We had the good fortune of connecting with Pamela Palma and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Pamela, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I was born a creative person. I learned easily at a young age how to work with yarns and threads by watching my grandmother, my mother, and her sisters who knitted, crocheted, embroidered, and sewed. I was fascinated and begged to learn. My first creations were my own designs. I hand knitted scarf for my baby doll when I was 4-5 years old. Around the same time, my design brain just kicked in and I figured out how to make pants (!) for my doll, which I cut and sewed by hand. I still have them. This ability progressed as I advanced my skills over the years. I often designed things without patterns or instructions once I understood the basic mechanics of the process, of how things go together to become whole. Example: v-neck cable knit sweaters with long sleeves and cuffs. I made at least 2 when I was about 13, just by intuiting the process, observing my mother’s knitting. At the same age, I began to design my own clothing, buying sewing patterns to modify and fabrics for garments. I always have preferred to have my own look. My brain could understand many types of construction, like furniture, jewelry, architecture, but my heart has always been in the soft materials of textiles. In college I explored other artistic mediums – metal sculpture, drawing, painting, pottery. I love to have my hands in materials; that is how I best create. For a decade I had an active pottery studio, with a wheel and kiln. I painted large scale art murals, but all the while I kept my sewing machine, my embroidery and knitting supplies on hand and in use, making things to wear and things for my home. Yarn and cloth have always been my fall-backs. Weaving was one method I avoided for the longest time. I had ample opportunities to delve into it but refused until later in college, again, studying fashion and fiber design and weaving was required. I like to say I am the Accidental Weaver. It was truly my destiny. I took to it like a duck to water! Weaving is a very lengthy, complex process of right brain, left brain interaction and physically demanding. I enjoyed the challenge and from the outset, I was able to design and weave intricate designs, again modifying traditional patterns into contemporary fiber art. That was 30+ years ago and I have not been able to stop, even as i continue to sew, knit, embroider. That is the long answer. The short answer is: We don’t choose to become artists. Art chooses us because of what we have to offer and we must comply.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My interests lie in many directions. Despite career coaches advising “become really good at just one thing and stick to it” I have incorporated multiple artistic disciplines into my work. Why not? Doing one thing is boring. The world is my oyster. Within the world of textiles there are endless opportunties for creative exploration. I am not aware of any other medium that has as many pathways. Each textile technique is its own thing. Knitting is different from crochet, sewing is different from embroidery, weaving is different from quilting. Many people confuse them, lump them all together but they are very distinctively unique processes yielding distinctively different results for specific purposes. Example: Sweaters are knit on two needles using knitting yarn. The knitting process creates a very stretchy fabric which is super comfy. That is why we love to snuggle up in sweaters and sweatshirts. They conform to our bodies. Compared to weaving, which is a series of interlaced horizontal and vertical threads made on looms to produce a rigid structure, more practical for formal wear, business wear, overcoats. Rewind back to my second round of college and Mrs. Belfer. This is when I learned to design and make fabrics to use for the clothing and accessories business I always dreamed of. Before I graduated I opened a design studio and had my apparel in high end shops, exhibited in art fairs, won awards. I continued this practice when I relocated to Miami Beach in the 1990s and modified my product lines to suit the tropical climate. It is not always easy but I believe I must be true to my self. To my vision. My work is not production line multiples – why bother? Go to Target, buy cheap stuff, toss it next year. This is not a sustainable model and in the long run it exploits overseas workers (women), pollutes the planet, and repeat purchases are more costly. My work is Art to Wear, Art to Use, Fine Art. Each item I make is well designed, a unique one-off, high quality, sustainable, work of art to use and love forever. I feel strongly that we need to express our unique individualities through our attire, our home decor. This goes against mainstream which would have us all as uniform consumers following “trends”. Who decides what is “trendy?” Why does anyone want to look like someone else? Be youself. That is the ultimate act of rebellion against a consumerist culture. Support small business. Support makers.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Wow, this is tough. We are in the midst of a Covid-19 pandemic and although the governor of Florida has encouraged people to carry on, it is just not safe. Lets imagine the world has returned to a stabilized, healthy normal condition. My company has arrived. I live in the City of Miami Beach, an island in the Atlantic Ocean, separate from the City of Miami on the mailnland. First we will walk over to the ocean, to splash in its sparkling turquoise waters as we bake under a glorious sun. Next I will take them to our city’s art museum, The Bass, to view its eclectic exhibitions and collections, also walking distance. Nearby, tucked into a residential block is Sylvano’s Cafe, delicious Italian cuisine, dining al fresco. Tourists always want to see the iconic South Beach art deco hotels so we will cruise down Collins Ave to Ocean Drive where we grab a coffee at The News Cafe to watch the world go by just a few steps away from Gianni Versace’s mansion. Then on to Lincoln Road, our famous pedestrian street of shops and restaurants for more great people watching under swaying palm trees at our choice of international culinary cafes. Other places of interest include the lush Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens in the City of Coral Gables on the mainland, where we can lose ourselves in the beauty, serenity, and splendor of acres of gorgeous nature. A visit to Vizcaya, a former mansion turned historic destination on Biscayne Bay combines early history of Miami with architectural eccentricities from the Gilded Age. Then lunch in nearby Coconut Grove at a sidewalk cafe, more deliciousness, and people watching, never boring. Also on the mainland in the City of Miami is the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) with its hanging gardens and incredible Bay views, again – that turquoise water! Lunch at Verde on the museum’s patio. Back on the island of Miami Beach, a dinner at Joe’s Stone Crab never disappoints, followed by a twilight walk on the beach, maybe a full moon will be rising over the horizon.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I will dedicate my shoutout to the most remarkable woman who taught me so much more than just the rudiments of weaving, Mrs. Nancy Belfer, Professor Emeritus at Buffalo State College, Buffalo, NY. Mrs. Belfer is a saint. Semseter after semester, year after year, she patiently demonstrated and explained the multiplicity of weaving processes. Designing, reading coded patterns that look much like music, planning, calculating yarn requirements, setting up the looms, and finally weaving. Much can and does go wrong and she was always there to show the simple solution and send me merrily on my way. Her famous words: “Projects that give you the most trouble in the making turn out the best.” and “Just think beautiful thoughts as you weave and all will be well.” Truer words were never spoken. I may have been the difficult student because my ideas were always in my head. I never sketched because I said in the time it takes to sketch, I will have it woven. My designs always worked out beautifully. Mrs. Belfer was never disappointed. She allowed me the creative freedom to express myself in woven coth.
Facebook: Pamela Palma and PamelaPalmaDesigns
Other: I am founder and director of a fiber arts guild, PLY-Miami. Find it on Instagram and Facebook and the page on my website
Pamela Palma Designs