Cross-Pollination: Sharing Our Obessions

As you may already know, I’m a little obsessed with altering clothing. It’s what I do when I’m not writing and what I’m thinking about most of the time when I’m not working. For me, altering clothes lets me do all the things I enjoy: changing the color of things by dyeing, which is often a total surprise given the odd original color and vagaries of fabric additives and previous laundering/dry cleaning; cutting things apart to see what will happen; embellishing stuff with stitching and applique and beading. All of that, much of it a wild experiment since I have no formal training in any of it, is my consuming passion, right up there next to writing.

Few things are more fun than finding a good, sturdy natural-fiber garment at a thrift or consignment shop for a couple of dollars and then seeing what I can do with it. If I love the results, I may wear it every day for a month, laundering it reguarly to see how my experimentations hold up so I can make adjustments next time (I discovered that some red sequins will lose every bit of their color in the first washing, leaving you with a ton of transparent plastic disks around the hem of your skirt; other kinds and colors will stay unchanged through repeated cycles). If I don’t love the result, I donate it back to the thrift store. Just because I don’t like the shade of green that resulted from dyeing khaki in a chartreuse dyebath doesn’t mean someone else won’t think it’s perfect.

I fully realize that this obsession, which I’ve had since high school when I went through a period where I’d change out all the buttons on my shirts every time I wore them and had cut-offs that were completely covered in embroidery and beads, isn’t one shared by many people. I’ve long-ago given up on finding others who are similarly obsessed, and I try (sometimes. usually. on occasion) not to go on and on about dyeing and embellishing and altering. But it’s hard not to, and every once in a while, I find someone else who gets excited by the things that excite me. Or, sometimes, I get them hooked.

We recently went to Phoenix, for Art Unraveled–you read all about that here, with photos and videos and reports from the field–and in addition to attending the retreat, I had one of The Best Shopping Experiences Ever. Jeanie Thorn, Tonia Davenport, and I went to My Sister’s Closet–not just one, but all four locations–along with my husband/driver (also photographer, but here he was generously filling the role of Shopper Wrangler. You know how movies have Goat Wrangler or Cat Wrangler, the person who corrals and transports the animal stars? He did that for us, the shoppers, getting us from one place to another with minimal detours. Otherwise I might have wandered off into the desert in a haze of Shopping Overwhelm).

What’s so cool about this is that neither Jeanie nor Tonia are originally clothes-altering people. They haven’t spent years looking at clothes not as things to wear, but as things to Do Something With–as blank canvasses. My enthusiasm–not to say “sheer obsession”–seems to have been contagious, though, and you can see how Tonia has taken this and run with it, doing some of the coolest stuff I’ve ever seen.

Jeanie wrote here about this idea of cross-pollination, and it’s something we’ve all been talking about lately, about how we get ideas and enthusiasms from each other, exploring techniques and media that we wouldn’t have thought we’d enjoy. Jeanie has no intention of abandoning her sculpture, and Tonia isn’t going into business making these fabulous shirts (although there has been that suggestion from people who’d love to have one of these). What it is is about trying out things to see if you enjoy them, taking the parts you like and leaving the others. You may have no interest in dyeing your whole wardrobe, but spending a day watching a friend mix Procion dye may spark ideas for color explorations in your chosen medium. I get inspired by the way Tonia incorporates ideas from the books she’s reading into her experiments, and I’m intrigued by Jeanie’s discussion of weight and balance and the planning that precedes her metal work.

Sharing Our Obsession–wouldn’t that be a *great* name for a consignment shop?


Ricë also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe, and you can find out even more on her website.


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