Internationally influenced knits weave new style

Designing, dyeing, knitting and teaching are Phyllis Miller’s passions.

As a university professor in Mississippi State’s School of Human Sciences, she creates clothes for herself, and they’re earning major national recognitions. Her internationally influenced domestic designs feature bright colors, bold patterns and skillful knitting.

According to the former Fulbright Scholar, Miller’s most recent major honor—Best of Show at the 105th American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences National Conference—is only part of her streak of success.

The AAFCS recognition means members of the competition jury decided her design was No. 1 among 60 entries. Since the conference only accepts half the submissions it receives for judging, just being allowed to compete is an accomplishment in itself, Miller emphasized.

“When the university has people in national and international exhibitions (such as AAFCS), people start to look at and say ‘Mississippi State is a design school,’” she said. “Now, we’re competing with the big design schools.

“I told the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences dean (George Hopper) that I’m just getting warmed up.”

Miller originally designed and knitted the award-winning Chogakpo coat and dyed chameleon tube dress. She said inspirations for the apparel came from the simple combination of some extra yarn on hand and a book about Korean patchwork wrapping cloth.

“One thing that I do all the time is something I call ‘paging through,’ where I just turn the pages of a book,” she explained. “Some things attract my attention, and some don’t. I was paging through a book about Korean patchwork wrapping cloth where they would put patchwork together to wrap wedding presents or other gifts, and I said, ‘I can knit that.’”

Miller said the consistent successes she’s had in juried competitions over the past year reveals the lasting, consistent appeal of incorporating different cultural traditions into apparel design.

“Almost everything we wear is inspired by something else, and so many of the things we wear are based on other cultures,” said the University of Tennessee doctoral graduate. “They’re beautiful, interesting and they offer something different.

“As long as it’s colorful and beautiful, I’m thinking, ‘What can I get from this? How does it fit into the bigger picture?’”

In addition to the coat and dress, Miller produced two other award-winning original pieces. An Egyptian ceiling coat and an American Indian basketry jacket, complemented by a sterling shawl pin and sterling earrings by jeweler Dennis Loss, were presented with the coat and dress at the 2014 International Textile and Apparel Association Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The acceptance rate for the ITAA competition is approximately 35 percent, Miller said.

Even as her work gains international attention, Miller emphasized making mistakes is an important part of the learning experience.

“If it’s not right, it’s hard to take things out, but I think you learn more by making mistakes,” she said. “I’ve learned so much from making the mistakes that it’s just been worth it. Creative achievement takes practice.”

By Leah Barbour, Photography by Russ Houston, Videography by Beth Wynn