When Vickie Clontz was 5, her mother taught her how to sew. That simple mother-daughter activity has led Clontz to a life in fiber craft and art.

“She seemed interested in it; I tried to encourage her,” said Annie Arant, Clontz’s mother. “I cut up squares and let her sew it together to make a little quilt or something. I just showed her what to do. She just picked up on it right quick.”

Arant stayed close by to supervise her young daughter on the sewing machine, but Clontz clearly had a natural ability and a passion for creating with fabric.

Together they made doll clothes, and Clontz eventually sewed her own clothes and started her own business.

Clontz’s business, Annie’s Keepsakes, named for her mother and daughter, sells patterns for myriad simple-to-make crafts, from napkins and placemats to a menagerie of pin cushions and other items.

Connections that Clontz, 60, made through the craft business introduced her to other fibers, and she started creating felted wool art, including wet-felted flowers, scarfs and clothing that incorporate other fabrics.

She’s published numerous magazine articles, and in March, Leisure Arts published her first book, “Crafty Critters,” a collection of quick and easy wool felt projects with woodland animal designs that include shoulder bags with fox and raccoon faces, a big-eyed owl case for eyeglasses or cell phones, pincushions, storage cases, leaf coasters, wall pockets and magnets. Her second book will be published soon, and she is finishing her third that has been approved.

Clontz and her mother still talk every few days, and she said that her mother helps her make patterns and does a little sewing to help out.

“I never dreamed she would go this far with it,” Arant said. “That’s her thing: making something new. I’m really proud of her.”

Pursuing patterns

Clontz started her pattern-making company in 1990, which gave her the flexibility to be home with her two young children. She has a bachelor’s degree in clothing design from UNC-Greensboro. She sells through her website and also at stores and through catalogs, and now her son and daughter help her with the technological aspects of the business.

“I knew how to make patterns,” she said. “I’d always wanted my own company. Crafts were huge in the ‘90s.” She started with dolls and accessories, then added a pin cushion of the month that corresponded to a theme, such as a heart for February.

“If you sew, you need a pin cushion,” Clontz said. “They’re decorative, too. All my patterns I market as quick and easy. I want people to be successful when they make my designs.”

She took a collection of her patterns to a wholesale market and met representatives of National Nonwovens.

“They told me that if I would use their products in the designs, they would promote me — that was huge,” Clontz said. The company started sending fabric for her to use.

Foray into fiber art

In 2001, National Nonwovens sent her wool fiber, and that opened another opportunity for Clontz.

“I had to figure out what to do with it,” she said. She started needle felting: creating art by interlocking wool fibers on the felt, and she began, in effect, “painting” with wool.

“Felting is physical,” she said and described rolling felt and other fabrics together with 1-inch dowels on bubble wrap.

“It’s easy — kids can do it,” she said. “That’s how I started with felting and fiber art. Then I discovered wet felting,” in which she used the same fiber but instead of using needles to connect the fiber, she uses soap and water. All sorts of fiber can be incorporated, including wool, curly Angora and bamboo. With heat, water, soap and agitation, the fibers are coaxed through the silk.

“In the end, we shrink the wool,” she said. “The bamboo and silk threads don’t shrink, so they ripple the silk. Chiffon ruches, gathers and textures.” Bling can be added with sparkly Angelina.

“You can’t control it completely,” she said, and that can create new design opportunities. “This was like a whole other career to me. I became obsessed with it.”

Clontz has taught at Sawtooth School for Visual Art since 2012.

“I am inspired by Vickie’s fearless and curious approach to her medium and to life,” said Amy Kincaid, Sawtooth’s coordinator for drawing, printing, fiber and Wellness Through the Arts, in an email.

“Vickie’s knowledge of her medium, attention to detail and interest in her students are what make her an excellent instructor. Vickie strives for quality in her work, but also seems to thrive on the limitless possibilities of fibers.”

Through Sawtooth’s Wellness and Healing Through the Arts programming, Clontz has taught wool bead-making classes for families and patients at the SECU Family House, which provides affordable, family-focused accommodations for adult patients and caregivers traveling to Forsyth County for healthcare.

“Working with our hands has been proven to ease anxiety and lower blood pressure, among other things,” Kincaid said. “Vickie gently moves students through the process, with great respect as to where they are when they sit down with her to create. She is a listener and observer, and this is an added bonus to her enthusiastic teaching.”

The wool beads provide lots of variety for creating.

“There are so many things you can do,” Clontz said. “We roll them like you would roll a Playdough ball, use fibers, soap and water. They sit and chat. In just an hour or two, they can forget” whatever challenges they are facing. “It helps me put things in perspective.”

Clontz enjoys teaching at Sawtooth. “You can feel the creative energy swirling in the room. I learn from my students. That happens all the time.”

She’s led the wool-bead making necklace project for Big Brothers and Big Sisters. She and other groups have used her design for the “Cozy Cloche,” which can be made in an hour or two, with the resulting soft hats donated to cancer patients.

“Felting and teaching is my obsession,” she said. “I love design, too.”

“In the last three months God has put more opportunities in my path to work with art as healing,” Clontz said. “That’s a new discovery for me. It helps me because when I’m in a class, I’m forgetting any kind of problems. I am totally immersed in teaching my students. I just want to encourage them to create and let their artistic energies out and have a good time and be pleased with the art they created.”

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