In the World of Crochet
Designers featured in this column are always standouts in one way or another. Gemma Owen creates breathtaking doilies when she’s not driving a 10-ton truck cross country (June 2018). Jonah Larson is a 13-yearold crochet whiz who’s been stitching since he was 5 (December 2019). Jenny King, a worldrenown designer, created a design system that fits every body (December 2020). Olga Starosina’s lace garments and Christmas balls are, simply put, “to die for!” (February 2021).
These designers offer genres familiar to our readers: garments for all ages and genders, bags and totes, accessories, home decor and holiday pieces. But rarely do we see an artistic design that doesn’t fit into any of these categories. Until now!
Anna Drake is a crocheter who creates patternless crochet art pieces. Much like crocheted coral reef exhibits, her work is intended to be thought-provoking in and of itself. It provokes thought not only about how trash clogs our oceans and landfills, but also about how another kind of trash clogs our brains. Her message is that “a different kind of trash clogs our brains. My art is a transformation of trash. I hope its impact is a transformation of our thoughts—about our planet and each other.” Anna is a native of Pella, Iowa. She now resides with her husband, Greg, and their blended family of four children in Columbia, Mo. Despite the occasional groan from Greg over the many bags of yarn in their garage, he is extremely supportive of Anna’s work and constantly encourages her as she brainstorms new projects.
She has a bachelor’s degree in art and communication from Dordt College in Iowa. By day, Anna is “a mild-mannered insurance broker; by night I explores my passion to create art designed to bring awareness to how we treat the environment and each other.” She hopes that someday, her career in insurance will be secondary to her crochet career.
She learned to crochet from her grandmothers. Crochet has not been simply a hobby for Anna; it’s been a lifesaver. In the early 2000s, she suffered through a trauma from which she has not fully healed. She sought to create challenging projects that would keep her from falling into potentially damaging thoughts. With hard work and true-grit determination, crochet became the right medium to produce increasingly ambitious designs that helped in her recovery. Anna says the flexibility of crochet, especially in free-form, is the most enjoyable craft to create her designs.
She is “bi-stitchual,” sometimes adding knitted elements because the look of knitting made the most sense designwise.
Anna’s work is motivated by the amount of physical trash discarded worldwide. And with good reason. According to PlasticOceans.org, “We are producing over 300 million tons of plastic every year, 50 percent of which is for single-use purposes—utilized for just a few moments, but on the planet for at least several hundred years. More than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year.”
Like so many eco-conscious crocheters, Anna works with plarn (plastic yarn—see “Crocheting With
Plastic Bags” in Crochet! magazine, summer 2020 issue). When she discovered how to achive the bifurcated shape of a brain, the message of her design began to take shape. “Plastic trash clogs our oceans and landfills. A different kind of trash clogs our brains. My art is a transformation of trash. I hope its impact is a transformation of our thoughts—about our planet and each other … it’s part of [her] continued healing to hopefully bring awareness of how we can all make other people feel.”
Every design element is made solely from recycled materials. The interior frame of Anna’s piece titled Not Present is the seal ring of a 55-gallon drum. Shopping bags dominate her work but she’s also used shipping and packaging wraps, household plastic containers, a discarded plastic drop cloth, plastic spoons and water bottles.
The physical process of her work begins with cleaning and drying the plastic, and then cutting it into strips that are strung together to produce plarn. Due to the unique and intensely personal nature of Anna’s designs, there are no patterns from which she works. Each completed piece is distinctive and a sum of its parts. She envisions what she wants to communicate, how to express this and the materials needed to do so. Each section is “auditioned” to allow her to evaluate its individual message in relation to the whole work of art. For example, in Plastic Planet, Anna created sets of waves to represent those along the South American shoreline and to symbolize the ocean. Waves are also a representation of her thoughts. The sections differ in color, height, direction and density. She temporarily places each section in the design to assess how well it conveys the physical and cerebral meaning of the finished work. Admittedly, not every section works to Anna’s satisfaction, so then it’s put aside and the process begins again. Conversely, she’ll often reuse a particular shape because it communicates the same concept in multiple works.
It’s not always easy to view Anna’s artwork and wholly understand its messages. Brain in Repose is a stark, white beauty that is obvious in its similiarity to a dead coral reef. However, the emotional intent is to “hopefully shift the viewers’ perspective about trash. If ubiquitous trash like shopping bags can become fine art, what else is possible?”
Some pieces have profound, personal meaning.
Not Present delves into deeper, emotional, swirling “trash thoughts,” those that take over Anna’s rational brain and send her back to the trauma she endured. Regardless of the first-glance impression, clearly, there are layers of meaning worked in the stitches and folds of Anna’s creations. Her work is not without its admirers and accolades. Pieces have been shown at various in-person and online exhibits including the St. Louis Artists’ Guild and the International FreeForm Fiber Artists Guild. Brain in Repose, No Brain and Not Present were each exhibited at the Boone County Art Shows, the largest art show in mid-Missouri, presented by the Columbia Art League. The first two pieces won First Place awards!
When asked about future work, Anna said she hopes to find patrons who share her vision and make custom pieces from their own trash. She would “welcome the opportunity to find my own vision inside of theirs.” She hopes to sell her pieces through galleries as well as on her website.
A big goal is to design a piece for the Columbia (Mo.) Regional Airport which, at the time of this writing, was in the midst of a massive rebuild. Anna wants to use the airport’s discarded materials such as gift-shop bags, shipping wrap and polystyrene.
Lastly, her greatest aspiration is a no-brainer: She hopes to see her art hanging in the Museum of Modern Art!