Sunday, May 20, 2007

My Fiber Art Imposter Complex, and a day of French Seams

In a few weeks, my show at The Belger Art Center opens, and I will find myself living out the precise scenario that I have been dreading for years: standing in a gallery with a selection of my textile-based art, giving a talk to a roomful of people who have been dyeing, sewing, and generally working with fabric since they were old enough to thread a needle. In this particular lecture, where I am showing only fibers, I will certainly begin my talk by coming clean on my level of expertise.

I snuck into fiber arts through the back door about 5 years ago. I fell into working with fabric out of necessity: the two dimensional media became inadequate when trying to communicate some aspects of vulnerability. I decided that I wanted get deeper: I wanted to get INSIDE. Embracing the fragile, mutable nature of cloth, the Psychological Clothing series was born. The work was dictating the medium, and I just followed along, running to catch up. I have taught myself everything I know about textiles from books, the internet, and trial and error. While I strive, and I believe, succeed, at maintaining the highest levels of craftsmanship, I have approached these projects the way one would a sculpture in a new material, learning the technique needed to solve each problem individually. I honestly believe that I was only able to make The Defense Mechanism Coat because I was not informed enough to know better.

15 years of controling a paintbrush did not prepare me for my attempts at precision while collaborating with a bulky machine that posesses its own idiosyncrasies of thread tension and feeder-foot speed. My hand is not yet as steady on the machine as it is when wrapped around a pencil. I am a nervous sewer… my foot is always resting on the pedal, engaging the motor at a low hum as I take a deep breath before running the next bit of fabric through: the equivalent of riding the clutch. I keep meaning to take a real sewing class, but there has never been any time, so I have been teaching myself each skill as I need it, task-by task, as I did this morning , with the French seams webpage.

I am fortunate in possessing the drive to learn how to do things the correct way, and the obsessiveness to get them right or do them over, so things usually turn out well. It's just that the process is inevitably nervewracking (My father used to say “Kate has worried her way to success in virtually everything that she has done”). But Friday morning, at 8 a.m., I was reading how to do a french seam online, and 20 minutes later, I was doing it, on an artwork that will someday, if not Monday, hang in an art venue. (I had lots of extra material in case I had to cut out the pattern a second or third time.) It requires nerves of steel, as you must trim close to your seam with pinking shears, without cutting the seam,
and I am working in silk organza, a transparent fabric that unravels and pulls easily, and shows every mistake.

I suppose that French Seams make my heart pound, and they feel like risk-taking behavior only because they are on a garment that will be going on display. I did my first french seams on this piece, and Summer Night Sky dress was the first time I hand dyed something, Physical Memory/Last Goodbye the first time I discharged, etc.

But the day went well, the dress (which is only part of the total piece) got finished, and I'm pretty proud of it. I feel like an old pro at French Seams. And the talk will be fine... until someone raises their hand and asks me what size and type of needle I prefer for sewing organza.