This November marks one year since the publication of This Long Thread: Women of Color on Craft, Community, and Connection by artist and author Jen Hewett.
When books are published, they set course on a journey. In the hands of readers, the information, subjects and realizations within the pages have the power to change lives, cultivate communities, bring affirmation and hope to audiences far and wide. The first anniversary of Jen Hewett’s publication compels us to celebrate the work of this unique offering and examine the ways in which it has done just this.
In her personal art practice, Jen is a highly accomplished screen printer, sewist, and designer. Years ago, on a whim, she took a screen printing class and fell in love. She remembers the first pull of ink across the screen, and how it immediately changed her course. She knew deep within, “this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” From that moment onwards, an explosion of flowers, patterns and colors burst forth. Recently, Jen is finding design inspiration in her own Hudson Valley garden. The scales, colors, and textures of the plants she nurtures lend themselves wonderfully to fabric design. She spends her mornings drawing, dreaming up and testing new ideas.
Alongside her practice, Jen had long dreamed of a book like This Long Thread, to celebrate and amplify the vast creativity and contributions of women of color in textile art and craft. These stories are so often underrepresented in mainstream media. In 2019, the book began to take shape. First conceptualized as image-based, it changed form in response to conversations about racism and exclusion in the knitting community online. Jen thought of a different format — story-based rather than image-centric. The resulting book is a stunningly thoughtful and varied array of interviews, first-person essays, and artist profiles.
The book grew organically through community — through shared ideas, word of mouth recommendations, and advice. A survey released through social media and her newsletter garnered close to 300 responses which led to 19 fascinating interviews. Through each conversation, Jen learned about more makers, gathering names and ideas for whom to speak with next. The book includes stories from women who craft as an outlet, as a hobby, or as part of an art practice, and with a range of media and techniques. Omission of photos allows for a higher word-count, more space for stories to unfold. “I just really wanted people to sit down with the stories,” she says.
Crafts tell stories of the makers and the places in which they were made. When hands are busy, the mind can wander, process and investigate. Craft is a site of gathering, of shared knowledge and resources from which crucial conversations bloom. Jen, a life-long maker herself, wanted to create a space for people to talk about their experiences and journeys through craft. “I love feeling like I’m part of something that’s bigger than myself,” she tells us. She calls it a labor of love.
Reflecting on how the process of creating This Long Thread has changed her, she thinks of the community that the book has found and fostered. Through it, she has created new connections and formed new friendships. She sees herself as a facilitator, thoughtfully bringing stories together and holding space to share them. The ecosystem continues to expand. As the book branches into new territories, Jen finds joy in its many afterlives. Networks and channels continue to follow and forge. Stories of change make their way back to this artist-author. There is joy watching this offering do its work in the world.
For more stories of the continuing work of this extraordinary book, join us virtually on November 17, 2022 for a This Long Thread birthday celebration, as Jen converses with interviewees Raquel Busa, Brandi Harper, and Chi Nguyen.
Jen Hewett is a printmaker, surface designer, and textile artist. Depending on how you look at it, artist is either Jen’s second or fifth career. With a degree in English Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, she started her working life in education and educational nonprofits. She then briefly ran her own stationery business, took a few detours through business operations, human resources and consulting before becoming a full-time working artist (again). She partly credits the success of her experience running her own creative business to her non-linear (but always interesting) career path.
Even though she’s now decidedly a professional artist, Jen still keeps things interesting by engaging in many different types of projects. She works on personal projects just because she wants to. She runs a successful online shop through which she sells directly to her customers. She writes books. She licenses work to large and small manufacturers and retailers. She sometimes creates illustrations for very large companies.
Jen’s first book, Print, Pattern, Sew: Block Printing Basics + Simple Sewing Projects for an Inspired Wardrobe, was published by Roost Books in May 2018. Her second book, This Long Thread: Women of Color on Craft, Community and Connection, was published by Roost Books in November 2021. Her clients include Anthropologie, Cost Plus World Market, Moda Fabrics, Unilever, and Yelp. Her work has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, Uppercase, and MSNBC. She also loves talking on podcasts about the very practical business aspects of being an artist, and the challenges (and opportunities) of being an artist of color in fairly undiverse industries.
Jen lives in the Hudson Valley with her rescue dog, Franny.