the challenge your approach to your
 wardrobe will be radically altered?

I think so…I hope so! It’s hard to tell as in week one it still feels fine and relatively normal. Week 3 or 4 might be a different story.

I came across the 6 Items or Less project on Ecouterre.com and thought what Heidi and Stella had started was great, I was happy to see the coverage they’ve been receiving. It’s yet another good point to fashion lovers: to pay attention to what we buy and wear, and why we do. Fashion is an important part of self-expression, and has a psychological effect on most, but we need to be more aware of it. Why do we feel bad about ourselves if you don’t have the perfect outfit? Why should getting dressed in the morning be hard? Why do we feel we have “nothing to wear” with a closet of 100+ items. It’s just a great way to challenge yourself and dig a little deeper into your own psyche.

There have been a lot of complaints so far! But I think that doing it as a staff, a group, we are able to support each other and stay on track. I must admit, I felt like I was pulling teeth a bit, but I’m glad everyone agreed to do it. I love waking up and not thinking about it. I think we’ll all learn to be a bit more creative with what we already own, and appreciate the quality of what we buy.


Where do you envision TAC to be in 5 years? 10 years?

Hopefully it will still exist! It’s a little hard to imagine, but I can only hope that our classes and programs are always full, we have the grant funding to run the free programs we would like, we have a product line of beautiful woven and printed goods, and we never have to advertise ever again!

No, but really, we have a lot of ideas. We have huge goals, and we have the energy while we are young to take ideas and (attempt to) turn them into reality.

The ultimate goal is to be an accredited institution where students come to receive credit (so many fashion and textile programs in NYC don’t even have a weaving course!), where we can offer multiple free programs so everyone can join the community, and be a staple in the art world representing textile and fiber artists. ----------------- Textile Arts Center 505 Carroll Street Brooklyn, NY 11215 Phone: 718.369.0222 info@textileartscenter.com

Hours: Mon - Sat : 10am - 6pm Sunday: Closed

Sarah Scaturro