Neal Howard, Fiber Artist
Neal Howard, Fiber Artist born and raised in North Carolina, hand-dyes silk yarns, paints and space-dyes warps and incorporates surface designs into her garments and accessories. Woven shibori, where both the surface of the cloth and its structure are integral, is a design element placed during the weaving of the cloth to minimize seams. Collectors of Neal’s clothing enjoy graceful comfort no matter the occasion.
Neal Howard was born and raised in North Carolina. Her early childhood experiences set the stage and later life experiences pointed divinely to her career as a fiber artist!
Neal’s fiber education includes extensive training in Production Crafts/Fiber from Haywood Community College (1990) and as Fiber Studio Assistant with Penland School for the Arts (1985, 2004, 2008). Additionally, Neal studied under Catharine Ellis, Diane Itter, Heather Allen Swarttou, Liz Spear, Suzanne Gernandt, Susan Levielle, and others.
Neal also received a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and psychology from Guilford College (1978) and a degree in Education for Ministry from The University of the South School of Theology (2003).
Neal’s Fiber Dyeing Process
Neal hand-dyes silk yarns, paints and space-dyes warps and incorporates surface designs into her garments and accessories. Woven shibori, where both the surface of the cloth and its structure are integral, is a design element placed during the weaving of the cloth to minimize seams. Collectors of Neal’s clothing enjoy graceful comfort no matter the occasion.
Before she begins dyeing the yarn she puts it in the desired form. For weaving, she winds warps (the set of yarns placed lengthwise in the loom) consisting of three hundred to eight hundred threads eight to sixteen yards long. For all other purposes, the yarn is wound into a skein.
Outside – quite literally in my front yard – she sets up her table, drying rack and steaming area. Then buckets are filled with warm water to soak the yarn. The dyes are dissolved, the dye activator (a solution of white vinegar) is prepared and an assortment of bowls and small tubs are set up.
Before the silk is dyed it is a creamy off-white. Dry warps can weigh up to five pounds. Each skein, dry, weighs from one third to one half pound. When they are wet they are even heavier! She lifts them one by one, wrings them out and hangs them on a drying rack. On a busy day (ten hours) she may dye up to thirty pounds of yarn.
With vinyl gloves protecting her hands, she pours dye into the bowls, then dips each warp or skein in the dye. After the excess liquid is squeezed out of the yarn, she carefully rolls the yarn into thick cloth or heavy plastic so that the different colors do not touch.
Then the rolls are placed in Neal’s custom made stainless steel steaming basket that fits in a stainless steel pot partially full of boiling water. Silk and wool need to be in this hot moist environment for about twenty minutes so the dye can fully bond with the yarn. This is called setting the dye. Imagine steaming broccoli on a really large scale.
When the dye is set and wearing thick vinyl gloves, Neal carefully remove the hot yarn, allows it to cool a bit, then rinses it to remove any excess dye. After more wringing, the yarn is at last returned to the drying rack. All the bowls, jars, table and tools are washed and put away.