Friday, June 29, 2012

When Losing is Winning

(Just a reminder to new blog readers, or if you just forgot: clicking on the colored words (links) will take you to more info, and clicking on the photos will take you to an enlarged image, the better to view details.)

Sometime last winter, while enmeshed in endless preparations for a quilt show, a large and complex embroidery project, and another embroidery challenge,  I dreamed of having the free time to return to a bit of creative clothing construction. Clothing sewing had been my main type of artistic self expression for most of  my life. I had wanted for many years to go to art school and become a clothing or textile designer. Unfortunately the dream of a professional life as such had been thwarted, but in recent years I had returned to a selective set of projects that might be called "art clothing." Generally these involved using articles of clothing as a base for textile surface design explorations, and the body as the gallery for displaying them.

While I loved the idea of being able to show off my "art" wherever I went (I now can do that by whipping out my phone and pulling up my Flikr photo steam), there was the small issue of middle age spread making me an unsuitable longterm gallery for these pieces. I gradually decided it was a better use of time and money to shop for clothing that fit me now and make art that always would. The funny part about that idea is that as I have matured into my "be here now" living style, the longevity of the interest I need to have in my finished pieces of creativity has diminished no matter what the medium. I get the pleasure in the moment of creation, and generally have less interest in long term ownership. Also, the concept of digital storage of images has made it easier to catalogue, revisit and reuse the art when desired.

So when I recently decided it was time to go back to making my mark on interesting portable art, I didn't feel the pieces had to be mine forever. I did decide, however, that I needed to provide them a great looking gallery. I finally bit the bullet, rejoined the new and improved Weight Watchers (mostly improved because the online tools make tracking everything a breeze), and now I'm watching the daily shrinking me show, where I'm weighing, measuring, trying on older, smaller sizes until by the power of will they finally fit, and waiting for the time I deem the mannequin "just right." But while this has become my major summer project in the category of "just do it!", I am beginning work on a fabulous new wardrobe of someone else's inspiration, but my joy.

For once, I decided I didn't have to reinvent the wheel, that I would give myself permission to use patterns and ideas from another designer. That would be Natalie Chanin and her fantastic layered mix and match wardrobe of totally hand sewn, surface designed and embellished pieces made entirely from comfy cotton knits. Bam! The perfect combo of simplicity and excess! Any piece in the basics wardrobe can be made totally and utterly plain, or encrusted to the point of body armor. Your choice. And for your own satisfaction (aside from having a wonderful piece of clothing to complement your lifestyle), when people complement you and say "what a lot of work you did" or "how much do you think that is worth?", you can point them to the retail sales side of her company and say: this little poncho would set you back $1,235, but I made it for a yard of material and the joy of stitching.

Before I move on to my summer of show and tell stitchery, I thought I would share with you the rest of the projects from my five week course, Flower Crazy, with Carla Sonheim. I was so captivated by the techniques she taught us that for once I completed every assignment, including the "extra credit"! 

In addition to an overall inventive, personalized floral theme, the course centered on the creative combination of gesso and watercolor as the media on a variety of substrates. This is watercolor paper with gesso "last".

Here we created a textured painting with gesso "first" then watercolor and Carla's "patented" rub and buff technique.

The idea for these pod flowers came to me in a waking sort of dream. Here the same texture first, then color, but on birch plywood.

These next two pieces are my pride and joy from the class, and involved birch plywood base with wet on wet paint (and many layers more). And yet there was almost no planning involved and the two pieces took under two hours to do.

This piece and the next are the surprising base layers for the two painting to follow. Surprise for me, because I had never worked with collage before as a first layer, especially when the notion is that you will cover most of it up.

This is what the orange, green and blue papers inspired in me after adding layers of gesso, watercolor, charcoal and white acrylic ink.

And the wild black and white polka dots (left over from making journal covers for a previous class) served to give punch to this fun graphic celebration of petal power.

The "final exam" of sorts was to take a children's board book, remove most of the paper from the pages and convert them into a smorgasbord of our favorite flowers and techniques from the class. I used a great deal of collage as the base for these designs, and added water-soluble markers as well as colored pencil and water-soluble ink pencil for punch. There are a total of ten paintings in this book. Check them out here.

One of the "extra credit" assignments was to make more flowers on watercolor paper that could be cut out and arranged as a wall installation.

This collection is above my television on the main living room wall.

These are on the closet doors above my sewing machine. All of them made from scrap paper, cardboard and tape, but the key ingredients are whimsy and color.
In addition to starting the Alabama Chanin designs, I am currently a member of  Jude Hill's class, Contemporary Boro 2, in which we are exploring a variety of philosophies related to clothing ownership, use, repair, and design. It is, as always, as much a community as a class, and populated by a fascinating circle of caring individuals. I showed you the dress below back in the May 7 blog entry. The reason it is here again is to share the label. One of the first projects suggested in Jude's class was to think about the alternate uses of clothing labels and how they can become part of the story of the mended or redesigned (or newly created) pieces we are making. This label is a miniature print of a quilt block from a very special group piece I did with my Designing Women friends a few years back. The image is the first "creative" portrait I ever drew of myself, and the sentiment, "I Am One of a Kind", speaks of both the dress and me.

Here is another label I made using an old stamp that was that has been the symbol for years of my sometime craft business, "Hippo Productions". This garment has been "Infused With Hippo Love," the label printed on tea dyed muslin.

A very simple but fun style from the "Alabama Stitch Book" that makes use of recycled logo t-shirts. The brown one was a prize from an Oregon hops grower for photos submitted of hops plants growing in my garden. And no, I don't brew my own beer. Not yet, anyway. I'm too busy trying to decide which  stitchery project is calling me the loudest this week. Can't wait to show you what's on the worktable now. But hopefully, hanging from my "new" body.


  1. You look like you've had a lot of fun, my friend! I had to laugh out loud when I read your comment about the retail price of an AC poncho and the "price" you paid. I really love Natalie Chanin for giving those of us with thinner wallets the chance to wear AC garments too.

    And your flowers are stunningly beautiful! I have to admit that I feel a bit envious of all the gorgeous things that you've accomplshed this spring, as I feel I have just been stuck in a tired rut most of the time. But there are new winds blowing now, and I have high hopes. Thanks for your inspiration.

    Good luck with your new body, and I'm looking forward to seeing you mannequin your latest project!

  2. Aloha from a new follower... I clicked over from the Alabama Chanin flickr group a few days ago, and so enjoyed this post today. I have all of the AC books, and a substantial investment in their organic yardage, but have not started on anything but a hat because I want to make a size smaller than will (today) fit around the middle-aged pudge I'm so trying to ignore. Hmmm, yes, I should make something lovely to wear anyway. Maybe a simple top? Maybe get outdoors for some exercise today first? Thanks just the right wisdom at the right moment!

    Love your paintings, too, BTW, and that "what did it cost me to make it" calculation is spot on.

  3. Thanks for the Alabama Chanin link Cheryl. Great stencils and clothing ideas. Never have gone that direction yet, just dream about it. Always enjoy your blog, still enjoying the pen I purchased from you several years ago.