Tori Lucier Miller. Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News

Tori Lucier Miller. Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News

PENINSULA PROFILE: Artist finds niche in yarn community

PORT ANGELES — Tori Lucier Miller stops traffic.

She’s a guerilla knitter, a “yarn stormer” and a planter of a flower garden that won’t wilt.

Her efforts are out there in Port Angeles for all to see: adorning the benches, sculptures and railing on Laurel Street between First and Front in downtown Port Angeles.

Passers-by, on foot or in cars, have been pausing to wonder at this new addition to the downtown artscape, says Lucier Miller.

At least one person has thanked her for clothing the Avenue of the People, those rusty figures dotting the sidewalk.

For much of June and July, there will be sweaters on the People on the west side of Laurel, as well as needlework squares adorning Al Adams’ sculpture “The Dance” on the east side of that street.

And thanks to Lucier Miller’s nimble hands, multicolored fiber flowers have sprung up on the railing outside Fountain Jewelers.

But these are only part of Lucier Miller’s endeavor to lively up Laurel Street. Much more of the 26-year-old’s art — hundreds of yards of it — awaits inside the Cabled Fiber Studio.

The new shop, which Lucier Miller helped proprietor MarySue French open in October, is both a showcase for fiber art and a place to dive into the wide world of yarn.

At the shop, Lucier Miller teaches classes on demand and engages in discussions about all things fiber.

Those conversations range from sheep breeds to natural dyes to why bamboo yarn is unacceptable here.

Since moving to Port Angeles, post-divorce, in 2009, Lucier Miller has joined what she calls “the giant art community.”

At the Veela Cafe on First Street, now the Caffeinated Clothier, she joined a knitting group.

In it, she got to know MarySue French, the controller at Nippon Paper Industries USA, and Beth Witters, who recently retired after a long career at the Port Angeles Library.

Like Lucier Miller, Witters and French are fierce fiber artists.

So when the Veela and its knitting group were no longer, they set up their own shop a few blocks away.

It’s a place to educate and congregate around fiber art, the women agree — and there happens to be yarn for sale.

Silk, wool, cotton, alpaca and even bison down are stacked high — but there’s no bamboo, French explains, because of the harmful chemicals used to process it.

Lucier Miller’s red-orange and silver-gray shawls adorn the walls; they were recently put back up after being on display at the Vern Burton Community Center during Memorial Day weekend’s Juan de Fuca Festival of the Arts.

“Tori is very, very talented,” says French, adding that Lucier Miller was a primary reason for her decision to open the studio.

Lucier Miller has only been knitting and crocheting for about three years, though her interest in this art has incubated for much longer.

Her mother, Tami Lucier, was an avid crocheter. She taught her little girl to make a chain, the foundation stitch. Lucier Miller remembers making miles of chains with her fingers.

Tami died from a brain tumor when her daughter was just 7.

She was raised by her artist father, Gray Lucier, in the Sacramento suburb of Rocklin, Calif. The two also visited Port Angeles now and again, where her grandmother, the late Bonnie Lucier, lived.

In 2005, Gray Lucier moved to Port Angeles and, together with fellow sculptor Bob Stokes and a band of local ceramists, painters and photographers, began building up an art scene.

Over the coming half-dozen years, Gray strengthened the network of creative people through his second Saturday-night parties at his warehouse studio.

When his daughter moved here, she met a lot of Port Angeles residents who had heard all about her from her proud dad.

So it’s not unusual, Lucier Miller says, for a stranger to strike up a conversation out of the blue.

“People would know who I was, and I had never met them,” she says. These friends of Gray seem to be everywhere.

“There are people who don’t know my father,” Lucier Miller deadpans. “But they seem to be rare in this town.”

These days, she’s known as an artist in her own right, through those public displays of fiber on Laurel. Then there are Lucier Miller’s high-speed, high-intensity personal projects.

Her latest: a sooty-black shawl, patterned to depict the New York City skyline. Draped on her shoulders, it is simple elegance; ask for a tour and she’ll show you the stitches that look like the Brooklyn Bridge, the trees in Central Park and the Empire State Building.

This shawl, made of several hundred yards of yarn whose color is called “Heavy Metal,” was finished just last weekend.

It’s the first in a trilogy she’s knitting as part of an online “summer camp” via www.Ravelry.com, an international community of fiber artists.

On Ravelry, Lucier Miller has developed friendships around the globe, participated in knit-alongs, gotten jobs knitting for yarn companies and found help with a difficult crochet pattern.

In that case, a woman from Ravelry took photographs of the troublesome stitches and steps and sent them, with instructive captions, to her.

Lucier Miller also has connected with one of her heroes, a world authority on weaving who happens to live in Forks.

She had long admired Judith Mackenzie, so when the two women met — ironically at a conference in Wisconsin — “it was a fan-girl moment.” Since then she’s taken classes from Mackenzie here on the Peninsula.

Lucier Miller’s first knitting lesson was in February 2009, from a friend she went to visit in Germantown, Md.

Her first project was “an awful sweater,” she says, made of acrylic that felt about as comfortable as a down jacket made of plastic bags. She later picked it apart and gave the yarn away.

Through her needlework since then, Lucier Miller has become part of a diverse group. Many of its members get together Thursday nights, to knit and chat at the Cabled Fiber Studio.

“People have come out of the woodwork,” she says, to encourage one another and to watch all of this yarn-borne progress.

And while the non-knitter may think of this art as something that takes a long time to pay off, Lucier Miller has the opposite feeling. For her, knitting and crocheting are the transformation of raw materials into a thing of beauty.

“You get to watch it grow,” she says. “You get to see the change you’re making.”

Lucier Miller is also watching her fellow fiber artists — women and men, working and retired — thriving together in the Thursday gatherings.

“It’s a great community to be a part of,” she says. “I’m always learning something. I’m always exposed to new things.”

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