I am the author of Knitting America: A Glorious History from Warm Socks to High Art (Voyageur Press, 2007), a cultural history of American knitting and first-place award recipient from Midwest Independent Book Publishers. My writing includes more than 50 trade and academic articles, many on the elusive history of knitting, and I have presented nearly 80 invited talks and juried papers to guilds, conferences, and symposia. I serve as a contributing editor to PieceWork (Long Thread Media), a magazine that blends textiles with history.
My loopy career path began as a biomedical illustrator followed by years as a museum exhibits curator and, with great good fortune, as staff artist at Interweave Press in Loveland, Colorado. Inspired by immersion in the extraordinary world of textile makers and handmade textiles in Interweave books and magazines, I moved on to study historical and cultural textiles, earn my Ph.D. in Textiles and Clothing at Iowa State University, and enter academic life as a professor at Dominican University in Chicago.
I taught history of dress, dress and culture, social psychology of dress, textile science, and surface design of fabric in the Department of Fashion Design and Merchandising at Dominican. I also earned my M.S. in Library and Information Science with a concentration in archives and special collections.
A Nebraska native, I lived most of my adult life in Fort Collins, Colorado, with segues to Iowa, Rhode Island, and Illinois. In 2015, I stepped down from teaching as a professor emerita affiliated with Dominican University. I am beyond grateful to make my home near family on beautiful Bainbridge Island, Washington.
I am a lifelong maker and collector of cloth and clothing.
Knitting has been my faithful life companion since childhood. Recently, I turned my hands to stitching a quilt from my collection of pot holders. I have collected (for undisclosed and poorly understood reasons) way more than 500 historical and vintage potholders. I appliqued sixteen of my century-old pot holders—each pot holder features an embroidered face—onto a hand-stitched quilt shown in the 2022 Modern Quilt Guild exhibition on Bainbridge Island.
I love to study textiles that have been overlooked as trivial, then dig out their deeper meaning. Pot holders—mundane objects of everyday life—hold a mirror to the history of American mainstream culture. Over time, pot holders reveal ingrained attitudes toward gender, culture, and race, often before society had the words needed to talk about them.
Here is a link to a podcast in which author and professor Mary Swander interviews me about the history and significance of pot holders as part of American folklore.
You can also view my online exhibits about the history of pot holders.
After I stepped down from teaching, I found time to dive into the fascinating (overwhelming?) world of genealogical research. My background in teaching historical/cultural dress led me to develop illustrated presentations and a workshop about the language of clothing in photographs. I learned to use clothing to date, interpret, and deepen knowledge found in photos. Genealogy friends have been amazed to discover their relatives and ancestors were more fashion-forward than they had realized!