Cathy Thompson has a lot on her plate. She has a part-time job, works with local organizations to boost civic engagement, is conducting a study on the rising threat of human trafficking in our area, volunteers with her church and, in the winter months, strives to keep the Fox Cities warm with the wide assortment of hats, mittens, scarves, socks and other cozy clothing she creates as a fiber artist.
With such a busy schedule, Thompson says the arts play a vital role in keeping her life balanced. “The knitting and the gardening and the photography really help me keep my sanity. As I said before, if you’re working in the realm of politics, … it’s stuff you have no control over. So, you do what you can do. You do your diligence, and then you go home and make some bread or you go home and make a sweater and hope it all comes out all right,” she says.
Looking at the displays of the Atlas Mill Boutique, where Thompson has been a resident artist for the last four years, it appears she goes home to knit quite often. Sweaters, wraps, scarves and hats in many beautiful colors and fibers are prominent figures in the boutique.
“Left to my own designs, I knit eight to 10 hours a day,” she says. Most of the time, her other activities keep her from all-day sessions, but knitting in a sunny spot in her home supplies a euphoria that can be difficult to walk away from.
Though she was first introduced to the fiber arts as a young girl, she didn’t pick it up in earnest until after she finished art school at Lawrence University. In school, she focused on pottery. Knitting provided a more mobile way to express her artistry. “You can do it while you’re waiting at the doctor’s office and that was a big thing for me actually,” she says. “I hate waiting.”
Her artistry has only grown as she has learned and created new techniques, many times on trans-Atlantic flights, and found new materials with which to work. Thompson uses natural fibers from all over the world to help create unique and comfortable pieces that have structural integrity and really catch the eye. “This is a fabulous time to be knitting, absolutely fabulous, because there is so much available,” she says.
With all of these resources, Thompson is able to keep doing what she loves—being creative. “I hope that people will enjoy what they buy,” she says. “Every project has some love that goes into it.”
For Thompson, the next project on her plate is localizing wool sales. She wants to connect alpaca breeders with local spinners to bring down production costs. “I really have a dream of working with the area alpaca breeders association in terms of doing some dialogue,” she says. “If we can get to a point where it would be more competitive (with foreign wool), I would feel good about that.”