Who Am I, Who Are We?
Asheville's River Arts District Artists are coming together for a collaborative, monthly exhibition spanning across our studios and galleries. The 2024 theme is "Who Am I, Who Are We?," with a new prompt each month. Artists will exhibit new and archived work for the theme during our monthly Second Saturday Art Strolls. As of right now, over 70 artists and galleries are exhibiting with thoughtful and beautiful original art.
This year, I'll be designing, weaving, and sewing twelve two-piece sets and dresses in conjunction with RADA's overarching theme and monthly prompts. Each month will introduce new skills and complexity in design. I'll be documenting the process here for archival and educational purposes. By this time next year, I'll have a dozen pieces for a retrospective collection.
January's theme is Origin Story. I started with the very basics--a Boxy Crop Top and coordinating A-Line Mini Skirt. Boxy Crop Tops are a staple in my rotating selection of handwoven wearable art. They're simple, beautiful, and production oriented--just two panels, a boatneck, and folded hems.
The A-Line Mini is based on the design of my first handwoven skirt, made in a 2013? fibers class at Berea College. I wish I still had that skirt, or even a photo! It was my first time weaving with Tencel, which I now use almost exclusively. I had nabbed two cones of old 5/2 Tencel in peachy pink and cream at a fiber sale, knowing little about it, but intrigued by its silky sheen.
The A-Line Skirt I created for Origin Story mirrors that first skirt in college, with some modifications. For the 2024 skirt, I had intended to avoid hardware and use an elastic waistband for simplicity's sake. Once the elastic band was installed, it didn't quite mesh with the shape and feel of the skirt. I changed gears and instead installed a pink side zipper. I don't currently have a functioning zipper foot, so it's not perfect! The original skirt had poorly executed buttons because none of the sewing machines I had access to had a buttonhole feature, so it's fitting :)
The top and skirt are cut from the same cloth, handwoven with a 10/2 Tencel warp and 8/2 Tencel weft. The waistband is there to visually break up the gradient stripes and give the skirt a little more length. The zipper is polyester, but secondhand. I don't have a paper pattern for either the boxy crop top or the skirt. I cut by measurement for the tops and use a cardstock boatneck template for the neckline. For the skirt, I taped the cut directly to my cutting mat.
I have a bunch of sketches ready for this year-long endeavor and have started mock-ups of some of the more complex dresses slated for later months. Like the A-Line Skirt, I'm certain I'll be making changes to designs halfway through sewing. I intend to flow with the trials and challenges that crop up in this project. Nothing is set in stone and I'm allowing creativity and curiosity to take the lead.
I'm excited for this project because for a very long time, I've had a strong desire to make garments with my handwoven fabric. As a child, I was fascinated with historic costuming and poured through costuming textbooks I didn't really understand. My neighbor taught me how to sew for a seventh grade history project, in which I made a full medieval peasant's outfit. As a high schooler, I was into painting, dyeing fabric, quilting, and making and altering dresses. My favorite dress was inspired by Project Runway and made out of duct tape and Pixie Stix wrappers. I loved fashion, but never considered it a career remotely attainable for a poor kid in central Ohio.
I learned how to weave as an apprentice at Berea College and changed my art major concentration from painting to fibers at the eleventh hour. I dabbled in handwoven garments there, but only touched the surface. My focus was more on soft sculpture, and those garments were just accessories for silk, stuffed legs and disembodied arms.
After college, I worked full time and made wall hangings and scarves. Cowls came next, and the call to make clothing just got stronger. Over the years, I've played around a lot with handwoven clothing designs, using both ready-to-cut and self-drafted patterns. The handwoven wedding dress I made in 2022 is still my favorite and most heartfelt garment. That dress opened a door in my soul to dressmaking. Since that project, I've felt a strong and undeniable pull to make more dresses with my own fabric. Creating a dress from cones of thin threads is as monumental task, but one that is extremely gratifying. I'm looking forward to building this new collection of handwoven garments and can't wait to see them all together at the year's end.