What’s in Your Palette?

Becki’s blue drawer

When Becki Smith mused that the things she collects become the ingredients in her palette, I had one of those “aha” moments, when I suddenly realized that that’s exactly what I’ve got going on with the t-shirts I’ve been thrifting. And here I was thinking that I was just hoarding a bunch of old shirts. Ha! It’s so much better to think of them as invaluable raw material, and I realized that I’m probably not alone in needing a new way to think about the stuff I use to make the things I make.


I wrote here and here about my current obsession: creating a wardrobe entirely by hand using recycled t-shirts and the patterns featured in the newest Alabama Chanin book, Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. When I started on this, I started collecting tshirts from Goodwill and the Salvation Army, determined to see how far I can go using recycled clothing instead of buying yardage. As usual, I got just the tiniest bit carried away, hauling home loads of tshirts in every possible color, laundering them and then stacking them up around the sewing studio. After talking to Becki, though, I realized these shirts deserved to be treated more like art supplies and less like piles of rags, and so I spent several mornings deconstructing them and stacking them by size and color.

deconstructed t-shirts, ready to use

Actually, the photo above just barely scratches the surface of my collection of tshirts; these are just the sleeves I’ve taken off. The actual deconstructed tshirts themselves fill a shelf in the sewing studio. They’re arranged by color and are ready to go, and let me tell you: it feels great. I can see what I’ve got to work with, and everything’s organized and neatly arranged so it feels like something important instead of just a collection of discarded clothing. By arranging them this way and thinking of them as Something Important, I find more inspiration in them than I did when they were just piled around, and that got me to thinking about the things everyone else uses in their artwork. Let’s say you use scraps of paper in your collages. You love paper, especially if it’s old and weathered and maybe a little beaten up. You have a collection of bits of paper, a collection you love to look through for inspiration but that you’ve always kind of hidden away, crammed in a box or a drawer, because it feels funny to like old paper this much. Sure, you use it. Sure, it provides infinite ideas when you lay it out on a journal page and start moving bits around. Yet you treat it just a little bit as if you’re ashamed of having picked it up and brought it home. Look again at those two photos up there and think about how inspiring they are for the people who work with those materials. Would they be anywhere near as inspiring if the blue pieces in the top photo were dumped all together in a tiny box stuck under a desk, or if the sleeves were still attached to tshirts bundled into plastic bags in the back of a sewing room closet? Of course not: to be inspired by something, we need to be able to see it, think about it, juxtapose it with other things we might want to use. The things you use are, indeed, your palette. They are not, as some of the people in your life might want to insist, a collection of weird stuff, not to say “junk.” Take some time to think about the things you use to make what you make. Maybe you want to display them where you can see them or buy a set of drawers or make some shelving for them. If you can see what you’ve got and appreciate it and access it easily, you’re much more likely to use it to make something fabulous.


What are the things that make up your personal palette? Where do you keep them? Is that working for you? I’d love to hear about it~~


Ricë also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.


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2 Responses to What’s in Your Palette?

  1. cheerytomato says:

    Wow, what a timely article for me! I’m going through my voluminous stash in preparation for a big move this summer, and I’ve struggled with how to organize some of the “stuff.” Maybe I need to sort more by color and less by type of item (for example, I’ve had all of the metal “bits” in one place, all of the plastic “bits” in another). And while I’ve had a lot of my fabric sorted by color, I’ve kept vintage items separate, which is not useful if I truly want to use it. (That’s the impulse to hide away treasures because they’re too precious … )

    This is food for thought, especially while we’re house-hunting. I’ll be thinking about how a possible studio space could accommodate those collections of Something Important. Thank you for a great post! (And really, thank you for all that you do. Your work has inspired me again and again, and I am so grateful that you share yourself with the world.)

  2. Rice Freeman-Zachery says:

    Thanks so much for reading! I hope you find a house with the perfect studio space for you–and, really, almost any space can be made perfect *if* we can just figure out how to organize. I wish I could just organize once and have it last forever, but as things change–as I try new stuff or get rid of something I’m not using–I have to do parts of it again. Having things sorted by color really is useful for me, though~~