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
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
and her Facebook Page at
. She also has this
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
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
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
and you can check out her website at
and follow her on Instagram at
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