I’m currently reading “Creating an Osage Future: Art, Resistance, and Self-Representation”, Jami C Powell’s PhD thesis and it has rekindled my interest in sewing again so I thought I’d jot down a bit of my brief history with learning to sew and using it in my art.
I have hand sewn bits and pieces of artworks for a long time, but didn’t try machine sewing until I was at the Shangyuan Museum artist residency in Beijing. There was a ton of fabric because a family member of the museum director ran a textile mill. I was struggling my way through using the machine by watching very slow youtube videos (rural internet plus vpn) when Dan and her fashion designer friend 于玉玲 (Yu Yu Ling) came into the gallery. They spent close to an hour teaching me to sew on the industrial sewing machine. I ended up creating a couple of test pieces while in residence but nothing that I was in love with, but they did inspire the design of the piece I designed but had someone else manufacture for a show in Saudi Arabia.
Place is a Sound project in Saudi Arabia
Fast forward until we are back in the US during the pandemic. My mother-in-law received a sewing machine from a friend to make some cloth masks. I made some too (remember when you couldn’t buy masks and making them was your only option? 30 years ago in April 2020…)
Not long after that, I started my phd and started making art for it. I bought fabric by the pound at goodwill outlet thrift stores and started sewing away. It resulted in a site responsive installation called Group Hug at the InsideOut. From my statement about the first project I really made and showed that was sewn:
When I was thinking of the future, I was wondering what clothes people could wear that are impossible, or impractical now. I thought of the impracticability of clothing choices in the past for groups that didn’t do manual labor, such as hoop skirts or millstone collars. I thought, “what about group clothing?” If AI and robots were doing most of the work, then going to the club in a squad group shirt could be a thing, right?!
I was thinking of these things when we all had to suddenly change our lives in a rapid and drastic ways. Lock downs, masks in public, social distancing. Fast fashion stepped in and now you can get face masks in any pattern, any brand, everyone makes hand sanitizer, too. None of these have any sustainability built in, but this is an emergency, but since we haven’t built sustainability into much in the past, why would we now?
Now I’m waiting for my new studio to be built so I can break out the sewing machine again and start making larger inflatable pieces. Since the weather has gotten chilly (at least by me who is spoiled by years in Florida, LA, and Dubai), I took out the quilt my Mawmaw Hazel made for me (when I was a baby to be given to me as an adult). When reading the Osage Futures text, I was thinking about what sewing traditions come from my ancestry and my family, and quilts are it (even though they are in other cultures and histories as well). I am also thinking about sustainability, survival/thrival, and the future. We’ll see what I create but I think it might be quilted.