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American Craft Favorites, Part 3

23 Mar

One other “Maker of Fine Clothing” that I admire is textile artist Leni Hoch.

Leni Hoch makes silk scarves (mostly) but also jackets that start with a very light, transparent fabric, and then are hand-dyed lustrous and brilliant colors, often with a metallic sheen. Then they are intricately pleated. The resulting scarves have more body and form to them, from the scrunched pleats. As you’ve seen, the cloth-as-sculpture thing is a perennial favorite for me.  With a fabric this distinctive, the shapes and styles of a garment can be really simple, as the fabric takes over and makes any resulting item a statement piece that’s hard to imitate. Complex, intensive process leads to strong, distinctive and unmistakable results.

American Craft Favorites: 2

26 Feb

Nichole Deponte‘s work is not for shrinking violets. She makes statement piece accessories from men’s neckties–are they scarves? Are they necklaces? I’m not sure, but they wrap around your neck, and they’re beautiful.

It’s funny, because the first thing I thought of when I saw Deponte’s work was this pin, that I’d pinned on Pinterest:

It showed how a simple necktie could be turned into a feminine, ruffled, neck piece. And yet, what I love most about Deponte’s “Lilian Asterfield” line is that although it stems from a common cultural meme, it takes the common idea and pushes it further than anyone else has done and does it elegantly and with great workmanship. Again, there’s that push-pull relationship of competing thoughts: “It’s just neckties, you can do this yourself” and then, as you peer closer and see what’s really going on, there, “No, way, look what she’s done with those neckties!”
The more you look, the more you see.

I’ve done work with upcycled men’s neckties, myself (more on that later) and again, Deponte’s art stood out to me because it was not easily duplicated. For starters, she uses really nice ties. They’re good quality, and she uses a lot of them: one ruffled neck piece might have three ties in it, but when they’re all the same color, you don’t notice at first. And then she puts them together. I’m sure it’s fun to fold and ruffle ties, but I also know from looking that it’s going to take a lot of time before I  could ever “fold and ruffle” to the extent that she has. So many quirky variations! And then on top of that, she adds bits of lace and buttons and other embellishments, and they’re all sewn together quite well. These ties are flashy and fun, but they’re also well-made down to the details.

I think this product line is a good illustration of how, as crafters, we often have a choice: we can wrap our arms tightly around our ideas defensively and say “I thought of this, first!” or, like Deponte, we can rework ideas, improve upon them, and get so deeply rooted into the artistry of it that we run, leaping and skipping ahead of the pack, making with pleasure and wild abandon until what we’ve created has value far beyond that of the original idea.  She hasn’t “inspired” me to make a tie scarf, myself, or copy her idea (no, I want one of hers, preferably one of the striped ones that look so very modern-Downton Abbey) but Deponte has inspired me to look farther than just follow-the-directions when I see an intriguing idea, lying around.

American Craft Council Favorites, 1

26 Feb

My hands-down favorite clothing vendor at the ACC show was Teresa Maria Widuch.

Widuch makes jackets in wool felt and ultrasuede: simple, sculptural jackets with crisply cut raw edges of fabric stiff enough to stand up like paper. Indeed, at first glance one might have thought the booth held paper cut-outs  of clothing. The colors were pure and vivid: fuchsia and citron, smooth, even colors that let the shapes stand out  and highlighted the three-dimensional forms by emphasizing the cast shadows across the surfaces.


They look, at first glance, deceptively simple: a raglan sleeve here, a rounded collar there. But this is yet another instance where a “simple” look comes from a myriad of perfect details, all lined up to deceive the eye into reading the whole, “simplicity”, rather than each of the details on their own.


I’ve never seen anything like these.  I’ve never seen anything constructed quite like them, either–the pieces are put together like sculpture, not like clothing. And there are no two alike. I don’t know how many I looked at (nearly every one there, I think) and each one offered a slightly different shape or variation from all the others. Some (like the red example, above) had an inner part that serves like a vest, under the opened petals of lapels. Many had asymmetrical collar lapels, wrapping differently on the left than on the right.  Some had decorative design details cut out, some had toggles or closures and others just fall open smoothly. All of them are based on traditional jacket forms–blazer, kimono, cape, etc., but none is quite straightforward. This is a great example of how, crafty and clever as I might think I could be, I know that I could not duplicate this effect in my own workroom, for any amount of trying, at least not without spending far more for materials and effort than the finished jackets themselves cost. (You see, I’ve tried ultrasuede!) And I think it’s because I sew, myself, that I appreciate this all the more.  Because I know where the seams usually go, on a blazer or jacket, that I notice how the traditional seams are moved or missing, and  all the different variations Widuch has made to design a garment that looks like and yet nothing like what we expect from a jacket.

There’s something almost existential about these that I love. They’re sculptures: art pieces that comment on the “essence of jackets”, perhaps. Sculptures about clothing that double as actual, wearable clothing.  And they’re quite chic when worn, as well: they have their own dimensionality and stand out and away from the body, and yet their  shapes are as conscious of the shapes of human bodies that fill jackets as they are about jackets, and thanks to carefully angled darts and seams they look quite gracious when modeled.

One day, perhaps, when I return to buying clothing that other people have made, I may find that it takes something this dramatic, this chic to make it worth my while to go shopping. And wouldn’t this be a handsome acquisition, to a handmade wardrobe?


The Art of Handcrafting

25 Feb

This weekend I was fortunate to attend the American Craft Council show. Because of this project, I paid particular attention to the textile artists, clothiers and designers.

I am tempted to call it “inspirational” but what I felt most, looking at the fine handcrafted work of others, was quite different from inspiration. I think of “inspiration” as when I feel the need and impulse to run home and try out something for myself–it’s what I feel, often, when looking at pictures of runway fashion shows, for example. Or knitted items in retail stores. What I felt, however, looking at the work of these artists was quite different from that. So often, whether it was a craft I can do myself (like sewing) or one I’ve never tried (like furniture making), what I felt was more like awe. Awe and admiration, that someone had thought of this. That someone had tried it with this twist, or had perfected it to that level. And rather than wanting to run home and try out each process myself, I found myself feeling grateful, instead: grateful that someone had demonstrated that this could be done, and done so beautifully. I realized that while I do want to make a lot of things (like my clothing), I don’t need to make everything and yet, fortunately, for many things I really like, there is probably someone making it by hand, and making it very beautifully.

Teapot by Michael Scarborough

Teapot by Michael Scarborough

The craft vendors that I loved the most were the ones to whom I wanted to say “I couldn’t possibly make this, myself–but wow, you have done it, and done it so splendidly, I will never need to.”

I like to say “the world is full of beautiful things”, and this weekend I feel overstuffed with beautiful things. I will post a few of my favorite “finds” from the show, to share with you, here.

Felted Inspiration

26 Jan

I’ve never made anything out of felt, but it’s a fabric texture that appeals to me in many forms.

A lot of designers are doing interesting things with it, and it has great qualities that make it really versatile. Like the German designers Marianne and Josef Wurst of “Filz und Kunz”, who do silk and wool felt, sometimes woven together, sometimes in layers of transparent and thickly opaque.

See how the jacket on the left has strips of felt beginning as stripes and continuing down as a sculptural effect.  My favorite, though, is the belt (left) and bustier (right) made out of strips of colorful felt, and then “strung” on thing black elastic, to create a stretchy band that hugs the body, curving the vertical stripes along the shape of the waist.

To think of it: a felt bustier!  It is both surprising, and yet still  wearable. And the construction of those might potentially be applied to other materials, as well.