I was at a performance recently and saw a friend across a crowded room. From quite a way off I could tell she was wearing an original Joan Knight. Those of us who know her work can spot it right away. Joan’s garments are not only thoughtfully and skillfully designed, they’re made with unusual and even unique fabrics.
Joan studied fine art and has been active as a potter, painter and weaver, and for some years as a fiber artist. Artists have the urge to create, and when they shift away from one medium they will generally feel pulled into another.
Twenty years ago she got interested in sewing and took a class near where she lived in Southern California. She couldn’t even thread her machine when she started, but was thrilled to learn that the teacher was a renowned designer, dyer and silk-painter whose pieces had toured with Bernina. Joan took classes with her for ten years and soaked up everything she could learn about sewing, designing, dyeing and fabrics.
When Joan and her husband retired to Prescott she began making sweater coats and painted linen blouses, selling through the Prescott Center for the Arts gallery. Very soon she met local artists Clyde and Charlotte Ewalt, who had studio space at the 6th Street Business Park. She remembers them asking her, “Do you want to have fun with us?” Not long afterward she purchased a unit in the complex that had originally been used to store an RV. She went to work getting it insulated, installing an HVAC system and adding windows for light. The main space is now her showroom and the upstairs loft is a spacious studio where Joan usually spends three to five hours a day. “My one absolute goal when I moved here was that I wasn’t going to do anything that’s not fun anymore. And that’s exactly what’s happened.”
Joan’s work is recognizable partly due to the her unusual fabrics. Some years ago she encountered kantha cloth from India. This is made by taking old saris and pounding them into fiber to make new cloth. Women traditionally quilt pieces of this fabric together with running stitches, and the finished pieces are brought out for weddings, births and other special family occasions. Joan had a friend who had opened an AirBnB in India and offered to buy and ship kantha quilts to her. The boutique has many of these quilts on display. They are for sale, but if not sold she ultimately upcycles them into beautiful garments.
Another unusual fabric Joan uses is baule cloth from Burkina Faso, which is hand-woven in narrow panels, sewn together and dyed with indigo. Mudcloth from Mali is woven on a backstrap loom, with one end secured to the weaver’s waist and the other hooked on a tree or doorknob. It starts out white and is then submerged in mud, which dyes the fabric almost black, becoming a ground for painting when dry. Joan loves fabrics like these, with interesting origin stories, and feels a satisfaction in aligning her buying with fair trade practices.
Joan’s garments are elegant, comfortable and skillfully designed. Some have two pockets on each side, one that’s open at the top and another under it, opening to the side. They are garments you will reach for when you go out, easy to throw on and attractive enough for any occasion. In the ten years she has had her shop on 6th Street, Joan has attracted collectors who know her work and pop in regularly to see what’s new. She has many followers on social media, where she provides regular updates on her latest fiber creations.
Joan seems comfortable in herself and loves what she does. She acknowledges all she has received and learned from others. “We are grateful for the people who mentored us in the beginning. Our direction as artists rests on the shoulders of generous people. The one thing I believe is that you don’t withhold. Nothing is new except you. Your stamp on your work is what makes it special.”
You can follow Joan Knight on Instagram or Facebook, or visit her shop by appointment at 697 6th St., Suite 309, Prescott (behind Seamless Gutters). Her online store is Joan Knight Designs, and you can reach her at 714-308-1101 or email@example.com.