Durham textile artist Anna Nickles loves connections.
While in school, the 2013 East Carolina University textile design graduate was inspired by the long history between textiles and the South, which led her to create the textile business Esse Quam Videri, named after North Carolina’s state motto (“To be rather than to seem”).
This is Nickles’ second act. She formerly worked in child development but had a yearning to work with her hands. Although she still uses her child development background as a Guardian ad Litem volunteer in Durham, she enjoys the effort it takes to create beauty with her hands.
Hand-dyed silk scarves in layered colors, wood and fabric chevron necklaces, chambray voile nursing covers, hand-dyed wood hoop earrings and chambray and linen chevron zip bags are just some of the items Nickles creates in her home studio. On the surface, the pieces may seem simple, but they are anything but; each of Nickles’ pieces is a narrative woven from history and technique.
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“I can’t think of another product that is more tied to the South,” says Nickles. “Everyone I know who grew up here has family members who do some kind of textile-related things, like an aunt who does embroidery. . . or the family history of a grandfather who grew up in the cotton mill.”
Nickles is also drawn to those same connections between textiles and the working class in countries like Korea and Japan. She has incorporated some of those techniques, such as creating quilts from scraps, like the Korean method of pojagi, or utilizing boro, which is the Japanese art of mending. Nickles is enamored of Japan’s indigo, as well as the ancient method of hand-dyeing called shibori.
It’s this combination of dyeing techniques and interesting textiles that drives Nickles’ design.
“I found shibori and deconstructive screen printing and ways you can create these really lush, layered fabrics and I was hooked, so that was the little seed planted that has turned into EQV, and so I’ve been playing around with balancing the more fine-art hand-dyeing with just the study of textiles themselves.”
The desire to use every scrap of cloth also drives Nickles’ vision. She finds a way to utilize all of her scraps – from edges that get turned into jewelry to eco-friendly stuffing to fill pillows. “I feel we are raised to use fabric around here ... you know, like Scarlett and the drapes. You have a piece of fabric and it can be used as a tablecloth and then it starts to get holes in it and you cut it up, like grandmother sewed my mom and her sisters’ clothes, and afterwards it could be sewn into a quilt.”
That versatility and quality is what inspires Nickles. “I want to make something that really becomes a solid part of someone’s life ... so that it’s just going to become an extension of them.”