Meeting Natalie Chanin, Quilts, and Creative Community

Last week I had the great pleasure of meeting the ever-inspiring designer, textile artist, and slow fashion pioneer, Natalie Chanin. I've long admired Natalie's work with Alabama Chanin, I adore her thoughts on sustainable fashion, and I proudly own many of her sewing craft books and have made a few of her projects. Her work is distinctive--hand stitched cotton jersey garments boldly embellished with applique, stencils, and various symbols often inspired by nature or by her native Alabama.

But I first became interested in Natalie's work because of her story--she was working as a designer in NYC and uprooted back to her native Alabama to launch a fashion business that depended on traditional crafting skills from her local community. She pays her stitchers a fair wage to make her designs, she's created a community based on traditional hand skills, and she's made beautiful clothing that isn't based on the fast fashion trends. All of this makes me cheer. And inspires me to continue on my own slow fashion journey.

I knew all of this before I bought her books, read her blog, or made any of her patterns. But in the past few years since launching my Make Thrift Mend project I've become more and more interested in artists and designers leading the slow fashion movement. Not just making beautiful clothing or pushing the edges of design (or more so pushing their designs outside of the fashion cycles and into something more sustainable and more interesting) but actually doubling as artists and advocates; assuming the role of activist for the sustainable fashion movement while continuing to create beautiful objects and garments.

So last week I joined the gathering at my friend Kristine Vejar's beautiful Oakland shop, A Verb for Keeping Warm, and tucked into the crowded room to meet Natalie, applaud her work, and listen to her and Kristine discuss their inspiration for symbols, stencils, prints, and other imagery in their designs. Natalie spoke of the inspiration she finds in nature but also in the deep sense of wilderness and wildness she experiences in her native Alabama. She also spoke about the long history of her work, joking that she didn't invent her techniques but instead insists her work started with the Mayans.

I also spent a second evening with Natalie when I gathered with a few artist friends at Heath Ceramics in San Francisco to hear her speak with Catharine Bailey of Heath Ceramics; to view her quilts on exhibition in Alabama on Alabama; and to take a short tote-making workshop. It was wonderful to hear these iconic and ever-inspiring women talk about their visions, mission statements, and how they approach collaboration in managing their businesses. It was humbling and inspiring to hear these two legendary women in the design world sit down in intimate and casual conversation. What a gift.

But seeing the quilts on exhibition in the Boiler Room at Heath Ceramics took on a special meaning for me. Five vintage quilts were re-imagined by Natalie and her team--dyed, appliqued, stenciled, and embroidered with Gertude Stein quotes for exhibition. Some of you might remember my first large-scale textile installation, The Dresses/ Objects Project. I letterpress printed Stein quotes to fabric and collaborated with artists to turn the fabric prints into dresses then the dresses into a large-scale installation. So seeing Stein's quotes integrated into Natalie's quilts felt particularly inspiring and resonate. To see this sharing of muses amidst the sharing of so many ideals with slow fashion, handcraft, and textiles.

It was amazing to spend a couple nights listening to Natalie speak, seeing her work, taking her brief workshop, and gathering with like-minded creatives. One day, I hope to take a weekend workshop at the Alabama Chanin headquarters. For now, I'm thrilled to have met her in person. If you have the chance to study with Natalie, do it! You won't be disappointed, I promise. And these gorgeous quilts have me thinking about upcycling some of the older quilts I've kept hidden in my stashes.




Public Art, Slow Textiles, and Social Experiments

Range Studio on Market Street with weaver, Meghan Shimek.
When I started my fast-fashion fast, Make Thrift Mend, almost exactly two years ago I knew I was embarking on an experimental journey. I knew that I wanted my shopping habits to change, that I wanted to deepen my relationship to sustainable fashion, and that I wanted to better my garment making skills but I didn't know exactly what the journey would entail. I knew I wanted to frame my fast as an art project, to push my work out of the studio and exhibition world and into the sphere of what's known as social practice. I knew I wanted to combine my passion for sustainability with my creative work and that I wanted to focus on making, mending, and buying secondhand.

Range Studio with printmaker, Jen Hewett.

Print samples by guest artist, Jen Hewett.
I didn't know that I would fall in love with visible mending and that I'd spend endless hours researching mending, stitching, darning, Sashiko, Boro, and opportunities for repair. I didn't know that natural dyeing was within my reach as a continued studio practice. I didn't know that I'd find some sense of healing between my usually juxtaposed rural upbringing and the urban spaces I've called home for nearly 20 years now.

I didn't know this fission existed so deeply or that this healing would begin with urban foraging. That as I led my family on urban adventures to collect eucalyptus leaves, fennel fronds, and sour grass flowers I would be reminded of the time spent in the wilderness when I was young. That I'd feel reconnected to my departed father. Or that I'd finally see the connection between my studies in sustainability and my textile work. I didn't realize this work would take on such depth. I didn't imagine I'd focus on teaching mending workshops or amass a collection of reading and websites focused on what I now know to call Slow Fashion.

Range Studio featured artist, natural dyer Sasha Duerr, working with sunflower seed dyes.     

Sasha Duerr working with natural dyes and seasonal flowers.
So when my husband asked me if I'd take a week's residency in our tiny art studio, Studio 1, when it was commissioned by the Mayor's Office of San Francisco I knew I wanted to focus on Slow Fashion. Again, I didn't know what that would look like. I didn't know what shape it would take. Having an infant in my life again meant my studio work would inevitably slow down for an undefined period of time until we found our new rhythm and until I had enough support to accomplish more than the bare minimum in my work. All this meant there would be no major projects this year. Instead this year would be about supporting the work I had in motion before my beautiful baby Jude was born.

But this week long residency provided a new opportunity. It provided the opportunity for a condensed collaboration. To foster new relationships with textile artists I adore and to deepen relationships with textile artists I already know personally but never get to see quite often enough.

And it also allowed this very contained amount of time for me to throw open my studio doors and let the world peek inside. I knew this was an opportunity for experimentation. I knew this was an opportunity to revisit my initial goals in creating the Make Thrift Mend project. And I knew this was an opportunity to push slow craft and slow textiles and slow fashion into the very fast paced downtown scene.

Featured artist, Meghan Shimek, weaving on her custom built loom.
I don't have any grand conclusions on what the weeks' residency meant. Not yet anyway. But I do know it felt important. I know it felt vulnerable. I know it felt radical in someway to sit in my secondhand linen garb somewhat hidden by the indigo dresses and mended jeans swinging in the doorway of our tiny studio as my fellow artists offered inspiring and incredibly generous demonstrations to the downtown crowd. It felt disruptive. It felt meaningful. It felt like I was offering a public slice of a very private journey. And that felt right.

But what I didn't expect was the overwhelming positivity I received every single day. What I didn't expect was to feel like people needed what I had to offer. What I didn't expect was to have some folks visit two, three, or four times over the week and to become familiar with my work or with the work of my colleagues. I didn't expect it to be so much fun. And I didn't expect it to feel so positive.

I guess I expected folks to be indifferent or even adverse and maybe they were but if so they didn't share it with us at all. What they shared with us was curiosity, gratitude, engagement, and a desire to infuse more art into their work. Some folks even told us we were a bright spot in their week. I was honored albeit a bit surprised. But ultimately I was grateful.

Indigo shibori dye by artist, Kristine Vejar, owner of Verb.

Range Studio on Market Street, working with indigo dyer, Kristine Vejar.
And now this has me thinking how my project might eventually lift off the Internet and out of my studio and classrooms and continue to engage with both the intentional and the incidental passerby. How it might again push at the edges of public art and social practice. It makes me remember that outreach and engagement and collaboration are central to my work. That making and creating are only part of my process but building community is also part of my experience as an organizer and as an artist.

For now this will continue to take the shape of workshops, writings, and casual convenings but it has me wondering about future opportunities in public space. About the role of the activist and artist to engage with the public and to share our thinking and resources on a larger scale. To consider ways of moving the work outside of my studio and into the community through partnerships, public art, or what I've started calling "social textiles".

Range Studio with Marie Hoff, member of Fibershed.

Sample of locally sourced fibers provided by Fibershed

It also jump started my mending work once again. The small pile of mending that had been pushed deeper and deeper under my studio table has resurfaced and taken center stage once again. And this is very exciting because it allows me to experiment with new stitches, new layers, new lines, new textures, and to allow the work to fail and succeed and fail until it shapeshifts into a new technique.

And this is how I know I'm working. This is how I know I'm actively engaged in the creative process once again. That I'm right where I need to be. The feeling of inspiration combined with a tinge of complication or not-knowing or even a practical design issue that needs resolution. It's that tension that holds the most power for me as a maker.

This journey in Slow Fashion is just that... my journey. And I'm honored to share it with you and with the kind strangers on Market Street too. For now, the journey simply continues. Holding fast to my intentions but also allowing enough space for the future to still be full of potential and failure and success and the glorious unknown. Ultimately it's the surprises and serendipity and discovery in this project that keeps me moving forward. Perhaps, it's the experiment that keeps the work alive.



Slow Craft and Slow Processing


I am still swirling with all the excitement from being an artist-in-resident in our tiny art studio, Range Studio, last week. My brain is still making sense of my experiment to infuse slow craft into the heart of the downtown San Francisco bustle. And to consider what this means to share slow fashion in the midst of the busy streets. To slow textiles down and to let them collide against public art. I'm still processing photos, completing invoices, catching-up on email, and convincing my infant that it's a good thing to return to more regular naps in his tiny bassinet.

Suffice to say I am slowing down my own studio process this week as I consider slow craft. As I play catch up. As I consider how to let all this excitement flood my studio without washing me out with the tides. I'm not interested in some artificial idea of balance anymore. I'm not certain it actually exists. Especially for busy parents and artists and indie business owners and busy humans anywhere. I'm more interested in working with my whole heart, parenting with my whole self, and letting the inspiration flood my whole studio anytime it might. But I'm also learning that sometimes slow craft is really about slowing down not just my stitches but my timelines.

So. To that end. I'll be back here next week with thoughts and images about my past week as an artist-in-residence. Thank you to everyone who participated, came to visit in-person, and also cheered me on from afar. You can see a bunch of photos on my Instagram feed. See you soon!



Tiny Art Studio: Social Textile Experiments

Today I launched my week long artist residency in our tiny art studio on Market Street! I'll be working from the plaza at Market and 1st Streets until Friday afternoon. Each day I have another textile artist joining me for lunchtime demonstrations from 12noon-2pm and today was our very first day.

The wonderful Kristine Vejar owner of A Verb for Keeping Warm joined me with her beautiful indigo dyeing and she demonstrated some gorgeous shibori dye techniques straight from the sidewalk. I mended. She dyed. We shared our work with the public. We met some lovely folks. And tomorrow I'll do it all over again with one of my favorite weavers, Meghan Shimek. Wednesday with my dear friend and printmaker, Jen Hewett. And Thursday with beloved natural dyer, Sasha Duerr. Then Friday it's just me focusing on mending.

I wanted to share a few images from today's first experiment in fusing public art with slow textiles, art as action, social practice, and slow craft crashing straight into social sculpture. It was a lovely day indeed. More photos next week but I just had to share a few images from today's first day in the studio. Range Studio is in its fifth week on Market Street as commissioned by the SF Mayor's Office and it's thrilling. Hope to see you at the studio this week. Please say hello if I'm busy mending and making--I'd love meet you.



My Tiny Textile Studio on Market Street

Natural dye by featured artist, Kristine Vejar.
Dear friends,

Next week I'll be the artist-in-residence in our tiny portable art studio, Studio 1. This studio is the first structure in our experimental residency program, Range Studio, and it's currently been commissioned by the San Francisco Mayor's Office and the SF Arts Commission to reside on Market Street in San Francisco for six weeks. Next week, July 13-17, is my week to reside in the studio and make work from the very public space of the sidewalk of downtown San Francisco. I'll be at Mechanics Plaza at Market Street and 1st Street in our tiny portable studio. And I'm so excited I could squeal!

Natural dye by featured artist, Kristine Vejar.

Natural dye by featured artist, Kristine Vejar.

When I agreed to be in residence for one week of programming I knew I wanted to take this time to focus on my Make Thrift Mend project. I love the idea of mending and concentrating on slow fashion in the midst of the chaos and hurry of downtown San Francisco just blocks from the major fast fashion retailers, iconic shopping centers, multiplex shopping malls, and sandwiched between the working fleets, shoppers, and tourists that make up Market Street. A meditation in slow craft amidst the hustle bustle.

But I also saw this as a great opportunity for collaboration. As a chance to blend the lines between artist and curator and to infuse this social experiment with other beloved textile artists. So I decided to invite other textile artists and slow fashion workers to join me in this work of social practice. Much like the Make Thrift Mend project, I was less interested in creating a finished product and more interested in focusing on the process, the intention, the handwork, the community, the techniques, and the juxtaposition of this slow textile work in the heart of fast fashion and fast-paced downtown SF.

Weaving by featured artist, Meghan Shimek.

Weaving by featured artist, Meghan Shimek.

So I've invited a handful of my favorite Bay Area textile and fiber artists to join me. I wish I could have invited dozens of artists to join me but we only have five days. So each day, Monday-Friday, we'll work from Studio 1 as we offer public demonstrations, display samples of work, and create textile work right on the sidewalk. Each day will have a featured demonstration during lunchtime from 12noon- 2pm showcasing a different artist and her work.

Block print and garment by featured artist, Jen Hewett.

Block print and garment by featured artist, Jen Hewett.

I consider this upcoming week part of my Make Thrift Mend project and more so part of the mendfulness that has become so central to this work. It's a meditation of slow crafting amidst the bustle. This time is meant to offer up the very private practice of creating work in one's studio to the public. An intimate view of these artists and their sophisticated techniques, approaches, and process of making art.

These demonstrations will be less spectacle and more slow craft. There will not be any formal presentations, formal workshops, or tidy finished projects but instead there will be dynamic work-in-progress shared with the public. This is a very vulnerable and powerful act and I applaud the artists for joining me. Here's the schedule of lunchtime demonstrations:

Monday, July 13 from 12noon-2pm: Kristine Vejar 
Tuesday, July 14 from 12noon-2pm: Meghan Shimek
Wednesday, July 15 from 12noon-2pm: Jen Hewett
Thursday, July 16 from 12noon-2pm: Sasha Duerr
Friday, July 17 from 12noon-2pm: Yours Truly

And Sonya Philip is an honorary artist this week, sadly she's out-of-town.

Natural dye by featured artist, Sasha Duerr.

Natural dye by featured artist, Sasha Duerr.

Each of these artists have inspired me in my fast fashion fast and in my quest to deepen my knowledge of slow fashion techniques, textile arts, and mindfulness in approaching the making and repairing of my wardrobe. These women are multifaceted in their creative work, all of them straddling disciplines between one or more textile art including weaving, printmaking, natural dyeing, designing, sewing, stitching, and balancing worlds between teaching, exhibiting, and managing their own studio practice or independent business too.

These women are amazing! And I'm honored to share temporary studio space with them next week. Come by any day during lunchtime to say hello, ask questions, meet the artists, or just drop into a tiny textile studio for a visit. See you on the street of San Francisco.



A Few Firsts: Podcast, Workshops, and a Residency


I'm over-the-moon honored to be a featured artist on Meighan O'Toole's podcast series, What's Your Story?. It's a wonderful podcast focused on various creatives in an intimate interview with the creator, Meighan, to share their inspiration, background, motivation, and anything else that finds its way into the conversation. She's interviewed some of my favorite artists and friends like Courtney Cerruti, Jen Hewett, Lisa Solomon, Sonya Philip, Lisa Congdon and so many more. You can listen to my interview right here. It's my very first podcast interview but thankfully Meighan was a great host.

We discuss my current mending work, inspiration for my fashion fast, and some of the complications of my Make Thrift Mend project before talking about my first book, The Paper Playhouse, and the collaborative artist residency project Range Studio I co-direct with my husband. It was a pleasure to talk with Meighan about my work and I'm honored to have this opportunity share my process in such an intimate conversation. Thank you, Meighan!

Also, I want to share a few highlights about July and August because it's already the end of June. I'll be the featured artist-in-resident in our Studio 1 tiny portable house on Market Street at 1st Street the week of July 13-17. I'm so excited about this residency! I'll have several textile artists joining me for lunch time demonstrations and discussions between 12noon and 2pm every day that week. Details on the Range Studio website. This is the first time I've been an artist-in-residence in our tiny studio. Next week I'll post the scheduling details of my week on Market Street--save the dates.

Lastly, I'm offering my first natural dye workshop in person! I've fallen head-over-heels with natural dyes since launching my Make Thrift Mend project and I included some natural dye basics in my online class, Slow Fashion Style. Now I'm partnering with my favorite host at Handcraft Studio School to offer my first in-person natural dye workshop on Sunday, August 23 from 2-5pm. I'm so excited to teach this workshop it's like it's my 8-year-old birthday party all over again.

This will be an introductory level workshop complete with various natural dyes, numerous sample fabrics, yarns and papers for testing, and instructional information on harvesting, preparing, soaking, and working with natural dyes. I'm thrilled! I'm also offering another Sashiko Mending workshop with Handcraft Studio on Sunday, August 16--be sure to sign-up for this workshop soon as it typically sells out quickly.

Phew. So many firsts. Excited about all this opportunity swirling around my summer. Thank you, friends.



Visible Mending and the Metaphor of Repair

I keep thinking about the symbolic meaning of repairing our clothing through mending. I keep returning to the dictionary and thesaurus and thinking of the various synonyms for the word "mend".

: to make (something broken or damaged) usable again : to repair (something broken or damaged)
: to heal or cure (a broken bone, a sad feeling, etc.)

Mostly, I think about the symbolic repair of fast fashion, the sustainable repair to our garments and the planet, and the activist's repair to a system that needs fixing.  It's amazing to think that something that was once so typical in our grandparent's homes has almost entirely been erased by modernization. I've been researching darning eggs and darning needles. Amazing to think that these were common household items not so long ago. Now, we hardly know what to do with them let alone how to find them.

I recently mended my favorite house slippers. A deep hole in the side of the slipper meant my little toe was cold every time I wore them. So I finally sat down with a scrap of denim and some thread and made a Boro inspired repair. Within half an hour my beloved slippers kept all ten toes cozy again. And it's just that simple. In no time at all our favorite garments are restored and their longevity preserved. An old favorite pair of jeans are next on my mending pile--filled with various gashes and tears that will need several fixes.

Visible mending lets us embrace the natural wear and tear of our garments through an aesthetic that is less perfect and more personal. We step off the fashion treadmill and look at our garments for their inherent strengths and weakness. We embrace the decay and also the ability to patch, darn, mend, and stitch our way into a more sustainable future. I recently revisited my Mendfulness article in Taproot magazine and this concept is much longer than an article for me. It's the workshops I'm teaching, my Make Thrift Mend fast, but I'm also considering it in a larger creative context.

For now, I just keep mending and repairing and mending again. And noticing how this act relates to so many aspects of our lives--big and small and tender and tenacious and simple and spectacular too. Mendfulness. 



Our Tiny Art Studio: Studio 1 Summer Residencies

I'm very excited to announce that our tiny portable art studio, Studio 1, will be very busy this summer at various locations along Market Street, one of San Francisco's main downtown corridors. Studio 1 will be presented through a commission for my husband, David Szlasa, in partnership with the San Francisco Arts Commission, the Mayor's Office of Civic Innovation, and the Living Innovation Zone. We are so exited!

Studio 1 will be stationed on Market Street for six weeks featuring six resident artists. Each of the six artists have been scheduled for a specific week including one week for yours truly. I'm thrilled to be the resident artist the week of July 13-17 and will be hosting one additional textile artist each day as part of my Make Thrift Mend project. The other resident artists include: Andrea Bergen, Sheldon Smith, Sara Shelton Mann, Jesse Hewitt, Jose Navarrete and a special performance by Shinichi Iova-Koga/ inkBoat. Read the details about the six-week schedule here.

Studio 1 is the first portable art studio that's part of a larger art project, collaboration, and experimental artist residency program known as Range Studio created by my husband, fellow artist/ designer/ and performer, David Szlasa and me in August 2014. For nearly a decade we've dreamed of managing an artist-owned residency center and last summer we decided to turn his beautiful tiny studio into our experimental art program on wheels. You can read about the studio here.

The Market Street programming launches today! Yes, today. And it continues for six consecutive weeks through Saturday, July 25. I'll write more about my plans for the week I'm in residence but save the date for lunchtimes the week of July 13-17 as I'll be inviting AMAZING textile artists to join me for demonstrations/ discussions/ and public interventions from 12noon- 2pm that entire week.

Did I mention I'm excited?