Stacey H.

‘My World: The New Subjectivity in Design’ Featuring the work of Alison Willoughby, Danny Brown, Committee, Doshi Levien, Neutral, Peter Traag, Wok Media (this review is limited to Alison Willoughby – 10 Skirts) at Pratt Manhattan Gallery (finishes Feb 23)

photo courtesy of Zacheta National Gallery

Alison Willoughby did her BA in Glasgow in Printed and Knitted textiles from 1996-1999 and her MA in London at The Royal College of Art in Mixed Media Textiles from 1999-2001, where she completed her dissertation on the kilt. Study of the Gaelic garment eventually led her to the circle skirt, a simple garment made from just one perfect circle. Lain flat, Willoughby saw this as a canvas for applying materials: badges, pins, pieces cut from fabric, silkscreens. When a circle is cut out of the middle of the original large circle, the flat canvas suddenly becomes a 3 dimensional wearable object even without subsequent shaping – a skirt.

Her approach is perfectly illustrated by the piece “One”, a 3’ tall stack of fabric circles cut from old bedspreads, shirtings, batting, corduroy, twills – all skirts-to-be:

photo courtesy of Zacheta National Gallery

This piece reveals the underlying concept of the 10 skirts in the exhibition (a part of “My World: The New Subjectivity in Design” at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery), which are hung from the ceiling of the gallery, all the better to witness Willoughby’s penchant for layering more than one circle for a petticoat effect.

Embellishment is what really sets her skirts apart, and she frequently carries the circle theme through by creating concentric circles of colored pin badges, or by sewing on smaller circles of fabric, or by sewing on other shapes of fabric in circles.

49 Sensational Skirts: Creative Embellishment Ideas for One-of-a-kind Designs by Alison Willoughby, published by Interweave Press (April 1, 2008).

The show at the Pratt gallery is a nice opportunity to see her work in person, but Alison Willoughby doesn’t just want you to see her work – she wants you to make it yourself. Her new book, 49 Sensational Skirts compiles some of her ideas and techniques and makes them friendly to the home crafter – even to those with no sewing experience.

While first and foremost a book about embellishing skirts, the book does include a basic circle-skirt paper pattern, a glossary of sewing materials and simple machine techniques, and complete information on making or applying closures (ties, snaps, and clips). She also includes a tutorial on silkscreening, transfer foiling, and fusible webbing. The projects range from simple embellishment that can be done in a matter of hours to those involving hundreds of folded fabric pieces sewn closely together in geometric patterns.

Though she gives clear instructions on reproducing her designs, one thing that rings clear throughout is Willoughby’s desire that people make the skirts their own. She encourages the use of second hand ready-made skirts as a basic canvas and of being creative with embellishment. Though all of her ideas and the color photography illustrating them provide inspiration for wearable skirts with a strong sense of individuality, she wants you to use them as a point of departure for your own explorations.

Read more: Recent interview with Alison at Whip Up

To celebrate Alt Crafting month – win a copy of Alison’s book by leaving a comment here answering the following questions: (comments will close Sunday Midnight)

what is the most innovative way you have decorated/embellished an outfit?

If you decorated/embellished an outfit such as in the vein of one of Alison Willoughby’s skirts would you want to wear it or hang it on the wall?


Pricked: Extreme Embroidery at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City, November 8, 2007-March 9, 2008

The average person encounters embroidery in daily life mainly in the form of tea towels and certain types of clothing. Few people think of the craft as a medium to be explored, a medium whose boundaries, capabilities and functions can be stretched. Pricked: Extreme Embroidery lifts the craft out of the realm of royal or religious vestements, out of the everyday table and bed linens and places it firmly in the realm of artists working not just as craftspeople but also as interpreters of contemporary life.

The exhibition is divided into 6 themed categories: NEITHER MORE NOR LESS concentrates on works incorporating text and words.
Judy Chicago, the doyenne of embroidery in contemporary art, is represented with Its Always Darkest Before the Dawn, where embroidery plays its traditional role of adding depth and luminosity with colorful silk threads.

Its Always Darkest Before the Dawn

Tilleke Schwartz’s two works are like embroidery sketchbooks, with motifs, words and images overlapping and interplaying on hand dyed fabric. Count Your Blessings, a travelogue of the artist’s visits to Australia and the US, intersperses phrases and sentence fragments with the question: Are craft people making money on the Internet?

Count Your Blessings

Andrea Dezso’s Lessons from My Mother, a wall with dozens of 6”x6” embroidered illustrations of her mother’s adages. Each one begins with “My mother claimed that…” which is followed by some very interesting statement and an illustration of the sentiment.

Lessons from My Mother

Every visitor seems to read them all, and once read, the viewer can’t help but feel that she has just spent a few moments with the artist and her mother in the flesh.

[click to continue…]


Beginning spinners make it their goal to produce fine, even, predictable yarns which make for lovely knitting, crocheting or weaving. Many spinners talk about the calming, meditative effects of their craft, and while there is lots of opportunity for creativity with color and texture, certain spinners take it to another level completely by incorporating found objects, hand felted elements, beads, charms and anything else they dream up. Witness the work of Yarn Punk: Spring Eternal and Gnome Yarn below

springsprung Gnome yarn

Vitreous Humor by Insubordiknit:

Vitreous Humor

Stoneleafmoon offers a tutorial on making your own creative batts for this type of spinning (drum carder required):

And Pluckyfluff offers her yarns for sale, has written a book on creative spinning, and teaches workshops on extreme spinning (spinning wheel and basic spinning abilities required): Lost in Adorable below:

On her very inspirational blog, she has come up with themed challenges (the latest one was “sniff and spin”) to involve other spinners; quite fascinating to compare the various interpretations.

The Yarn Museum is a great place for inspiration as well…now, what does one make to do justice to these unique yarns?

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If the marchers in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade weren’t wearing fire department uniforms, high school band uniforms, or full pipe and drum regalia, they were wearing Aran sweaters . And they were beautiful – plain and fancy patterns, man, woman and child, marching up 5th Avenue on a windy but mercifully sunny Saturday.

The oft-told story of the Aran sweater is that they’ve been around for centuries and served to identify Irish fishermen should their lifeless bodies wash up on shore. This gave rise to the claim that Aran patterns were tied to families as are Scottish tartans; there are websites today that will sell you the Aran pattern for “your clan”.

It is now widely believed that Aran sweaters as we know them were started as a cottage industry in the late 19th or early 20th century in the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland as income for the isolated residents. Sweaters were traditionally knit with undyed cream wool called bainin (pronounced bawneen), which has high lanolin content and was thickly spun by hand. There’s no denying that the sweaters are cozy gear for outdoorsy types, and colorful history or no, the cables and stitches used in the construction of the garments are full of symbolism . No plans to visit Ireland to buy the real thing? Knit yourself an Aran:

There are plenty of books on the subject, or design your own using Barbara Walker’s Treasuries and a basic cardigan or pullover pattern. Elizabeth Dimbleby has photos and instructions for some common Aran stitches, including this fabulously complex “wide multi-cable”

Images of unfinished Aran sweaters are care of fluffbuff blog a great blog by an Italian in LA