CNCHnet . . . The Textile Arts Webzine of the Conference of Northern California Handweavers

Lucianne Miller: Living a Creative Life

Feb 14, 19 September , 2015

Feb 14, 19 18-September 13, 2015

Lucianne Miller began her life in fiber arts at a very young age.  Seven months after her birth in Visalia, California, her father died.  She and her widowed mother returned to Sonoma County to live with her grandmother, trained as a milliner, in Monte Rio and later Santa Rosa.  Her mother’s much younger sister, Monnine, became her caregiver and companion while her mother worked to support them.  Monnine taught Lucianne hand-sewing by the time she was five, and a few years later taught her to knit.  Despite a traumatic sewing project in home economics at Tamalpais High School and years of knitting sweaters and dresses on OOO steel needles under Monnine’s tutelage while she was in college, Lucianne maintained a positive attitude toward these arts the rest of her life.

When her education at Berkeley was terminated by a combination of mononeucleosis and the Depression, Lucianne moved to Eureka in 1937 to join her mother, stepfather and siblings.  She began working at Newberry’s Variety Store and very soon was promoted to head clerk in yard goods.  Many decades later a snobby nephew who had hesitated to invite her to his wedding to the daughter of the local banker was astonished to see the mother of the bride’s attack of hero(ine) worship when Lucianne arrived.  She had worked in the store as a junior clerk and been dazzled by Lucianne’s status and salary, 25 cents higher than any other floor employee!

In Eureka, Lucianne became friends  with many of the local Scandinavian women, mostly middle-aged wives or widows of loggers or millworkers, who met to exchange patterns and crochet lace and other trims they had learned as children.  They were enthusiastic about teaching the newcomer, and she treasured the notebooks filled with her samples.

During WWII, while working nights as a meteorologist at the Eureka weather bureau, she continued her knitting, both for her family and as part of the corps of knitters who made accessories for soldiers.  In addition to knitting for adults, she and Monnine were two of the few knitters issued the limited quantity of colored yarn to make cardigans for displaced children.  The tailoring skills Monnine had transmitted from Lucianne’s great grandmother served her well as she created her work (and pregnancy) wardrobe during the wartime rationing.

In 1948 she remarried and moved to Star Valley, Wyoming, where she needed to engage all her sewing and knitting skills to keep her family clothed. One of her first tasks was to knit replacement sweaters for the family after her stepdaughter helpfully threw all the existing sweaters in the washing machine while Lucianne was in the hospital delivering her first son.  She maintained her productivity during the Wyoming years, in 1951 trading a cow for the Necchi sewing machine which clothed the family for the next two decades and on which all her daughters learned to sew.

For those of you who don’t remember, these were also the years of washable cloth diapers; since she delivered five children between December 1948 and April 1953, the three dozen diapers she owned were in constant use.  Line drying worked most of the year, but during blizzards they occupied the “hot spot” on the drying rack in the living room.

She returned to federal service in 1957 and the family moved to Utah.  She was able to spend her work breaks knitting and her evenings teaching her children how to knit and sew. She was still the principal family seamstress but now assisted by daughters making some of their own clothing in 4-H projects.  As her children left home, she continued knitting for them, but at last exercised her disdain for handsewing by sending them “kits” of the garment parts, a needle, and enough yarn to finish the garment.

By 1974 Lucianne’s health was seriously affected by the chemicals she was using in the primitive copy machines and mapping machines at the weather bureau.  She was able to take a federal disability retirement and moved to Hydesville, Humboldt County, California, where she was to live the rest of her life.

Almost as soon as she arrived, she began an ambitious project to clothe three grandchildren, all expected between July and October 1976. She sewed, embroidered and knit full layettes for all three, using her new love, Mon Tricot , to guide the creation of innovative knitwear.  She also began to hook area rugs, cross-stitch pillow tops and expand her knitting.

In 1983 she knit a pineapple-pattern lace circular table cloth in dry-spun linen approximately 8 feet in diameter and entered it in the Humboldt County Fair.  It was bundled into a small wad in the cubbyhole of a display rack, not placed, with the judge’s comment that she really should have used some nice crochet thread to make it.  She was annoyed.

Within a week she had enrolled in a weaving course at the College of the Redwoods, and within a month she was a dedicated weaver.  Her first efforts were on a rigid heddle loom, then a table loom, and from there, she marched forward.  Her first loom was a Baby Wolf 4 + 4.  She soon added a Schacht 8 harness floor loom, put the additional 4 harnesses in her Baby Wolf, then replaced it with a Mighty Wolf, continuing to take all the courses College of the Redwoods and a local (Arcata) store, the Camel, offered.  She mastered double-weave, rosepath, shadow weave, and everything which was offered, spending her last several semesters before the CR program was de-funded, as a teaching assistant and doing independent weaving studies.  She wove fabric for garments, some of which she made for herself and some of which she sent to her daughters.  One great source of frustration for her was that sometimes they treated her textiles as keepsakes or décor, rather than turning them into the clothing for which they were intended.

In 1977 she spent a month in Mexico, travelling to archaeological sites and weaving centers with family members.  Frustrated by her inability to converse with local weavers (her French and Italian not being adequate in Mixtec villages, or to translate the Mon Tricot she’d bought in Mexico City), she studied Spanish at CR, and was able, during a 1987 trip to some of the same areas,  to talk with weavers and also overhear, in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, the jurying committee at a weavers’ co-op, informing an applicant that her weaving wasn’t good enough yet to be listed for sale.

In recent years as her weaving slowed down, she began designing more projects, such as dishtowels for all her grandchildren, and assigning them to me to weave. She resumed knitting and continued to create.

Lucianne was a strong supporter of the Humboldt Handweavers and of CNCH.  She served as a guild officer, was active in guild fashion shows and public demonstrations, and attended CNCH conferences every year through 2014.   She enjoyed attending the Redwood Guild of Fiber Arts meetings and helping at the Sonoma County Fair.   She cherished her friendships in her guild.   Although many of her old friends were gone, Linda Hartshorn and Jamie Cahoon always kept in touch with her.   One of her best memories was this year at the Humboldt County Fair, when she was able to both work with Nancy Kennedy and update herself with Crystal Dobbs.

She was intellectually active and interested in the fiber arts until the morning of her death, when we discussed the planned RGFA library exhibits. Can’t do better than that.


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