Wearable Art – Going Down the Rabbit Hole

Call it awkward, call it uncomfortable, call it a learning experience.  My first adventure into the world of wearable art competitions was all of these, and more.  It was exciting, new, and pretty embarrassing.  In the end, I came away with a better understanding of myself and what I need to do before getting into another show like this one.  I also know what I want to do when I grow up – make wearable art.  Before I get into the story, I’d like to share a  definition of wearable art.

What is Wearable Art?

Individual, often extremely personal, and generally conforming to no unifying aesthetic criteria, wearable art is by its very nature difficult to define. It could be called artwork for the body, but this does not acknowledge its complex relationship to the art world, the fashion world, and the world of craft. It is separate from mainstream fashion, yet remains related to it. Although it takes varied forms— sculptural or flat—and employs diverse techniques such as knitting, leather tooling, weaving, dyeing, and sewing, it shares a spirit of fantasy, craftsmanship, and commitment to personal vision.  Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion COPYRIGHT 2005 The Gale Group, Inc.

The Adventure Begins

Back in November 2016, my daughter-in-law (and love) forwarded me a call for artists for a wearable art juried exhibition put on by the Museum of Art (MOA) Deland.  Her message?  “I think you should do this, momma.”  We had talked about the show the year before, but found out about the competition too late.  This time, I decided to go for it!

The theme for the exhibition was “Surreality – From Dali to Deland.”  I have to tell you, the theme itself was a bit intimidating.  I didn’t see myself as a surrealist by any means, but I knew I could come up with some good designs if I let go and went with the flow.

Now, I have never been in a wearable art competition or anything like it, but I didn’t see any real problems.  I’m an experienced designer, pattern maker, and seamstress. I’m creative, love to experiment and learn new techniques, and I’m a hard worker.  No worries.  I was excited, I was prepared, and I was ready to go! At least that’s what I thought.

The Process

Step 1? Get those designs going! I researched surreal art, thought outside my normal box, and bounced ideas off family and friends.  I came up with three designs that I thought were kind of out there, and got to work on the application.  Here are my designs:

I think in the back of my mind I expected ONE to get in.  Imagine my surprise and excitement when all three were accepted! I was a little nervous, but mostly just kind of thrilled.  I was going to have the opportunity of a lifetime.  A chance to go kind of crazy, create some fabulous pieces, and find fame and fortune as an artist!  I look back on it now, and realize that was just nuts.  I would have only 25 days to plan, gather supplies, develop patterns, and figure out how the heck I was going to bring the designs to life.  Broken down, that meant 8.33 days for each piece. What, me worry?  No way.  I dove right in.

Long Story Short(er)

I had so much fun working on these three pieces, right up to the time I realized I couldn’t possibly finish them in time. I hand dyed fabrics, designed appliques, and made glittery polymer clay fish scales.  The closer I got to show time, the harder I worked.  The more I accepted help from my amazing sweetheart Ray, our moms Mim and Joyce, and my dear friend Joyce.  I’m pretty sure by the end of week two, they were all having second thoughts about my chances of success, but they hid them well.  I was mission focused, and would not admit defeat.  A few of us even pulled an all nighter the night before the exhibition.  For whatever reason, I still thought I could pull it off.

Problem was, none of the pieces were anywhere near finished.  Here are a few pics of the night before the show.

As I recall, these pics were taken around 2am.  I’m working on the teacup skirt, trying to figure out how to stabilize it.  Mim is pitching in to help with some sewing. Ray was taking pics, and helping in any way he could.  He even ran to Walmart at some point for more straight pins.

Show Time

By the next morning , the best I could say is that each of my models would have something to cover their bodies on the runway.  After about two hours of sleep and a minor breakdown on my part, we pulled it together and got ready to head to the show.  I have to admit I thought about backing out, but I knew that wasn’t the right thing to do.  Ray and I packed up the designs along with my sewing machine, tools, and supplies.  We set up shop in the green room, and I kept sewing.

We hit a few snags with model fittings, but our models were amazing.  They were extremely supportive and helpful, and they rocked their unfinished looks on the runway!

As I sat in the front row and watched my designs come down the runway, I wanted to crawl under my chair.  My greatest hope was that no one would know they were my designs.  I am so grateful for the wonderful friends and family in the audience who cheered me on, clapped for my pieces, and pretended I might have a shot at a prize.  They are so appreciated.  I love each and every one of them for being there, and for loving me enough to support me unconditionally.

Looking Back & Moving Forward

Would I ever do it again? You bet! All things considered, I really had an amazing time.  I loved the process, and the freedom to create something totally out of the box.  Every day for 25 days, I came to work energized, and excited to get to work.  Maybe I’ll be able to make wearable art my main focus at some point.

My plan is to continue designing and creating wearable art pieces.  If and when a show comes along, I hope to have one or more pieces in the works that I can tailor to fit the current theme.

By the way, I finished In Hot Water several months after the show.  Check out my blog post on that process! The costume itself is currently available in my Etsy shop, if you’re looking for something adorably different!

Finally, I’ve promised myself that I will finish Orchid Tree and Becoming by the end of 2018.  They might be a bit different than the original designs, but I am confident they will be all the better for the difference.

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