Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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August 08, 2016

Explore Fiber: Incorporating Fiber into a K-12 Art Education Curriculum

From: Christine Miller


I am a life long fiber artist who found myself (after a full blown mid-life crisis) becoming a high school art teacher. It was not my plan to teach (though I had been teaching lots of people along the way in my winding life journey). I wanted to teach high school, because I had had a long career as a professional fiber artist and thought I could share the knowledge of my experiences with them. 

Huipil%20&%20ShawlHand woven Clothing by Christine Miller – 1980s

My professional weaving career involved several reinventions of myself. First, I spent several years as a weaver that specialized in commission work of all kinds: clothing, functional household items, one 3’ X 5’ rug (ugh! NOT a rug weaver!), and art concept pieces. That quickly moved into exhibiting in juried art fairs and selling my work out of my tent. After 3 years of dealing with unpredictable weather ordeals, I stood out in the aisle of the show I was in and shook my fist at the heavens and vowed to never do another outdoor art show again. I felt just like Scarlett O’Hara and decided right then I would sell my tent so I would never be tempted to sell outdoors again! When I moved “off the street”, I organized and ran a fiber gallery cooperative that represented wearable art from regional and national artists. It was so nice to be inside where it was dry and warm. I loved having our gallery, until the owners of our building shooed us out because they wanted to tear the building down to build something that was more profitable. Then, I started a custom textile studio with 2 friends, and we produced hand woven fabrics, passementary and trims that were represented in showrooms across the U.S. That continued for a few years until one day I realized I was still not making a living wage and had no benefits for my family or myself. Life got real then. 

Sushi%20smallHand woven fabric and coordinating trims – 1990s

This led into reinventing myself once again – this time into an art teacher. I went back to school at 47 to finish my bachelor’s degree in Art Education. I am beginning my 12th year (I started teaching at 50), and it has been one of the most important decisions I ever made. What started out as a defensive move, turned into a soul-enriching career. It wasn’t too long into my teaching, that I started bringing my love of fibers into my art classroom. And, it wasn’t very long before I noticed that many art educators don’t use fibers as a fine art material in their art curriculum because they don’t have the experience or knowledge about how to bring fibers into their classroom. This was an important Aha! moment for me! I realized that I could widen my teaching to help art educators learn more about fiber, and Explore Fiber was born.

Cricket%20LoomsStudents weaving in my classroom on Schacht rigid heddle Cricket looms

Building the Explore Fiber website to help teachers was super fun for me (I LOVE technology), but it was also a thrill to start teaching my students about all kinds of fiber processes. One of the more successful early lessons we did was sculptural needle felting. They loved it and so many of them created unique, wonderful pieces!

10th grade student’s needle felted sculpture – “Fabio” - 2013

Now, in its second year of life, Explore Fiber is a beautiful, thriving toddler! I was thrilled that it won second place in the Wild Card category of The Art of Education’s Blog competition this last spring! Explore Fiber is a free resource for teachers, students and fiber artists to come to for information about working with fibers as a fine art material. I hope Explore Fiber can grow to be THE resource for all things fiber! New lessons are underway and will be posted throughout the upcoming months. The blog has a steady stream of inspiration about the fiber art being created today and the importance of fiber in the 21st century. Other fiber artists are contributors and collaborators on this site that is intended for broad fiber community involvement. Please check out the site, and contact me at if you have something to add or contribute to the website.

Art%20mascotMs. Miller’s Art Mascot

When we tap into our passion for art, whatever media, technique or process it may live in, and bring it into our classroom to share with our students, the energy that is created is enormous. As I get ready to start a new school year, I’m thinking about the new ways I want to share my passion for fibers with my students. Where does your passion lie, and how can you bring more of your authentic self into your art classroom/studio? I wish you all a powerful new school year!  Viva Fiber!!



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