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Portland Open Studios includes fiber artists

by: JIM CLARK - Diana Unterspan compares hat making to working with clay. If she accidentally pokes a hole in the fabric, she adapts the design to it. 'I love the wing-it aspect of making a hat,' she says.

Diana Unterspan enjoyed a long career as a child psychologist before she decided to become a full-time artist, and now she makes hats. Sylvia Emard retired from her paralegal job last year and turned her hobby — weaving — into her new vocation. Irene Lieban, a former neuropsychologist and who took up weaving about 15 years ago, makes silk clothing and accessories.

The three women, all residents of Southwest Portland, are among nearly 100 artists who will share their passion for their art during the 2013 Portland Open Studios. The annual self-guided tour offers the public a chance to visit with artists in their workspaces and see what they do. Here’s a preview of this trio.

Diana Unterspan: Wear a hat!

Unterspan, 63, has been making hats only four years, though she has puttered with fabric since age 6. “I was short, so I made my own clothes,” she says.

She decided to pursue art full time after her husband, an attorney, retired and they moved from the South to Portland in 2006. She started making “fiber abstractions,” framed art inspired by and named after famous written works, such as Edith Wharton’s novel “House of Mirth.”

She got involved with the local arts organization ORA (Northwest Jewish Artists) and began working in “3-D,” making bowls out of felt. One day she turned one of her bowls upside down and added a few embellishments. “I thought, ‘What a cute hat,’” she recalls.

In 2009, she brought four or five hats she had made to an ORA show and sold them all, including the one she was wearing, a multi-colored cloche. The next year she brought 10 hats to the show and sold all of them, too.

She learned how to produce fine felt, then took classes from well-known Portland milliner Dayna Pinkham, owner of Pinkham Millinery.

Now Unterspan makes all kinds of women’s hats — pillboxes, cloches, gauchos, summer hats, winter hats — out of felt as well as silk, seagrass and other materials. She recently turned out a “Lady Mary” hat inspired by “Downton Abbey.”

“I purposely don’t know how to make the same hat twice,” she says, explaining she wants each one to be unique.

The only hats she replicates are the gauchos and the Kentucky Derby hats, “but with free-form shapes, I can’t tell you for sure where it’s going to end up.”

All women should wear hats, she believes. “A hat should keep you cool or warm and add a little air of mystery. Even if you’re tiny, walk tall and wear a hat.”

Unterspan, in her first year with Portland Open Studios, wears a hat everywhere she goes. One time she wore a seagrass gaucho to the doctor’s office to get a flu shot, and her physician bought it right off her head. “I left the doctor’s office without wearing a hat, and I felt so naked,” she says.

But, she admits with a laugh, she owns more shoes than hats: “I’m Imelda Marcos.”

by: BOOM PHOTO: JANIE L. NAFSINGER - Sylvia Emard weaves a swath of rayon fabric that she will fashion into two scarves.

Sylvia Emard: the art of shibori

Emard, who weaves and dyes scarves, shawls and other wearable art, has been sewing for 50 of her 62 years. Always fascinated by textiles, she also learned how to make patterns, how to dye fabric and, since about 1995, how to weave.

“I tried spinning yarn but felt uncoordinated,” she says. So she wove for about 10 years and let her creations pile up, then applied to take part in Portland Open Studios as a way to show and sell her work. This will be her sixth year in the event.

Emard weaves cotton, silk and wool but especially likes linen, rayon and other cellulose fibers. She also dyes fabrics — her own woven textiles as well as commercially made Chinese silk — using shibori, the Japanese technique of “shape-resist” dyeing in which the fabric is folded, clamped, stitched or scrunched before it is dyed, creating patterns in the fabric. Tie dyeing is a form of shibori, she says.

The most exciting part of her work? Seeing the dyed pattern that emerges in the fabric. It’s “the big reveal,” she says.

Irene Lieban: creations in silk

Lieban, 70, began knitting and doing handiwork at a young age and started weaving about 15 years ago. As a weaver, she took part in artists’ studio tours for five years on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, where she and her husband lived before moving back to Portland in 2007 (they had lived here before moving to Salt Spring).

Lieban weaves mostly with silk fibers. She turns the fabric into purses, jackets, scarves, shawls, vests “and one beret,” she says, showing the cap with a matching purse.

She varies the design of her creations according to the silk fiber’s weight and size. “I love working with silk,” she says. “It doesn’t break like cotton does, and it comes in different weights and thicknesses.”

Her newest endeavor is working with silk fusion — silk before it gets spun into thread — and creating sculptures and other art pieces with it. “It’s a pretty messy endeavor — it’s got lots of liquid,” she says.

“It’s very exciting to play with because you never know what it’s going to be.”

Portland Open Studios

What: Annual self-guided tour of 96 artists’ studios.

Where: Various locations throughout the Portland area.

When: Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 12, 13, 19 and 20, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Details: Portland Open Studios offers a unique opportunity for the public to experience art in the making. Artists throughout the metro area open their studios to demonstrate and teach about their media, materials and share insight into the life of a working or emerging artist.

Cost: $20 for the tour guide, which includes information about the artists and a fold-out map with directions to their studios; $9.99 for the iPhone and Android app; $7.50 for map only. Buy tour guides online at www.portland

openstudios.com and from participating retailers (listed on the website).

More info: email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit www.portlandopenstudios.com.