Working with both a tufting gun and by hand, fiber artist Katie Berman brings a sophistication to punch needle, with her calming color palettes and elegant balance of shape and texture. Katie’s art is deliciously tactile, playing with various pile heights, fringe, and making use of the front and back of the punch needle stitches. Having been a fan of her work for years, it was such a treat to learn more about Katie’s practice, and her mission of minimizing textile waste by using secondhand and sustainably sourced materials in her art. Read on to learn more!
Tell us a little bit about your creative background. How did you come to do the work you do today?
I have always had a bent toward creativity. My mom used to joke that I came out of the womb coloring, ha! I dabbled in various crafts growing up and knew that I wanted to pursue some type of creative life. I enrolled in the Fine Arts program at East Carolina University here in NC, initially to study graphic design. Through some turns of events, I was exposed to the fiber arts department and immediately fell in love. I switched concentrations and have been immersed in the world of fiber ever since!
How did you get started with Punch Needle? What about this technique appealed to you?
I fell into punch needle kind of by accident! Before punch needle and tufting took over my life, I was primarily a weaver. I was frustrated with the amount of waste yarns that were left over from my weavings and was looking for inspiration on how to use up my stash of little bits. I came across punch needle and I knew I was looking at my future! I immediately bought an Oxford Punch Needle along with Amy Oxford’s book and taught myself the ways of punch needle rug hooking. I love that this method can use up small bits of yarn and, if approached well, have no yarn waste at all. Through these techniques, I can stay true to the heart of my studio practice-- combating textile waste and pursuing closed loop systems within my designs.
We'd love to hear about your creative process. How do you come up with new ideas? What are your sources of inspiration?
Inspiration comes from a collection of places. I am drawn to the act of reclaiming/recycling materials and reimagining a new life for them. This leads me to sourcing most of my yarns from our local scrap shop. The yarns that I’m able to source are the first jumping off point in my creative process. If necessary, I supplement them with responsibly-made yarns and build my color palettes from there. Other places of inspiration that I draw from are found in what I read. In the end, it’s words that move me and I process through what I’m learning in these words and life itself to create my pieces. Lastly, I love the concept of digging beneath the surface to find something special underneath. This is the primary influence of my style. I use loop pile and fringe on the “surface” of my work and create depth by incorporating flat pile between the high pile areas. I want it to feel and is if you scooped out some of the loop pile to reveal the magical, swirling of color underneath. These are the building blocks of how I approach each piece.
How has your work evolved over time?
My work has evolved to be a little more playful and free. It’s taken me a while (7 or so years) to get to the work that I’m making today, but it was worth the wait and effort! This past year, especially, has taught me the importance of play and creating what I like and want even when it seems the world is crumbling around me or at a stand still.
What is your favorite part about the work that you do?
That I never quite know what my pieces are going to look like! I love a good surprise ending. Working in the abstract is so fun and is a constant practice in being in tune with myself and my materials.
What do you hope others see / take away from your work?
My hope is that folks who see my work will find a freedom to pause. Pause to get lost in the color and texture of my pieces. To take a moment for themselves and to realize you don’t have to know all the things. You don’t have to have it all figured out. It’s difficult sometimes to teach ourselves how to just be. I hope that my work can allow the space for others to be, even for just a second.
Do you have a favorite piece, or one that has a lot of meaning to you?
Oof, that’s a toughy! One of the pieces that holds a lot of meaning right now for me is “What We Share.” It is the first in what I foresee to be a series of works going into 2021. “What We Share” is inspired by one of my favorite books, Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life by Makoto Fujimura. It harkens to the connectedness between people through our shared humanity and the call to return to our identity as neighbor above all else. I truly believe our world can grow and flourish and heal when we take care of each other.
This piece not only opened up my color palette, but has brought my work to abstractly navigate the concept of community. Of digging deeper to see what’s underneath the surface of ourselves, only to realize that we share more than we think-- a colorful, swirling array of beauty.
What punch needle materials and tools do you use? Do you have any favorite supplier recommendations for tools, material or yarn?
I use the AK-II Loop Pile Tufting Gun (tuftinggun.com) and a collection of Oxford Punch Needles to create the juxtaposing textures in my work. I LOVE the monks cloth from Dorr Mill Store. They’re one of the only US suppliers that offers 100% cotton monks cloth. In the moment when I need to buy new yarns, I attempt to source American-made to try to keep my supply chain as close to home as I can. I love, love, love wool yarns from Quince and Co (Lark and Puffin are my go-to’s) and Brown Sheep Co (Shepherd’s Shades and Lanaloft are my faves)!
What advice do you have for other artists or creatives looking to try punch needle?
Do it! There are so many kits and resources out there now to get you started (including this one, hey PNW!). Punch needle is really forgiving and meditative. Just do it!
Where do you see your work going in the future?
I see my work going bigger! Going big used the scare me, but now it’s all I think about... I want to cover a wall in textural deliciousness!
How can the punch needle community support you and your work?
That’s a great question that I’m not sure how to answer. The punch needle community seems so encouraging and positive. I would ask that we keep it up! Keep spreading the love and positivity to each other!
What is something that you are excited or curious about these days?
I’m excited about exploring a more bold and bright color palette. I usually stick to earthy, desert tones, but this year has changed me and I want to keep pushing the boundaries on my color play.
What are 3 other fun facts about yourself that you would like to share with the Punch Needle Community?
Donuts are the way to my heart.
We have 2 cats and 7 chickens that I am obsessed with.
I now do my studio work out of a storage unit.