Video Experiment: Darkness and Uncertainty

I’ve made a new video, which is something. I haven’t made a video in a long time. Well, let me clarify that: I haven’t finished a video in a long time. (“Finished” for my purposes essentially means “exported into a shareable file,” because no work ever feels done to me.) A few weeks ago a friend inspired me to start working on video again. I pulled all the video files off of my iPhone, which is my main shooting apparatus, and realized I had nearly a hundred files I’d shot, mostly spontaneously, over the last three years.

Now I’m making my way through the videos, trying to figure out what they are. This is a process I go through with every piece I make, even those that start with a clearly defined concept. I make something and then try to figure out why I made it. I do, however, find analysis harder when I created something without a notion of what it would be, as with these videos.

It’s possible that they aren’t more than a catalog of observations, fodder for more complete creations. But I want to spend time with these videos, and to share them. I’m going to call them “experiments,” because that’s a pretty standard way of evading creative commitment while still putting some work out there.

The first video I chose to work on I was drawn to precisely because I knew the least about what it was.  I’m not even certain where the video came from: it was in the folder with my iPhone videos, but it’s a standard definition file with a 4:3 aspect ratio. The iPhone shoots 16:9 HD, so this video makes no sense. I haven’t used a camera that shoots 4:3 SD in ages. It’s as though it spontaneously generated from mysterious digital forces.

Visually, the video is quite dark, with only slight hints of light, shape, and movement. I do not know what I am looking at, and I like this, because I want to revel in the uncertainty of it. It does not require me to know what it is, it only requires me to look at it. I like to become lost in its uncertainty. I like to be swallowed by its darkness, its refusal to show me anything I can identify.

In the past, particularly when I was in graduate school and had to make a lot of work and come up with a lot of clever ideas for assignments for various classes, I would end up feeling quite uninspired. My brain generated no new visual ideas, and I wondered if it ever would again. In these moments my impulse was to create works that were very dark: to, for example, stick a camera on a shadow on a wall and shoot that for a long time, and then to just look at it. It would be like the visual manifestation of my creativity: blank, devoid of content. Nothing to say. But not nothing.

Strangely, I never made those videos. Perhaps the idea of that nothingness seemed too silly, too easy, or too frightening. Or perhaps I was just too busy. I’m happy with this video because I finally have one of my dark videos. Even if I don’t know how I got it.

Sunday Shift at Visual Art Exchange in Raleigh

This week, Sunday Shift made its first debut in a shop, and in store window, at Visual Art Exchange in downtown Raleigh, NC.

Photo Feb 06, 6 16 17 PM

January was the first meeting of the fellows for the 2015 Launch program sponsored by VAE, which includes me and the talented individuals behind six other creative entrepreneurial efforts. We were asked to bring 15-30 new items for the shop, so most of my free time of the five weeks prior were spent dyeing fabric and sewing and sewing and making necklaces and designing tags. I couldn’t have done it without help from my wonderful mom, who holds the position of Official Sunday Shift Vassal (a name she picked, in case you were wondering).

The window and shop display were arranged by the lovely people who run the program for VAE, and they did a fantastic job. I like in particular how the Sunday Shift mohair/silk knitted necklaces look placed with Liz Kelly’s pottery.

It was challenging, but in those five weeks of working, I made nine new garments: shift dresses, tunics, and sleeveless tops. And that feels like a significant accomplishment. Nine garments! In the past, I’d have been thrilled if I made that many items in year. Of course, now it’s time to make more. I just ordered about 20 more yards of fabric – hemp/silk, linen, and organic cotton sateen – and I’m working on a sundress design for the warm weather that’s just around the corner down here:

Photo Feb 08, 11 17 37 AM

Coming soon…

Sunday Shift Progress: Launch and Holiday Markets

Remember back when I said I wanted to have an Etsy store set up by September? Yeah, well, that didn’t happen. That’s okay. One thing I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is that product development takes a lot longer than I thought. And I’ve still made good progress with Sunday Shift, even with the full-time job.

Dyeing fabric red

Dyeing fabric in the garage. This is what progress looks like.

One of the biggest accomplishments of the fall is that I was accepted for the 2015 cycle of a program called Launch, a year-long retail incubator sponsored by Raleigh’s Visual Art Exchange (VAE). In addition to the professional skills I’ll be learning, I’m thrilled to have camaraderie of other creative entrepreneurs.

VAE has a shop in the front of their gallery selling the products of current Launch Program fellows, and the 2015 fellows were asked to bring in a few items as a sort of sneak preview of the year to come. I dropped off two shift dresses, one in the smoky hemp/silk blend I described in a recent post and another in a cobalt blue with silk shibori-dyed pockets, plus a few knit necklaces. If you’re in the Raleigh area and want to see or purchase Sunday Shift items in person, stop by VAE during their open hours or during their holiday market on December 14, which will feature work by many of their member artists.

But wait! There’s more. For the second year I’ll have mohair and copper necklaces at the MassArt Made Holiday Sale at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston (where I got my MFA). They are lovely and fuzzy and come in a few different colors.

So, I’m not on Etsy for the holiday shopping spree, but I am at a couple holiday markets, and I’m inclined to count my successes. For the next few weeks my plan is to experiment a bit with fabrics, construction variations on the patterns I’ve developed so far, and surface design. Fun times ahead.

Smoky Hemp/Silk Fabric: Low Immersion Dyeing

I’ve found a new favorite fabric: a hemp/silk blend woven. I’ve ordered it twice so far, once from EnviroTextiles, a sustainable textile manufacturer and distributor based in Colorado, and a second time from Hemp Traders, where it’s a little cheaper. It’s similar to the flax/silk blend I used to dye my yellow fabric (which I ended up being unable to source reliably, even for my very small scale of production), but is a little lighter weight and has even more drape. I love how it feels both utilitarian and luxurious, which is exactly what I’m looking for with Sunday Shift clothing.

black fabric drying

I’ve been surprised by the quantity of water the dyeing process takes, so I decided to try a low immersion dyeing process. Rather than dissolving the dye in enough water to allow the fabric to be stirred or agitated, low immersion dyeing dissolves the dye in just enough water to get into all of the fabric wet.

In addition to using less water, it takes much less effort: you scrunch up the fabric in a large plastic zip-top bag or other small container, and let it sit overnight. The result is an amazing mottled setting of the dye, sort of like tie-dye for the very lazy.

I followed instructions from the blog Bloom, Bake & Create, more or less. Rather than going for bright colors, I decided to do kind of the opposite: I used Procion’s jet black dye in the hope that I’d get a subtly variegated black color. Dye processes that involve imprecise techniques like “scrunching” are unpredictable, which makes them exciting but, you know, hard to predict.

The result was more charcoal gray than black (I understand a true black can be difficult to achieve with fiber reactive dyes, so I’m not surprised), but an incredible variation of tone. The finished fabric not only varied in intensity, but different colors showed through in the black: in some spots almost purple, greenish in others.

black immersion dyed fabric

It reminds me of  silver process black and white photography, something I used to do a lot of: depending on the photo paper, the temperature of the water, the type of developing chemicals you use, a black and white photograph can have tones of green, blue, or yellow in it.

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Two black and white photos I made some time ago using solarization and non-standard developing processes, but no actual toning.

Ham.

I made a ham.

Photo Oct 26, 7 26 38 PM

Not the kind that you eat, but it does look like one (hence the name). A tailor’s ham is used for pressing curved seams, like darts. It’s one of those things you don’t know you need until you’ve used one. If you’re an occasional sewer, a rolled-up towel or washcloth will do, and that’s what I’ve been using for the last few months. But a ham is so very easy to make, there’s really no reason not to.

I used instructions from the ever-fantastic Make magazine, though I couldn’t get the pattern to print properly and ended up crafting my own. (Hint: it’s basically a big egg). I was able to make my ham completely out of supplies I already had: a piece of heavy weight printed cotton, a scrap of white velour, polyester batting, and a pair of old wool socks.

Both they polyester batting and wool socks got cut into little pieces to be used for stuffing the ham.

And that, my friends, is why I save things like old wool socks. I don’t hoard every piece of clothing that is no longer wearable, but I’m  careful to save things made out of high-quality materials like wool. Denim is another one: it’s such a durable fabric, even if a few parts wear out, the rest can be used for something else. If you don’t have the tools, skill, or time to reuse things, you can donate them to a creative reuse center like The Scrap Exchange or find a textile recycling program (NYC’s is the absolute best).

Dress #2: Red Tie-Dye Polka Dot Dress

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Here is dress number two: tie-dyed red with white polka dots made in organic cotton sateen from Organic Cotton Plus. Chronologically, it’s not actually dress number two; I made a couple of dresses out of fabric that I’m not so crazy about between the yellow/striped dress and this one, but this is most certainly second in my order of preference.

I sewed the dress in the natural (unbleached, undyed) fabric before I dyed it with a color called Fire Engine Red. I love this tie-dye technique, which I learned from a fabulous book called Tie-Dye: Dye It, Wear It, Share It. To make the dots, you take some sort of round object under the fabric (I used old plastic buttons), put a bit of plastic wrap over the fabric gathered by the object, and then wrap it with a rubber band. Dye as normal, then remove the rubber bands and plastic at the end and you get some lovely big irregular dots.

The result is fun and bold. I love the color, even thought it isn’t what I think of as a fire engine red: this color has less orange, and a little less intensity. More of a pinkish tomato. After the fact I spent some time looking for color samples of this particular dye, and it seems that my result was true to the dye, just not quite true to its name.

As you can see in the picture, it came out really being more of a tunic than a dress, because I ordered one yard of the fabric I wanted to try out, and that ended up not being quite long enough. But I love the tunic. Or rather, I love tunics, so I think I might include it as a variation of the Sunday Shift dress in my collection. And I definitely love the dye technique. Next time I think I’ll try it on a large piece of fabric rather than doing it on a finished dress.

I finished the inside of the neckline with red and white 1/4″ gingham bias, and used the gingham to make a loop for the vintage button closure at the back:

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The Very First Dress: Sunday Shift in Yellow and Stripes

I’ve been posting about weaving and working and making bags, but you may recall that the focus of this business I’m starting is dresses. Although I haven’t been writing about the dresses much, I have been working on them. And here for you today I am happy to present my very first dress, the Sunday Shift Dress in yellow with striped contrast band and pockets.

You may recognize the yellow flax/silk blend fabric from my first dyeing project in July. I actually made the main part of the dress a few weeks ago. However, the yard of fabric I purchased for testing shrank more than expected in the dyeing and washing process, and the dress ended up too short.

I kept it around while I worked on other things, pondering how to finish it. I finally decided to add a contrast band at the bottom, and for the fabric I used a striped men’s dress shirt I purchased at a thrift store that was in my “To Be Upcycled” stash.

I’m quite pleased with the outcome. Bertha the Dressform has been wearing the dress for a couple days, and it makes me happy every time I see it. I like the yellow enough that I think it would work in a solid color version of the dress, but the stripes are a fun option.

Stay tuned: more dresses coming soon!