10.18.2016

Artist Interview with Abigail Doan of Lost in Fiber


 
Sometimes the Internet does magical things. Sometimes it connects me with the most wonderful people and these connections go deeper than social media sites and instead they nestle into our private email boxes and text messages and then into our real life social circles and then, well, they become friends. So was the case with my friend and creative colleague, Abigail Doan, of Lost in Fiber. We met online many moons ago and then we eventually met in person and as Abigail put it, "It was less of a first meeting and more of a reunion". So true. And that spirit of generosity and warmth is something I absolutely adore about Abigail and her work.

I'm honored to share an exclusive interview with one of my most favorite contemporary artists, Abigail Doan. I adore Abigail's work for so many reasons but one of the many reasons is her visual voice. The way I can see her consistent aesthetic across mediums and the way her images, sculptures, and compositions have a language and an identity and an essence that is all her own. In each image I can hear her speaking without actually knowing her words.

I love how she uses fiber in her artwork but how she pushes so far outside of the typical world of fiber arts that her community building and social practice keep expanding her work well beyond the gallery walls. Pair all of this with her incredibly thoughtful approach, her particular way of seeing her environment, along with her insightful writing and it's simply a magical combination.

Emails from Abigail are one of my most favorite things to appear in my inbox. Each one is a combination of the voice of a curator, artist, activist, mother, and friend. All of these voices are all present in her work; It's the multitude of her experiences that come forward in her work. She resists a singular point of view and insists on complexity all the while welcoming us to stay a little longer.


Her work and her words straddle this amazing division of conceptual and personal. Her work is both intellectual and emotional. Hinging on academic it remains visceral with this incredible intimacy that offers the viewer a position that is less like voyeur--something that feels all too common in the contemporary fine arts scene--and more like invited community member. Abigail's work feels palpable and textural and, at the risk of my sounding naive, her work feels true.

True to what she's feeling, thinking, researching, reveling, uncovering and discovering on her daily journeys. A daily sketchbook, of sorts, told through the lens of a sculptor with deep roots in the textile and fiber communities but with a vision that steps outside these disciplines to embrace daily life as she experiences it in both urban and rural landscapes, alone and with her family, in the States and traveling abroad, in her studio and on the subway.

Her work transports us to a place that feels important. A place that feels mindful. A places that beckons we slow down just long enough to notice the objects around us but then allows us to go ahead with our busy modern lives. In many ways, Abigail's work feels like a very contemporary experience of being a working artist. But it also just asks us to look at things, regardless of our backgrounds inside or outside of the arts, just to look at things a few seconds longer. Her work asks us to notice. To witness. And once we start to pay attention we realize there is so much more than what we saw at first glance.

Without further pause... I'm honored to share this interview with you today. I considered editing our exchange into a shorter, more typical Internet-friendly length, but I ultimately decided to leave it just as it was. I didn't want to cut anything. I didn't want to condense all this thinking into smaller bites. I wanted to let the interview be exactly as it was, finding a strength in the depth of the answers and a reprieve in the collection of images. I hope you feel similarly. Welcome, Abigail.


Katrina Rodabaugh: Can you tell us about your journey to textile arts and if your environments might have influenced your interests?

Abigail Doan: I always love this question, Katrina, so I thank you for creating an opportunity to share stories about the evolution of my work, particularly as it relates to homegrown and local environmental influences. I grew up on a small family farm in New York State’s Hudson Valley, and there is no doubt that this region had a profound influence on my life’s journey and my interest in the arts.

My mother was a self-taught natural-dyer, spinner, knitter, and weaver, and even though I did not formally study textile techniques in art school or thereafter, these homespun practices were very much a part of daily life on our farm and the overall maker philosophy of our home life.

My mom, also an “Abigail”, taught me how to hand-spin and work with fiber as a young girl so that I could accompany her to craft shows throughout the Northeast. I honestly never really thought that these skills would be applied to or retrieved for creative pursuits later in life. (On the contrary, I was far more interested in conceptual art, contemporary design, and getting to the big city as a young art student.)

As time passed, I realized, though, how much the depiction of agricultural landscapes and even ideas of the pastoral, prevalent in the Hudson River School, played into my consideration of the the tilled fields, historic valleys, and the very soil of my upbringing. This specific school of painters also inspired me to travel to the far east as well as the open spaces of the west. Let’s just say my art studies at the time were a fusion of frequent visits to Frederic Church’s Olana combined with soaking up the independent spirit described in biographies of Georgia O’Keefe and the feminist art writings of Lucy Lippard.

I really believe that my sensitivity to materials and my concern for how things are made was a direct outcome of time spent alone in a rural environment. I am also a tool fanatic, even as an urban dweller, as I associate tools with personal empowerment and respect for the processes involved in making an authentic object that lasts.


KR: From working as a sculptor and a textile artist I love how your work has expanded into what might be called “social practice” or working outside of the traditional gallery structure while engaging community and considering activism or advocacy. Would you agree with this terminology? If so, what do you see as the inspiration for this expansion or shift?

AD: Oh, thank you for helping me to frame or perhaps better describe what I do. I think that “social practice” is an ideal term as well as “visual archivist” to some degree. I guess that I knew early on that I was not really going to fit the traditional model of being an artist who was focused solely on gallery representation and a formal exhibition track. I did show works on paper and mixed media pieces with galleries in my twenties and thirties, but I always felt that I wanted to do and say more about the work itself and ideally find ways to make the art process more inclusive and organic.

I also think that my early experience as a researcher in documentary film as well as teaching at the university level ultimately gave me the confidence to find new ways for interweaving various disciplines for future projects.

As an activist, one cannot simply stand by and neatly plug into existing models, so I have always felt that if a story needs to be told, a exhibition or event initiated, or a platform carved out – one must take responsibility for creating this opportunity. I also think that we do not have the luxury of worrying about failing when it comes to launching projects or tackling critical issues – particularly where cultural and environmental awareness is concerned.


KR: I first came across your work by images of your fiber sculptures. I was instantly mesmerized. The combination of materials, the form, the thoughtfulness to the fibers you chose. I remember staring at the images for hours and highlighting them in one of my online classes. Your Instagram feed has this same affect on me—it’s transporting, drawing parallels in places I might not have considered like architecture and fibers, and also this sense of movement or travel or journey. Can you talk about how your work has migrated from sculpture to photography or storytelling or—I’m struggling to name it but this sense of thoughtfulness and contemplation that is present in all your work regardless of form.

AD: It’s a funny thing, as I never really set out to be a fiber or textile artist per se. On the contrary. I think that I was a bit intimidated about working with these materials as my mother was such an innovator on this front. I first began working with fiber as a site-specific drawing tool during an artist residency in rural New Mexico. I liked the way that fiber was easily transportable and also left no trace on the land.

After this transformative experience and returning to NYC, I began building small fiber forms and soft bundles during my daily walks and outings where loose “flotsam” became intwined and often recycled into my studio constructions. I have always thought of these organic forms as being 3-D journals and/or tactile maps/documents of sorts. They are a bit unorthodox in terms of technique and archival preservation (biodegradable organic and inorganic matter co-exist). I often unravel the pieces once they are photographed or used like a visual prop or tool. I do not focus very much on the preciousness of each piece as a fixed sculptural statement in the end.

I am currently focused on building a new library of materials from my 2016 travels and solo walks. Some of these found and handmade “artifacts” are fiber-based but others are simply textural finds of a botanical, paper-based, or refuse-like nature. This latest project, Walking Libraries, is my return to a focus on environmental art practice and a quiet lab-like setting. These observations might include drawings and notations about the climate and weather conditions in one’s own backyard (rural or urban), documentation in wide open spaces, or the visual poetry of objects arranged to show connection between one another and even disparate places.

As part of this study, I have also been researching art and choreography projects by dancers and movement based artists, specifically the work of Anna Halprin and Trisha Brown. I use walking as a slowing down method and also a way of immersing oneself over long periods of time. I am also drawn toward incorporating more movement into my projects as I am now fifty years old, and it is important for me to see my body as an instrument that I might work with rather than against as time passes.


KR: Let’s talk about ethical fashion. And sustainable practices in textiles. Your work has an added layer of depth by your collaborations and curation. Do you see these projects as something that you create in addition to your own work or is this cross-disciplinary approach central to your creative process?

AD: My involvement with ethical fashion and/or sustainable textiles was basically quite serendipitous. During the early days of the eco fashion movement in NYC and beyond, several of my art/design friends were creating beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces for their own independent labels or simply as an exploration of textiles in relation to sustainability issues. We were all supporting each other in various ways, and it was a truly inspired time in terms of pushing the movement forward with slow and considered cross-pollination. I definitely learned a lot about what was and was not working, often by writing about green design as well as eco fashion shows and collections.

This was also the genesis of my realization of the power of textiles to ideally make sustainability a relatable issue. If some one was able to talk about their connection to a specific fabric, garment or even a fashion-related story, well, this was a way into opening up future dialogue about fast fashion, textile waste, and personal concerns or worries about the state of the environment.

I basically feel that I am always open to working with others in situations where materials might empower us to look more closely at our ingrained habits, surroundings, and views on the state of the world – particularly where consumption and resourcefulness are a factor. If fashion plays into the process, then I am open to it. Otherwise, I am just as happy to collaborate with an adobe bricklayer or a scientist – all for a good cause.


KR: I’ve been thinking about how fine artists are engaged in ethical fashion either as natural dyers, designers, makers, teachers, authors, or event organizers. I see this trend where these professionally trained artists are seen as “DIY makers” but I see it differently. I see the training in studio practice as very relevant to the work in sustainable fashion at the very least as it allows critical thinking, invention of new processes, and the built-in acceptance of experimentation and possible failure. I think my MFA degree taught me more about experimentation and failure than anything else. Can you talk about embracing the unexpected in your work? And about your own experiences at the intersection of fine art and ethical fashion?

AD: This is such a great question or series of questions, Katrina. Topics that I think about a lot, particularly as some one who navigates various creative realms and social media spheres.

Fine artists might be accustomed to experimentation (and failure with materials, if you will) as this is something that is encouraged in a studio practice during the pursuit of solutions. This might relate to sustainable fashion, more than mainstream fashion perhaps, as there is an urgency and transparency to the process that does not allow one to cut corners.

I am always looking for evidence of the unexpected, perhaps as a way to discover ways of identifying or addressing vital issues. What I mean by the “unexpected” is essentially to not assume that one way of doing something or reading a form is the best way or a clear strategy. Given that ethical fashion designers are constantly faced with both production and garment lifecycle challenges, it makes sense to me that they would often have to look beyond the frameworks of set design rules in order to fuse the strength of both concept and end product.


KR: Your work ranges from sculpture to photography to writing to what I’d call social practice to curation and beyond. What excites you the most as an artist? What holds the most potential for you as a creative?

AD: I love that being an artist allows you to creatively weave together a life and travel in ways that inform or re-jigger what you deem to be true. I like to collect things, all sorts of things, primarily as a visual database of sorts but also as a humble cultural preservationist. The more I am able to let go of certain labels about what I do, what I make, and how I must share this work, the freer I am to do better work and perhaps reach a wider audience. I never take for granted that I have a unique and rather privileged opportunity to express what I want to make and also care about. I am not so fixated on the art object per se but rather its dematerialization into something new and hopefully broader in scope.


 KR: How do you see textile artists influencing ethical fashion?

AD: Oh, this is a loaded question. I basically think that textile artists are guides into a vocabulary and expansive sphere of working with materials that is constantly re-inventing itself. They are the risk takers, the storytellers, the critics, the Utopian idealists – exotically rolled into one. Mood boards for fashion as well as styling for look books are often influenced by bold acts demonstrated in the arts. Textile art might seem a bit conceptual or marginal to some, but it is really a way into what might be possible, more experimental, and visually compelling.

I am not sure that there is a direct correlation between one influencing the other, but I do feel that the community building that often happens in fiber and textile groups might offer alternatives for how ideas and materials might be shared in ways that transcend existing fashion business models and production strategies. Specifically, innovation in textile recycling, be it mending, garment re-use, and/or legitimate up-cycling technology might first be visualized in a ground breaking textile art installation or materials experiment. This is where we really learn from one another and let categorical roles and thinking simply fade away.


KR: On your website you list your work in categories including fiber/ sculpture; enviro drawings; lost in fiber/ artifacts; performative; walking libraries; and work on paper. And in your bio your mention your work as an artist, writer, and curator. I absolutely love how your resist categorization and also how you complicate your position as an artist by including several forms. This makes me cheer! But I also always sense this continuity to your work, this recognizable voice and sentiment, and also this insistence that your work continue to evolve in any form necessary. Do you think this is something that comes with experience as an artist? Meaning, do you think this consistency across forms, this willingness to honor the work regardless of category, this understanding of complication as necessary to creative work… do you think that grew alongside your creative practice or was it always in your work?

AD: I recently looked back at early nature drawings that I did as an undergraduate, and in all honesty, my visual language has always there in terms of how I originally tried to link natural forms and organic architecture (my thesis), the attraction to micro-macro textures, as well as my interest historic events related to agriculture, labor, and landscape studies. There has been a lot of trial and error for me over the years (with numerous jobs wedged in between chapters of my creative work), so perhaps in the end, the consistency comes from a journey that came with a bit of toil.

I really never shy away from complexity or the prospect of needing to evolve, so this is probably what keeps things fresh for me. I also do not feel beholden to a certain agenda besides answering those questions that I feel are important or crucial for awareness.


KR: Who do you think are the most exciting textile artists right now?

AD: In no specific order, as there are truly so many that I could name:

    •    for textiles as topography : Alexandra Kehayoglou
    •    for heritage concepts and social practice: Crossover Collective
    •    for current events/economic topics explored in textiles: Kathryn Clark
    •    for color and ‘plant palette’ studies: Sasha Duerr
    •    for ideas about painting and textile (canvas) cross over: Victoria Manganiello


KR: Lastly, for anybody reading this who might not have a background in fine arts or the training in sustainability but who feels this insistent passion to be engaged in this work in slow textiles or slow fashion, what’s your advice? What would you tell somebody without access to a formal degree or without decades of training? Where should they begin?

AD: I would definitely hunt around for local resources, as this makes the most sense to me in terms of building a community for the sharing of events, workshops, and eventually expanding your circle. I think that it is important to connect with others (in person, that is) as a means to help sort out directions for your work and also access resources that others may have already assembled.

I always feel that saving textile materials and scraps that have meaning or special resonance will lead you to want to experiment with them at a later date. I have secret stashes of such things in the places where I live, and this keeps me inspired to play when I have free time – without an agenda or certain pre-defined expectations.

I do feel that it is important to make a zone for yourself in order to do your work, be this a studio, a bedroom corner, a nook in the garage, shed, basement or even a tote filled with your tools and supplies that you bring on the road. I still do not have my dream studio per se, but I always feel that I am working as I need to no matter where I roam.

I think that folks are too proud about ownership over creative practice, and even though I fully support artists and makers receiving proper credit, copyright, and pay for their work, I also feel that paralysis comes from certain territorial ideas about methods and skills that formerly might have been more open-source or standardized, i.e. in the era of the guild, for example.

In the end, it is important to value what you do, what you are carving out time to do, and also be kind to yourself about pursuing these interests to begin with. The good work will come, and most importantly, your projects will speak for you, particularly when you are able to document what you do with care and attention to why even a small slice of time dedicated to doing something well can make all the difference.

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Thank you so much for joining me for this exchange, Abigail. It's an honor to share this space with you.

xoxo,
k.

(Please note: All images are courtesy of the artist, Abigail Doan, and should not be reused without her written consent. To contact Abigail directly and/or for a more extensive view at her artwork, please visit her website: Abigail Doan )

9.13.2016

Four Years of Slow Fashion: My Fast-Fashion Fast, Make Thrift Mend


I can't believe I'm entering the fourth year of my fast fashion fast, Make Thrift Mend. If you'd asked me if this was possible on August 1, 2013 when I started my first yearlong fast I would have told you, "No way". I started my fast tentatively. Hesitantly. Passionate about committing to sustainable fashion and gaining insight into my shopping habits but, truth be told, I was also worried I'd feel off-trend and that I'd miss those trips to the sales racks of my favorite boutiques or the impulse shopping of a really good deal on a really cute dress. It sounds shallow, I know, but it's true. I love fashion and I feared that a fashion fast would mean I'd be deprived of fashion. And who wants that?

But I don't miss those impulse buys. I don't feel deprived of fashion. I feel relieved to better understand my own definition of what's fashionable without following the season's quickening trends. I feel more connected to my wardrobe and to sustainable fashion now than ever before. I feel more mindful of my fashion choices, more insight to my favorite clothes, and more knowledgeable about making, mending, and caring for my garments.

I've built a select list of beloved ethical fashion brands that are on my wardrobe wish list for those special new purchases...when I actually need something new or when I find something that I will certainly wear 100 times and want to invest in ethically made. Otherwise, I buy very little new and still primarily shop secondhand or make simple garments myself though I'm buying less and less these days. Focusing on what I really want to wear meant stepping aside from trends and wearing my beloved garments over and over again.


But it's been a journey. A journey of researching, sewing, mending, teaching, reading, and getting really intimate with my shopping habits and my fashion habits too. Why did I start this fast? Why did I abstain from buying any new clothing for 365 days? Well, it was a handful of events that boiled up to one moment when I launched my fast. But I actually think that handful of moments was a few decades of work. I think we find our way by doing. I think we have to trust our journeys even when they don't make perfect sense. Maybe mostly then. So what's my story? Why did slow fashion become the sole focus of my art studio practice in 2013? Well that might be a novel. But let's just start with 2013 and the series of events that spring.

Three years ago on August 1, 2013 I started my fashion fast, Make Thrift Mend. I started this fast four months after the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed in April 2013 in Bangladesh resulting in nearly 1,200 deaths or what's now known as the largest garment factory disaster of all time. That's right, of all time. On the heels of this disaster I listened to Elizabeth Cline's informative and inspiring interview on NPR about her book, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, and I read Natalie Chanin's blog posts about slow design and her intelligent and mindful call for slow design in fashion. Something clicked. Something shifted. I decided to make a change.

I wanted to focus on reclaiming my wardrobe from the fast fashion trendmill. That's right, trendmill. I wanted to take a break from consuming new clothing altogether. I felt exhausted by fashion trends. I wanted to know what it felt like to take a break. I wanted to be part of the solution for a more ethical and more environmentally-friendly wardrobe and I knew I just had to dive in. All at once. I decided to use my training in the arts to create a social practice project that would allow me to engage with sustainability, build self-sufficiency, improve my sewing skills, and engage my community. In short, I decided to start right where I was with what I already had and give myself a year to abstain from new clothing.

I wanted to make clothes again. I wanted to mend. And I wanted to stave off factory fashion in a big way. Somehow this moment in my creative life allowed my varied experiences to come together into one single project. But my journey didn't seem so straight-forward when I was living it and Make Thrift Mend was more intuitive and even impulsive than carefully calculated. Looking back I could have been more strategic but the strategy followed. At that moment it was all heart: Something has to change now. But our history aids us in creating our future and I have no doubt that all my years prior to my fast prepared me for the work I'm doing now.


The intersection of art and sustainability is what interests me the most. This isn't a new interest but a continued interest that started right around declaring myself a vegetarian at age seventeen. Sure, I declared myself many things at age seventeen but somehow being a writer, a vegetarian, and an environmentalist are the things that stuck. Thankfully, the taste in music and the haircuts did not. But that's another story. I was an environmental studies major in college but, mind you, this was 20 years ago before my college had a proper environmental studies program. This is the result of a sustained movement: 20 years and suddenly most colleges have environmental studies departments but in the mid 90s this was still activist territory.

I keep this in mind as we're on the front lines of sustainable fashion today. Change is possible. We just have to keep our hearts open and keep our minds focused and know that every effort makes a difference but systemic change takes sustained work. So instead of choosing an existing major I had to create my major as what was known as an independent study-- petitioning to the college that the major should exist and that I could take classes across disciplines to gather enough credits in my area of focus to warrant a college degree. In short, I had to convince the faculty an alternative approach was valid. As a side note, I made dresses for a local boutique for extra money while I was an undergrad student but never thought to combine my two interests: Art and sustainability felt separate.

So with a stack of paperwork and some persuasive argument the college agreed that my interests warranted an academic major in Environmental Studies. Working interdisciplinary across departments felt natural to me. It made sense. It gave me more options. It allowed me to work with professors with varied expertise and it allowed me to tailor my degree to my own suiting. While I felt comfortable looking at sustainability from various points of view I still didn't consider adding art to my cirriculum. I took art classes but they were separate from my major. I hope that college students might now have the option to assess sustainability from the stance of the art department but that might still be a decade away too. I didn't realize this would become a theme in my work and in my studio too: That an interdisciplinary approach would allow me to feel more comfortable straddling disciplines or interests than a singular or conventional approach. I try to maintain this position in my sustainable fashion work too.

I think we have to stay open to diverse solutions to ever achieve maximum impact. I also think we have to consider various cultures, economics, geographies, aesthetics, and lifestyles when considering sustainable fashion. What works for one individual or family might not work for another. The solutions are as varied as the humans living them so we have to resist our soap boxes and ultimatums. There are SO many ways to a more sustainable future. Embracing different voices and different points of view strengthens our movement and allows it to solve the question of ethical fashion for a larger group of people. 


Back to my story. So I finished my degree and went directly into working for nonprofit theaters, galleries, and community arts organizations and never looked back. At the time I thought I had a made a switch from sustainability to the arts. I was in my early 20s and thought that sustainability was my personal passion but the arts would be my formal career. I insisted on office recycling and shopped at farmer's markets and tried my best to grow vegetables and herbs on the front steps of my urban apartments until I finally had a tiny yard for veggie beds. I didn't realize I was just gaining experience in another industry so I could ultimately combine the two: Sustainability and the arts.

Fast forward a decade later and I entered a Masters of Fine Arts program focusing on creative writing or more specifically on poetry and book arts. Using recycled fabric to print Gertrude Stein poems with a letterpress printer and turning the fabric prints into handmade dresses seemed natural. I didn't think of this as sustainable design. I didn't think of this as a precursor to my interest in slow fashion. I didn't know anything about the term "slow textiles".  I just thought I was making the work I needed to make.

I was working on my master's thesis when my book arts professor pulled me aside and asked me about my work with textiles. She questioned the training I'd received from my mother and my mother's community of crafters. She asked about the dresses I made and sold in that local boutique for extra cash when I was in undergraduate school a decade prior. She pushed me to talk about my sewing skills. My measuring skills. My tendency to create patterns and make my own clothing. She questioned my mother's crafting tendencies. My exposure to women's traditional textiles and to a rural community of crafters that raised me alongside their handwork and their "hobbies".

After several conversations she convinced me to consider my informal training in textiles as part of my formal training as an artist. This was a huge shift for me in considering education. She pushed me to consider my work in bookbinding and letterpress printing and paper sculpture as part of a larger lexicon in fiber arts that included my handmade dresses and community made quilts.

She validated my informal education of textile arts learned through watching my mother and my grandmother and my mother's closest friends. She validated this training in what was typically women's traditional craft work. She thought it as interesting, if not more interesting, than my undergraduate degree. She also shifted my thinking about textile arts: Informal training is just as important as formal training and there isn't just one "right" way to learn about our materials.


Fast-forward another five years of working full time in nonprofit galleries as a program director and events manager and somehow figuring out how to oversee 120 artists at once; working steadily as a textile artist and writer by night; and then add my marriage, the birth of my first son, and signing my first book contract and right about then is when I started Make Thrift Mend.

It wasn't necessarily the perfect timing. I had a 21-month-old baby and a new book contract and small busy apartment in a busy fashionable city. But this was the moment that it needed to happen. I just needed something to change in my relationship to fashion. I knew too much to ignore the effects of shopping at big box fashion retailers. And I wanted to go deeper with my relationship to fashion.

All my training and experience came to one singular focus. I'm not sure it was an epiphany as it was just something that was compelled forward by utter passion. My undergraduate degree in environmental studies and my interdisciplinary approach to college; my graduate work in writing and fiber arts; and fifteen years of organizing programs and overseeing arts projects while exhibiting and publishing my own work; combined with my personal experience with making garments and witnessing the power of craft communities all came together: Sustainable fashion. The light bulb went off. Why didn't I think of this sooner? Because I wasn't thinking. I was feeling. I was doing. I was making my way along a life. And sometimes we just have to trust our process and begin.


I never imagined I'd spend the next three years teaching mending workshops, studying slow fashion theory, or conducting natural dye experiments from foraged weeds and wildflowers. I never imagined that mending would be my way to a more sustainable wardrobe or that I'd have the privilege of teaching hundreds of students how to mend their clothing and how to think more critically about their wardrobes and make their relationship to fashion more meaningful. I never imagined I'd be so energized by this work that somehow four years doesn't seem like nearly enough. Forty years doesn't seem like enough if I'm being totally honest. So let's hope I've got another forty to give to this movement. Yes, please.

As I continue with this work in slow textiles and slow fashion I am astounded by the community of artists, designers, makers, authors, teachers, and activists that I have found. I'm amazed at their formal and informal training in the arts, design, sustainability, systems, crafting, sewing, making, and their incredible ability to rethink their shopping habits and enhance their mending skills.

As I round the third year of my Make Thrift Mend project the parameters of my fast will shift yet again. Because each August I take a moment to reflect on the prior year's activities and how I can deepen my own relationship to sustainable fashion in the year to come. This isn't just an exercise for me now it's a lifestyle. And it's a passion. And it's role in the center of my studio work is more insistent than ever.

In the first year I didn't buy any new clothing but instead focused on making simple garments, buying secondhand, and mending. I also quickly focused on only buying biodegradable fabrics like cotton, linen, wool, and silk. In the second year I opened the parameters to include purchasing new garments if they were locally or handmade. In the third year I broadened the fast to include select newly purchased clothing from ethical brands. And in the fourth year of the fast I'm considering how best to move forward. I think focusing on how best to source ethical materials for handmade garments is my next focus.

How to sustainably source new fabric (organic cotton, ethical linen, secondhand silk, etc) for my art projects, classes, and the construction of new handmade garments. When you live in rural America without a handful of indie fabric shops at arm's length this is an even bigger challenge-- but I'm going to start researching my options now. I'm going to turn my attention to this challenge for the next 12 months. This doesn't mean I'll do it perfectly, of course, but that I'll be as sustainable as possible.

I'm in no hurry to rush back to fast fashion and the sales racks at trendy shops. Instead, I feel more compelled to forge ahead into more complicated territory and further deepen my commitment to slow fashion and slow textiles. I wouldn't be surprised if I convince my husband that alpaca are in our distant future! Well, maybe after my babies are school aged I'll be ready for a fiber farm. Right now I'm just gearing up for a barn cat or a few chickens. I digress.


As I begin this fourth year of my fast I'd also like to focus on the community engagement goals of my original Make Thrift Mend project. To achieve this I'll keep offering classes, engaging in community events, working to strengthen my (new) local textile community but I'd also like to use the powers of the Internet to highlight a handful of artists, designers, and makers who inspire me to delve deeper in my work. To this end I recently added a "muses" section to my newsletter to highlight the work of artists, authors, designers, and other inspiring folks forging the way in sustainability, art, lifestyle, and/or fashion. Coming from 15 years of work in nonprofit galleries and theaters there's a part of me that insists on linking to the greater community around me and so I'm hoping to continue fostering this mindset in my own studio work.

I think the role of social practice--or working outside of traditional gallery structures to consider social issues and/or participate in community engagement--suits my project perfectly. It allows me to continue my studio practice as an artist but it allows me to teach, organize, and write about my work all under the umbrella of a fine arts vocabulary. And sometimes we have to reach back when reaching forward. I had no idea that my undergraduate degree in environmental studies and my practical work in arts galleries and theaters would come together to create the biggest project of my creative career: sustainable fashion and my fashion fast. Sometimes we just have to trust our process and keep following our instincts and just commit to start right where we are. I believe life gives us numerous opportunities to realign. To recalculate. To redirect. To re-position. It's just our job to listen.

This umbrella of social practice also allows me to care less and less about the terminology of the work--that dreadful old debate between art, craft, and activism--and to simply keep pushing myself forward. Keep pushing outside of my comfort zones to increase my self-sufficiency and improve my technical skill while sharing my knowledge and techniques with a larger community. But I also think there's a correlation between textile artists and sustainable fashion leaders and I'm very interested in examining this connection. To that end, my next post will be a feature on one of my favorite contemporary fiber artists and her incredible thoughtfulness in considering her materials and the various forms of her work.

Thank you for sharing this journey with me, I'm incredibly honored to share this work with you. And humbled by the stories and questions and concerns you've shared with me online, at workshops, and over tea. This project wouldn't be what it is without you. That's right, you. So thank you for participating in this community and today, simply for reading this post and considering my journey to slow fashion. Start where you are, I promise you have what it takes to make your relationship to fashion more meaningful and more mindful and probably quite a bit more fun.

xoxo,
k.

8.16.2016

Artist Interview with Jessica Lewis Stevens of Sugarhouse Workshop


I'm honored to share this interview with artist, quilter, natural dyer, and friend, Jessica Lewis Stevens, of Sugarhouse Workshop. As you might know Jessica and I have been working on a three-part collaboration, Field Study, that will culminate in an opening exhibition at Hawkins NY in Hudson, NY on August 20; a daylong retreat at Whistle Down Farm with Drop, Forge, & Tool on Sunday, August 21; and an ongoing photo documentary sharing our work in-process on Instagram with the tag #fieldstudyfiber.

I wanted to share a conversation with Jessica in honor of the upcoming weekend and all of our work together. But also because Jessica is such an inspiring human and I wanted to highlight some of her creative practice, her studio work, and her seasonal approach to sustainable textiles. Not to mention, her heartbreakingly beautiful quilts made from naturally dyed fabrics and a few cameos of her home.


KR: Hello, Jessica! Thanks for joining me today. I thought it would be nice to share some insight into your work in honor of our upcoming collaboration, Field Study, and our pending exhibition, workshop, and process over on IG. Thank you for agreeing to join me here. I’ve loved your work online for many years and it’s such an honor to join forces for this collaboration. Can you tell us about your creative journey?  And maybe share some of the highlights that led you to the work you’re making today?

JLS: Hi Katrina! Thank you so much for having me here. I’m so thrilled to be collaborating on our Field Study project, and to have a chance to share our work together later this month in Hudson.

I feel as though I’ve always been fascinated by artists, makers, and creative folks of all kinds, and I’ve always made room in my life for making. My mother ran a frame shop growing up, and I spent many of my teen years interacting with art and learning to make frames and stretch stitchery and match colors just so. I worked in framing to put myself through college and graduate school, after which I took a position as the Program Director of the Western New York Book Arts Center, a non-profit organization in Buffalo dedicated to the traditions of letterpress printing and making books by hand.

I fell in love with the processes of printing and bookbinding there, and beyond that it greatly inspired my continuing interest in reconnecting with the more analog craft traditions of the past. Once I had made these things the “hard” way and had a chance to see what a remarkable difference the human hand can make, it was hard to ignore the beauty and sense of pride and effort the more modern, automated processes lack. This eventually led me to explore beyond the paper arts to textiles, where I feel as though I found my home in making quilts and soft goods using traditional patterns and techniques.


KR: I love your use of natural dyes and sewing to make beautifully handcrafted objects. Your work ranges from quilts to buntings to project bags to baby goods to thoughtful children’s toys and beyond. Can you talk about your approach to making these objects? And your interest in creating objects with such attention to detail and craftsmanship—dyeing the fabrics by hand with plants from your yard before you begin any construction?

JLS: So many of the objects I create, and how I create them, are tethered to the idea of making a home a home. I have always really enjoyed seeing how others integrate good design and usefulness into their lives. I have shelves of books of interiors and antique quilts and boards and boards on pinterest of objects and homes I love to look at. But so often, these things are either out of reach, or manufactured without the human hand. Both out of necessity and a desire for well-made, thoughtful objects, I started making those things I wanted myself. And I think if you’re going to make something, you should make it well, give it a life beyond its utilitarian value.

For me, that means using the bedstraw root growing in our field to color a changing pad cover for our new baby, or making a bunting for my son’s play space with marigold flowers we grew together last year.  It became obvious to me through conversations and feedback on these things I was making that a lot of people want that kind of connection to their objects. Not so much added preciousness or expense, but added care and consideration and authenticity. It’s those values that really drive my shop collections, and the things I make for our household.


KR: Your work is very tied to the land and to place. Perhaps it’s your gorgeously curated Instagram feed but I always see your work as inherent to your surrounding, to your home, to your garden, to your kitchen—can you talk about your relationship to place and how that might influence your projects?

JLS: We live in southern Vermont now, and the landscape here is out of a dream. Every season is so perfectly itself and so completely enchanting. Living in the country forces us to change our lives with the seasons, what we do, what we cook, what I make, and I really love that about making a life here. I can dye fabric all summer when the plants and fresh water and sunshine are abundant, and spend lots of time in winter putting hand stitches into quilts and knitting sweaters for my son when keeping warm becomes a priority. It allows me not to tire of a specific part of the process, and constantly be inspired by the new colors and moods of each season as they come and go.

KR: I love how you so seamlessly tie together your domestic life and your creative life. I love seeing images of your son, Henry, and your baking and glimpses of your home throughout the season next to your creative work in quilting, dyeing, and running your online shop. Your version of domesticity is definitely something I want for myself and my children. It feels chosen. It feels liberating. It feels thoughtful and intentional and meaningful. Can you talk about this overlap and how one might relate to the other? Again, the work seems inspired and tethered by this sense of place.

JLS: I feel like it all feeds into itself in a really fulfilling cycle. In order for me to be home with Henry and our little one on the way and focus on my creative work instead of being employed outside the home, we’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices and really intentional choices about where and how we live. I find often that it’s the stretching of what we have and the need to be creative with our resources that encourage creativity in every part of our lives. From using what we have in the garden to bake and cook, occupying the days with a small child in ways that are meaningful and fun,  working slowly on projects that help us to live well, it all requires a great deal of creativity and thoughtfulness and it all feels very connected.

I’m so glad you use the word liberating – I feel sometimes like I never leave the house, but truthfully it’s deeply freeing to need less, to depend on ourselves, and to let each part of our day-to-day be a part of the creative work of building an intentional life.


KR: I noticed that on your website you talk about your work as a natural dyer and a quilter. Did the quilting come first or the dyeing? Or did they evolve alongside one another as your quilts allowed for a use of the naturally dyed fabric and vice versa?

JLS: Quilting came first for me, though dyeing didn’t follow far behind. When I began to learn to quilt, I was less concerned with materials than I was with design and construction. I had stashed fabric for years for various projects, and it was really useful to have those yards around for all the experimentation and mistakes that come with teaching yourself to quilt. Following the birth of my son, my perspective shifted in a major way. I began to really question my practice in terms of what I was buying, what I was wasting, how my fabrics were made and colored. It was no longer enough to make a beautiful-looking quilt, it became important to me to consider my sources.

I had for many years made it a priority to buy clothes second hand, to make what I could, to avoid big box store clothing racks because of the conditions in which these goods are produced (I spent my 16th birthday at a panel talk and protest with former sneaker company sweatshop workers, if it’s any indication of my future priorities) but I realized I hadn’t applied the same ethical standard to my raw materials. At the same time, we had recently moved to the upper Hudson Valley where I became endlessly inspired by the abundance of plants and flowers and produce growing around me.

I began exploring natural dyes as a way to further connect with this abundance and limit my own chemical footprint, experimenting with easy things to find like queen anne’s lace from the roadside and onion skins from my kitchen. Slowly I started integrating these colors into my work until I no longer felt like I needed to buy conventionally dyed fabrics. Because each of these lengths of color felt so precious to me, I saved every scrap, and they eventually became buntings when my son had a birthday coming up or a needlebook to hold my hand-sewing tools, or a bag for my next knitting project.

My own needs have always been a muse; trying to make what we need has a way of inspiring some of my favorite projects. When I launched my shop, I realized other folks might appreciate these slowly made goods and I integrated them into my collections. Your Make/Thrift/Mend project was a big inspiration to me as I was continually trying to make these shifts in my practice – it felt like I had found community in considering these issues and I’m still so inspired by what you do to inspire others to make thoughtful and sustainable choices as a consumer and as an artist.


KR: Back to this idea of place, you also live in rural Vermont, complete with four distinct seasons including a humid summer and very cold, sometimes snowy, winter. How do the seasons influence your work? Do you plan your dyes according to what’s available throughout the year or do you tend to quilt more in the winter when you’re naturally indoors?

JLS: Yes, absolutely. I love the changing of the seasons. I spend a lot of time in summer dyeing. There is an abundance of dye plants growing midsummer, and it feels like there is hardly time to capture them all. But it’s worth the days after days of stirring hot dye pots to have a quilt on your lap or mittens on your kids’ hands in winter that are made from fibers dyed with summer’s colors. It’s easy to forget how cold winter can get in Vermont, but when it does roll around it’s wonderful to have little reminders of summer imbued in the objects we use every day.

I love to change the colors of my shop collections with the seasons too. In summer, I dye a lot with indigo because my vat is healthy and vibrant, and I love to make things that are useful for that season- dyed linen totes for the beach, or bright rainbow buntings. In autumn I like to focus on more subtle shades, and in winter I’m always drawn to the darkest colors and the most pale, neutral ones.


KR: What’s your favorite dye material right now? Could you share one recipe for a dye, mordant, and fabric with our readers? Just one combination you particularly adore.

JLS: Lately I’ve really been enjoying using iron to add some quiet depth to brighter colors. I’ve been dyeing with marigolds from last year’s harvest, and the iron gives a beautiful rusty gold character to it. Like a bridge between summer’s bright color’s and autumn’s rich browns. It’s not too late even in the northeast to plant a patch of marigold seeds if you’ve got even a little space or a big pot, and they yield a lot of beautiful color. 

KR: I’m thrilled about our collaboration! When we first began I imagined we’d offer a workshop on natural dyes and stitching; that we’d create an exhibition of 10 collaborative pieces; and that we’d somehow document this process online to include community that might not be able to join in person. But I never imagined the process would feel so intimate! And so vulnerable. We’ve both written in emails to the other about how sharing our work and our thoughts about the work have felt incredibly intimate. Do you think this intimacy is often overlooked online? Or do you think the work is somehow more intimate than our other work and it’s just close to the heart in someway?

JLS: I really couldn’t agree more. I think for me, I’m not often so explicit when talking about my inspirations, what drives my work, why I chose the colors I chose. I often let my small shop collections speak for themselves or hint at the seasonal touches inherent in each object. But with Field Study, we’re really baring those connections that are important to us, sharing more elaborately the ways we’re interacting with our art, and it’s a vulnerable place to be. And a beautiful one!

I do think there can be an intimacy that is often overlooked when we’re constantly sifting through new images online every day. Things can sometimes feel very surface-level. I love knowing more about what inspires a makers work, and I’ve really loved having the chance to do that myself through this project. It has evolved in a way that I think is not only exciting for this project, but will continue to impact my future work in a wonderful way.


KR: Who are some of your biggest inspirations? I know there are so many, but if you could just list 3-5 who would you include that’s particularly inspiring to you today?

JLS: As far as other dyers and quilters, I am always inspired by Maura Ambrose of Folk Fibers. Her work is beautiful and intentional in a way I deeply admire. I tend to draw inspiration mostly from folks who work in a different medium than I do – I love to think about how my quilts might look with someone else’s weaving or pottery or print on the wall, or sometimes a person’s writing style really strikes a chord I keep coming back to.

Some of my favorites include author Ben Hewitt, The Letowskis of North Country Folkware who make beautiful kitchenware, the cooking videos of Aube Giroux.  I’ve been collaborating with artist Emily Halbardier on a series of seasonal baking books, and her illustrations are always so inspiring. She captures a playful, folksy sort of feeling so very well.

KR: Lastly, for somebody who might just be starting out with natural dyes what would you recommend? Are there any techniques or approaches you find particularly forgiving? Or any books or websites you adore?

JLS: Work with what you have! If you want to try natural dyeing, don’t wait for the perfect opportunity, or become intimidated by all there is to learn. Start where you are, boil some onion skins or avocado pits, and dip an old t-shirt in the pot. Just go for it. A beautiful book came out last year called The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar from A Verb For Keeping Warm. It’s an amazing resource for the beginner or intermediate dyer, and it’s full of projects for any level of experience.

KR: Thank you so much, Jessica! I cannot wait to teach with you at Whistle Down Farm in August. It feels like something of a dream come true.

JLS: Thank you so much for having me, Katrina! I am so, so looking forward to it.

xoxo,
k.

8.11.2016

Field Study: Exhibition Opening at Hawkins NY


 
Friends,

I've been quiet over here lately because I've been so very busy in the studio. Teaching, writing, mending, and making new textile work. But mostly, I'm thrilled to announce my upcoming two-person exhibition, Field Study, will open at Hawkins NY on Warren Street in Hudson, NY with a reception on Saturday, August 20 from 5-7pm. This is part of my three-part collaboration with natural dyer and quilter, Jessica Lewis Stevens of Sugarhouse Workshop and we are so excited about this project! I want to shout it from the rooftops. Or the farmhouse tops. Or the Hudson Valley barns. Well, you know what I mean.



Our exhibit runs August 20- September 18 and will be on view during regular shop hours. (Thank you, Hawkins NY!) We've worked like crazy to make ten new, original, textile art pieces from naturally dyed fabrics, yarns, fibers, and hand stitching. Field Study is an exploration of the relationship between art, agriculture, traditional textile crafts like quilting and mending, and the underlying importance of place in sustainability. But it's all rolled up into one Instagram photo documentary; one daylong farm retreat; and one new exhibition. I am truly over-the-moon to debut this new work.


Also, because we want to break the rules of traditional exhibitions just a little bit, for my friends out-of-town we have arranged that you can contact Hawkins NY to purchase the work remotely while the exhibit is open. They'll even ship it to you. Hooray! All details will be on my website before Aug 20 but if you've been following on Instagram and want to purchase an original I just want you to have the details first: You'll call Sean at 1-844-HNY-3344 or email at sean@hawkinsnewyork.com between Aug 20 and Sept 18 and he'll walk you through the process. For those of you nearby, please join us for the party on Saturday, August 20. We'd love to celebrate with you. Oh, yes, we are ready to celebrate this project.



Also, just a quick update that we only have a couple of spaces left in the Field Study: Natural Dye & Stitch Farm Retreat on Sunday, August 21 in Hudson, NY. This daylong retreat is hosted on my dear friends' organic farm and includes two textile workshops, an organic farm fresh lunch, and the most beautiful sweeping valley views. Plus, we're making sweet little gifts and Jessica's making berry pies. All workshop details are on the Drop Forge & Tool website. If you're already joining us for the retreat we hope you'll come to the party the night before too. Follow along on Instagram at #fieldstudyfiber 


So. Very. Excited. To. Share. This. Project. With. You.

xoxo,
k

6.14.2016

Field Study: Natural Dye & Stitch Farm Retreat



I'm thrilled to announce a new workshop offering this summer: Field Study Natural Dye & Stitch Farm Retreat is something of a dream come true. I'm collaborating with the ever-talented textile artist, natural dyer, and quilter Jessica Lewis Stevens of Sugarhouse Workshop to offer a three-part project this summer, Field Study. This project will result in an exhibition of 10 new works by Jessica and I; it will share an ongoing dialogue of our work-in-progress through a photo documentation with the tag #fieldstudyfiber over on Instagram; and it will offer this textile retreat on Sunday, August 21, 2016.
 
This daylong retreat will take place on my dear friends' working organic farm, Whistle Down Farm, just 10 minutes outside of Hudson, NY in the heart of the Hudson Valley. The retreat will include technical textile instruction in natural dyeing and hand-stitching from the cover of the beautiful barn on the farm and will include ample opportunity to explore the landscape and soak in the natural beauty of our surroundings. Jessica and I are preparing all sorts of special treats for the retreat participants in addition to the bounty of workshop supplies. Imagine special booklets, handmade gifts, and Jessica's berry pies! In addition to a vegetarian farm fresh lunch that will be provided.


When I visited my friends' farm for the first time a few years ago I stood at the top of their driveway and looked over the fields and the greenhouses and the barns and the cottage and the various outbuildings they have built entirely from scratch and I thought, "My gosh, what a magical place. I'd love to build community here", and this workshop is the manifestation of that instinct. It's an honor to invite an intimate community to gather with us on this farm. It's a beautiful place that embodies the ethos of sustainable living.

As I continue down this path of sustainable fashion and the fusing of my art practice with slow fashion I am constantly brought back to the image of the farm. To our dependence on the farm. To the absolute need for our communities to support local farmers. To the beginnings of food and fiber in plants and animals that are raised on the farms. I keep considering how cotton, flax, hemp, wool, angora, mohair, and cashmere come from farms. And our dependence on these farms for textiles and fashion.

Slow Food has done for the food movement what I can only hope Slow Fashion will one day do for the fashion industry--it allows us to be mindful in our choices and to reconsider the true value of food or clothing and the many lives that touch that food or garment before it reaches our home. Enter into this conversation the idea of "slow textiles" or considering the materials, processes, and resources in textile work and engaging in handwork, honoring traditional practices, and considering ethical design.


This Field Study workshop will be firmly rooted in place. A very special place. A very important place. And a place that is very dear to my heart, Whistle Down Farm. This collaboration with Jessica is a multi-approach to exploring our thoughts on the intersection of fashion and farming; the crossing of fiber and farm; the importance of place and geography and localism; the dislodging of migration or relocation; and the pushing of traditional craft techniques like quilting and mending into a fine art medium.

In so many ways this collaboration with Jessica, this multi-faceted approach to collaboration, and this resulting workshop are the truest expression of my current work with sustainable fashion. The collaboration allows for dialogue and the sharing of ideas and the influence of form; the photo documentation on Instagram is a way for us to experiment with using social media as a core part of our collaborative project and sharing our processing with a larger community; and the daylong retreat allows us to come together in physical space to share our techniques, our muses, and our thinking about slow textiles from the location of a working organic farm.


Oh my gosh, I'm excited. Join us on Sunday, August 21 if you can. And for those of you coming from out-of-town feel free to ask any questions about lodging, food, shops, etc. and I'll be sure to answer in the comments. Hudson, NY is a magical small city fueled by arts and antiques and it has many wonderful accommodations, eateries, and special shops and spaces to crate a wonderful weekend getaway. I'm so honored to be offering this retreat to the world and I can't wait to meet the participants that will join us. I'm eager to hear your reactions so please feel free to leave any comments or questions below or over on Instagram.

Hooray for slow textiles and creative collaborations and organic farms!

xoxo,
k.

4.25.2016

Slow Fashion is a Revolution


Last week marked a very important event on social media. It marked the tremendous organizing efforts of the eco fashion advocacy group, Fashion Revolution. It marked the creation of a virtual sustainable fashion community consisting of designers, artists, makers, crafters, hobbyists, advocates, and otherwise concerned citizens looking to engage in the conversation regarding ethical fashion. These are the very best moments in social media. When online platforms are used as a tool for community organizing, public dialogue, and political advocacy. And the moments when this tool actually wants anyone and everyone to participate. People like me. And people like you.

This week marked the three-year-anniversary of the collapse of the garment factory known as the Savar building or the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh. On April 24, 2013 the building collapsed killing over 1,100 people and injuring over 2,500. The building collapsed because of a structural failure that could have been avoided. It resulted in the deadliest garment factory accident in history.

From this tragedy grew an urgency in the grassroots Slow Fashion movement that was already gaining momentum with environmentalists, textile artists, and select fashion leaders worldwide. But the collapse created an urgency. An outrage. An international call for action. Slow Fashion called for a revolution in the fashion industry to better consider the welfare of people and the planet involved in the making of our clothing.


Fashion Revolution had a simple premise, to draw attention to the horrible conditions of garment factory workers by asking fashion labels one question: Who made my clothes? This question quickly inspired droves of concerned consumers to turn their clothing inside out, show their labels, and take a selfie on their cell phones that they'd post to social media outlets with the hashtag #whomademyclothes.

It was effective. It was instant. It was an inspired action to convince participants to share their labels and charge factories with a responsibility that was missing after Rana Plaza collapsed. It also humanized the movement by forcing us to consider the humans in the factories making our clothing. And remember the lives of the workers who were killed in the avoidable collapse. These images quickly flooded the Internet on the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, April 24, 2014. And again on April 24, 2015.

Along the way designers and makers turned the phrase around to declare, "I made my clothes". And from this declaration other sustainable fashion advocates and artists added their own spin on how they were not only calling for a fashion revolution but participating in one. This year at the third anniversary Fashion Revolution organized worldwide events and increased the daylong memorial to a week long event.

This year the advocacy group took a longer approach and asked "makers" or designers, crafters, seamstresses, and other fashion enthusiasts to spend the week considering the potential of a fashion revolution from seven different angles. They invited followers to post on a different prompt each day for seven days. The topics included: 1. I make my clothes; 2. By hand; 3. I mend my clothes; 4. Upcycled; 5. Second hand first; 6. Skill up; and 7. Goals.


It's impossible for me to participate in this work for Fashion Revolution without considering my own fashion fast that started three years ago. One of the goals of my project was community engagement and sharing resources and techniques I learned through the project. So this organizing effort is close to my heart as I continue to focus on these interactions and conversations outside of making, mending and teaching. It's incredible, the momentum that the Slow Fashion community has gained in the past three years since I started my project. It's thrilling to witness.

As many of you know, on August 1, 2013 I started a clothing fast, Make Thrift Mend, with the intention of abstaining from purchasing any new clothing for one year while I focused instead on making simple garments, buying secondhand, and mending. My fast was also largely inspired by the Rana Plaza factory collapse. It was also influenced by Natalie Chanin's writings on slow design and the book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline. I wanted to DO something about fast fashion. I wanted to change my shopping habits. I wanted to challenge myself to go deeper in the name of eco fashion. I wanted to align my wardrobe with my values.

Through this journey I also discovered mending as a form of art. I studied Japanese Boro and Sashiko and developed my own techniques for mending clothing. I started teaching mending workshops because it was part of my Make Thrift Mend project goals. With a background as a textile artist and an arts organizer I wanted to push myself to focus on what's known as "social practice" or community engagement or finding a way to work outside the structure of galleries and shops to engage community. I hosted mending circles, I won a grant to offer a free mending workshop online, and later I organized textile artists on Market Street in San Francisco in lunchtime demonstrations.


The first year of my project turned into the second and I shifted the parameters to include the purchase of new clothing from local brands or independent makers. The third year suddenly appeared and I included the purchase of select new clothing from ethical brands. I taught more mending workshops.

I wrote about Slow Fashion. I published an article on what I like to call, Mendfulness, and I gathered in community with other artists, makers, designers, and authors working for eco fashion. My interest in the project only continued to grow as the years gathered--I can hardly believe I haven't purchased new clothing from a big box store in three years. If you had asked me if that was possible before I started my fashion fast I would have said, "No way. What would I wear? I don't have the money. I don't have the time".

Somewhere along the line I surrendered the rest of my studio practice to my Make Thrift Mend project. I had a second baby. I bought an ancient farmhouse 3,000 miles away from my apartment and studio in Oakland, CA. And I moved my growing family from that small apartment in a beautiful urban center to a sprawling old farmhouse in the beautiful rural community of the Hudson Valley.


But somehow mending and Slow Fashion and this combining of sustainability and fashion and textile arts centered my creative work in a time when my life was arguably busier and more demanding and more chaotic than ever before. The mending practice became metaphor for mending in general. For repairing. For focusing. For accepting imperfection. For experimenting. For embracing the natural process of breakdown and reinforcing what was torn with my stitches. It became a meditation, Mendfulness.

I taught more mending workshops. I bettered my techniques. I listened to my students about what they wanted and what was working and what wasn't. And I started teaching at new venues and considered multiple requests to travel to teach in locations across the US. I admitted to myself that this one-year-project had not just turned into a three-year-project but it had turned into the core my creative studio work. And it had altered my relationship with fashion so deeply that there was simply no turning back to the sales racks of my favorite boutiques of yesteryear. Thankfully.


But this week brings me back to the catalyst for this project that quite frankly changed my life. It brings me back to the people. To the humans. To the lives lost. To the photographs of the factory collapse that could have been avoided. And to the aftermath of various mega fashion brands refusing responsibility and refuting pressure to shift their manufacturing practices.

But it also brought me back to the makers. To the designers. To the advocates. To the activists. To the community of people around the world that are so dedicated to this cause that they cannot, not do something. They are motivated to create change. And they are inspiring. They are designing, making, selling, mending, altering, plant dyeing, and otherwise creating an alternative fashion industry that aligns with their values. They inspire me to keep moving my own project forward too.

They remind us that we do have options. We can buy less. We can support independent makers. We can consider the fibers in our clothing and educate our selves about the journey from farm to factory to retail. We can decide to take a break from the fashion "trendmill". We can say, enough is enough.

We can find other outlets besides impulse shopping. We can mend our clothing. We can buy secondhand. We can even consider the design elements in mending and making to create repairs that actually add value to our existing garments. And we can release our selves from the pressure to make perfect seams on handmade garments and instead just go ahead and begin. Where we are. With the skills we already have. We can say, "I'll start right here, right now."


The three-year-anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, the organizing efforts of Fashion Revolution, and rounding the third year of my own fashion fast offer an opportunity to reconsider choices. To confront the system I support in my garment purchases. To stop focusing on what I can't do to support sustainable fashion and instead decide what I can do to better align my values and my closet. At the end of the week of online activity the prompt was "Goals".

I took a few moments to jot down my goals and realized that advocacy is still my number one priority as I move ahead with this project. And by advocacy I mean social practice, community engagement, public dialogue, and reaching outside of my studio and classrooms to support change. I also want to continue to step outside my comfort zone in making garments--approach sleeves, pants, and other contours I've been avoiding. And to develop a handful of projects that use castoff fabrics because let's admit it, sometimes the garments are beyond repair but the fabric has so much potential.

This week, this anniversary, this tremendous organizing effort by Fashion Revolution allows us to pause and notice our habits. That's how my fashion fast began--I wanted to notice my shopping habits by abstaining. I wanted to create a break in the habitual and this came through fasting and ultimately re-approaching fashion through an intentional lens, Mendfulness. This week allows us to just decide on one thing we can shift to better align our wardrobe with our values. Just one thing. Anything. Just a specific place to continue. Or to begin.

xoxo,
k