Monday, July 2, 2012

Following Loose Threads

I hate - HATE - to sew. I hated it when I took sewing lessons at Sears at 16. I hated it when I had to take home ec in high school. But my grandmother was a seamstress at Hart Shaffner Marx, and she made knock-off designer suits and dresses for my mom, who was a model with a taste for couture. Back then, as a teenager and wanna-be hippie, I wore jeans and Indian kurtas, and little else. In the Whole Earth Catalog approach to construction, I made granny dresses from Indian cotton bedspreads for my friends, all hand-seamed and embroidered with peace symbols. Who needed fashion in the love generation?

But here I am. Still making clothing, and acknowledging that my mom’s love of fashion wore off on me in spite of the counter-culture that shaped me. And oddly enough, I’ve retained her respect for quality, in spite of my impatience with details. And that’s one of the reasons I still hate to sew.

The finishing details take the longest time, more time than designing and construction. Neat seams and no loose threads. Knotting and sewing back in the tails is agonizing, but if I’m going to justify charging what I put into the piece, I have to spend those hours squinting at the tiny threads to be sure they are immaculate.

But why do this in the age of WalMart? Who looks at details anymore? Clothing is disposable anyway and everyone expects their clothing to disintegrate after a season or two of wearing. People want cheap clothes now.

Exactly.

That is exactly what is happening to the garment-buying public - clothing has become a commodity - and the idea that we should continue to wear a treasured item is becoming passé.

This saddens me. I still have my mom’s prom dress from the 40s, a navy silk taffeta full-skirted dress, enshrined in my closet. (I can wear it when I am skinny; about once every 5 years I wear it to an event.) I also have my father’s Navy regulation great-coat, made by Navy tailors in Japan during the Korean War. It’s a little big for me but it’s WARM! I still have t-shirts from 20 years ago and a few things from college. There is a story in every item that is told again when I wear that garment.

When Nice Threads first opened, we exhibited a collection of home textiles that Robyn, Eileen and I had inherited from our mothers and grandmothers. Many were hand-woven or hand-embroidered or crocheted. And when someone would come down the stairs and see the dishcloths and table linens, they would invariably start talking about their grandmother or their aunt or their mother, and the textiles that were handed down in their family.

That’s the value of handmade textiles - they last. They are made with a level of quality that is unknown these days. We fiber artists are the last holdouts in the disposable age. And that is the purpose of Nice Threads, to remind people of the quality that has been lost everywhere else.

So if your seams are ragged, and your seam threads are hanging, they will pull out and ravel and all your hard work will be for naught. Don’t undermine your own work that way - take all the time necessary, adopt a Zen mind and knot and thread and stitch down those loose seams so they are secure and neat.

Even if no one notices, you know that jacket or scarf or coat will still be around for the purchaser’s grandkids to say, “Grandma wore this to all of our Christmas parties.” And they will try it on and wear it and keep it carefully for their kids and grandkids. That is your gift to them.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Taking the next steps in fiber


Teaching is a big component of Nice Threads. We spend a lot of time demonstrating and teaching, and our materials shop is designed to support our students for their journey from class to the next piece, and then the next.

At least we hope that our students continue in the techniques that they learn here, but we know that is up to each individual student. We want you leaving our shop confident that you can do [spinning/ weaving/ felting/ dyeing/ knitting, etc] on your own, and hope you come by and ask us for advice when you “lose the thread.” Not everyone who takes classes at Nice Threads will become a working artist, but it's not about the end result, or what you call yourself. Fiber is a journey, not a destination. You may be strolling through, or making careful itineraries, but Fiber is a lifelong endeavor, at any level of proficiency

The big secret to excelling at any of these techniques has to do with a basic fact - it’s all in the numbers. Your second piece will be better than your first, and your fifth piece will kill your second. Keep producing - and please, don’t think of it as practicing!

Practicing brings up scolding mothers and piano lessons on nice days. The word “producing” works better for me. Make a habit of starting a new piece (even if it’s just notes on what you would do better next time) right after you finish the old one.  Sketch if that is a good method, or cut photos out… whatever has you planning the next piece. Work on it regularly, even if you do just a little at a time. You will gradually improve technique and trust your own instincts.

On the subject of instincts, and your own personal expression, I leave you with the best advice that has ever been given to an artist (IMHO), in a quote by legendary modern dance artist Martha Graham:

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time; this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium  and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you.”