Handmade: Longtime fiber artist is tied to creativity

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

Muriel Jacobs sees the world of fiber art through the eye of her sewing needles.

Muriel Jacobs, of Farmington Hills, shows one of her fabric collage projects.

You may remember her as the woman mentioned here several weeks ago, who, around 2006, designed and made, by hand, a patchwork memory quilt using neckties and mementos that once belonged to Walled Lake resident Paula Finklestein’s husband.

Remembering Finklestein as one of her first customers for tie projects, Jacobs, 88, said, “It became a little thing that was going on. One woman would let the next woman know, and so on. They all had neckties and kerchiefs.”

She continues to use her intricate sewing skills to repurpose neckties. She said, “I’m sort of known around the community for the vintage neckties, and now, there’s a terrible problem — men aren’t wearing neckties like they used to. I say they’re ruining my business!”

But Jacobs, who, six years ago, downsized to a senior apartment in Farmington Hills, has found a way to stretch her remaining supply of neckties, collected over the years. She’s now cashing in on the return of men wearing boutonnieres. Making them requires far less fabric. 

“I’ve sold them all over,” she said. “I’m selling them on 10 Mile and Greenfield at a shop called Fashion International in Southfield, at the Shirt Box in Farmington Hills, and Paul Cicchini Custom Clothier in Birmingham.”

There’s seldom a day when Jacobs doesn’t spend time sewing, and often late into the evening. “There’s just a need in me to do it,” she remarked. “I see art through my needle. I doodle a lot, but it comes through my needles and threads. I’m doing hand-sewing, so all the art pieces I turn out are really handmade.”

She’s always made anything she could with a needle (pillows, vests, jackets, etc.) that was “practical and pretty.”

One end of the sofa in her living room is devoted to her sewing projects. “I’ve got a big box of material that’s right at my fingertips, filled with all the things I’ve acquired over the years. I should have the whole apartment as a studio, but it’s not working that way. I have a husband (Bert), and I’m forced to give him 6 inches,” she joked.

“But, when you have one of these all-consuming hobbies — it’s all consuming. I do a lot of thinking about this which surprises me. It captures me — the thinking about designing. If I’m bored, I certainly think about it. It keeps me active, motivated, interested and interesting — I hope.”

And, how did she learn to sew? “I just kind of got born knowing it,” she said. “I used to be a kindergarten teacher, and I just took off with all these minor hobbies, and I joined the Needlework and Textile Guild of Michigan. It was just in me. I sort of taught myself.”

But, her days of doing such projects as large custom quilts are pretty much over. She said, “I don’t have the room or the drive to do it anymore.” However, she’s replaced it with creating exquisite miniature framed quilts, done by hand, of course, and designed with intricate details, including hand-embroidery, beadwork and vintage buttons, as embellishments on colorful pieced fabrics — silk, velvet, brocade, etc. And like the quilt she made for Finkelstein, they lend themselves to the random design and fine details of a crazy quilt. She buys vintage frames and takes the quilts to a professional framer. 

Muriel Jacobs, of Farmington Hills, shows off her free hand quilt titled Mind of it's Own.

As one of few who choose to quilt by hand, Jabobs noted, “Hand-quilters are out there, but we’re sort of a dying breed. Everyone wants things to be expedient. I revel in the process.”

 Her work is currently available at Detroit Fiberworks in Detroit, Tre Sorelle in Farmington, the Art & Frame shop in Bloomfield Hills and Watchbands Plus in Farmington Hills. 

Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, jbrown@detroitnews.com or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.

Contact Muriel Jacobs at pointoftheneedle@gmail.com, or on Facebook.