Amber Dorko Stopper’s Hand Made Philadelphia

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Amber Dorko Stopper is a flickr friend and a Philadelphian. She makes these amazing felted knit sculptural busts of famous Philadelphians then gives them to the person. We became flickr friends when Dorko Stopper, who is also a writer, was working on an article about SunKoo Yuh for the Korean Quarterly and she found my photos of his work at the photo-sharing site. When I looked at her photostream I saw what she was making and was intrigued by the sculptural knitting and by the subjects she’d chosen.

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Amber Dorko Stopper’s larger than life knitted bust of Suzanne Roberts sitting atop her daughter Claudia’s toy piano.

She’s done a bust of Ed Bacon , Suzanne Roberts and Mikey Wild — all big Philly icons. It’s an eclectic list but Dorko Stopper’s an eclectic kind of person. Not only is she a knitting wizard but she’s a published fiction writer and an entrepreneur who ran a literary magazine in Philadelphia a while back. Feisty and passionate about all things hand made and about all things in general, Dorko Stopper a great self-taught artist whose work has a fabulous sense of style.

I met her and her tiny adopted baby daughter, Claudia, at Tuscany Cafe recently. Here’s an excerpt from our wide-ranging talk. All the photos in this post are from Dorko Stopper’s flickr site, used with kind permission.

How did you become a knitting enthusiast?
Nobody in my family knitted. I started on my own. Not in college–I didn’t go to college. I had been mucking around on my own (knitting) afraid to ask questions. First I made garments — hats, then sweaters. I started going to Rosie’s Yarn Cellar and became friends with Lisa R. Myers who owns it. Lisa wrote the book book The Joy of Knitting (Running Press, 2001) She’s well respected go-to industry person. She started Rosie’s Yarn Cellar in 1995.

Lisa is working with Manos del Uruguay, a woman’s coop in Uruguay to import yarn and finished goods. I’m working with Lisa. We buy yarn from Manos and now we’re developing some new yarn colors with them  [This is done with Myers’ Fairmount Fibers company–see below for link]. Fairmount Fibers is very socially responsible.

Cornucopia, the new color from Manos del Uruguay that Dorko Stopper worked on.
Cornucopia, the new color from Manos del Uruguay that Dorko Stopper worked on.

How are you making new colors?
One is a golden color, like acorn squash. We smuggled acorn squash into Uruguay so they could see the color and make it. Lisa’s Fairmount Fibers is her business distributing Manos del Uruguay yarns. I work part time for her. (Here’s the link to Dorko Stopper’s photo that has the complete story of how the new color yarn came about.

Lisa and I are partners in a publication series about knitting — Noshi Knitting Monograph series.

Knitting took off [as a popular fad] around 2001-2004. There were knitting blogs, knitting circles, etc. I was doing things differently than most. Making Halloween costumes, etc. The idea of knitalongs annoys me — everybody knits the same thing at the same time… And it got competitive. Bloggers started getting book deals, etc. But the books are like what Bret Easton Ellis once called “shiny book-like objects.” And the motto always seemed to be “It’s not your grandmother’s knitting.” Well, what’s wrong with your grandmother’s knitting???!!! Debbie New Unexpected Knitting — she made a watertight knit boat. That’s what interested me.

ed bacon knitted bust in Love Park.jpg
Knitted larger-than-life bust of Ed Bacon photographed in his beloved Love Park.

Tell me about the knitted Philadelphians.
I have no idea why I did Ed Bacon except that I met him. He was 93. I bought his book Design of Cities and asked him to sign it. I was afraid to go up to him.

Ed Bacon skating in Love Park, 2002.jpg
Ed Bacon, former Philadelphia City Planner, was also quite a character right up til the end. Here he is riding a skateboard in Love Park, Oct. 28, 2002, in support of skateboarders who had been banned from skating there.

How do you make these busts–is there an armature?
There’s a plastic canvas armature.  It was knitted first but loose-knit, then I felted it. You use a lot of agitation and heat. you rinse and soak and reshape and heat over several days.

I wish he saw it.  I gave it to the Bacon Foundation. I got a really nice letter from his daughter.

Dorko Stopper gave Ed Bacon one eye because in his 90s he had the look of a man with one eye not working. I think the one eye metaphorically gets to Bacon’s seer quality and to his larger than life persona. He was a Philadelphia giant.

mikey wild.jpg
Mikey Wild with his knitted portrait.

Mikey Wild. I knew him and would see him on South Street. [The musician/artist is well-known for his music and for his obsession with drawings monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein–Pageant Gallery showed his works a while back]. He did a nice portrait of Claudia and Dracula.

Suzanne Roberts (see top image). It’s in the Seeking Solutions office. She’s 86 years old and she’s amazing! She’s the wife of Ralph Roberts, founder of Comcast. Her show on CN8 is amazing. She tackles anything and everything on her show.

I wanted to do Neil Stein [famous Philly restauranteur who went into bankruptcy, treated his restaurant staff not too swiftly, had some substance problems and spent time in jail a while back] but I have to think about that.

I want to do Sam Maitin. Before I was born my mom was a babysitter for Maitin’s kid. So I met him [and have a connection].

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Dorko Stopper is passionate about knitting and other DIY (sewing, printing her own cards on her own letterpress). Here’s a plastic knit lunch bag she made from grocery bags. Her husband takes it to work each day. It’s lasted for a year.

Here’s Amber’s set of photos of more of her knitting/sewing/felting projects. She’s amazingly accomplished–from purses to sweaters and quilts and non-functional objects.

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Here’s another Dorko Stopper hand made project. Six wives of Henry the 8th as fishing lures!

Tell me about your writing.
In 2002-2003 I produced Night Rally a literary magazine. We published 5 issues, a run of 500 copies each. I am also a fiction writer. have published short stories. The literary magazine took more out of me than I thought it would. But I’ve started writing again.

Are you a native Philadelphian?
I grew up in Langhorne. As a teenager I moved to West Philly. It’s where everybody starts. [she lived in an anarchist house and worked at the residence for cerebral palsy children at 45th and Chester.] I’m married to Benjamin Levin, he’s an advertising consultant. [Her unusual last name comes from her family (Dorko) and her first husband (Stopper). She published a lot under that name so she stays with it.]

The Knitting Tarot
letterpress.jpg
Letterpress templates for The Knitting Tarot card deck created by Dorko Stopper. Printed by the artist and her husband on the letter press they bought. Art on the cards created by the artist’s sister.

What’s the tarot/letter press project.
The Knitting Tarot….Ben and I printed it ourselves. Online we found a letterpress (owning the means of production is my thing). I’ve always been interested in Tarot. So I had a tarot deck related to knitting. My sister made the designs. We set the cards letter by letter. There’s an edition of 170. We sold em. People signed up on my knitting blog and they sold. They look beautiful. Simple line drawings. Sales are winding down when Claudia came on the scene.

letter press.jpg
Letter press –the means of production.

So what are you and Claudia up to?
Claudia and I are going to Baby Loves Disco. It’s daytime activity with disco balls and music for 6 month-6 year olds.  It’s great for the mom’s too.

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