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Fiber Expressions

Gallery to host show featuring the art of Holly Sorensen

August 23, 2010
by Kristine Morris, contributing writer

Holly at her loomEMPIRE - Fiber artist Holly Sorensen and her art have traveled a long way to finally settle on the shores of Empire. Her work is being featured at The Center Gallery at Lake Street Studios in Glen Arbor beginning on Friday, August 27 with an opening reception at 6 p.m. The show, “Fiber Expressions,” will run through Wednesday, September 2.

Photo: Holly Sorensen is shown working at her loom. Sorensen’s fiber art will be featured in a show at The Center Gallery at Lake Street Studios in Glen Arbor, with an opening reception at 6 p.m. on Aug. 27.

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“My fascination with fiber began with my childhood in Stafford Springs, Connecticut, where I often played in the old woolen mill that had been owned and operated by several generations of my family,” said Sorensen.

“The colorful webs of yarn, noisy clanking looms, and rich smell of lanolin were magic to me. On rainy days, my father would take my brother, my sister and me to play hide-and-seek in the huge burlap bags of wool stacked high to the ceiling in the old mill.”

Sorensen described how the wool would eventually be dyed in huge, steaming vats, and then dried and spun on “spinning jennies,” multi-spooled spinning wheels that moved across the floor as they spun the threads and wound them onto big spindles.

“My father, a mechanical engineer, had taken on the running of the mill, and he was obviously in love with the huge, noisy machines that made up its sights and sounds,” she said. “Ours was a rare experience, and not one you could easily have today.”

Sorensen attended the Rhode Island School of Design, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in graphic arts. Although her father had encouraged her to study textile design, she had her own ideas about what she wanted for herself.

“Quite a few years later, and much to my father’s amusement, I did become a weaver,” she said.

After graduation, Sorensen spent a year in New York City designing elaborate sales brochures for Glen of Michigan Sportswear.

“But the gypsy in me emerged, and I was lucky to be able to spend several years traveling and living in Europe, and in Central and South America,” she said. “In places like Guatemala, it was impossible not to be impressed by the intense colors and dyeing techniques (called “ikat”) found in the native textiles.”

Returning to the U.S., Sorensen spent a year in Palo Alto, California, working in graphic design at Stanford University.


“After a short time, I was looking for something new,” she said. “So, following my brother’s lead, I settled in a small fishing village in Alaska, where I lived a simple life for 12 years.

“My husband, my son and I lived in an old square-cut hand-hewn house and hauled water, burned kerosene lamps, and heated with coal that we found on the beach. We didn’t have a phone. A big garden sustained us, along with a lot of seafood. Most of the available work was seasonal and included commercial fishing, cannery work, jobs with the Fish and Game Service, or substitute teaching.”

Sorensen said she had served in each of those capacities at one time or another.

“I rediscovered my love of fiber there,” she said, “while making wrapped, coiled baskets from salvaged hemp fishing line found on the beach. Also, I was able to attend some workshops and learned various off-loom weaving techniques.

“Eventually, I made an inkle loom for weaving belts. Then I opened a small craft shop where, in the summer, I sold my woven baskets and belts, as well as the work of other local artisans, to tourists. It was a good life,” she recalled.

The next stop for Sorensen and her family was New Hampshire, where she was able to take classes at Harrisville Designs and began to explore yarn-dyeing processes. “Space dyeing,” a method that produces multiple blocks of color on a single skein of yarn, became her signature style. Sorensen still uses space-dyed yarns in most of her work; though she no longer dyes her own yarns, preferring to spend her time weaving.

When her son went off to college, Sorensen moved to Michigan, a place she had long loved as a result of summer visits to her grandparents’ Crystal Lake cottage. Today, the colors of the landscape near her Empire home and studio remain an inspiration.

Added dimension

Sorensen’s current work employs various stiffening elements to bring her pieces “off the wall.” She has used foam core, pipe insulation, aluminum flashing, Plexiglass, and most recently, a paint-on liquid product and copper wire to create three-dimensional pieces, including masks.

“The whole process is quite involved and requires a lot of problem-solving which can get frustrating,” she said. “But I really enjoy the challenge, and like thinking of my pieces as sculptures.

“I love working with fiber; everything from choosing the colors for a project to the mechanics of winding a warp, warping the loom, and then sliding onto the bench to start weaving – I love it all! I find the actual weaving process to be very relaxing and pleasurable – operating the foot treadles, throwing the shuttle in rhythmic motion, pulling back the beater, and watching each shot of weft build up.”

Sorensen’s studio is open by appointment by calling 231-326-6008. Her work can also be seen at The Secret Garden in Empire. Online, you can go to her website at where there is also a link to

To learn more about Sorensen’s upcoming show, call The Center Gallery at Lake Street Studios at 231-334-3179.