Using Your Hands to Soothe the Brain: Part 3

The reaction to this series by women of all ages via social media has been really amazing. When EcoSalon introduced it two weeks ago, launching with Americana Couture designer and author Natalie Chanin, fashion writer and textile artist Abigail Doan, Owyn Ruck of Brooklyn’s Textile Arts Center as well as occupational therapist and FiftyRX3 writer Jill Danyelle, many people either wrote to us at the site or commented via Twitter and Facebook. Among some of the reactions, the series is being used as reading material for knitting groups; while others have expressed that without the ability to sit quietly and use their hands, they’d need to jump back on anxiety medications.

Maybe there’s something to all this handiwork?

How it all began: When I came across this blog entry from sustainable designer and writer Natalie Chanin, it not only piqued my perception of the positive effects of “women’s work,” but it brought to light a real aspect of how using our hands to do meaningful tasks can benefit our overall health and well being.

Chanin cites neuroscientist Kelly Lambert, author of Lifting Depression:

“Lambert shows how when you knit a sweater or plant a garden, when you prepare a meal or simply repair a lamp, you are bathing your brain in feel-good chemicals and creating a kind of mental vitamin. Our grandparents and great grandparents, who had to work hard for basic resources, developed more resilience against depression; even those who suffered great hardships had much lower rates of this mood disorder. But with today’s overly-mechanized lifestyle, we have forgotten that our brains crave the well-being that comes from meaningful effort.”

With the sustainable stretching out of the fashion movement, there’s been a serious harking back to the glory of heritage and craft and designers with good ears are listening. And well they should with generations strong of everything from indigenous artisans to Depression Era stitchers coming out of the woodwork to teach, inspire and pass on before the knowledge is lost. Designers are listening and incorporating these aged techniques and making them fresh, new and revolutionary.

A designer with those aforementioned “good ears,” is the last member of our series. Titania Inglis designs a line of minimalist-inspired clothing made of experimental constructions and functional details. Her third collection “References vintage glamor via geometric forms created through bias cuts, origami pleating, and ingenious seaming. A sleeveless dress reverses from a prim suit dress to a low-backed mod frock, while diagonal-seamed dresses approach the ideal of zero waste.”


Titania Inglis in her studio

Inglis lives and designs and rides her vintage bicycle everywhere in Brooklyn, and chronicles her adventures and misadventures in the fashion world on her blog, Fade to Green.

Regarding the importance of using her own hands to design, to communicate and ultimately, to achieve sharp mental clarity, she has much to say.

“A lot of people outside the fashion industry don’t seem to realize that all clothes are made by hand, to varying degrees. Yet from the initial sketches, to selecting fabrics, to draping and cutting and sewing and fitting a garment, every step requires the human touch. Sewing machines don’t run themselves, as anyone who’s ever tried to use one can attest!

It was the hands-on nature of clothing design that drew me to it, for reasons I couldn’t fully articulate as a young woman. I set out to become a graphic designer, but within weeks of starting design school, I realized that I found infinitely more satisfaction in creating a physical object with my hands. Fabric, with its drape and heft and texture, and clothing, so intimately interacting with the human body, were perfectly tactile, and perfect for hands-on work.”


Swatches from dye tests for the Titania Inglis collection

The designer continues: “For me, design begins with the materials. I drape most of my pieces by hand as a way to explore what the fabric wants to do, what directions it wants to go and what shapes it can make. In my designs, every seam needs to justify its existence, every cut in the fabric serves a specific purpose, and I find my way there by hand, by draping and pinning and snipping and marking each pattern piece, one at a time until I have a complete garment.”

Inglis says there is rich satisfaction in every step of the process: “When I’ve successfully draped a piece so it sits just so, when a pattern is beautiful in and of itself, and finally in seeing the finished piece and how it moves on the body. I often go through three or four muslins per piece, pinning and re-fitting and sometimes re-draping an entire garment until I’m satisfied that everything is right with it: the fit, the proportion, the details.”

Titania Inglis’ Studio

One showroom rep commented recently told Inglis her line was “so simple and yet so complex.” Reflecting upon this, Inglis observes, “I think that’s a reflection of the work I put into refining each piece. My work process is almost meditative; I come into my studio, prepare myself a steaming mug of green tea, cut off a length of fresh muslin, and I’m ready to go, completely cut off from the world outside. When I really get going, I can work for hours on a piece, late into the night, snipping through the fabric and feeding lengths of fabric into the eager sewing machine to create a muslin, then fitting and pinning and re-working it until it’s perfect.

I love clothing design for its communicative and aesthetic possibilities, but also very much for the craft of it. Many designers prefer to simply hand off sketches to a pattern maker, but for me, the process is the design. It feels a bit pompous to talk about the integrity of the piece and purity of form, but those are qualities I strive for, and I really can only get there with my own two hands.”

Image: supersonicphotos

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