Crafted Coral: Get to Know Fiber Artist Vanessa Barragão

Vanessa Barragão is a Portuguese textile artist who upcycles yarn from the textile industry. Her work raises awareness about the fashion industry’s damage to the planet. Simultaneously, she honors the slow fashion of the past by practicing ancestral handcrafts, including crochet.

Vanessa learned the craft from her mother and grandmothers when she was young. “I consider myself a lucky person since I come from a family where crochet is a really well-known technique,” she says, adding that her family history makes it important to include crochet in her work. “It’s almost like it was already natural and part of it to include this part of me in my pieces. Besides, crochet is one of my favorite techniques, and its simplicity brings beauty to my artworks.”

Vanessa Barragão

Vanessa and one of her art pieces. CREDIT: Image provided by Vanessa Barragão

Vanessa’s interest in artisanal eco-friendly crafts grew as she worked on her master’s degree in fashion and textile design at the University of Lisbon. After graduating, she opened her own studio through which she creates rugs and tapestries that incorporate crochet, knitting, weaving, and latch hooking.

Asked about the crochet in her pieces, she says, “The base stitch of my work is the slip stitch. Since it is a simple stitch, I can work from there to develop different shapes according to the different types of sea creatures that I want to represent.”

Vanessa has always felt a deep connection to the ocean, so it is no surprise that this theme permeates her work. She shares a story:

“I started snorkeling when I was very little. However, since my town doesn’t have such a colorful and exotic seabed, what I used to see were just “simple” ocean views—sand, a few rocks, and small fishes. I was always curious about how it looked on the Caribbean side. When I was eleven, I finally got to find out. I saw how beautiful, colorful, and full of life those environments were. I was surprised, and this memory continues to inspire me today.”

Vanessa Barragão

CREDIT: Image provided by Vanessa Barragão

Vanessa notes that the ocean absorbs pollution, which leads to damage across many species. Her crochet reefs and bleached coral collections express this concern. Vanessa is fascinated by coral reefs, which she calls “cities of the bottom of the sea.” She finds their structure inspiring and is able to mimic it in recycled fabric while using her creations to raise awareness about their destruction. She chooses all of her fibers from the deadstock of local textile factories. The material would otherwise go to a landfill, but Vanessa cleans it and then reuses it in her projects.

Vanessa cares deeply about the textile industry’s effect on the earth and incorporated it into her graduate studies:
“When I was about to start my thesis, I decided to show my vision, turning my ideas into art, showing a way to be eco-friendly. That was how I started to care passionately about this issue, fighting against the negative impact the textile industry has on the environment, reusing resources for my work and using nonpolluting materials.”

Vanessa shares the number one environmental issue with regard to the fashion industry: “If I could shout at everyone and get the attention of the whole world, I would say to pay particular attention to the production methods in the fashion industry and for (the need to) recycle.” Vanessa explains that the chemicals used in the treatment and dyeing of fibers are harmful, there is excessive waste in the industry, and the machinery used in production wastes energy and puts out pollution.

Vanessa Barragão

A work in progress. CREDIT: Image provided by Vanessa Barragão

Vanessa is grateful to be able to work in a career that she loves. “I feel like every single move and event is already a win, an accomplishment, and a highlight in my career,” she said. Still, having her Earth Rug piece shown at Milan Design Week in 2017 was a pivotal moment. “I felt ‘listened to,’ like from there on, I would have an attentive audience to ‘speak’ to, that people would pay attention to my art, to my thoughts, to my visions, and to my feelings.”

If you feel connected to Vanessa’s work, explore more of her art at www.vanessabarragao.com.

KATHRYN VERCILLO is an author of craft books, including Crochet Saved My Life and Hook to Heal. She blogs about the health benefits of crafting at https://blogs.psychcentral.com/crafting.

This article originally appeared in Interweave Crochet Spring 2019. Check out the issue for projects to make inspired by life under the sea. Grab all the yarn you need from LoveKnitting.

Featured Image: CREDIT: Image provided by Vanessa Barragão


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