Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 135, November 2016 Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
Women in Woodworking - Meet Sabiha Mujtaba
By Andrea Ramsay
Seattle, WA

This month I had the opportunity to get to know Sabiha Mujtaba. Sabiha teaches woodworking and is an accomplished custom furniture designer and maker. She's been involved in woodworking for awhile. I could feel her passion for the craft as soon as I saw images of her work.

I asked Sabiha how she came to woodworking and she shared that she began woodworking through an "odd process of eliminations and fortunate connections." She studied sculpture in college and knew she wanted to continue exploring either metals or wood as the main material to express her creative ideas. Soon after Sabiha moved from England to Atlanta she met the neighbors of some good friends who were woodworkers/artists/painters, Anne and Timothy Sutherland. She was drawn to connect with them and begin her journey, through an informal apprenticeship in Tim's wood studio, towards studio furniture making.

When she was a student in England she attended a college that was affiliated with a trade school. This affiliation gave the art students the unique opportunity to take courses in welding, gold-leafing, plastering, letter press, mold making, bricklaying and woodworking. Their art project assignments were based on the combinations of techniques they learned in those shops. Sabiha spent a lot of time brick carving, welding and in the woodshop and she "just loved it all."

We all have parts of woodworking that we love more than others. I wanted to know what is it for Sabiha, what draws her into woodworking? For her the material is the key, as she says "it is the most varied compared to any other single material; different species, grains, colors, and rigidity." She is interested in how she can apply all those qualities towards sculpture, furniture and carving. Her exposure to so many different mediums let her experience these differences. She also enjoys the problem-solving aspect to designing with wood in mind and how to take on unique challenges. She prefers power tools for wood preparation and joinery while enjoying hand tools for detailed techniques. In the end she is inspired to see the wood come alive with the final finish and prefers a simple oil finish. She "loves seeing the striking beauty of the woodgrain when the finish is applied. It takes [her] breath away."

I asked Sabiha about her thoughts and experiences on being a woman in woodworking. Here's what she had to say: "I began my woodworking career in the early 1980s when I was in my 30s, knowing and having experienced that even in the arts and particularly in sculpture there were fewer women working with materials, and in trades, usually reserved for men. Going to the lumber yards was most often met with stares and incredulity. It was in 1980 that, as far as I know, the first women to graduate in woodworking as Masters in Fine Arts were Wendy Maruyama and Gail Friedle from RIT in Rochester, NY."

Sabiha shared that her first influence was Judy Kensley Mckie "whose animal sculptural forms just lent themselves beautifully to furniture." It was when Sabiha received the Frieda Maloof scholarship that she had the opportunity to take a class from Wendy at Anderson Ranch in Colorado. Then when she joined The Furniture Society she had the opportunity to meet Judy and several other incredible women mostly her age and younger. With the newly formed society she felt that women could make their presence known and influence the perception of women in this field. As she says "Believe me there was some serious misogyny by some within the woodworking community in those years." ​She says that in the last fifteen to twenty years she has seen more and more women enter the woodworking field, as makers, educators and exhibitors. And as such the perception and acceptance of women in the woodworking community has evolved and more women enter it as a career choice or as a hobby.

For someone new to woodworking Sabiha suggests taking as many classes as possible . These classes are a good opportunity to experience "the feel of how your body and mind respond to the woodworking environment; the physicality, the sounds, the tools, and safety issues." There are so many options and it's good to get exposure to hand tools, power tools and the mixture of both. These experiences and different instructor perspectives will lead you to eventually decide what aspect interests you most and then allow you to focus on an area and see where that leads you. Discover areas of the craft that you enjoy and find fulfilling. Once you are hooked then look for classes that are more concentrated on specific areas of your interest. There are so many good schools/classes out there. She recommends two projects to get you going as a new learner. First try some rectangular lidded boxes with different corner joinery, different lid closings (such as sliding, inset or hinged). Then try a three legged stool.

Sabiha is currently working on an entry table in ambrosia maple, walnut and etched design in copper, for a show in January. If you want to see more of her work and see what else she is up to check out her website at http://www.chrysaliswoodworks.com and her Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/chrysaliswoodworks/ . She also has this great video for you to check out on her collaboration and creation of a triptych for the Marian Chapel in Knoxville, TN.

You can also find Sabiha teaching regular classes at Highland Woodworking . She teaches a variety of classes such as Fundamentals of Woodworking, Woodworking Expanded, Intro to Relief Carving, Intro to 3-D carving and most are beginner levels. In August 2017 she is scheduled to teach classes at Penland School of Craft . In September 2017 she will teach an all-levels class at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, TN. Catalogs and class schedules will be out in the early Spring for these courses. Take a look into these schools as they have incredible facilities for woodworkers and turners (including classes in other craft mediums).

Andrea Ramsay is a dedicated student of hand tool woodworking since attending Port Townsend School of Woodworking and completing their three month intensive program. She left the technology world in 2014 and is happy every day that she traded in her laptop for a chisel. She does commissioned work out of her shop in Seattle's Equinox Studios..

Andrea can be reached directly via email at andrearamsay@gmail.com and you can check out her website at www.andrearamsay.com and follow her on Instagram at @andrearrr .

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