We've donated two of our fresh garments to Kala Art Institute for their annual fundraising auction. A top we call the Sweetshirt. Reversible. A pair of Rook trousers, silk-linen crepe. These items will be put up for bid during the live auction, accompanied by a live human model showing them off. If the particular sizes don't fit you, we will make some that do. Visit Kala's auction site for more details.
Asked about our collections, or new product launches, I usually find myself without words. Because our process is so thoroughly exploratory, we constantly invent new patterns, new arrangements, new pieces. We do this even when we're trying to print up something specific for a client or showroom!
Some of our most intriguing prints have come from printing variations on pattern and color adjacent to one another, thereby making a new composition. Miriam sometimes says, Don't cut that fabric, it's too perfect! Which means that Hannah or River has to re-print those swatches.
The seasonal collection formula asks that we stop what we're doing right in the middle. And we are always right in the middle. That's living. Of course, it's possible, after the fact (sometimes months or even years after the fact) to organize what we do into collections. This means that it may take us a long time to add new collections to the website.
Someday, perhaps, we'll hire an organizational genius, who finds and names the collections faster. Or, maybe, you'll join us for the certainty of not-knowing.
Taking a moment. I want to share how much the word “brand” saddens me, grosses me out. Yes, strong words! I understand, of course, what we are trying to say when we talk about the brands we love (or not) and why we're loyal to one brand over another. A brand means more to us than a mere mark, a logo, a name. And, yet...
And, yet, the actual meaning of brand refuses to leave my mind (and, imaginatively, my body). When I hear "brand," I can't stop knowing that we use a brand to burn flesh, that people use branding to mark ownership. Or, equally heart-rending, branding has been used to (permanently) mark someone as an outcast, as less-than-human.
Right now, in this place, when branding is (officially) used only on cattle and chattel animals, I wonder what the difference is, I wonder how we can really separate ourselves from a time when some humans marked others as owned? Slavery continues in the present day, though in the U.S. and other developed countries, its marketplaces are hidden, enslaved people aren't marked. The word brand pretends innocence. (A quick aside: those who self-inflict branding for their own purposes, pleasurable or otherwise, that's another thing entirely. That's not what I'm talking about.)
Of course, I publicly own my work. I can and do pay my staff reasonably, for this time and place. I'd like to do this without scarring the work with a word whose real meaning stays with me. I value the work of my hands, mind, heart. I treasure the creative collaborations that keep happening—with the Dym team of printers, my clients, with friends, and with other designers. I delight in our designs, ideas, research, and in the creativity itself.
What I want is for my authorship (of my creativity, my creative production) to wrap around what we create like beautiful gift wrap. And, sometimes, to be graced by a signature or artist's mark. This comes with the sense that what we make becomes yours for as long as you like. In the realm of gifts, may it move into the future (and as yet unknown hands) with sweetness.
Black Friday, 2017
This book. Beyond Craft: the Art Fabric was published around 1972 (which I infer from other dates, as there's no date on the publisher page). With essays and commentary by Mildred Constantine and Jack Lenor Larsen, the book offers a selection of outrageously gorgeous, many monumentally large fiber works. 28 artists get individual attention. Of those, I'd known of two women's work and had a vague idea about a couple more. Of the 28, seven are men, reversing the common ratio of men:women in gallery representation (true even today...you can count for yourself).
I discovered this book as I was looking for information about the artist, tapestry-maker, Evelyn Anselevicius. I hadn't heard of her until I experienced one of her exquisite, grand tapestries in a basement auditorium-hall at the Colorado School of Mines. My visit to CSM was to recruit a team of young engineers to work with me on a water recycling system for Dym. I spent a chunk of my time away from my table, staring at, walking along, the Anselevicius tapestry. (There was a kind of jobs fair, with industry folks and others pitching potential Capstone projects to Mines rising seniors. You can read more about that here.)
Home from Colorado, it seems like I lost days trying to find more works by this amazing artist. With one exception, which I found squirreled away in a community college's financial report, her works have vanished. I bought the one book, Beyond Craft, that promised to show me more. Concerning Anselevicius, I was disappointed, because the figurative tapestries the editors chose aren't the ones I sought. Yet so much of the rest of the work is an incredible revelation. And leads to questions: Where are these monumental pieces now? Where are the artists? Where is the institutional memory to support their continued presence? I feel wobbly about how temporary all our efforts really are. (Ozymandias, anyone?)
The writing in Beyond Craft has a tone and intention no longer used in art writing. It's directly descriptive while also describing each artists' intentions in a way that may or may not have anything to do with the artists. Each artist is also given a brief work bio, most of which includes references to craft lineages, to specific teachers. (This struck a chord with me, because that doesn't resonate with my experience, as I did much self-mentoring through extended museum visits when I was in my 20s and early 30s. And, likewise, figured out block printing from others' books and videos. It makes me wonder, and then dream, about what my printers will do with their training here.)
I'm sharing some favorite images with you. Some I enjoy in part because the descriptions of them do everything except describe what's there. I'll let you parse that for yourself.
An acquaintance, knowing my ferocity in advocating for a world of 100% natural (or, at a minimum, biodegradable) fibers—a person with some understanding of how synthetic fibers poison the environment—asked, what would you substitute for those amazing yoga pants, stretchy and sexy, showing off all the contours of the body within them? As in, how will we (of whatever orientation) manage our erotic pleasures of whatever gender body, if that body stops strutting its stuff in clingy, never-sagging cloth? Cloth that shows off asses and thighs, chests and shoulders...you know.
Lycra and spandex, sometimes in tiny percentages (< 5%) give fabric, knits and wovens, its stretch. Before there were lycra and spandex, people depended on fabric construction for stretchiness. Knit cloth—like your t-shirt fabric—has give, expands and rebounds, up to a point. We’ve all had clothing that stretched permanently out of shape, or, like some wool sweaters, shrunk down, closing the open space of the knit as the wool kept interlocking into itself (thanks to hot water), into a a small size and stiffness well beyond what’s wearable.
My friend asked, in your ideal world, will all the yoginis have saggy-butt leggings made of hemp? Oh! Don’t you hear the heavy, sad sigh in this question?
What can we do for my friend and his pleasures? You could argue, you might, that the trace amounts of stretch fibers aren’t *too* harmful. Maybe. I don’t really believe it. The accumulated “trace amounts” of all our human-invented toxins are measurable and problematic.
Beyond trace amounts or high volume synthetics, I’ve tried to buy natural fiber leggings and yoga pants and it’s not easy. Another, richer approach: Let’s talk about the fashion, and what we desire to see and experience. Can we make sexy cloth, that clings gorgeously but isn’t toxic? That we can throw in the shredder to turn it back into raw fiber (yes, this is technically possible though there is as yet no system for it) without melting being a problem (because our trace amounts of lycra and spandex will mess up our machine!).
I advocate for alternative styles, cloth that is soft and sensuous, perhaps translucent, so that the hints of body underneath cloth substitute amazingly for our tight leggings habit. I want this to be, I don’t know how to make it so. I wish everyone understood the damage they do every time they wear their fleece and polyester. If you knew, and you had luscious choices, maybe you’d choose something else?
Curious to know what the collective consciousness had to say about flawed goods, I searched for “artisan imperfection name,” or what is it called when artisans allow, intentionally or not, irregularity in their work. Near the top of the search list, I found a marketing essay by someone named Rohit Bhargava on the Observer. The article reaches its climax in this paragraph:
"Adding even more urgency to this trend (of imperfection in products) is the fact that it has become harder than ever for any products or services to truly stand out and attract attention thanks to the growing demands on consumer’s time. Perfect products are easy to overlook because they don’t create any sort of discord with the world around them. Unperfection, on the other hand, creates a discord our brains are hard wired to notice."
Rohit Bhargava is CEO and founder of the Influential Marketing Group and author of Non-Obvious: How to Think Different, Curate Ideas & Predict the Future.
I have a firm response to this—what is it, attitude? philosophy? approach?—and that response is, No, not at all. Consumers may be overwhelmed with choice. But what are they really looking for? They are apparently looking for things to adorn themselves and their spaces, or to reflect or enhance their social status. Perhaps, though, they are also looking for answers to life’s discomforts - things that will anchor them just a little closer to their lives.
Do perfect products accord and resonate with the world? Umm, no. Cleanliness, flat color, orderliness are pretty much at odds with growing systems, which is everywhere except in design magazines. Artisans, and others’ “flaw” or disorder actually link any given thing to all the other constantly interweaving and changing.
The designs we develop in-house are especially wild in how we arrive at them. My preference is to completely avoid any kind of regular grid, even when we’re using lots of lines in our patterns, as we so often do. One means to get there is to play with rubber stamps, which are cheap to make. You can use your own motifs and see how they interact on a surface. This process (the way we block print) doesn't work on a computer because, even with a stylus, there's no ease, no generosity of movement, especially around wrist/shoulder/elbow rotations. This thing about movement, well, that’s everything.
(From an email to a client interested in developing their own block prints.)