Every time I am asked to speak on the topic of wearable art or art to wear, I reflect on the relationship between art and clothing.
My background as a custom dressmaker leads me to prefer the phrase artful wearables. Clothing needs to be functional and well-fitting first. Then if it’s fabric, design or embellishment add an artful element that falls within the comfort zone of the wearer, the wearable art is a win-win.
In the 1980’s a client brought me a piece of “wearable art” to alter. She was an abstract artist and on a trip to NYC had purchased the taffeta art dress in the “village”. It was silvery grey and black, thick and stiff with painted abstract shapes, and voluminous in size. But, she loved it. She put it on in front of the mirror and said, “it needs to be shortened”. The hem was quite uneven because of the shape and size of the ill- fitting dress and it did not look like a dress that needed an even hem. So I asked if she wanted it shorter or straightened. We agreed that I would take an even 2 inches off the dress so it would retain its artistic look.
I wish I had taken a picture of that dress, but taking photos was not as easy then as it is now. It was an interesting piece of art but it was not a flattering garment.
Though I hesitate to call myself an artist, I think almost every garment I make is an artful expression.
A wedding gown with beautiful fabric and simple lines is as artful on one girl as a painted, lacy creation is on another girl. A well-cut coat with architectural lines is as artful when worn by a woman with classic tastes as a collage coat is on a whimsical, free spirited dresser.
In my Wow! Wearable Art class at the 2017 Original Sewing & Quilt Expos, we look at examples of garments that are minimalist, embellished, layered, collaged, quilted, and thematic. We also look at the benefits of repetition within each art form and each design. This repetition can lead to greater freedom and more creative expression in your work.
I love making wearable art and usually I use my Tabula Rasa Jacket pattern as the base for my creations. I also know that my definition of artful is not everyone’s definition of artful. My pieces can be subtle; you might have to look closely or on the inside to appreciate their full artful impact.
Finding that comfortable but creative space was hit or miss when I consciously started making artful wearables in the 1990’s. But remembering the hits and learning from the misses means my work just gets better and better.
What is your definition of wearable art? Have you crafted any beautiful or fanciful art garments that are as comfortable to wear as they are interesting to look at?
If you are ready to start sewing some wearable art, plan to visit an OSQE and participate in the Wow! Wearable Art discussion. This weekend we will be having the chat in Cleveland but we will also be in Raleigh, NC, Schaumberg IL, and Fredericksburg, VA later this year. Hope to see you there.
Happy Sewing, RAE