Sewing II graphite on paper 2016
Sewing I graphite on paper 2016
The Artist Sews Her Clothes graphite on paper 2016
I made these drawings about sewing over the past month. The first two are a pair, the third could be a pendant to the set, or it can stand alone.
My husband expressed curiosity about learning to sew a bit over a year ago, and I have been teaching him ever since, on weekends and the occasional evening. My mother taught me to sew when I was quite small. I remember long car trips during the summer while just a toddler; mom would hand me a piece of plastic embroidery canvas and a large, colorful plastic needle strung with yarn, and I would practice making stitches as the desert rolled by outside the window. When I was six turning seven my summer project was to make a matching set of shirt and shorts patterned with white cats---my mom supervised heavily, of course, and made the buttonholes for me. I think I did sew on the white buttons, if I remember correctly. Two years later my summer project was a new quilt for my bed. Mom taught me how to tie the quilt on a big wooden frame we borrowed from some quilter friends using thin pieces of ribbon. I sewed on and off after that, until Mom gave me a sewing machine for my 22nd birthday. It was a surprise to me, despite my previous experiences sewing, because I hadn't done much while I was in college or high school---homework kept me too busy, and working at the animal hospital weekends and holidays. But after I married, I began to sew in earnest again, and have since sewn almost all of my own clothes. My husband feels that we should keep a record of the things we sew, so we have set up a small blog to keep track at www.mrandmrsrat.weebly.com.
I remember my college classmates often despised anything that could divide attention away from art-making. But I found their view very limiting. Most artists are talented in other ways, explore the world from many points of view, and make art in many forms. Sonia Delauney designed fabrics, as did the Bloomsbury group, Georgia O'Keefe sewed her own clothes even when she could afford designer outfits, Modigliani was an amateur poet, Joseph Cornell was an avid and extensive collector and film-maker as well as collagist-sculptor, Maria Sibylla Merian was an accomplished entomologist as well as exquisite watercolorist, etc. Most my art teachers were good cooks, avid readers, excellent gardeners, and had other interests too varied to list here. An artist is an explorer of the world---she or he uses whatever is in reach to form meaning.
With sewing such a integrated and integral part of our lives, I have been thinking about its meaning to me. Here is a small list I made in one of my notebooks about why I sew:
-to revolt against being poor, plain, and insignificant. The writer Linda Grant says that "the desire for luxury, for beautiful clothes, can be revenge against poverty, neglect, and cruelty" in all their forms.
-to communicate. Since I have few opportunities to speak beyond my intimates, much less be heard, clothes are one of the few ways I can communicate with the people--mostly strangers or distant acquaintances--around me every day. Clothes are a visual form of communication, and one that everyone engages in whether they like it or not, whether they believe clothes are "a natural extension of the body, or even the soul," or not (quoted from Quentin Bell),.
-because I feel judged based on my appearance. Everyday we look at each other and make judgments, consciously or unconsciously. By sewing I can attempt to shape very slightly the way I appear to other people, and attempt to bring that appearance closer to the truth of my inner emotional self.
-similarly, to subvert other people's stereotypes and expectations. I am astonished at how other people, often strangers. feel comfortable commenting (often negatively, occasionally admiringly) on my appearance. What is it about clothes and hair that sometimes makes other people so uncomfortable they feel the need to make fun of a stranger? What misplaced sense of control is at work in such unfriendly behavior? I don't see why I should ever bend to someone else's assumptions about what I should look like based on my gender, age, religious ties, region, race, economic status, etc. I am not a stereotype--why should I dress like one? I am my own person, unique, complex, a whole world inside me.
-and lastly because, "you can't have depths without surfaces," as Linda Grant so aptly put it.