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kaleidoscope capers

May 27, 2012

For many years, I tried stocking my wardrobe with solid colored pieces, since I was told solids allow greater flexibility and options for combinations. Garments with designs/patterns can be tricky to combine successfully, so it was better to leave that to experts.

Unfortunately for that mindset, the garments I was most drawn to were always highly patterned, often with an interesting texture as well.

I dutifully tried to just wear one highly patterned item, say as a focal piece, and then coordinate the rest of the pieces to it. But I was never entirely satisfied with that approach. I always heard a little voice inside me saying, “This outfit isn’t zippy enough – let’s combine more patterns!” Occasionally I would add a bunch of bracelets, or a necklace, or interesting socks. My resulting outfit would be much more complicated (in a pattern/design sense) than the outfits of other people I saw, but to me, it still felt lacking… something. No one I talked to had any idea what I meant, though. So I mostly put the matter out of my mind. Until a few months ago.

Over the years, I’ve mostly purged my wardrobe of those solid colored items. I kept a handful that were an especially beautiful color, or made from a particularly appealing fabric, or had an attractive texture. I also don’t buy solid colored fabric (or yarns) unless they fall into one of the above categories, so the majority of my stash is patterned, or hand-dyed. (And I prefer hand-dyed fabric to contain more than one color.)

So when I started designing and creating garments, I had no choice but to combine patterned (not solid) fabrics. Sometimes I add trims too.

I suspect part of the reason why many art quilters only use fabrics they have dyed themselves is that they know they aren’t skilled at combining patterns in a pleasing way. I’ve seen more than a few art quilts and woven works with a lovely design that (for me) is marred by the lack of skill in developing an interesting and attractive color palette.

I personally have a lot of trouble learning anything useful from design exercises that are too simple. In 2009, I began exploring the Fibonacci series with paper mosaics*, as a pre-cursor to doing something in fabric. I started with paper squares that were mostly solid colors, but added in more and more patterned papers, because for me the design overall worked better that way. I definitely didn’t want the design to only work as a sampler for one idea. Because not only do I have a lot of ideas at once, but they ‘converse’ with each other, which is an integral part of what I like about designing.

Today I started thinking about the seed of an idea for a garment. I quickly realized that it would be almost impossible to sketch; I’d be better off creating a sampler out of paper. Which I did. I saw that my original idea wasn’t as interesting as I had hoped, but I could perhaps fix that by cutting the whole thing up into a bunch of pieces in a different shape (triangles rather than rectangles). Then I was going to make a tanagram** out of the resulting triangles. Because I had saved time and effort during the construction process by taping down the ends only at the edges (instead of gluing everything down), as soon as I started cutting, my woven structure fell apart. I still have enough left that I can see what to do with it.*** And further, now that I’ve been reminded of tanagrams, I have another design exercise I can pursue.

I don’t think I’ve ever done a sampler (in any medium) that explored only one idea. My brain wouldn’t get in gear for only one idea. I need complexity, and conversation, and serendipity, all simultaneously.

I realized today that I create art that expresses my inner reality: there’s always a lot going on, with a diverse cast of characters, and there’s no consensus. Things are always changing, as new juxtapositions form. If I could, somehow, ‘distill’ all my selves down into just one, I wouldn’t do it. I can’t be reduced to just one voice or persona or color or pattern: complexity doesn’t reduce. So my unwavering commitment to pluralism and polytheism arose organically out of who I am.

* photos 5-9 in this set

**tanagram, per Wikipedia

***see final results here

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