Q&A with Textile Artist Micah Clasper-Torch

In the midst of making my first ever Rag Rug Jacket, I stumbled across the punch needled work of Micah Clasper-Torch on Instagram. I was blown away by her beautiful, classic colour schemes and distinct style. 

She immediately became a prime candidate for our textile artist Q&A on the blog. So, read on below to find out where Micah Clasper-Torch gets her inspiration from and how she creates her beautiful coats and punch needles purses. 

Hi Micah Clasper-Torch! Would you mind telling us a little about yourself and your background please?

I grew up drawing, creating jewellery, working with pastels and doing a lot of collage. As a kid, I was very creative and entertained myself for hours by reading and making things. Therefore noone was surprised when I ended up going to college at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. I studied abroad in Milan, and travelled; which had always been a huge inspiration and became an even more integral part of my work.

The intersection of art and business has always been very interesting to me and I have prioritised jobs that involve a lot of creativity, though that has taken many different forms. In the 12 years since college, my professional career has spanned the art world (working at a gallery) , the fashion world (designing for brands) and the startup world (running my own business), and it’s interesting to see how my current work as an artist merges these three areas.

How did you get into working with textiles?

It was my fashion background that led me, in a roundabout way, to where I am now working with fibre and textiles. My interest in pursuing a degree in fashion design was very much driven by my love of working with my hands, working with fabric and manipulating it into new forms, letting the properties of a textile guide my designs.

My specialisation was in Tailored Design (coats and jackets) and I loved working with wool because of how it held its shape and could be sewn and pressed into beautifully crisp, tailored pieces.  Ironically, I hated the one course I took in knitting! We were taught to knit both by hand and with an industrial knitting machine during my year in Milan. I loved working with yarn and selecting the colours but the machines were frustrating to work with and I couldn’t get the hang of knitting by hand. I didn’t think about creating my own textiles for a long time after that.

Fast-forward 10 years. I was still creating one of a kind tailored pieces (on the side of a full time job in a completely different industry) when I saw punch needle on Instagram. My first thought was “I need to make a coat out of that”! When I saw how it was created, I realised I would need to learn the technique to create the textile before turning it into a coat. Once I learned I became completely obsessed. Punch Needle represented the intersection of so many things I love – creating work by hand, slow design, wool, texture, material and colour – and I saw so many possibilities for how it fit into the other areas that I am passionate about, from fashion to interior design to art.

Micah Clasper-Torch, you have created some stunning designs! What inspires your work?

I am inspired by patterns, shapes and colours present in the world around me. This I largely find within interior design, fashion, architecture and the natural world.  Travel is a huge source of inspiration. Whether it a camping trip to the Mojave Desert, a week in Tokyo or a weekend in Philadelphia, every new place I go provides a wealth of inspiration. Ideas stem from visuals such as the architecture, colours, and landscape, but also from the sounds, smells and energy of the location. Translating the energy of that lived experience to my work through a joyful balance of colour, texture and form is my goal.

Can you tell us about your creative process, what steps do you take when starting a new project?

My process is incredibly organic! I have a million “idea seeds”, but I’ve discovered that I can’t think my way through an idea to know if it will translate to a successful piece of art. Usually, I have to just begin working and the idea evolves as I work with the materials themselves. I rarely draw or plan out patterns and colours before I begin a piece. I just do what feels right, and what looks balanced. It almost creates itself, I rarely have to change a line or a colour once it’s placed on the fabric.

I love your colour palettes! How do you go about selecting your colour combinations?

I love working with colour! Sometimes the colour process starts from a photograph, a memory of a place, or various mood boards. Just as often, it will come from seeing one beautiful colour of yarn that speaks to me, and building a story around that. I play around putting different yarn next to one another, making sure the whole palette feels balanced, so that each colour compliments the others.

What do you enjoy most about working with textiles?

The tactile nature of different yarn, fabric and materials, and working with my hands is the best part of working with textiles. These days, our hands spend so much time touching screens and keyboards, and much of the work that we produce only exists digitally. It is a true pleasure to be able to work with physical materials, to bring something to life with my hands.

Which other textile artists do you love? Are there any that inspire you, past or present?

The textile and fibre artists that I admire include early pioneers such as Sheila Hicks and Mrinalini Mukherjee. These along with more contemporary artists Alexandra Kehayoglou, Bisa Butler, Nick Cave and Sarah Zapata. Each of these artists bring something personal and unique to their work. They blur the lines between art, design and craft.

Do you have a favourite piece you’ve created so far?

My favourite piece that I’ve created so far is my most recent coat, titled Six of Hearts. It is the first coat I created after completing my series of 5 coats in the Where/Wear series. While it still follows a similar geometric style as the early coats, the shapes follow a more random, a-symmetrical pattern. It represents a shift from my past work to something a little more playful. After doing five other coats, I have also honed the construction method and finishing techniques. The coat looks as beautiful on the inside as it does on the outside. It is currently on display in a group show at a gallery in Philadelphia called GROUP PROJECTS PHL.

How long roughly does it take you to complete one of your stunning garments?

Each of my Punch Needle Coats takes around 40 hours, over a period of approximately 3 weeks. Everything is done by hand, there is no machine sewing in the construction of any of these pieces.

I’ve noticed that you’ve created a couple of punch needle clutch bags, have you experimented making any other accessories?

Currently coats and clutches are the only wearable/accessory pieces that I’ve experimented with. I will be continuing with these. I’m also interested in seeing how I can translate my background in fashion and design to other forms. For example artwork, wall hangings and sculptural pieces.

What are you currently working on? Are you able to share any ‘in-progress’ photos?

Currently I’m working on a new series of artwork and wall hangings, a few commissioned pieces and some exciting brand collaborations that I can’t share quite yet! The art pieces I’m working on incorporate various punch needle techniques, as well as embroidery and beading. They have a slightly more mixed-media feel, which I’m excited to explore further in future projects.

What excites you most about the textile industry?

I’m not sure I quite feel that I’m a part of the “textile industry”. However I have fallen in love with the community of other fibre artists, textile artists and designers that I’ve met through Instagram. I’m inspired seeing so many creatives exploring new mediums and people working with their hands. I have a growing appreciation for the handmade, sustainability and slow design in the broader design world. I feel that fibre art and textiles are experiencing the beginnings of a new resurgence, and I can’t wait to see where it leads.

What advice would you give someone looking to get into textiles?

Just begin! There’s never been a better (or easier) time to begin learning and experimenting with all the various techniques out there. Whether you are creating your own textiles through weaving, macramé, crochet or punch needle, manipulating fabrics or creating printed or applied patterns as a surface designer. There are books, videos, classes – so many resources to learn techniques that will help you evolve your own personal style. There is so much to explore, and the more you learn the more ideas you’ll have.

We are trying to be a bit more eco friendly in 2020. Do you have any tips or tricks to be more environmentally friendly in our day to day lives?

Though I live in Los Angeles, a city known for its car culture (and traffic!), I’m a huge fan of public transportation. I don’t drive to work, I take the metro to my studio every day in Downtown LA. In major cities, opting to take a train, subway, bus, walk or ride a bike is always the most eco friendly option! I’m pretty minimalist. I try to be very conscious of what I buy and where it comes from. Opting for pieces that will last a long time, are second hand, and can be repaired rather than replaced. I am also planning to start a vegetable garden in my backyard this summer! It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.

Where can people find out more about you and your work Micah Clasper-Torch?

You can see my work at www.micahclasper-torch.com and on Instagram @claspertorch. For those interested in learning more about punch needle rug hooking, I’ve recently launched another account and website. This is geared towards community and education called Punch Needle World. You can find this at @punchneedle.world and www.punchneedle.world.

Thank you so much Micah Clasper-Torch! It’s been great getting to know you! 🙂

If you’ve enjoyed our Q&A with Micah Clasper-Torch and would like to be the first to see future Q&As with artists and rag ruggers, why not join our Rag Rug Community on Facebookfollow us on Instagram. Or join our fortnightly newsletter here.

Additionally, for more textile pieces, why not check out the gorgeous work of another one of our Q&A victims, Adeline Wang here.

Needle Punching, Adeline Wang Rug
Why not check out our Q&A with Adeline Wang here.

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As always, happy rag rugging!

Elspeth x

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[…] Or, for more textile work then why not check out the incredible creations of another one of our Q&A victims, Micah Clasper-Torch here. […]