Last week I launched the 1970’s Crochet Designer series to find out more about 25 crochet designers from the past. I didn’t do too well with the first one; nobody seems to know anything about Ann Stearnbach. I’m still looking for info on her but let’s move on to the next name on the list: Arlene Stimmel.

Arlene Stimmel of Creative Crochet

Many of the names of designers that I got for the series’ list came from the great 1970’s freeform crochet book Creative Crochet. Arlene Stimmel was the co-author of that terrific book. The book explains that New Yorker Stimmel got her BFA here in San Francisco, taught crochet at Brooklyn College and won second prize in a knitting contest in 1973. She started crocheting to have something creative to do while waiting for paint to dry (she was an auto spray painter who would sometimes spray more than 100 layers of paint on a piece) and soon she was crocheting more than painting.

1960’s Closet Crocheters

My research informed me that Arlene Stimmel was actually very secretive about her crochet until 1969 when she moved to New York from California and came out with it. She was an automative spray painter and really tried to avoid being associated with things that were too “girly” or “domestic“. From what I can surmise, this was a pretty common issue for female artists around this time. Women in general who wanted to be taken seriously in what was still very much a man’s world often needed to avoid doing things that were seen as something their mothers used to do. While some women certainly still experience this, I think it’s really different now in the twenty first century, and I think it’s great that we have moved into this post-feminist era that can celebrate the domestic arts like crochet. In Arlene’s case, she was able to “come out” about her crochet after she found a close group of female artists to support her work.

Arlene Stimmel in Creative Crochet

Here’s a sample of Arlene’s work as featured in that book:

Arlene Stimmel in Art to Wear

My online research also turned up a more recent book that Stimmel’s work was featured in. It’s a 1986 book called Art to Wear. I haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy of it yet (it’s about $45 on Amazon) to check it out but it sounds like a great book of wearable fiber art. It features the designs of 60 artists and Stimmel is listed as one of them.

UPDATED: I’ve now received my copy of this amazing book, well worth the cost from Amazon, so I’ve learned a bit more about Arlene Stimmel. I’ve now incorporated some of that information throughout this post.

My favorite example of Stimmel’s work that is featured in Art to Wear is this 1975 piece called Winter Landscape that is actually a combination of knit and crochet with wool as well as metallic yarns:

Crochet Fabric Texture

As you can tell from these examples of her work, much of Arlene Stimmel’s focus is on the texture of crochet fabric. She is someone who clearly loves layers, perhaps originating in her work with layering paint before she became a fiber artist. She creates crochet and knit fabric filled with layers and then adds additional surface designs with her stitchery.

Arlene Stimmel: Attention on the Web

Stimmel Seems to Have Left Crochet Behind

It seems that Arlene Stimmel had her stint with crochet and moved on. Art to Wear was published in 1986 but notes that the last major wearable art piece that they know of Stimmel creating is a 1977 jacket that was done entirely on a knitting machine. According to the book, Stimmel’s female crochet group had dispersed by then and she found crochet to be too lonely. She got into the commercial knitwear industry and tried doing some art pieces with knit (like the aforementioned 1977 jacket) but felt like the magic of the handicraft was gone. She didn’t feel like crocheting anymore but didn’t really like the mechanical aspect of machine knitting.

I don’t know what happened to Stimmel in art after this. I totally respect moving on from one craft to another over time. I love to jump from passion to passion, exhausting one and moving on to the next. But I’d love to know if Stimmel ever picked up the hook again. I do think I may have found her through both Facebook and Meetup (it looks like she may be part of a rooftop gardening group in New York) but she didn’t respond.


San Francisco based and crochet-obsessed writer, dreamer and creative spirit!


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