fashion/wearables

SDA Confluence Conference, part one

Tim Harding’s Exhibit at the Nash Gallery

In June, I had the opportunity to attend Confluence, the biennial International Conference of the Surface Design Association. As an SDA Board member, I knew that my tasks at the Conference went beyond mere participation, —I am in charge of all the “state” or Area Representatives — but I had a wonderful time. What I’ve always appreciated about the SDA Conferences is that they provide not only a forum for networking and sharing of technical information, but they are also a rich snapshot of what’s currently interesting in fiber art. Not all fiber art gets covered, of course, but participants on all levels of expertise return home with food for thought on many levels.

one third of the Members’ Show, Merge & Flow, sandwiched between other stellar exhibits at the Nash Gallery

 Add to that, participants have the opportunity to see more than thirty exhibitions of contemporary fiber art, which alone would make the conference worth attending. Other events included a stellar fashion show of members’ work, dynamic speakers and demonstrations, a members’ trunk show, a vendor fair, regional members’ meetings, and special interest gatherings, for example, for educators or batik artists. The beginning of the light rail expansion  directly in front of the hotel caused some traffic complications in being able to see all the exhibitions, but most participants did go with the “merge and flow” and used the time to get to know one another.

members’ meet & greet started our day of Gallery hopping

Now in its 36th year, SDA came to pass in the time when local and national craft organizations were encouraged to add the work “design” or “designer” to their names in order to distinguish the kinds of work their artists did from folk and hobby craft. The Surface Design Association was born. Despite its longevity and history, the phrase “surface design” still causes some confusion. Here’s how it is defined on SDA’s new website:

Surface Design refers to any process that gives structure, pattern, or color to fiber & fabric. These include spinning, felting, papermaking, weaving, knotting, netting, looping, dyeing, painting, stitching, cutting, piecing, printing, quilting, & embellishing.

And here’s something about the organization:
The Surface Design Association is an international community engaged in the creative exploration of fiber & fabric. Our mission is to promote awareness & appreciation of the textile arts. Through member-supported publications, exhibitions & conferences, we inspire creativity, encourage innovation, & advocate excellence.

Confluence is co-sponsored by the Textile Center of Minnesota. Director Margaret Miller tells us that the Center is comprised of 900 members in 35 member organizations. Now located in what was once a car dealership, the Center contains meeting rooms, gallery areas, a sales shop, a 23,000 volume library, and a well-equipped dye kitchen.

What follows is literally a snapshot my own personal view on the conference. It is not complete, but it reflects my experience and available photos. The exhibits appear in the next post. Bodies of Water Fashion Show, Trunk Show, workshop photos and member pictures appear here. What’s missing? All of the provocative speakers, like India Flint, Pat Hickman, Barbara Lee Smith, Stephen Fraser, Faythe Levine, Natalie Chanin and Jane Dunnewold, plus a wide array of panels and demos. And, all that camaradie, hard to capture. You just had to be there…

Awards Judges Leesa Hubbell and Lynne Pollard examine Penny Collins’ Gown for Great Pacific Garbage Patch Ball, made of recycled plastic bags and winner of the SDA Award of Excellence
examining the Fashion Show entries

talking with Fashion Show Coordinator Anna Lee

Chunghie Lee’s Pojagi-making demonstration
At the DIY fair: altering a T-shirt, fundraiser for the Textile Center of MN (above), TCM lacemaking demo, plus impromptu “fashion show parade” by 17 year-old fashion designer, shown in black suit & glasses (below)

Trunk show & Vendors’ Fair, above and below

Faythe Levine discusses Handmade Nation, which was also shown
international conferees viewing a beaded piece while waiting for Conference buses
one conferee on her way to the Fashion Show finishes the crocheted embellishment on her altered SDA T-shirt

SDA President Candace Edgerly with new American Crafts Council Executive Director Chris Admundsen. The ACC recently moved to Minneapolis from New York City,

Necessities Vests!

My friend Connie Roberts is a professional artist who makes carved wooden whistle sculptures. She and I have collaborated for some time on thematic vests containing appropriate whistles. Our most popular has always been the Necessities Vest, made to order for male or female wearers, a piece that occupies a display stand during times not worn as a conversational art theater piece. Connie usually makes dozens of whistles that are visible and hidden on these vests.

 My contribution is to dye and print the cotton fabrics for vest and lining, plus pockets and trim. I designed the pockets and patterns and construct and sew the vests. When they’re sewn, Connie and I get together to trouble-shoot placement, drill a few holes etc. Her whistles are by far the most entertaining part of these Vests, but what follows are photos of how the vests themselves come into being.

hand-dyed, monoprinted & screenprinted cotton fabrics using procion fiber reactive dyes
flaps, and lots of notes

the old workhorse Janome sewing machine
It helps that it’s still porch weather
Connie’s buttons are a hoot. They do not whistle.
OK, so my part is finished…
Connie and her drill. Trying to keep the sawdust off of the fabric. Placing whistles.
Whistles similar to what we have in our vests.

Karl Etoffe & Max Tessuti, a fine couture shop in lovely Freiburg

Karl Etoffe & Max Tessuti is a clothing design shop featuring the work of Gudrun von Kalckreuth. This charming shop recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and has two locations. Freiburg, Germany, a truly lovely city, is where I discovered it. I was charmed by this shop: exquisite designs in layered silks and other fabrics, often with mixed patterns but oh, so well done. It’s interesting to see the aesthetic taste of another country. Take a look at these pictures, and then visit the store website, where you’ll find many kinds of fabrics by choosing the “Stoffe” button, and many kinds of designs, by choosing the “Modelle” button. If you’re visiting Freiburg, stop by the shop at Marienstrasse 14 in the old part of the city.

bicycles are everywhere in this city, which is also home to a large university

The website asks if we love fabric. A rough translation:
“Our philosophy: outstanding quality, beautiful fabrics, interesting structures, fantasy-full designs, all put together in a color coordinated way, and as clothing designs that work together. We appeal to creative women but also men… Our model: (designs) for living.

Customers can look down a half flight, into the work space. Shown in back: patterns




One of the staff members looks through a sample book at the front desk.

This section of Freiburg contains many small boutique-type shops and is home to a number of museums. Gerberau and Fischerau are streets dating to the 1300s and are next to this channel of water from the Dreisam River; in earlier times, this water was used for leather tanning and fisheries.

Surface Design Conference, Day 3

I’m deep into over-stimulation by now and loving it. We can only attend one third of the concurrent sessions available, so this listing will not be complete as far as the conference as a whole is concerned.

Victoria Rivers shares a lighthearted, zany life of artmaking that soon profiles a dedicated, focused interest in Asian “mirrored” cloths and her own very complex wall pieces. The sheer number of research projects and studio work accomplished as well as teaching, was eyepopping. Her current research area: Russian ceramics that show the ikat patterns of central Asia.

Jane Dunnewald in Mining for Meaning: Intentional Content takes us on a different spin through the land of studio reinvention. Dunnewald mirrors what several have said and I too have thought, about the move towards a simpler way of imaging/imagining, and also of thoughtful ways to reinvigorate studio practice. She talked about Barbara Schneider’s daily photograph, from which additional visualizations through Photoshop emerge.

Papermaker and University of Wisconsin faculty member Mary Hark led a small group through Material Poetry: Textiles in Ghana, West Africa, a stunning 500-image slideshow of her Fullbright textile research in Ghana. She lived with an extended family of adinkra cloth makers in Kumasi. The sheer variety of colorful market cloths, from Kente cloths (woven by younger boys), batik (made by families for grocery money), commercial “blockprinted” Ghanaian cloth, and adinkra cloth was wonderfully overwhelming. Adinkra is important for funerals. The dyers receive older clothing, often Kente or other, to overdye, then apply adinkra symbols. The materials used for the symbols is derived from a certain bark and later washes out, and the clothse are then re-stamped for future reuse. Local seamstresses sew these clothes to correct body measurements, altering after subsequent fittings. According to Hark, the city has the largest market in West Africa and the sheer number of fabrics is mind boggling.

Ironically, it’s interesting to see Mary’s photos. She was a student of Chris Roy’s at the University of Iowa. Roy spent time in Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) in the Peace Corps in the late 1960s, teaching then unknown batik methods. In Iowa in the early 1990s, Miranda Akyea, a Ghanaian friend (and Queen Mother) also did batik. She said that the European donated clothes in the local markets became known as the “bend down boutique” and were disdained, as locals had a proud clothing tradition. They developed their own patterns and a more Africanesque cloth. At that time, packaged foam from appliances and TVs was ingeniously repurposed to make stamps for stamping batik wax. Miranda did this type of batik. I did a small piece on this for Fiberarts Magazine 15 years ago. Among other things, what interested me in Mary Hark’s presentation was how far those batiks have come in their complexity of pattern and more skilled use of the technique.

Fellow Iowans: Rebecca Ringquist, now of Lill Street Studios, Ursula McCarty, who was Rebecca’s teacher at Cornell College, Mt Vernon, IA; and Mary Hark, now of the University of Wisconsin.

Then it was time for fun. Kerr Grabowski led us through a demonstration of de-constructed screen printing, which she first taught at SDA ten years previously. Trained as a printmaker, she allows mark-making to guide the development of her designs. It’s basically a blank screen, run over textured surfaces with a dye with squeegie, then allowed to dry. Then sodium alginate is squeegied over the surface, allowing the dye to release in patterns. Or perhaps the dye is direct painted on the screen, then charged once more with alginate. The result is playful and spontaneous. As Kerr says, “make a mess, then solve it!” She admits to being very loose in the image generation, and meticulous in the finishing (steaming, washing, etc.)

At 6pm, we attended the Off the Grid Fashion Show, a private viewing in the new wing of the Nelson-Atkins Museum. Starting with a performance by mixed media artist Sha Sha Higby, who presents mythic stories in elaborate almost tribal, almost Kabuki costumes, we progressed to a non-traditional runway show of non-traditional and all handmade clothing. They fell into two categories- the artrageous, art-as-theater style (ie shawl featuring plastic forks -see first image) and the awesomely-made elegant show pieces. I’m afraid I can’t tell you the individual makers, but a variety of artists were represented.


the last two pieces shown are handmade felt by Jorie Johnson, now living in Japan.