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    Tree-filtered sunlight floods through the big, bare windows in Steph Tanner’s in-home studio in Crestwood. An L-shaped white desk is cluttered with bits of concrete, bottles of Mod Podge craft glue, scraps of drawing paper and brightly colored embroidery floss. A collection of wooden frames rests on a shelf alongside other thrifted items some might call junk. Tanner’s 10-year-old daughter, Brynn, has her own little studio in a corner next to their pet gerbil, Dave. The room’s focal point is the large bay window with dozens of crystals and other meditative emblems on the sill. Tanner calls this her “altar,” and her husband calls it her “hippie stuff.” Above it is a tobacco lath ladder covered in a mass of macramé weavings, the long, unwoven ends dropping down below.


    "I Tend to Like Dirty Things," by Steph Tanner

    “I don’t really know what you’d technically call what I do,” says Tanner, 41, her bright purple hair almost fluorescent. “I guess we’ll call it fiber art. I just take fibers and weave them into different places.” Tanner, who is also a poet, says her pieces are poems she can’t verbalize. “Sometimes there are poems that go along with them if I can get the poem out, but most of them stand alone,” she says.

    Her weavings are informed by the structures that highlight them, like the metal crawfish trap suspended from the ceiling with pastel roving (a puffy, unspun yarn) woven heavy at the bottom, or the framed winding chicken wire with ivory roving woven in and out of the tiny holes. “I’m obsessed with giving something new life, especially in this world where we throw everything away,” says Tanner, who finds old pieces at places like Tickled Pink Memorabilia Mall in south Louisville and sometimes even in the garbage. “Going to antique stores is like going to my own personal museum. I like to take things out and make them do things they weren’t supposed to do,” she says. She once used an old oven rack as the base for a piece.

    "Where I Go to Dream," by Steph Tanner

    Tanner works part-time with Louisville Youth Group (providing services to LGBTQ youth) and is in her studio at least twice a week, working on projects that can take anywhere from a day to an entire year. She sells some of her pieces online, at local pop-up markets like the Flea Off Market, and at local businesses like Block Party Handmade Boutique.

    Nearly three years ago, Tanner shut down her photography business on a whim. “I was going through a period of pretty significant depression and anxiety and was just really out of sorts,” she says. “The only way I could really focus was by doing something with my hands.” She found a weaving tutorial online and made “like a thousand” standard weavings to learn the process — but she quickly set the rulebook aside. “I don’t want to make the typical weavings you see on Pinterest or whatever,” Tanner says. “I want to flesh it out more. I want to make it bigger, stronger — and I want them to have more teeth.

    “Anything can be fiber. I’ve deconstructed a bath towel, pulling it apart to make it look like mesh,” she says. She says she was beholden to following the rules as a kid, but now: “Rules are stifling to me.”

    You can see more of Tanner's work at her website iamstephtanner.com.

    This originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline "The String of Things." To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Cover: Close-up of Tanner's piece "Into the Ether."

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    Loretta Lynn is the best country music singer of all time and if you don't like pickled foods, you can leave.

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