Wearable art and ‘slow’ fashion

Community art showcase column provided by Sherry Bezanson

In the last few years, there has been a renaissance of handmade, wearable art that has been identified as the ‘slow’ clothing movement. Originally a reaction against fast food, the slow movement has positioned itself in opposition to a factory approach to life, an approach that drains human work of much of its worth and meaning. In the fashion industry, the movement is called the slow clothes movement.

Wearable “art” is usually made of fibrous materials and considered a branch of fibre art. It also includes jewelry or clothing made from or with non-fiber materials such as leather, plastic and metals. Creating in this medium requires craft skills as well as artistic skills, and wearable art artisans often have a varied background such as clothing design, sewing, knitting, crocheting, silk screen, weaving. They often need to be knowledgeable with computer programs that can assist in design and execution of their art. On Vancouver Island the handmade clothing industry is alive and vibrant. We have a plethora of visible artists engaging in wearable art design. Many more can be found on www.etsy.com, the cyber-based home of all things homemade. Beware; you can lose hours looking at fabulous creations on Etsy!

West Coast artist Sandra Hill, of the Shill Shack in Ladysmith, can be found with her wares on Etsy as well. Sandra’s varied art skills, mostly self-taught will take your breath away.  She began with sewing as a child and her work evolved from there. Ms. Hill said she learned early to not be limited by materials that you have to purchase or are told are appropriate, and instead finds pleasure in using recycled and found objects.  She said she doesn’t like to use sewing patterns, but sculpts the fabrics and hand sews her creations.  Most eye-catching are the needle-felting items she has composed on repurposed woolens such as sweaters, cuffs, sleeves, purses, hats, jackets and sweaters. Just completed is a large needle-felted peacock design, involving approximately eighty hours of detailed hand work, on a jadeite green repurposed sweater. Ms. Hill also has a collection of Steampunk style jewelry, defined as a mix of Goth/ Punk/Victorian – it’s fun, quirky and has loads of historical flavor and personality.

Local artist Lois Ireland also creates magical wearable pieces of art. Walking into Ms. Ireland’s studio one is immediately drawn in by the bright and appealing rainbow of colours.  The brilliant hues beckon to be touched and worn. She began her exploration of wearable art in her late teens when a neighbour taught her how to knit.   Although her main artistic direction since that time has been in pottery, she has also been inspired by different types of felting, crocheting, knitting, sewing and glass bead-making.

Felting is an ancient craft that has become increasingly popular lately. It is the process of transforming wool into a dense cloth by bonding and shrinking, including wet felting and washing machine felting, the fibers together. Lois Ireland’s collection of felted purses, shawls, scarves, and sweaters in alluring shades of aqua, fuchsias, purples, oranges and lime greens and yellows will enliven and complement any wardrobe.  Ms. Ireland illustrates how to use the gorgeous glass bead rings to clasp the crocheted shawls to one side.

When thinking of gifts this season, think about exploring local artists wares for unique and memorable items and be a part of the slow fashion movement. The Ladysmith Waterfront Gallery also has jewelry and other wearable art items.