At Alabama Chanin, we’ve spent years working with textiles to find the perfect medium for our techniques and products: 100% organic cotton jersey. We are drawn to artists who utilize what some might call ordinary materials and tools to create extraordinary work. Dana Barnes has done just that; she has taken familiar techniques like crochet and felting and combined them with a common material, merino wool. But, her results are not ordinary. Rather, they are unexpected and exquisite.
Dana Barnes is a renowned fashion designer, having created collections for lines like Elie Tahari, Adrienne Vittadini, and Tommy Hilfiger. Her exploration into wool and textiles sprang from a practical issue – one that many mothers face: as her young daughters ran and played, they made a little too much noise for the neighbors living beneath the family’s expansive loft. At the time, Dana was experimenting with wool and felting and wondered if she could make a rug that was big enough to cover the family’s living space. What resulted was a massive rug sewn together by hand from large crocheted squares of felted, unspun wool.
Since then Dana has continued to experiment, trying different ways to emboss felt, using knots and macramé, making braided rugs and giant crocheted squares that can be used as-is or sewn together to create larger pieces. Dana credits her Southern upbringing and a youth surrounded by a family and community of craftspeople for her love of the handmade. She created a modern-day process that, to the greatest degree possible, mimics the traditional, communal process of artisanal fiber-working. That process includes round after round of hot water baths for the fiber, then a combination of felting, blocking, shaping, and fluffing each piece by hand with giant needles. The molding and shaping of every piece is a team effort and her skilled staff’s efforts are impossible to deny.
Dana’s family loft is a perfect space to view her work in a practical environment where it sees daily use. There are colorful rugs made using different techniques, curtains, seating, embossed artwork, even a woven swing hung using what looks like macramé knots.
Her recent collection, Souled Objects, is a must-see for anyone who loves fiber, textural design elements, or intricate, detailed artwork. It features giant, woven and braided balls of unspun wool, rugs made of sewn-together crocheted squares, twisted and knotted ropes, intricate sculptural pieces, and massive braided circular rugs. Her work was inspired by natural elements – expansive fields, hills and valleys, bales of hay, Spanish moss, and old knotted oak trees. The collection is so unique that it must be seen to be understood.
Each piece looks amazingly sculptural and exhibits extraordinary craftsmanship. I guarantee that Dana Barnes’ work is unlike anything you have ever seen or imagined. Each piece is absolutely luxurious. Just looking at her knotted rugs, I have an impulsive desire to drop down on one for a nap. To elicit such an immediate sensory or emotional reaction – that is the sign of a truly successful artist.
Photos from Dana Barnes Studio.