The Innovative Crocheters of Jerome, Arizona
With a population of 450, it seems highly unlikely that a village the size of Jerome, Ariz., would be home to not one, but two innovative crocheters.
Perched on the side of a mountain and overlooking the red rocks of Sedona, Jerome was an abandoned mining town in the 1960s and a destination for “hippies” who found their way there to string beads and sell them out of cigar boxes. Separate paths led Christy Fisher and Erica Raspberry to this town where they are inspired and prolific. “Today it is a permanent art show,” says Christy whose love of music and fashion brought her down the path leading to Jerome. Erica says, “I’ve lived here since 1983, and that’s almost long enough to earn my ‘local’ pin!”
Christy’s style plays out in her Seventies Jacket. “It is inspired by traditional doilies,” she explains, “yet it has upbeat and hip colors and will probably be worn over jeans. It has that ‘goddess’ look going for it, and young people like ‘fairy’ things. That jacket sold for $300 to a 35-year-old woman. I have some pretty hip 60-year-old customers, but the majority of my customers are around 35. They are still hip and have the money to spend on one-of-a-kind garments.”
Her mother was an art professor, and Christy’s life and interests are directly influenced by that ambience. A child of the 1960s, she was a runway model at age 15 and made bell-bottoms out of draperies. By age 17, she had modeled for the magazine Seventeen. “I was a hippie,” explains Christy. “Creating clothing for guys in the rock bands was a natural extension for me.” She believes that when she first started out, magazines were very supportive of creativity, and stores were willing to buy from the unknowns. “My creations were not salable nor wearable,” she proclaims; “but the rock ’n’ rollers fueled a market for my kind of creativity. I was so lucky to have gotten support both from the magazines and the customers.”
In the mid-1980s, Christy saw changes in the fashion industry that affected the outlook for designers like herself. “It all became too corporate, everything was run by large moguls,” she says. “People wanted things fast and cheap. Instant gratification was the norm, and fashion got boring. Crochet fell out of favor. Today I see a resurgence of the support I felt in the 1960s. The public tells the fashion industry what they want, and today people are returning to the notion of better quality in their fashions. They want things that will last.” Christy is known for working with recycled and ecological materials, and she often knits and crochets with diverse materials, such as recording tape and ripped up strips of vintage clothing.
In her store, named “Knit 1 Bead 2,” Erica has sold between 300-400 original design sweaters over the years. “My most expen-sive sweater sold for $900,” Erica remembers. “I love color and texture, and my inspiration comes from the yarns I stock. I consistently use the side-to-side method of garment construction, as it is more flattering and can be adjusted as you go. I line up balls of yarn with appealing colors and textures on the floor and start crocheting, using a sewing pattern as a template for the basic shape.”
Also a self-proclaimed “hippie,” Erica says she was one of the original San Francisco street artists on Fisherman’s Wharf. “I was selling middle-of-the-road hats, scarves and halter tops, and even got arrested for crocheting in public (without a business license, that is!). When Erica first came to Jerome 21 years ago, she had two sweaters completed and sold them to the same customer for $90 each. She immediately turned that money around and leased a space for $100 a month, bought a $50 business license and a stand-up mirror for $30. “I still have that mirror today!” she recalls.
“When I first opened the store, I only sold crochet, but after many long years of making everything, I realized what I enjoyed most was sharing my knowledge of techniques; so now I sell just the very best beads and yarn, which gives me time to focus on instruction. My personal goal is to uncover the creativity everyone has hidden inside them.”
When I asked Christy about what influences her designs, here is what she had to say:
ART: “ … especially modern such as Rauschenburg and Warhol (pop culture influence at work here), Jasper Johns (makes me want to layer textures), Massin (the drippings of his paint reads like asymmetrical dips and thick fringes), and Pollack (makes me want to leave all the ends hanging)!”
JAPANESE ADVER-TISING: “ … again, similar to modern art, bold colors, brave shapes and a bit cheesy.”
MUSIC: “New Age makes me see purples and blues, or watercolors. Jazz makes me see bold on black.”
CASTING GLASS: “When I create my jewelry (and buttons), I cast recycled glass and come up with some surprising color combinations that lead me into experimentation with yarn colors.” Christy originally created buttons from glass for her garments, and she found that the buttons evolved into jewelry, which was very salable. That jewelry is also now a large part of her business.
The main road from Prescott to Sedona goes right through Jerome and leads about 1 million visitors there each year! The creative and innovative presence of Christy and Erica in this peaceful town is far-reaching as they educate all who come in contact with them about the wonders of fiber!
Erica uses the humble crochet chain as a method to cast on when knitting. “I learned to knit because I wanted better drape in my gar-ments, but I found a way to sneak in the crochet to get the results I want! I can’t imagine a day without being able to make something with hook and string.”
Christy’s whole theory of design depends on excellence in technique. “People are not taking the time today to learn and enjoy techniques,” she laments. “The more one learns, the more he/she can design.” The technique leads me, and my garments are a mixture of machine knitting, hand knitting and crochet. Crochet is like the ‘binder’; it works so well with the other media. It is a necessary tool, like a sewing machine.”
Should your path lead you to Jerome, I know Erica and Christy would welcome you warmly and enjoy a chat, one fiber enthusiast to another! Besides many galleries around the United States and Japan, Christy’s work is available at the Jerome Artists’ Coop-erative ( www.jeromeartistscoop.com).