A bunch of hooey

Artist's view: A bunch of hooey

A bunch of hooey

Jill Miller is an Urbana-based batik fiber artist with a studio in her home at 905 S. Lynn St.

Story: Christine Walsh

Photos: Christine Walsh

Jill Miller is an Urbana-based batik fiber artist with a studio in her home at 905 S. Lynn St. For 16 years she has hosted an art show in her home.

The house was built in the 1920s as a furniture factory. It sat empty for about 20 years before Miller’s boyfriend, Geoff, bought it. It had most recently been home to Parasol Records, a mail order company that produces local musicians, for about a year before it moved to its current location on Griggs Street. She took advantage of the open floor plan to start hosting art shows, which she has been doing for 16 years now. “We move furniture around,” she said. She normally does shows at Christmas and in February, when “people are ready to get out again,” she said.

The name of Miller’s business, Hooey Batiks, and her Hooey Home Shows, comes from a beloved cat she had, who died around the time that she was starting her business. “He was a goofy, fun, ridiculous cat,” she said. “I have a lot of silly designs, so I thought it was appropriate.”

This winter Miller has been experimenting with ice dyeing, using snow. She combines soda ash with water and then lets them soak in the fabric, which gets it ready for the special dye. She waits 24 hours to let the dye set. “It’s something I’ve just started doing,” she said.

Miller mainly uses a Japanese manual resist dyeing technique called shibori. “I still don’t know what colors I’m going to come up with sometimes,” she said.

Within shibori there are other techniques. In one called arashi, Miller ties fabric around a PVC pipe and then scrunches it down before putting it in a dyebath. In another called itajime, fabric is folded and clamped and then a soda ash solution is poured over fabric so as to soak the non-clamped fabric before pouring on the dye. She also practices a stitch and gather method in which she uses a needle and thread to make stitches across the fabric and creates gathers by pulling the cut ends of the sewing thread before immersing it in dye.

Miller grew up in a family who enjoyed all sorts of crafts projects and became interested in fabric arts when she took a recreational arts and crafts class at the University of Illinois, where she was a sociology major. “It was pretty much camp crafts like papier mache and print making,” she said with a laugh. Batik was a two-day portion of the class. “I learned how in two days and never stopped,” she said.

In March and April Miller usually takes part in two or three shows every month in the surrounding states. “Champaign-Urbana is an excellent central location,” she said. “It just is a great home base. What has changed most for me is I’m making my own shows. If I see a gap, I can have a home show.”

Miller decided to organize a show with a group of artists she knows in Springfield, and she’s now working on their fifth artist-run show. “It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “We all have our own specialty. After 25 years of doing this, I know a lot of people.”

Some artists are coming from as far as Michigan and Indiana. “We’re getting really good quality artists,” Miller said. “It’s really branched out. I just want a good balance. None of us takes anything seriously. We like to have fun and get goofy.”

Miller also helped Sleepy Creek Vineyards organize an art festival.

Last Christmas, Miller hosted a home show for which two of her artists — Kim Caisse of Hannibal, Mo., who digs up her own clay and makes ink out of walnuts for her art, and Urbana’s Lydia Puddicombe, who makes hand-carved stories — coincidentally both made pickle-themed art. They decided to have a joking themes called “challenges” from then on. The next theme will be dung beetles. Miller was inspired by listening to a podcast called “Mysteries Abound” before going to sleep one night.

Inspiration can come in other ways, too. “I make lots of lists of things that might be fun to do,” Miller said.

A ham design was a special request from artist friend Kelly McCleary, owner of The Quirky Quiltress, at a fiber show for a fake band with her and Puddicombe.

A squid design came from an artist friend whose boyfriend was in the Navy and wanted something with a submarine theme. “I get suggestions,” Miller said. “I like to be silly.”

For something like the squid, Miller researches images online. She avoids Etsy, Pinterest and anywhere else that she might see other art versions. “I don’t want to be influenced by another artist,” she said.

Miller sketches some of her designs, though she claims she can’t draw. “It’s very cartoony,” she said. “It’s a lot about color. I don’t know how it’s going to look with the wax and dye until it comes out. It just kind of flows.”

If Miller messes up a piece, she may start over or show it on a social media site. “I get great feedback,” she said. “People tell me if I’m on the right track.”

The next art form Miller wants to try is katazome, a Japanese fabric dyeing method using a resist paste made of rice flour and bran applied through a stencil’s holes.

Miller also loves tenugui, thin Japanese hand towels woven from cotton on a loom. “The edges are deliberately not finished, so they will fray a little bit,” she said. They can have many uses, including as gift wrap. A chef friend likes to use them as a headband.

Miller admires the work of her fellow local artists and of others, like Nancy Gardner, a Chicago ceramics artist. She also appreciates people like 40 North | 88 West Executive Director Kelly White. “She is such a great supporter and does so much for the art community,” she said.

Miller created a design called “Summer” for the Murals on Glass initiative for the City of Urbana that is displayed on the south windows of the Urbana Civic Center. “That was a lot of fun to get something this size (gesturing with her hands) giantized,” she said, coining a new word.

Miller is considering working with some companies that will customize products like leggings or cell phone covers with artwork. “People tell me people can recognize my designs because they have a distinctive look or style,” she said. She said customers have been walking down the street or at an airport and start a conversation with a stranger wearing a Hooey design. “It’s like a club,” she said. Ekah, a visual artist whose business is known as Steampunk Grub, told her that she was standing in line while wearing a Hooey coffee cup print shirt and turned around to see someone wearing the exact same shirt. “My friends send me pictures of Hooey in the wild,” she said. “I have customers who’ve been with me for 20 years. Their kids have grown up and they’re buying their grandkids stuff. It’s wonderful.”

When we visited with her, Miller was working on Valentine’s Day themes – nothing with hearts or cupids, though. One design features dinosaurs, and another has a porcupine giving another porcupine a mix tape. “You know it’s got love songs on it,” she said.

Miller gets some of her more specialized materials from a ready-to-dye clothing company in California and from another place in Chicago and gets her linen from Jo-Ann Fabrics. “I’m trying to go to Art Coop more often because I want to support local as much as I can,” she said, noting that the store’s owner is helpful in finding supplies for her and suggesting substitutions for materials that would be too costly.

Miller’s interests outside of art include chickens, cooking and plants.