Plying A More Fashionable Fiber Frontier

Artists are working to create a more fashionable frontier for all.

The blank slate of a new year is as seductive as the lure of a crisp white piece of clothing for one’s mishmash wardrobe. We all crave a fresh start and the promise of renewal, although I have never been one to hastily cast off the old in order to usher in the new. I am just way too practical as an artist who examines and preserves every scrap of fiber for some drafty hole that might present itself unexpectedly. 2012 will instead be a continuation of my ongoing mission to seek out individuals who understand the power of resourcefulness and the collective twining of fiber taking flight.

Naturally dyed-fiber from The Sacred Valley of Peru via Source4Style 

2011 found us exploring therapeutic connections between the heart, the mind, and handcrafting, and the year to come will no doubt be a continued testing ground for how and why we choose to implement DIY strategies as well as having increased access to sustainable fiber and artisan-made textiles via sites like Source4Style. I will be looking to designers, (outsider) artists, storytellers, and even urban gardeners for evidence of why the cultivation of local narratives and subversive craftiness makes good sense. It is at the fringe of these diverse realms where I feel that many sustainable solutions reside.

‘Knitta, Please’ urban fiber installation in Sydney, Australia

Fashion happenings are all good fun but for a huge sector of the population, this is still foreign territory and not so inviting at that. Our day-to-day lives are riddled with break out moments of stylistic genius, but it is is our immediate environs that influence how we look and feel in a sustained manner. I like the idea of casting the net wider to consider ideas related to ‘fashioning self and the environment’ – meaning that, a true understanding of how to map out a lasting fashion sensibility must now include a closer (smarter) examination of self in relation to one’s environment and the resources available.

The ‘Knitta, Please’ handknit bus paves the way for a more fashionable frontier

Women are quite good at this. We know how to make do, mend, and even tie together the loose ends to create safety nets for ourselves and those random beings who dare to cross our path. We also know how to turn an impossible situation into a crazy quilt that warms an entire community of loved ones. I am reminded of artist Magda Sayeg who went from being a single mother on welfare to being an entrepreneurial design maven with her knitted public works (aka guerrilla yarn bombing projects) under the studio name, Knitta, Please. In a recent article on Magda’s work in the Wall Street Journal, one is seduced by the power of crafting a path to a brighter future with a stockpile of pop art yarn and the conviction to subversively adorn just about everything labeled commonplace or inconsequential.

Textile scraps being handspun for knit couture by designer Zaida Adriana Goveo Balmaseda

Similarly, I admire how designer Zaida Adriana Goveo Balmaseda is currently scouring the floors of designer work rooms and studios for scraps of textiles that are being hand spun into knitted runway creations for The Green Fashion Competition at Amsterdam Fashion Week in late January.

 Handspun fiber is knitted and prepped  for the runway by Zaida Adriana Goveo Balmaseda

Zaida shared some of the following sentiments with us regarding her resourceful process and intention:

“Through my work I intend to encourage and engage people to use craft for solutions, and for my current project we are recycling studio textile waste. I discovered the spinning process while researching recycled yarns, and given that I was not really satisfied with my finds, I wanted to work with a fiber that I had complete control over and that would positively impact my surroundings, including the people I know. Spinning yarn can be done with a very simple tool, and many people can participate in the transformation of this raw material. In just one week I taught my grandparents, brother, sister, and mother how to spin. We are creating and sharing stories together, and it has been incredibly rewarding to see everyone cooperating and enthusiastically wanting to learn a new skill. Each skein is unique, just like its spinner and the runway garments that we are knitting as well.”

Recycled fiber forms by Abigail Doan include street flotsam and recycled textiles

In regards to my own work, the challenges that interest me the most are those where seemingly complex situations might be untangled and plied into revitalized objects of texture and hue. In preparation for Vogue Knitting Live‘s curated fiber gallery this next week, I have been creating sculptural fiber forms, some of which include “Plarn” or recycled plastic bag yarn created by a Roma woman named Abibe in Eastern Bulgaria. I was introduced to Abibe by my friend Charity Wright, who is currently working as an educator and sustainable business consultant while in the Peace Corps in Malko Turnovo. This historic border town at the gateway to Turkey has a history of traditional textile weaving as well as organic wool production from the flocks that roam freely in the Strandja Mountains. I welcomed this introduction to Abibe, as she was some one who had never worked with recycled materials for an art installation but had instinctively been repurposing items in her own home for a recycled plastics and crocheted eco-accessory collection. Through the bridge that Charity helped to build with this self-taught artist, my most recent fiber forms have even more layered meaning and a connection to the lifecycle of Abibe’s household.

Artist Abibe of Shau New Light, proudly shows off her recycled accessories in Bulgaria

It is interesting to think about fashion as something that connects us to those fibers that transgress borders, trends, and in turn might even redefine who we are dressing up for. It has been eye-opening for me to create my latest work with input from some one who has never traveled out of Bulgaria or visited my distant home, but definitely shares the same worries and concerns as a mother and artist trying to carve out time for herself. I will be so honored to present this effort to the public in New York City next week.


Judith Scott’s fiber sculpture crafted out of recycled textiles and found broken objects

I am reminded also of the fiber artist Judith Scott who was institutionalized for more than thirty-five years for being profoundly “retarded” with Down Syndrome. It was not until Judith’s twin sister Joyce was finally reunited with her, that the threads of this story unraveled. Celebrated in her later years as being one of the most powerful textile artists of this century, Judith Scott is still considered by some to be an “outsider artist” who operated at the far frontier of contemporary craft. Scott’s sculptural forms, created out of artfully wound scrap fiber and broken objects that had been blatantly dismissed, make her pieces ones that rival many of today’s upcycling expressions. Which begs me to ask, whether the plying of the marginal and disenfranchised with our current ideas about what is fashionable might finally redefine the edginess that we are so desperately hoping to occupy? I say, let’s work to ply a more fashionable frontier for all.

lead image: Jazmin Berakha