Sewing with Your Eyes

‘Too Many Thoughts’ by Danny Mansmith

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Danny Mansmith sews and sews and sews.  He says that sewing has saved his life!  I admire him and his work greatly.  He’s a member of  TAFA and we featured him on our blog there awhile back.  If you go to his blog, which he calls a picture diary, you will see pages and pages and pages of his work.  Small, large, flat, sculptural, all characterized by his heavy lines of stitching. Danny has worked at his craft, his ability, and his vision for years and what you see in his picture book is a cohesive body of work that constantly moves forward, both in experimentation and in design.

Although I haven’t done much sewing since I launched TAFA, ideas run through my head all the time.  My biggest problem is that I am self-taught and lack some of the understanding on how to translate those ideas into a finished product.  I know how to manipulate a surface and can follow a pattern and even adapt it a bit, but I want to be able to CREATE something uniquely mine, like Danny does:

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Coat by Danny Mansmith.

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Jacket by Danny Mansmith.

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Danny Mansmith being a free spirit!

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I don’t want to copy Danny, I just want to be able to have the freedom that he has, the ability to “see” how fabric and thread work together to create form and design…

 

Freda Fairchild

Well!  There just happens to be another free spirit who lives here in Paducah, Freda Fairchild.  Freda and I belong to Paducah Fiber Artists which meets monthly for a potluck and show-and-tell.  Although Freda’s artwork primarily focuses on printmaking, she also has years of costume design under her belt.  She was a freelance designer for interiors, rugs, soft sculptures, art apparel, fabric montage and other work from 1973-1990.  Every now and then that experience surfaces and merges with her printmaking with amazing results.  Here is a sample print:

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‘Karst Landscape by Freda Fairchild

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When THAT marries fabric and sewing, she gets THIS:

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Several times in the past years, I’ve asked her to give a workshop and teach us some of her tricks. This past week it finally happened!  Freda gave us two mornings and afternoons of her time.  We came in with different abilities and interests, which can be quite the challenge, but I think the main thrust of her workshop was teaching us how to SEE in a new way.  She did several things: draped fabric on mannequins, broke down the construction of ready-made clothes so that we could understand how they are put together and showed how a pattern can be made from a favorite garment.  Her message, in sewing for one’s own body, is to use parts of garments that are comfortable and fit well to design something new.

My agenda was to understand why something is curved, how that angle is achieved, and why a designer will choose to go this way instead of that.  For example, I’ve made many pill-box style hats that are basically a rectangular strip of fabric sewn to a circle of fabric, ending up with a cylinder.  But, many of the store-bought hat patterns have an arched shape instead of a straight rectangle which creates a better-fitting shape.  It’s hard to explain what Freda showed me here, but basically one can add or remove pieces of a flat pattern in order to manipulate the fabric.  I made a couple of paper samples so that I would understand how that happened:

The longer piece with points is just a trimmed version of the first piece.  The second one is a variation of a crown.  Removing parts of the paper and then taping them back together means that a shape will emerge from that gap that was left when they are sewn together.  I’m sure that this makes no sense whatsoever to you, the reader, but as I plied Freda with “Why? Why? Why?” and she explained, moved the fabric around, pointed, tried again………..  my head hurt and suddenly, there was an “Aha!” moment.  I really think I got it!  I began to sew with my eyes!  A whole new world opened up to me!  We’ll have to see where all of this goes, but a seed has definitely been planted.

Those paper pieces were transferred on to fabric, then cut and sewn into a hat, just so I could see how it worked:

Lily Liu and Victoria Terra. Lily wearing my funky hat.

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My Dad once said, “If you want to be a good ping-pong player, play with someone who is better than you.”  I’ve never forgotten that!  Freda and Danny are definitely the masters of sewing with their eyes.  What is that you want to learn?  What would free you to be the best you can be?  Look around you and find those masters, glomm on to them and bug them until your questions are answered.   Have you had an “Aha!” moment that changed your work?  Share it with us!

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More of Freda’s garments that she brought to the workshop.

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More workshop pics:



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