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Art To Wear

Updated on May 2, 2016

Fine Art Plus Functioning Fashion Equals Art to Wear

Art To Wear refers to a branch of fashion where art, clothing and creativity are all brought together to make garments that are not only wearable but often one-of-a-kind pieces of fiber art and jewelry. Any method and material can come into play with art to wear: silk, stitching, quilting, embellishment, velvet, painting, dyeing, knitting, found objects, metal casting, fraying and distressing, you name it!

This is one of my own pieces of art to wear, the dragon I painted on the back of a denim jacket in high school.  (it came out beautiful and very Later it was re-purposed into a fantastic pillow.

The Book That Started It All - documenting the birth of the art to wear movement

My mother's jaw dropped when her she opened her holiday present in 1986 and realized her almost-not-a-teenager-anymore daughter had given her this book. We both washed our hands and sat down on the couch to go through the huge volume page by page. We took our time and savored every bit of it. I must have re-read that book a good dozen times before going back to college after winter break.

Art to Wear
Art to Wear

The art to wear movement really was suddenly born, or galvanized in the public eye, with the publication of ART TO WEAR by Julie Schafler Dale in 1986. This book not only traces the birth of modern art to wear starting in the 60s, but features every single significant artist that was working or had produced work up until that time. What had been dismissed as uber-arts-&-crafts or "rock star clothing" or street costumes was finally organized and discussed as variations of fashion created with highly-skilled artisan tailoring and sewing.


The Pleats and Ruffles of Candace Kling

One of the benefits of going to graduate school in the Bay Area was that the art to wear movement is very strong there, and I got to see the work of a lot of artists that most people only see pictures of in books.

One of the highlights of one textile class was a visit to the East Bay studio of Candace Kling. Candace works using a lot of old Victorian ribbon folding and pleating technqiues, but she uses them in ways that aren't traditional, or she pushes the scale so that she's smocking fabric for an installation and not the front of a baby's dress.

She's very well-known for making all sorts of fantastic hats and helmets using these wild ribbon techniques. When we were at her studio, she asked if anyone wanted to try on one of her helmets. Only one other girl besides myself said yes. We both thought the others were crazy for passing up a chance like this, and you could tell they all thought we were crazy for putting on such wild hats. Personally, I think of this one as maybe one that Whoopi Goldberg's Star Trek character Guinan might wear.

I found this helmet to be kinda of heavy, but very well balanced to wear. It definitely made you feel otherworldly and regal.

Champagne and Chocolate Cloaking

When I was in graduate school, I took a class one summer semester on wearable art. The overall theme was tied in with some fashion event at the end of the summer with champagne and chocolates, so we did a lot of projects that riffed off that theme.

This is my project for the assignment of making a garment with no sewing, and no more than three ties to fasten it. It is a type of Greek cloak, made from a single long lenth of fabric, with a knot at the back of the neck, and two ties that wrap and tie at the wrists.

The fabric is about 30 feet long, and it swoops up from the floor, over one arm, back down to the floor, comes up and over the second shoulder and then descends to the floor again. The two panels knot at the back of the neck to hold them up securely. Tieing the wrists makes the sleeves stay in place. The Greeks probably also wore a belt with it, but I was only allowed three knots maximum as part of my assignment.

The color of the fabric is champagne. I found it at a discount fabric place for less than $1 per foot. The border was handstamped by me, using fabric paint. The border is "truffles." I used shoe polish daubers to make perfect circles in various chocolate colors and then went back with glitter and texture paints and detailed chocolate frosting and embellisments to make a half dozen visual "flavors." Since we couldn't do any actual sewing for this project, I glued the hems on the two raw edges. The wrist ties were cords I braided from various brown and gold yarns, threads and materials.

SJ Bra Ride '08 "Best Creative Use of a Bra" Winner!

SJ Bra Ride '08 "Best Creative Use of a Bra" Winner!
SJ Bra Ride '08 "Best Creative Use of a Bra" Winner!

How Chucko's Bra Got Its Wheels On!

art to wear for a good cause!

The Bra Ride is a charity fundraiser with rides in San Jose and Arizona. The man you see above is Chucko, husband to my best friend Calyxa, an avid bike rider and car enthusiast. When I heard he was taking part in the Bra Ride, I knew I just had to be the one to make him a special bra for the ride.

So, armed with his chest measurement and an emphatic "YES!" answer to my question to him about if he wanted big breasts, I was off to the thrift store. Thrift stores are some of the best places to get art-to-wear bits on a budget. I didn't have a concept yet but figured whatever I found would suggest the bra design to me.

I found a DD bra in the lingerie section in an appropriate chest size. It was black, stretch-knit jersey which offered a smooth art surface for just about anything. Then I headed over to the toy section. At thrift stores, you'll often find baggies that hold lots of little toys. I almost went with a bag of army, cowboy and Indian figures and then I found one full of teeny, little cars. Knowing Chucko is a bit of a car nut, it was clear that was the way to go.

I had some batting/stuffing at home in my art stash, along with scrap fabric, so it wasn't any trouble at all to stuff the cups. I pinned a few scraps across the open backs of the bra cups, then stuffed them with batting, adding or removing until I felt they were of even density and size, and then hand-sewed the backing in place. At this point, I had two big, blank boobs to work with.

I sorted the toy cars. It seemed to be mostly some sort of play set and I removed the one or two cars that didn't match all the others. There were also some street signs in with the cars. I broke off the posts and bases so I could use three of them: a Stop sign for the right nipple, a Railroad crossing sign for the left, and a great "divided highway" sign that I glued to the bra right at the bottom of the cleavage.

Then working freehand, I just glued the little cars in place all over the bra. I used a glue called Fabri-Tac. It only took about 30 seconds of hand pressure and the cars would be in place. I tried to space them out evenly, and mixed them up by style and color.

The Bra Ride also gives prizes for different bra catagories, and Chucko won the Booby Prize for "most creative use of a bra!" I'm so proud! Congrats to Chuck and thanks to Christene's friend Patrick for the pics!

See Some Art To Wear In Action!

Tell us about the art you wear! - comments and contributions

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    • profile image

      Deadicated LM 

      7 years ago

      Love the Lens & Fiber Art.

    • Close2Art LM profile image

      Close2Art LM 

      8 years ago

      very your lens...RWJR


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