The City Magazine Since 1975

Steeling Beauty

August 2017
Steeling Beauty
PHOTOGRAPHER: 

Sarah Mosteller knits braided steel into sculptures

Using needles of varying sizes, including the extra-large pair leaned against the wall, Mosteller knits skulls, brassieres, gloves, and more.

Encased in a hard-shell body cast from shoulder to hip, Sarah Mosteller was on bed rest for three months in 2013 after breaking her back. She was not only in pain, but incredibly bored—until her cousin brought her a knitting kit. “I loved it. It was so meditative and therapeutic,” says Mosteller. And when she returned to classes at College of Charleston, she proposed a new idea to her sculpting professor: knitting metal. Professor Herb Parker responded, “I have no idea what that looks like.” Together, they figured it out. Using spools of braided steel and needles of varying sizes, Mosteller now creates everything from ball gowns to skulls. This month, she begins a master’s program in arts therapy at New York University, but first, she presents “She(II)” at Beresford Studios from August 4 to 20.

Early inspiration: My grandma was a wonderful woman who always encouraged creativity. When I was 10, she bought me a metal detector that I used to collect old brooches and spoons, which later became part of my first metal assemblages.

Finding her medium: I’ve always been drawn to 3-D art. In high school, I was focused on nonfunctional fashion that incorporated odd materials into dresses. I made one gown out of tissue paper flowers.

The accident: I broke my back while working at an adventure camp in California. We were bridge jumping, and I landed in the wrong way.

Knitting logistics: It took a lot of trial and error. My professor and I tested out different metals, and eventually I fell into a creative process. First, I figure out the pattern and create swatches to make sure it won’t be a gigantor bra or teensy dress. Then, it’s just lots of hours of knitting. I build up calluses, but it’s not as bad as you’d think.

ArtFields 2017: This year, I created a debutante gown [shown above] that took about 200 hours. The purpose of a debutante ball is to announce when a woman is available for marriage, and “debutante” means “a performance.” What does that say about a woman’s role in marriage? I joked that this would be my gown, if I had one. My armor.

 

Show of Strength—For Sarah Mosteller, a difficult healing process led to a new art form: knitting steel.

Artistic message: It’s really evolved. I focus on femininity and the female form, but also on identity through the lens of clothing. I combine this craft that reminds you of your grandma with metalwork, this masculine practice, to create pieces that are delicate but also extremely strong.

On requests: Over the last year, I’ve worked mostly on commissions. Often clients have come to one of my shows and had their own ideas sparked. Surprisingly, I get a lot of requests for bras. I think it has to do with the garment’s significance in female empowerment.

Future plans: After I’m a certified art therapist, I would love to open a healing center for women focused on creative outlets. I wanted to do this before the accident, but my experience with knitting and how it helped just fueled my determination.

Resources: 

Photographs by (Mosteller) Margret Wood & (model) Elizabeth Ervin Rollins