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Philly Street Art Interviews: How Fangirling Launched the Art Career of Lace in the Moon

October 8, 2019

(Photos by Streets Dept Contributor Eric Dale)

Welcome to Season 2 of Streets Dept’s newest series of street artist interviews, created in partnership with Philadelphia’s own unofficial official street art museum, Tattooed Mom. Each month, Streets Dept Contributor Eric Dale will sit down with one local street artist to ask them about their work. Together, we’ll learn more about the incredible artists getting up around Philly.

Today’s interview is the finale of our 6-part second season of Philly Street Art Interviews. And just like with Season 1, we’ll be celebrating this season with a little pop-up shop featuring work from all six of this season’s artists at Tattooed Mom next month: more information on that event very soon, stay tuned! 

When Taylor Swift came to Philly on her Reputation tour, Nicole Nikolich wasn’t planning on quitting her retail job. She had just started creating crocheted street art on the side under the name Lace in the Moon, and was beginning to realize that she had finally found her medium. But Swift’s concert presented her with an opportunity she couldn’t resist—using her street art to attract the musician’s attention, and maybe—just maybe—garner herself a meet and greet!

Installing crocheted Taylor Swift lyrics on the street turned out to be very popular. So popular that Nicole decided to pursue crochet as a full time career. One year later, having installed artwork at Fashion District, Philadelphia International Airport, and a tiny town in Italy, among other places, Nicole is full of ideas for taking her art to the next level. From working with schools, to forming a crochet collective, to maybe even taking over YouTube, Lace in the Moon is just getting started.

Streets Dept’s Eric Dale: Hey Nicole, thanks for doing this!
Nicole Nikolich: Thanks for having me! I’m very excited.

SD: So I think Taylor Swift is as good a place to start as any! Can you give us a quick recap of that whole episode?
NN: That’s everyone’s favorite place to start! You gotta start with my girl Taylor. So basically, Taylor Swift was coming to town, and I’m, like, a super fangirl. Me and my friends from high school; we just love our girl Tay, and we were like how could we meet her? Before and after every show, she does a meet and greet with fans, so it wasn’t crazy out of the norm [to think] ok, if we did something, maybe we would meet her. Her team finds fans before and after who can meet her, which is pretty cool. It’s a lot of Tumblr accounts and social media accounts that usually get their attention.

So I had just started crocheting, and I had only put up a couple small little yarnbombs around, but I was like what if I crochet some of her lyrics and put them around town and just see what happens? And it was kind of a joke at first. Like, ok, she’s not really gonna see this. It was just fun. I put up one by the art museum at first, and it got a little bit of a response; nothing too too much. It said “I want your midnights,” and I did kind of a starry night theme, that I thought kind of fit with the art museum. My friends back home were promoting it on their social media, like whatever, nothing big.

But I was like I’m going to keep doing this! So I did one on Kelly Drive, and it said “you’re so gorgeous,” and people could stand in the middle of it. This was probably my most-photographed thing. You know Kelly Drive—runners and bikers going back and forth—so a girl named Claire Walters was actually running by in the morning. She worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and saw it, and she’s a Taylor Swift fan too, so she was like ok I recognize this lyric. She reached out to me and was like hey, I found your piece and found you through Instagram, and it looks like there’s a story here? I was like YES there’s a story! She was like I’d love to do an interview. So the Philadelphia Inquirer ran an article about what I was trying to do. And after that, it kind of started to blow up—other news sites were recreating her story and posting it, and then when I did my third installation, which I did by the stadium, Newsweek actually picked it up. So it was crazy! We went from this joke; these crazy fans to wait, this could actually work.

It was such a fun week. We were just freaking out. It was really cool. We got to the concert super early—it was like 11; I’m not even kidding—and walked around just trying to meet anyone from her team… and nothing worked. At 4:00, we were hanging out where they were having games and activities outside the concert. Her team was riding around on a golf cart, handing out these tickets to people, like, literally a golden ticket. They drove by us, looked at us, but didn’t say anything. And I had yarnbombed us all shirts that said “Rep” on them, which was the tour name, and I was wearing my Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper around my neck.

SD: Oh my god. Wow.
NN: I know, I’m crazy. So they drove by us and weren’t giving us the time of day, and my one friend ran up to them like these are the girls that yarnbombed the lyrics! I’m sure you must have seen them!, and the golf cart girl just drove away. So for eight minutes, we were like oh my god, we’re not gonna meet her. And then they came back around and they were like so you’re really the yarnbomb girls? I was like yeah, how can you not tell? It’s all over my shirt! And they were like ok, we’ve seen your stuff in the newspaper. Do you want to meet Taylor? And we were like UHYEAH. So it was really cool—we got to go backstage beforehand and we had like five minutes with her in a room, which was kind of cool. It’s all a blur. I said some really embarrassing things.

The entire experience was so surreal, and after I got all of that press, I was like you know, I’m going to try to do this. I’m just going to keep doing it more often, and see what can come of it. The Taylor Swift stuff is fun and got people involved, but let’s see what else I can do, and how I can take my own art and put it out there into the world and see what happens with it.

SD: Would you say that being a fangirl is an important part of your identity?
NN: One hundred percent. I love being a fan girl!

SD: How else does that manifest in your life and your work?
NN: There’s so many things in life that are just hard and sad and depressing, and things that we all have to go through and deal with, and this is just a way to have fun and kind of let go and just not think about things too much. It’s a way that me and my friends can have a fun time talking about celebrities or pop culture or whatever. It’s almost just a little getaway from real life. It also brings me and my friends closer. My friends that I fangirl with, we just have such a good bond.

 

SD: Speaking of identity, what role does queerness play in your art? Recently, you’ve been talking about that aspect of yourself more openly, it seems.
NN: Yeah—I’m really glad that you noticed that. I feel like over the past couple months, I have been trying to highlight this part of me through some of my work. I have struggled with my own sexual identity since early college. I never really could define what it was or felt a specific word represented me. I didn’t know if I was gay, bisexual, queer, pansexual… I feel like I’ve probably told so many people a different name for what I am, but I’ve learned it’s okay to be all of those things wrapped up together. I’ve never been ashamed of this part of me; I embrace and celebrate it happily; but it’s a part that takes warming up for me to really talk about. As I’ve been able to grow my confidence through my art, I have started to focus on queerness in my work. It’s a way I feel empowered and proud and a way of expressing myself without having to use words.

 

SD: So I want to ask you about self-employment. We kind of have similar stories with that, so I feel a lot of kinship with you there. I certainly have complicated feelings about it, so I want to know: how do you feel about self-employment?
NN: Right now, I’m at a difficult stage with it. I quit my full-time job last November—actually, Black Friday was the day I got out of retail, and I’m going to have a huge party this year! But since quitting that, I have been doing my art full-time. I also do work at a restaurant on the weekends and sometimes during the week, because I don’t make enough money [from my art] to support myself completely full time yet, which—I’ve only been doing it a year. But I really enjoy it. It gives me a sense of freedom.

But lately, the biggest thing I struggle with is motivating myself. Right now, I’m coming off a high this summer—I did four really big projects that I’m super proud of and they kept me busy all summer long. Right now I’m kind of at a lull, and I’m finding it’s hard to motivate myself when I’m just working out of my home. My studio is in my room, so it’s like… my bed’s here… I wake up and there’s my yarn… but there’s a pile of laundry over here… How do I differentiate? I need to create from 10 to 7 without these distractions that I’m finding myself getting into. That’s been the biggest thing for me. Sometimes I’ll be crocheting, and I’ll be like I’m just going to take a quick nap, or I’m going to go do my laundry. It’s something that I’m really trying to figure out right now. I have a little bit more free time these next couple months, so how do I treat this as a 40-hour-a-week job as if I had to go to the office? At first, when I quit my corporate job, I was really good about it, and when I have big projects I’m really good about it, but the in between time when I’m like what’s my next project? How am I making money right now? That’s when it’s like alright Nicole, how can you motivate yourself? I would love to find a studio space to work out of, but all that costs a good amount of money…

SD: And your work isn’t really conducive to going to a coffeeshop…
NN: No! It’s just a hassle! Showing up with three large bags of yarn, spreading out all over the table… but I have found that when I’m working in a collaborative environment, I’m thriving, so I need to find more of that. I know it’s out there; I’ve just started searching.

 

SD: What are you working on today?
NN: So today, before I came here, I was finishing up what I’m going to put up here [at Mom’s], and then for the rest of this week… I want to start something this fall and winter to get the community involved with crocheting. “Collective” is the term in my head; I don’t know what I’m going to call it yet, but I have such an interest from people wanting to learn to crochet. They’re just like this is so cool, can you teach me the basics?

I went to Italy this summer for a crochet project, and I met a lot of people who, back home in their communities, teach people how to crochet a small pattern, and over time, they create all this product, and then they make a giant installation with it. I really want to bring that to Philly. I want to do some kind of meet up—for example, Monday mornings at a coffee shop and Wednesday nights at a bar. Just teach people how to make a pattern throughout the fall and winter, then maybe put it up somewhere in the spring. I think it’s really going to help me get more involved in the community, force me to work on a project consistently, and just meet people and connect that way.

 

SD: What are you most excited about right now?
NN: I did a couple big projects this summer, and I don’t really have another one coming up until December, so I’m excited to do my own things next month. I haven’t really done a lot of street art in the past couple months, as much as I would like. I’m really excited to incorporate some wheatpasting into my next projects. Right now, when I do a yarn bomb, I’ll crochet my lettering, and it’s just really time consuming, so I’m going to start wheatpasting lettering and spending more time crocheting something around it. I just did [a piece for] Streets Dept Walls, and what I really enjoyed about it is that I used a smaller hook and made this repetitive pattern multiple times. I think it created a really nice visual interest. So I’m going to take time away from crocheting lettering and do the wheatpasting that way, and really hone in on my crocheting skills. Smaller things, but on a large scale, if that makes any sense. So I’m really excited about that!

SD: Are you worried that crocheting might start to feel more like a job than a passion or art?
NN: Yes, for sure. People have always said that: that when you take your hobby into your job, it becomes less fun. And I definitely feel that, in the sense of ok, right now I don’t have a big project; how am I going to make money; what am I doing with my crocheting to survive off of this? It’s when I have big projects lined up and I have a little more free time that it’s still fun for me. But when that pressure is on, it doesn’t feel as fun—I feel like that’s how it is in any job. So we’ll see where that goes.

I’ve always been someone who will start something and then kind of grow out of it. I’ve done that my entire life, but with crocheting, it’s the one thing that I haven’t felt that way about. And I think part of me has just been trying to find this medium that I really enjoy working with. I was getting close the past couple years—I was weaving for a bit, and I was doing macrame, but none of it felt right, and crocheting feels right to me. So I haven’t felt that it’s a job. When I’m doing it, I still love it, it just feels more stressful, like we gotta come up with something creative so that you can pay the bills this month—what is it going to be? I have all of these ideas of big projects I want to do, and I think as long as I keep working at it, I’ll get there, and it’s gonna just continue to be something I enjoy doing.

SD: I know it’s very time-consuming to crochet your large pieces—what do you do while you’re crocheting?
NN: Sometimes I’ll just sit in silence and it’s really nice! Not all the time, but it’s a really meditative practice, and I’ll let my mind wander, or I’ll just count, and it is such a great way to meditate.

SD: When you say “count”… Like, counting stitches?
NN: I’ll count stitches, yeah. A lot of the stuff I do is more freeform; I’m not really following a pattern, but sometimes when I’m making a leaf or something specific, you do have to count, so it’s really nice to focus on that and just that.

I’m thankful that one of my roommates works from home sometimes, so sometimes I’ll go down and chat with her and be around her. Music; podcasts; tv shows; sometimes I’ll go out to the park; when I can collaborate with other people, I’ll do it with them; but it is a lot of time by myself, in my room, doing it.

 

SD: A year ago, when I photographed your collaboration with Inphltrate, I saw you crochet for a couple minutes, and it felt to me like you were going really really fast. Was that because you were doing something that’s technically illegal, or are you super fast, or is that a normal speed?
NN: Haha! So people who have seen me crochet before have said the same thing. I think I am faster than your average person. I do use a large hook, so maybe that just makes it look faster too, but I do think I’m pretty fast.

SD: Your art trajectory strikes me as very similar to that of Symone Salib, in that you seem to have come out of nowhere and are now everywhere! To what do you attribute this rapid rise?
NN: I definitely feel this past year things have happened pretty fast, and sometimes I’ll maybe be like ugh, I need to make more money, or I need to be doing this, and people in my life will be like Nicole, slow down! Look at what you’ve done in the past year! And I’m like ok, that’s really true. I’ve been in some publications, or I’ve been a part of some events that, like, people who have been doing this for years still haven’t, so I’m really really grateful in that sense. Philly is such a great community for street art, and almost everyone that I’ve met wants to help build you up. It’s not so dog eat dog—it’s more of a community. But I think what makes my work stand out is that there’s me and maybe two other crochet artists in this community, so I’m one of very few; my colors are really bold; I think I do a lot of pop culture, LGBT, mental health things that a lot of people can relate to; I do large scale, so you can’t miss it; and Instagram has helped a thousand percent, which is something that is good and bad sometimes. I never want to do something with the sole purpose of oh, I hope this gets likes on Instagram, but that definitely helps. But I think I’ve just found something that I love, I quit my job, and I’m going for it. Like, that’s a little crazy! When I quit my job, I had a restaurant gig too, so I knew I could make money that way, but I didn’t have large things planned out. I was like I just need more time to keep creating; to keep whipping stuff out. And I feel like when you do that, it just will start to come, slowly.

SD: You did a collaboration with K–6 students in Naples, NY, that saw the kids begging to skip recess to crochet with you. What is it about crochet that makes it so accessible and attractive to kids?
NN: So that experience in New York was incredible. I went into it never really having done a large workshop like that before. I’ve taught smaller scale, and I was nervous. I didn’t know—can all these kids crochet? Is this going to be difficult for some who maybe don’t have great coordination, or have attention problems? And someone told me, Nicole, don’t underestimate kids. Go in to it and set the bar high and then adjust from there. And I was blown away.

Remember when all the kids were going crazy about the fidget spinners? Kids need something to do with their hands, and it seems like in schools, the education system is so focused on testing. There’s less reading and there’s less play and running around, so they’re cooped up all day. So when I brought the crocheting in, it was crazy to see these kids touch this material and just become hypnotized by it. What stood out the most was that the boys, and the ones with attention problems, thrived the most. I just taught how to chain. It’s maybe about a ten minute learning curve, and once you get it down, you can do it so fast. I think it was just having something to focus on that wasn’t a screen; there were no distractions… they probably had to count or do something in their head that made them focus on the task at hand, and it was so cool to see them enjoy it.

And I think I went in making it fun. I showed them my street art, and I said has anyone ever seen this? Almost everyone: my mom or my grandma makes scarves, hats, whatever. But no one had ever seen the street art and no one was like oh my grandpa or my dad crochet. It was always moms or grandmas. But it was so cool to see a lot of the boys just love it. By the end of the week, I had a group of 25 kids staying with me after school. Kids went home and crocheted… One kid came back to school the next day with this giant ball that he had worked on all night, and we wrapped it around the school. It was just crazy! It was a craze! We had to put the needles and hooks away cause that’s all they wanted to do. So that was really cool, and it’s something that I want to expand to more schools. It’s just something that I’ve had to put on the back burner over the summer. It’s another thing I’m excited to hone in on these next couple months.

 

SD: Tell us about “flower head girl.”
NN: I’m guessing you’re talking about my piece at the Airport?

SD: Yes, but your Instagram caption said that you’ve just had this vision of her in your head since you were a kid.
NN: Yeah, I have. I’ve always had this vision of a female face with the head exploding into flowers. It’s not the most unique idea; I’ve seen it done in other ways, but I’ve just been really attracted to that image. I drew something like that in high school that I really liked and ended up submitting with my AP portfolio. And then my very first yarnbomb ever was this flower head girl—very small, maybe two feet by two feet.

When I got this opportunity at the Airport, they were like do whatever you want! (Sometimes I wish that people would narrow it in a little bit more. There’s nothing scarier than a blank wall or a blank canvas, though there’s something really beautiful about that too.) I was coming up with all these different ideas, and I was like you know, I think it would be really special to create this piece that I did a couple years ago. It just really shows how far I’ve come in such a short time. So will I do this same motif again? Probably, and I would love to see the way it will evolve. I can almost already think of me doing it super super intricate on an even larger scale. But it’s just something I’ve always been drawn to.

SD: So how the heck did you end up installing a piece in Italy?
NN: Hahaha! Yeah, I don’t know! It was such a cool experience. So this woman reached out to me, and she had this idea of creating a national yarnbombing day in her small town of Trivento, Italy. I was like how did you find me? She just follows a bunch of different crochet artists and knitting artists on Instagram, and she just really researched a bunch of people. 70 artists sent a piece in for this, and her idea was we’re gonna create a festival in this small town; all the pieces are gonna be somewhere hidden throughout the city. There was this map, and you have to go find them all, and it was going to be a weekend long festival, all fiber-arts related. All the pieces actually ended up staying up for a whole month.

SD: That is so cool! I love that idea!
NN: It was so cool. I wasn’t going to go, because there wasn’t funding for flights and accommodations and all that stuff, but I randomly came across a little extra money, and it was right around the time where I had to decide if I was going to book my flight or not, and I was like ok, well I have to do this. So I was like ok, if I come, I want to do something big, I want to do something a little bit different. At the bottom of the hill in the town, there is this bus stop and [the woman behind the festival] was like I would love if you could cover the bus stop in crochet. I didn’t have any exact dimensions or anything, but for about a month, I slowly created square and rectangular pieces that I figured I would just sew in when I got there.

There were yarn girls and guys just like me from everywhere around the world. And it was so special, cause I’ve never been around that many people who have my same passion. My passion is pretty niche. It was like me in all different forms. The coolest part was I met these three girls that I connected with really quickly. There was a little bit of a language barrier—some spoke Portuguese; some spoke Italian; everyone spoke a little English—but it was always like you’d have to translate with someone who would translate with someone and then you could talk to someone through someone else. But when I needed a little bit of help sewing all my pieces together, it was like—and this is gonna sound so lame—we spoke through crochet! Because I didn’t need to explain anything—we just knew the same pattern! It was really special. No words were needed—we all knew the same thing.

SD: Booooo! Lame!
NN: Hahaha! But it was incredible. Walking through the town with this map and everywhere you looked there was a different beautiful crocheted piece… There were some great ones, but one that stands out in my mind was an omelette. It said “omelette you finish,” and of course I loved that cause that’s what Kanye said to Taylor Swift! I’m like this is someone else who loves Taylor Swift and yarn?! I need to meet you!

 

SD: What’s the big project that you mentioned is coming up in December?
NN: I am actually headed to Colorado, and this has been in the works for over a year now. I’m working with this design firm. They have 12 giant tree trunks inside of this new design studio that they’re building, and I’m going to be wrapping all 12 of them in crochet. It’s this funky geometric pattern—their designers came up with what they wanted. So I didn’t really have much creative freedom, but I’m going to be doing the actual physical work. But this will be my first project where it’s like we’re gonna fly you out, we’re gonna have you stay, you’re gonna install it all—like, corporate-level stuff. So it’s cool! And I’m excited to get these projects so that I can fund smaller things that I want to do. You need both, definitely. So I’m excited about that one. I gotta start buckling in on that, cause that’s gonna be a lot of hours.

Also—I just did some set design that I haven’t, like, announced yet or anything, for Jason Segel when he was here…

 

SD: What?! Can I break that?
NN: Yeah, that’s totally fine! I didn’t have to sign an NDA or anything, but I just haven’t really talked about it. So he was here; I made 14 giant flowers for the outside of this house, and it’s going to be really cool—they’ll film the flowers, and then the flowers are going to turn into animation and grow up the entire house.

SD: How did you land that?
NN: They were actually filming in my neighborhood, and I guess they saw the piece that you photographed—the one with InPhltrate. They went to my website and they were just like hey—and they showed me the picture with InPhltrate—we don’t want the wheatpaste; we just want the flowers. Can you do this on the side of a house? We’re creating this crazy carnival scene. And they gave me two weeks notice. Yeah.

SD: Did you get to meet Jason?
NN: I didn’t. The set was one day, and the next day they were filming.

SD: You gotta include that in your contract!
NN: “Need a meet and greet! Do you not know I’m a fangirl?!” Haha!

 

SD: What’s the most common question you get about your art?
NN: The most common question I get is “how long did this take you?” Absolutely. A lot of people think that I just create it on the spot when I’m putting it up, and they don’t realize I’ve been working on it maybe 40 hours at home. And people also say “how did you get started in this?” They’re like this is awesome, but it’s so specific and niche! Even though it seems kind of random, when I reflect a little bit on my own art life and my own art journey, it’s been a long time coming. I’ve worked with paint, drawing, mixed media, and never really found what it was gonna be until I found yarn and a hook together. It seems random, but it’s not. I’ve been slowly messing with materials for, like, a decade.

 

SD: Before we go, we gotta ask, what’s your lunch order at Tattooed Mom?
NN: It’s pretty simple—the Beyond Burger. I usually get tots, but the ones that have like parmesan? The parmesan pepper tots!

SD: It was great talking to you.
NN: Thanks for having me, Eric!
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PHILLY: Join Tattooed Mom for Art Heals: World Mental Health Day this Thursday, October 10 starting at 6pm!(21+, Upstairs)

World Mental Health Day is observed each year on October 10th, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health.

This year, NAMI Bucks County is partnering with NAMI Philadelphia to host a special #ArtHeals: World Mental Health Day event with Kyle Confehr to make mental health beautiful in the Greater Philadelphia area.

There is no cost to attend the group art show, and proceeds from art sales and raffles benefit NAMI’s work to improve the lives of everyone affected by mental illness through education, advocacy, and support. Participating artists include: Nicole Saltzer, theundertaker90, Deanna Ferlanti, Ellen Manning, Janean, Philly Dragonaut, D.T. 215, and Kyle Confehr!

Learn more now here!

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Read past articles from our Philly Street Art Interviews series by clicking the artists name: Hope HummingbirdFaithsFunnnBob Will ReignTaped Off TVLow LevelVoid SkullsKid HazoUnder Water PiratesSymone Salib, SEPER, and Morg!

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