Melvenea Hodges is a Fiber Artist residing in South Bend, Indiana. She creates clothing and accessories using traditional techniques such as block printing, sewing, weaving, spinning, knitting, crocheting, and embroidery.
Melvenea was born and raised in Benton Harbor, Michigan where she began learning about fiber arts through experimenting with hair braiding, beading, and weaving. It was through these experiences she found joy and realized her talent in creating with her hands. Not long afterward, she learned to crochet and sew through trial and error.
While most influential women in Melvenea’s life have been skilled at sewing and needlecrafts, they were long past practicing fiber arts by the time she came of age. Even still, great grandmother Mattie and grandma Arelia offered her their encouragement as she attempted first projects.
Melvenea’s work was first recognized publicly for the first time at the Berrien County Youth Fair in 2001. She won the Reserve Grand Champion award along with other acknowledgments of craftsmanship for her work in crochet. She has since won awards for designs at her local guild.
In 2006 Melvenea received a bachelor’s in Apparel, Textiles, and Merchandising from Eastern Michigan University. As a student in the program, she realized that the knowledge and use of the traditional fiber arts techniques that she had grown to love were undervalued. Students were encouraged to join the booming fast fashion and retail industry as it would be most profitable. Courses in fashion and garment construction ignored traditional materials and techniques and left out those traditions of non-European groups.
Her college years allowed her access to more textile materials, supplies, and books. Self-study and exploration have been key in her journey. By the time Melvenea graduated from college, she had learned to weave on a floor loom, knit, and spin yarn using both spindles and a spinning wheel.
Over the years Melvenea has picked up many new skills. She realizes the importance of creating one’s own cultural artifacts. It serves as a source of cultural identity and pride. As of today, African Americans are largely underrepresented in the fiber arts community. Melvenea’s mission is to honor and preserve our fiber arts heritage through practice.
As with any tradition, it must be passed on through youth. Melvenea uses her retail and merchandising experience to share her work. She also introduces fiber arts techniques and traditionally made garments and accessories to children in her work as a certified primary school teacher. She intermittently blogs about her work and traditional textile techniques on her website http://www.traditionsincloth.com. Melvenea has also published articles with SpinOff magazine.