Twyla Lambert Clark is an innovative fiber artist sewing and weaving repurposed fabric remnants into exquisite signature coats, shawls, belts, and other beautiful textile items. As an artist, she finds joy in taking fabric remnants that people have given up on to give them new life as one-of-a-kind fiber art while keeping them out of the landfills.
Twyla grew up in Shirley, Massachusetts, a small New England town where a community of Shakers was established in 1793. Her fascination with the simple beauty of the Shaker style is a big influence in Twyla’s work. Her dad was a High School Chemistry school teacher. Her mom worked part-time at the Post Office while raising six children in a strict Catholic environment. Twyla was inspired by her grandfather who was a weaver in the textile mills, although she never saw him actually weave. His constant cheery attitude despite the long hours working in the mills as a blue-collar weaver had a big influence on her outlook on life.
Twyla’s younger sister Paula Lambert Perkins who lives in Dublin, Ohio is a poet and artist. Her sister Karen, also creative, loves to do embroidery work. Her great aunt Cora was an interior designer and another aunt Bet was a nun who taught art. All of these family members helped to contribute to Twyla’s interest in learning how to weave and sew later in life.
Growing Her Sewing Knowledge
In 1981 Twyla moved to Nashville with her then-husband who was a songwriter. As a housewarming gift, her mom gave her a spinning wheel because she felt it would look great in front of the fireplace. That gift sparked Twyla’s interest to take a weaving class through Metro Parks at Centennial Park in Nashville hoping she could also learn how to spin yarn. Her experience with that class opened her mind up to the possibility of expanding her talent into working more with textiles.
Twyla saved up enough money to take a felting class at Arrowmont School Of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The encouragement of her instructor, Layne Goldsmith, gave her confidence and inspiration in sewing, dying fabrics, and developing her own color schemes. She later joined the Hand Weavers Guild of Nashville to become better at spinning and weaving while working several odd jobs to pay her bills. At the time her weaving was a hobby that she enjoyed during her free time.
Twyla took a job working at Tropical Design, Inc., an office and interior landscape design company. For nine years she took care of tropical plants in hotels, restaurants, hospitals, and other businesses around Nashville. She enjoyed starting very early and finishing her day around 2 PM leaving her free to catch a movie matinee. But after years of heavy lifting and manual labor, her elbows began to give out resulting in a medical disability. Those health issues forced her to leave the industry and re-evaluate her next career choice.
A Career In Commercial Printing
With only a year of college, Twyla worked odd jobs around town to make ends meet. She landed an entry-level job in the printing industry at American Color assisting table strippers who introduced her to old-school methods of printing. Hand-cutting ruby lith and burning film she learned how to make plates for commercial printing presses. Working 4 PM to 4 AM six days a week at five dollars an hour was tough at that time in her life. Eventually, she grew a career in the commercial print industry moving from production to customer service. and ending up in sales at McQuiddy Printing, then Lithographic’s.
Twyla developed a niche of working with graphic designers helping to bring their artistic vision to ink on paper. She loved what she did, loved her clients, and was able to make a good living for many years in the print industry through 100% commissioned sales (meaning without the security of a salary.) Over the years the long work hours regardless of weekends or holidays took their toll on her and in 2018 she decided to leave believing that her career was literally going to kill her. It was then that she set out to pursue her dream of becoming a self-employed fiber artist.
“I had this thought in my head that I wanted to be a production sewist, I thought that it would fit me and that I could figure out how to have my own business working from home bringing in money and doing something I really liked,” Twyla says.
A Growing Career As A Fiber Artist
Through one of her now-defunct non-profit clients, The Nashville Fashion Alliance (NFA), she had learned of a sewing school called The Sewing Training Academy. Twyla reached out to the program director, Trishawna Quincy, to find out more. She was accepted into the school and began taking full-time classes learning how to sew for manufacturing on industrial machines.
“I always thought that a lot of weavers did beautiful work but their finishing was terrible because so many of them didn’t know how to sew. In my mind, I’d always thought that if I could weave I’d have to learn how to sew beautifully to bring it all together. So I had this self-imposed goal of wanting to be the fiber artist where the finishing was as nice as the fabrics. That the inside of my coats are just as beautifully finished as the outsides, that’s been my goal,” Twyla admits.
Twyla set out on her own to sew and weave her own textiles, coats, and other items where the colors and different fabrics worked together and were finished beautifully. At the same time, she wanted her work to showcase fabrics that she finds and uses from yard sales, thrift stores, estate sales, and other resources and is considered deadstock, destined for the landfill. Her ability to repurpose fabric into her creations is extremely important to her, she explains,
“It’s really a goal about the environment to take things that have been given up on and still make them beautiful and functional. I try to make everything functional whether I’m weaving a potholder or sewing a coat”
Twyla believed that if she took the next three to five years to learn and grow her ability with sewing and weaving she could make a successful leap into self-employment, despite her fears and limited savings. She felt that if she took the right classes and spent time learning how to sew she had a shot. She also knew she would need to market, and share on social media properly to make her business work as a freelance fiber artist.
The transition from commercial printing to fiber artist was hard in the beginning. Twyla was happy with her freedom but when the emails and social media interaction stopped she worried that she had been forgotten. As with so many artists coming out of a corporate environment into an atmosphere of solace, the transition is mentally difficult and isolating at first. Many of her clients over the years had become good friends so she says she had to remind herself that she needed to reach out from time to time.
When COVID hit Twyla admits she was initially filled with fear and concerned about what was ahead. She tried to keep her mind on sewing, learning and staying focused. She determined she enjoyed sewing women’s coats because not many other fiber artists made them. She slightly re-designed a pattern from Folkwear out of Ashville, NC, and fell in love. Her classic swing coat design has a lot of motion to it, doesn’t button, has pockets, and is very free-flowing. She felt the open back was an opportunity to put her own design into it by adding a flare using fabric “surprises” from remnants.
Twyla predicted that Nashville offers a viable community where she could create signature women’s coats from denim or canvas that would fit the weather, climate, and fashion sense. She believes that she can find the right market with her designs, she explains,
“My overall idea is that every year I will try and find and create one or two new women’s coat designs as unique offerings. I really like making coats but I have fallen into making women’s shawls as well that use less fabric and don’t take as long to sew. They are also a classic design and I think they can elevate the way that someone feels about themselves.”
To use up scraps, Twyla creates unique greeting cards by sewing fabric into paper, and weaves potholders with different color combinations that are lively and fun. The potholders she makes are oversized to fit your hands comfortably and made of cotton so they are easy to wash. She takes pride in that almost all of her pieces are easy to clean and practical.
Twyla creates her textile products using mainly fabric remnants repurposing them into beautiful coats, shawls, and other fashionable sewn and woven creations, even note cards! She has made shawls from cloth napkins and even created a coat sewn from drop cloths. She loves not only sewing but the challenge of figuring out how to combine remnants together in a way that enhances her signature designs. She loves to weave on an Inkle loom, where you use your hands to manipulate the yarns rather than harnesses. She creates long pieces of fabric in this manner to use as belts, straps, and on her dresses as adornments.
Moving forward Twyla wants to keep her business small, take her time creating, and put time into the individual items that she makes. She has no intention of growing into a large commercial business and doesn’t want to hire anyone to help her sew but she is open to collaborating with other artists. She wants to find painters interested in giving up their old paint-splattered drop cloths so she can create coats from them. Her primary goal as an artist is to create a life full of personal fulfillment as she explains,
“This is about personal joy, balance, and family happiness. It’s about seeing how good I can be at something for me.”
Twyla works from her home in the Sylvan Park neighborhood of Nashville. Her cozy home studio is in the attic of her renovated bungalow. She spends long hours developing custom signature wares under the natural light from the skylights during the day enjoying the process of creation.
Learn More About Twyla Lambert Clark
Diary Of A Storyteller
To see more photos from my photoshoot with Twyla visit my photography Blog post.
The Creative Push Podcast
Be sure to listen to my podcast artist interview with Twyla on The Creative Push!
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