By Craig Stocks / Photography by Craig Stocks
Peoria, Illinois fiber artist Dana Baldwin has had a passion for art for as long as she can remember. In fact, her earliest memory is sitting at her father’s feet in New Orleans coloring in his medical books.
Her father was an Air Force doctor so they moved quite a lot. When she was just 11 years old and living in Spain she came across an older woman “knitting the most beautiful and complicated lace pattern. It was like her fingers had eyes on the ends,” she recalled. “I was just mesmerized and I thought, ‘I want to learn to do that.'” She asked her mother to teach her how to knit, but it just didn’t seem to work.
That was also when she was also learning to play flamenco guitar and even though she’s left handed they taught her to play right handed. She realized she might have the same problem learning to knit from her right-handed mother. So, she switched to knitting right handed and it worked marvelously. “At that point I gave up coloring and focused on fiber arts.” After one of her macramé pieces won 1st place in both the 4H and county fairs she decided, “Oh, this is what I wand to do with my life; I want to be a fiber artist.”
When college time rolled around she wanted to major in fiber arts but her parents convinced her to major in something more marketable which led to advanced degrees in clinical nutrition. “I had really great training, but I hated it,” she said. “I felt like an artist trapped in a dietician’s body. I worked, but my default was always art. I always wanted to get my work done so I could do art.” Eventually she quit working and became a stay-at-home mom, but was still knitting whenever she could.
Dana explained that she never really felt like an artist or a designer “because I can’t draw my design, and that’s what I thought designers did.” But, when her husband suggesting entering her work in a wearable art show where they were living in Virginia she stated winning top awards. “Maybe I really do have some talent,” she realized.
Her watershed moment came after moving back to Peoria in 2011. She was quickly hired as a dietician by a local hospital and while sitting in orientation they explained to the new recruits that they would all get to come to the hospital retreat on an upcoming weekend. “I don’t need you to plan my free time!” she thought, so she got up and walked out. With a new resolve she decided “It’s now or never, and I’m just going to go for it.”
Back in Peoria Dana became reacquainted with the late Maryruth Gin whom she had known in high school and the two hit it off perfectly. They decided to open “The Sheared Edge” in the Sunbeam Building on Sheridan.
Smaller items provide a lot of stability for a business, but Dana really enjoys making the “big dresses.” She never knows where they’re going to end up. “I have a vague idea,” she explained. “I go into some weird place in my head. I just start playing around but I don’t know where it’s going to end up. I guess if I knew what it was going to look like I wouldn’t make it. It’s like giving birth.”
One of her favorite creations is the Tyvek dress named “Marilyn.” While in Virginia she met Marilyn, an older woman and fellow fiber artist. Marilyn created a number of unique pieces using Tyvek and showed Dana how to work with it. “It didn’t look like Tyvek but it was beautiful,” she explained. She was surprised to learn that Marilyn’s brother worked for DuPont and had invented Tyvek.
“I only had two weeks to prepare the dress and had been sick and just wasn’t feeling well,” she said. “First I had painted it but it needed something more so I just started writing everything I was thinking on the dress.”
Dana feels strongly about following her passion. “It’s difficult being an artist,” she said, “because you’re not following the prescribed way. I get up and work at home, then go to the studio, then come home and work some more. It’s not easy. I did a lot of soul searching sitting in that orientation and I decided I should have the right to live my life using the gifts that God gave me.”
For more information visit www.shearededge.com or find Dana on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheShearedEdge. You can also visit The Sheared Edge at 925 N. Sheridan Road in Peoria Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 5:00 PM and CIAO First Friday evenings from 6:00 to 9:00. Contact Dana at firstname.lastname@example.org.