It's the end of July, and for me this month conjures up feelings of patriotism and pride (as well as beaches, BBQs, and watermelon!). There's no better time of year to express our dedication to American makers. In honor of our manufacturing partnerships, I'm posting a mini-series featuring three interviews with some of our local manufacturers and artisans - the people that help make what we make possible!
Q: When was your business/studio established?
A: The textile collective I am a part of was formed in winter of 2013 located in Atlantic Mills, Providence, RI. We're a group of individual artists and designers that range in career stages and in our various studio practices. We are tied together in our emphasis on pattern design, textiles, printmaking, and paper work. I have been doing independent design work, pattern design, and art in textiles since RISD times , but have gone down this sewing rabbit holes more since around 2014, I think. And that influenced all forms of my art making… teaching, making, designing, collaborations, studying history of, and respecting.
Q: Tell us your story - what inspired you to go into this line of work and how did you get started?
A: Textiles sparked my interest in that it is both technically interesting and challenging to know a cloth's construction, and in addition the opportunity to design in pattern and color for shapes (I mean both bodies and living spaces). What may have seeped into my subconscious originally was seeing other craft people and mentors at a high school age who were textile artists.
Also definitely growing up and having small pieces made by my grandmother who lived far away. That kept a connection to her and to her generation of women who sewed, crocheted blankets and made clothes, both for income or just for home and family use. So knowing the legacy of textile workers in this industry, especially for women and family members, has impacted me significantly. Time and labor in textile production are things I think about a lot. When I work with companies to sample make, often all the production people are immigrants and people that look like they could be my family members, so I get heightened feelings of respect for all the skilled labor and hands involved in the process of making one product.
Q: Why Rhode Island? And how has Rhode Island influenced your business/work?
A: I grew up here, and my support network was here. I moved away after RISD, but was drawn back. Part of my practice is also teaching and collaborations with other artists, or community organizations sometimes, too. So to have a studio practice like that without knowing a ton of people or affording space was difficult in bigger cities like NYC. Here, I can be interdisciplinary and more flexible to balance my studio art practice and design and contract work.
Q: What materials do you work with?
A: Any kind of textile really.
Q: What's your favorite material to work with/why?
A: Woven fabrics and specifically medium-weight organic cotton is nice. It's a simple one, the care after is easy, and it's great to print on if I need to. And for dye, too, it's nice. I do like pretty much anything though. Making a wedding dress can be luxurious since people often pick soft delicate fabrics like silks, so that's fun to the hand, but since it's such a special garment, too, that can be a little stressful, and I'm usually trying not to sweat all over it for that reason.
Q: What are the most interesting projects that have come through your doors?
A: I jump around a lot so it all stays in the interesting realm for me. I like making quilts for others the most. With their guidance to make one for their loved ones, or making a memorial quilt collaboratively with a group is very special. I also like making costumes for the theater world lately. You get to travel through time by wardrobe and construction of a dress or undergarment in the way it was made in that time period. Sleeve shape alone, for example, varies a lot over every decade and place. I also made a butt pad once. It is less design for interiors based, but definitely still uses all my technical skills of construction, design and engineering a textile onto an object skillfully. I'm still learning and new in that world, too, apprenticing still. So very wide-eyed about it, mostly. And it is still designing for a space (body).
Other interesting things lately… I just assisted an artist making some hand-beaded family portraits, hand sewn onto his machine knit tubes that were woven together to make a huge quilt. It was weird and beautiful. The play I just did costume designing for was an all POC production from playwright, design team, director to cast which can be rare in theater world so I was excited to work with so many friends and peers in that opportunity and had a lot of local support. With the set designer, we threw an overlock sewing machine onto a skateboard to sew the rug pieces together on the stage. Things being so time sensitive in theater makes you work more on your toes (or, in that case, squatting over a skateboard) to figure out the building out of a piece. It looked like a strange performance piece doing that. This week I was sewing large inflatables for your [DUNN's] neighbors and friends of mine. That was fun and different.
Q: What's your favorite part of what you do?
A: Refer to question 6… that I get to move in and out of other peoples projects and work to make things be constructed really well and carefully. I like the engineering and sculptural aspects of a sewing project, which may be why from theater clothes, to cushion covers in furniture design, or lamp shades it is all similar for me. There often needs to be some figuring out of the pattern and shape that I like being challenged by. Then material itself needs to be factored in. If it stretches, if it's slippery, if its is on a bias or is someone's old cloth that is falling apart and needs some love and backing. Velvet is crazy. So to factor in that the textile has it's own characteristics and way of moving to be aware of is my favorite. Sewing can be meditative too. And that is definitely something I realize I like a lot about it.
Q: How do you approach projects with new clients (what is your process)?
A: I like working with other artists and designers who are creating something that is unusual and their own unique design or project. I just listen and talk with them first to know what their vision is and try and help support that. That they created a seat or an object, that they have worked through their end of design and then need my part to look seamless and well with their design or vision is generally the goal. So talk first, see their inspiration, make samples, be open to changes, talk more and refine the process and production steps for them is how it goes generally.