Carol Ventura discovered tapestry crochet while in the Peace Corps in Guatemala. Inspired by those textiles, she started tapestry crocheting bags with her own motifs. Taking a bead crochet class sparked a new way of working. Carol began to create two sided baskets and entered a new world of creating. Carol is a retired professor of Art History, but continues to teach and explore a variety of media.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
My Dad was in the Navy, so we moved every 2 to 3 years. We lived in Portugal when I was 5, 6, and 7 years old and travelled through Europe every summer. My parents dragged me to famous places and museums, promising to do activities I enjoyed afterwards if I behaved. Ironically, visiting museums and traveling are now among my favorite things to do. My childhood experiences also opened my eyes to other cultures.
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.
I’ve always been interested in arts and crafts. My Mom taught me how to sew, embroider, and knit, and I learned how to crochet from one of her friends. My Dad taught me how to build and fix things around the house.
Crochet tapestry. How did you discover this technique? How have you made it your own?
I worked with a Jacaltec Maya backstrap weaving cooperative in Guatemala in the 1970’s when I was a Peace Corps volunteer. That’s where I discovered tapestry crochet. At the time, Maya men tapestry crocheted shoulder bags for themselves and to sell. I started to tapestry crochet bags with my own motifs, then experimented with other shapes.
I designed tapestry crochet graph papers to accommodate actual stitch placement and shape for designing flat tapestries with more complex imagery. The papers are in my books and a few are on my web page.
While taking a bead crochet class, I realized that instead of stringing different color beads on one thread, I could do bead tapestry crochet and string beads of the same color on one thread and other color beads on another thread and switch back and forth as needed. Since the bead falls to the back on the stitch, both sides of the cloth look fabulous! That opened up a whole new world!
Another light bulb moment happened while taking a felting workshop. I realized I could loosely tapestry crochet a project, then let a washing machine felt it!
How does your formal art education help your work develop? Does it ever get in the way?
My university education provided valuable technical and conceptual foundations. In addition to fiber, I also enjoy photography and working with clay, glass, metal, and wood. I’ve taught some of those media and still take workshops and classes to learn new things.
Do you feel that you chose your “passion,” or did it choose you?
I could have gone in a number of different directions, but I chose art. I retired from teaching art history at Tennessee Technological University a few years ago, but will never retire from teaching or making art because I love doing both.
What motivates you artistically?
I’m usually thinking about how to make a better version of what I’m doing as I’m working, so my pieces evolve from one to the next. I’m always on the lookout for potential motifs to incorporate into my tapestry crochet. I don’t copy, but reinterpret.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I’m definitely a planner, but often improvise, especially after making mistakes. As some wise person once said, “There are no mistakes, only design opportunities.” Mistakes lead me in different directions – not a bad thing.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I have clay, woodworking, photography, and weaving studios in my house but the beauty of tapestry crochet is that it can be done anywhere, so I tapestry crochet in the living room watching TV or in front of my laptop.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I sketch motifs on tapestry crochet graph paper to work out the best stitch combinations. My laptop has all the photos and notes. Many of my pieces are based on previous work, so that information is very helpful.
How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?
I usually tapestry crochet one project at a time, but will start a second one if I’m about to travel so that I can bring something small with me.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
Tapestry crochet helps me deal with life’s trauma – it’s very cathartic. Repetitive crochet motions release endorphins and each finished project is a triumph.
Since the bead slides to the back of the tapestry crochet stitch, I can crochet with different images on both sides of the fabric. Yes No is the first piece created this way. I wrote the following to accompany Yes No, which was inspired by the Me Too Movement.
Red from top to bottom
Three rounds of Yes and three rounds of No
Twelve Yes and twelve No on every row
Twenty-four up and down all around
Twenty-four diamonds in a row
Twelve merged hearts below
How many times is Yes a No?
Lies, misinformation, deception – whatever you want to call them – are very destructive. Many people prefer to tell an embellished white lie than to divulge the plain, unpleasant truth – perpetuating the “ignorance is bliss” paradigm. I prefer to know the unvarnished truth because although it can be painful, it will set you free. I wrote the following to accompany White Lies:
We live in a complex world where very little is black and white.
The truth hurts but is ultimately less painful than an embellished white lie.
Let there be light.
Let there be truth.
Let there be no more white lies!
The rejection of science during Covid inspired Prevention Trumps Disease: Covid Hijacks Independence but Masks and Vaccines Ransom Freedom. The red crosses on the outside represent vaccines. Vaccines do not take away our freedom – disease does. We cannot be with other people when we’re sick. Vaccines are the pathway to freedom; they are able to contain the disease inside the basket.
Positive Negative : Greed vs Generosity and Entitlement vs Responsibility was inspired by my hope that generosity and responsibility will displace entitlement and money greed. Each word is backed by its opposite. Lifeless greed and entitlement surround the brilliant inside of the basket containing generosity, responsibility, and love (symbolized by the hearts).
I like to experiment with different shapes, so White Lies, Prevention Trumps Disease, and Positive Negative have different profiles.
I often go back and forth between functional pieces and more expressive work – sometimes they overlap, though, like my White Lies Tote that evolved from the basket. My White Lies Tote pattern includes an alphabet so that the message can be personalized.
Which part of the design process is your favorite? Which part is a challenge for you?
I like to challenge myself – the more complex the project, the better. Figuring out the design of the overall piece, the motifs, the number of stitches, the colors (which are often symbolic), and the type of yarn or thread are all exciting. I try to simplify the pattern as much as possible to make it easy to follow – that’s the greatest challenge.
Do you create pieces with the intent to send a message? If so, how important is it that your audience understands the message?
Much of my work is message oriented. Not everyone hears exactly what I’m saying, though, but my pieces still communicate. For instance, although some interpret Yes No differently than I intended, it starts a conversation. I’m making titles longer to help convey my intended message, but alternative interpretations are OK with me.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?
I was always recognized as being creative in school. While everyone else drew stereotypical Christmas trees in class, I drew palm trees. I’m wired differently, which at times is a blessing and other times a curse.
Do you think that creativity is part of human nature or is it something that must be nurtured and learned?
Having studied and taught art, I have come to the conclusion that creativity can be greatly enhanced with encouragement and education.
What advice would you give to emerging artists?
Network, network, network! Join local, national, and international organizations and attend their meetings and conferences, exhibit your work wherever and whenever possible, write articles and reviews, apply for grants, teach, and use social media to promote and market yourself and your work.
Juried exhibits are very competitive. Don’t be discouraged if your submissions are not selected because a rejected piece can win an award in a different exhibit. For instance, Positive Negative was rejected by one juror then awarded second place in a different juried exhibit.
What is your greatest accomplishment to date?
I suppose it would be that I’ve been able to introduce tapestry crochet to so many people. The goal of my tapestry crochet books, blog, patterns, and web pages has always been to introduce people to this economical fiber art that can be done with just a hook and two or more yarns. Fortunately, other talented designers, authors, and teachers are helping me spread the word, too!
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
Yes, I enjoy lecturing and teaching in-person workshops. I will be teaching bead, felted, and flat tapestry crochet at Touchstone Center for Crafts in Pennsylvania August 26, 27, and 28, 2023. The easiest way to get in touch with me is through my email at [email protected].
Where can people see your work?
Positive Negative : Greed vs Generosity and Entitlement vs Responsibility is included in Small Expressions, a traveling exhibit sponsored by the Handweavers Guild of America. It will be at Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum, WA, July 5 – September 3, 2023; Haywood Community College, NC, September 21 – November 9, 2023; Yadkin Valley Fiber Center, NC, December 8, 2023 – February 15, 2024; and Vanderbilt’s Sarratt Gallery, TN, March through early May, 2024.
White Lies is on exhibit through October 1st at Touchstone Center for Crafts.
My work has been widely published for over 30 years https://www.carolventura.com/pubs.html . The next issue of Piecework magazine (Winter 2023) includes my article, “Tapestry Crochet Variations Around the World.” My More Tapestry Crochet paperback book is out of print, but available on kindle.
My web page at https://www.tapestrycrochet.com/ features patterns, three of my tapestry crochet graph papers, and seven free video tutorials (posted years ago when YouTube only allowed small files). It’s also is where you can buy my paperback book, Bead & Felted Tapestry Crochet. My tapestry crochet blog at https://www.tapestrycrochet.com/blog/ has not only my work but also tapestry crochet around the world. Other crafts are the focus of my web page at https://www.carolventura.com/.
Follow Carol on Instagram @tapestrycrochet.
Interview posted August 2023
Browse through more inspiring interviews on Create Whimsy.