The story of Liz Kettle’s love for textiles isn’t a long one.
“I was born,” Kettle, founding executive director of Textiles West, said. “I was that kid that my mom couldn’t take shopping because I was always in the middle of the clothes rack. … I have been a stitcher my whole life.”
Home economics classes initially provided a creative outlet for Kettle during her school days, but the lessons quickly extended beyond crafting. That threaded needle taught her patience, the importance of reading directions, and how to accept failure and build upon mistakes.
“Those are all the things we learn when we make crafts, because it doesn’t always work,” Kettle said. “We make mistakes and we get better, and that’s so important.”
As the years passed and Kettle watched classes such as Home Economics disappear from the curriculum, she began to feel a personal responsibility to keep those skills alive in the Pikes Peak region. So in the summer of 2016, she and seven other makers from all areas of textile and fiber arts — spinners, weavers, knitters, dyers and stitchers — came together to form Textiles West, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sharing their art.
“These skills are not being taught in schools, and not only are they life skills, but we feel they are one of the most accessible forms [of arts] and crafts,” Kettle said. “People can be intimidated by learning to paint — but if you teach them to knit, they are not intimidated. As a way of relieving stress and being creative, it’s such an easy entry as opposed to a lot of other art forms.”
Money received through the Give! Campaign will mostly go to operating expenses that will allow Textiles West to “keep the lights on” at its two locations — on North Academy Boulevard and inside the Maintou Art Center — as staffers continue to extend their reach, Kettle said. The organization’s next goal is to pay staff members a salary, as all of them currently work on a volunteer basis.
The nonprofit’s mission is threefold, Kettle said. The first tenet is preserving the skills and traditions of textile art with the community, particularly the younger generations.
“We’re pretty passionate about passing on these skills,” Kettle said. “To learn how to make a garment is sometimes the first time a young adult learns how to visualize something in 3D. The science behind weaving and dyeing is very applicable.”
Second, Textiles West aims to continue the crafts’ long history of bringing people together for activities centered on creativity and making, Kettle said.
“That’s really important to a vibrant community, and it’s a way to bring people together across economic and cultural borders,” she said.
Third, the organization promotes awareness of the textile industry’s massive environmental footprint. Textile producers are the second-largest polluters on the planet, and even a little knowledge can go a long way in combating that impact, Kettle said.
“People don’t really think about it, but we’re completely surrounded by textiles every day,” she said. “The fashion industry and the lack of knowledge about what it takes to create textiles has led to this massive problem with not only production, but disposal.
“Some of that is as simple as teaching, because if you know how to make a T-shirt, you know that a $5 T-shirt isn’t a thing,” Kettle added. “You know that somebody somewhere is suffering for this process.”
Textiles West promotes sustainability through monthly movie screenings that showcase all aspects of the textile industry, as well as monthly classes that teach students how to properly care for and mend their clothes.
“We feel it’s really important to get kids introduced to what textiles are,” Kettle said. “If you ask anyone from the ages of 6 to 20 where their knit hat came from, most of them don’t know — other than it came from China. At our annual event, Tactile, in the fall, we have fiber animals, sheep and alpacas. … We shear the [fiber or wool] off the animal and wash it, spin it, weave it, knit it. … We try to educate on the whole process, sheep-to-shawl in a fun way so they can see, ‘Oh, this animal made a sweater.’”
The organization’s future goals include the Alpaca Bus, a mobile program that will take their work into local schools and community centers, and launching a scholarship program next spring that will offer subsidized classes to young people ages 12-18.
“Like any art form, [textiles] are more than the sum of its parts,” Kettle said. “There is so much more that you learn when you are creative.”