One of the first makers that I met at Swarthmore my freshman year was found in an unexpected place: the freshman job fair. Costume shop manager Tara Webb ’ 94 was there looking for student shop assistants. I recently sat down with her in the shop to find out more about her experience making at Swarthmore, both during her years as an undergraduate and her recent years here working with students.
Webb’s mother was a weaver, and she grew up having a variety of materials around.
“[Crafting] was something I was given to do after school,” she said.
In high school Webb began drawing, weaving, and sewing for herself and her friends. Later she picked up embroidery and knitting. Swat, however was a different story.
“I didn’t have as much time to make because it’s, you know, Swat,” she laughed.
Webb does recall making large collaborative watercolors with her friends that were “psychedelic mixes of styles.” The dorms she lived in at the time also had collaborative poetry steno pads in the lounge, where people would add lines when inspired and also leave notes for one another. Webb also found a creative outlet working in the costume shop as an assistant herself.
The LPAC costume shop was relatively new at the time, so her position as an assistant consisted mostly of organizing the large piles of clothing that didn’t yet have racks to go on. However, she still considers it a wonderful experience that led to an internship after graduation and, later on, a career in costuming and design. Working in the shop provided a chance to fit some making into her schedule and get paid as well.
Webb’s favorite medium to work with changes over time. Currently, she likes making her own natural fabric dyes out of food scraps such as avocado peels, a skill which she shared in dye workshops on campus this past fall. She also aims to have a sustainable wardrobe by cutting down on her clothing waste through upcycling and repairs. Knitting, however, is something she still enjoys, even if it’s a slow process, taking up to two years for a hat. Time is also a factor that plays into what kind of mediums she uses, like it does for many makers. While embroidery is something she loves, it is harder to fit in especially since she no longer commutes by train.
As for the changes in the making community here, Webb has observed that it changes drastically depending on the students on campus at the time. Psi Phi’s predecessor, SWILL hosted some crafting-oriented events along with LARPing (live action role playing). The Women’s Resource Center has been a prominent space for making and gathering as well. Various knitting groups and sewing centers have also come and gone on campus.
Another huge change she’s seen is with the ease of learning a new skill with the wide variety of online resources, especially YouTube.
“Before it had to be someone sitting and showing you, but now you can just look it up,” she says. This, she believes, is one of the reasons that there are more makers, which makes it so much easier to find other makers to befriend.
Webb also gave me a variety of recommendations for fun places to find supplies in Philly. For fabric, she recommends Gaffney’s on Germantown Avenue, Fabric Row on South 4th Street, and Jomar for discounted manufacturer quality fabric. Loop on South Street is the place to go for yarn.
This interview left me inspired and hopeful. There’s something about hearing about all the other options for making that others love that makes me want to try even more new mediums. While there may not be as much time to make here, there is a light at the end of the tunnel where there is a bit more time for making. And who knows, maybe there can be a career in it as well.