by Nancy E. McCarthy
Anne Fischer’s retirement from a 25 year engineering career at Kodak in 2005 freed up her time for artsy explorations. Fischer was an avid sewist and drawn to textiles as a creative outlet for most of her life. When she retired, Fischer was primarily creating art quilts. Occasionally she would sell her work to help fund the workshops and classes she took to hone her skills.
In 2010, she learned the nuno felting process and began making one-of-a-kind garments and accessories from her own felted fabrics. Two years later, Fischer began selling her wearable art at festivals. Her transition from hobbyist to a professional, award-winning fiber artist was nearly seamless.
Kay Thomas of Wayland met Fischer at a stop on the 2012 Naples Open Studio Trail. She bought a jacket and then commissioned Fischer to create a custom coat. “I feel both are timeless, versatile additions to my wardrobe,” says Thomas. “Each time one is worn it is as if I am wearing beautiful handmade art.”
Engineer to Artist
Fischer’s Rochester childhood set the stage for her artistic progression. Although there were no formally trained artists in the family, her creative mother taught her how to draw and sew. Fischer also learned embroidery and crocheting.
She was the eldest of four children. Fischer’s father worked at Kodak, her mother was a homemaker and they also ran a small antiques business. When Fischer was in high school, her parents wanted to experience country living and moved the family to an Albion farmhouse. With no kids her age nearby, Fischer sewed for her own entertainment. Her numerous projects included a hand-dyed caftan, quilted jackets and an embroidered blouse.
When considering her field of study for college, Fischer selected engineering because she felt it was a marketable career path. She graduated from University at Buffalo with a Chemical Engineering degree in 1980 and began at Kodak that same year. Over the course of her career, Fischer worked in manufacturing engineering, process development, research and management. While working, she attained a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA from the University of Rochester. During Fischer’s Kodak years, her creative pursuits after working hours included knitting, quilting, sewing and photography.
In 1984, Fischer married Bill Goebel, a Kodak chemist. They had been introduced by mutual friends and hit it off right away. The couple, who shared a love of the outdoors, enjoyed hiking and biking together in the Finger Lakes region. Eighteen years ago they moved to Canadice, near Harriet Hollister Spencer Recreation Area, one of their favorite cross-country skiing locales. They added an art studio with a woods view to their country home.
Right Brain Stuff
Goebel had been retired for a couple of years before Fischer began to consider it herself. Morale at Kodak was spiraling downward and she began to tire of the negativity. “I had an interesting and challenging job but not much fun anymore,” Fischer explains. She also recognized that the artistic and creative “right brain stuff” was missing at Kodak – something that had become increasingly important to her when she left in 2005.
Five years later, Fischer agreed to host a nuno felting workshop (led by visiting fiber artist Joan Berner) at her Canadice studio. She knew nothing about felting but was instantly hooked. “I automatically loved it,” Fischer says, “but it took a while to get good. I made a lot of felt and garments by trial and error and took more workshops and classes.”
Unlike woven fabrics which are constructed on a loom, felted fabric is produced by using heat, moisture and pressure to mesh and interlock fibers. The emerging fabric is also wet down with soapy water and then to further entangle the fibers, shrinking methods such as kneading, rolling and dropping, plus temperature changes, make the material
The nuno felting technique incorporates other fabrics, such as silk, into the wool roving (wool fibers not yet spun into yarn) used to make felt, resulting in a soft blended fabric. This lightweight material is durable but significantly less stiff and more drapeable than traditional felt, and well suited for making garments.
“Fiber is quite easy to manipulate and shape, somewhat like clay,” Fischer explains. “The way that I work with fiber, the colors can be blended much like working with paints or pastels.”
Fischer dyes her own colors for the roving and silk she uses. Inspiration for her chosen palette often comes from nature. She selects a starting color and the rest is color harmony: hues that go well together or “give it some pop.” Fischer also designs the clothing and accessories she makes. Each piece is a singular, original creation.
Fischer has been selling her work at various festivals since 2012. These settings provide enjoyable opportunities to interact directly with clients. She describes the felting process, offers garment care tips (all items are hand washable), suggests versatile ways to wear a shawl or scarf and can even make minor adjustments to help make clothing, such as a jacket or tunic, fit better. Plus “I often get ideas for new styles from customers,” says Fischer.
She’s been a vendor at the Finger Lakes Fiber Festival in Hemlock for the past five years. “Anne’s innovative wearable creations add diversity to the festival’s offerings and we look forward to seeing her new designs each year,” says festival co-chair Peggy Hagen. This particular festival near her home is a favorite. The wide range of products helps Fischer stock up on supplies for her work (“and great yarn … the timing is perfect for a winter of knitting!”).
Fischer, a past recipient of numerous Finger Lakes Fiber Festival awards, will skip competing this year in favor of sponsoring the Excellence in Felting award for the Skein & Garment Competition. It’s her way to encourage other felters to have their work recognized, and to promote felting as a fiber art form. Within the vibrant local fiber arts community (weaving, spinning, knitting, quilting) there is less emphasis on felting and a scarcity of bricks and mortar locations to purchase supplies. To help bridge these gaps, Fischer has started to sell hand-dyed fibers and silks, and she offers nuno felting workshops at her studio and off-site.
“It’s fun to see the satisfaction people get from making something beautiful,” says Fischer, who relishes any chance to share the process that has enriched her own creative life in so many ways.
Anne Fischer’s upcoming shows include Finger Lakes Fiber Festival, Sept 15th – 16th, Hemlock, NY, gvhg.org/fiber-fest and Naples Open Studio Trail, Oct 6th – 7th, Rochester Folk Art Guild, Middlesex, naplesopenstudiotrail.com. Visit annemfischer.com for more information.