Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pittsburgh Craft Collective Interview!

Hi everyone, I just wanted to share the love here for a minute. One of my favorite organizations ever, the Pittsburgh Craft Collective, recently published an interview with me for their rad blog. Here it is, revealing my love for sewing and all my nerdiness in its full glory!

Name: Jackie McDowell
Craft: Clothing Design & Construction (Sewing)
Websites: Etsy, Flickr, Blog
Member Since: February 2010

What inspired you to pursue crafting?
My mother has been an incredible influence on me as an artist and a crafter. Some of my earliest memories are watching her work on her sewing machine in the finished attic of our home. She would make clothing for me and my little sister, Jessica, as well as blankets and gifts for friends and family members. My mother noticed my enthusiasm for art at a young age, and she has continually encouraged me throughout my life. She always told me that I had a great imagination, and she made me feel confident about my creativity. I never once got the feeling that she regarded art as a waste of time, and I am just now starting to realize how important and formative that attitude was for me. She also instilled in me a respect for nature as well as the value of reducing waste and finding new uses for old materials, which I think is wonderful. One of our favorite “dates” now is digging through thrift stores together, looking for old and forgotten treasures. Her ideals about finding new uses for old materials have stuck with me and influenced my sewing immensely; I only use reclaimed fibers for all of my clothing designs! This allows me to reduce waste while also giving my clothes a vintage look and feel, which I love.

I also find myself increasingly inspired by contemporary fiber artists who push the boundaries of their art forms. Two of my favorite fiber artists who are doing more avant-garde work are Kay Sims from Portland, Oregon and Grace Kim from San Francisco. I was lucky enough to see one of Kay’s handmade gowns in person at the Junk to Funk fashion show in Portland two years ago, and I was blown away by both her aesthetics and her creative process: she actually buried cotton sheets in the forest and left them there for months as a means of dyeing her fabrics. I love the idea of encorporating nature so integrally with a work of art. Grace Kim, another amazing artist, is doing cutting edge work with textiles and electronics. Her piece The Soft Electric is one of my most recent favorites; it’s a handmade shawl embroidered with conductive threads that actually light up. She juxtaposes the traditional crafts of knitting and felting with modern technology and explores the dynamic between form and function, which I find fascinating. There are so many wonderful fiber artists out there, and I am continually inspired by their new creations!

How long have you been crafting?
Honestly, I don’t remember a time when making things myself hasn’t been a part of my life. While I never really had formal sewing lessons from anyone, I have certainly been around sewers my whole life and gleaned most of my technical skills from watching them create. The last four generations of women in my family have been seamstresses, either professionally or as hobbyists, and I have tremendous respect for them. Sewing never seemed daunting to me for this reason. I was sewing by hand by the age of seven, and I also learned to cross-stitch around then, too. I started to use a sewing machine in high school when I became frustrated with shopping for clothes; the limited offerings in the department stores in my small hometown in Illinois didn’t look anything like what I wanted to be wearing. So, out of necessity, I started to alter thrift store clothes into new creations and wear them to school. I also started embroidering around that time. I actually still have pictures of embroidered jeans that I made for my high school friends! My machine-sewing skills evolved steadily after that, and within a few years I was using patterns to sew complete pieces. Now, I oftentimes forego patterns altogether and just use my sketchbook, dressform, experience and imagination to create my clothes.

What piece of art/work best represents you?

I think Emmylou Vest is a good representation of my work over the past year. The idea for the piece came to me while I was daydreaming at my day job, and I sketched it out during my lunch break. I had just acquired my dressform for my home studio, and I used it every step of the way for the construction of this vest. It really helped me get a new sense of objectivity while creating the piece, and I think it pushed me to improve my designing skills. As usual, I used only reclaimed materials for Emmylou Vest. For the outer panels of the vest I used squares cut from old denim jeans, and for the inside lining I used a special vintage cotton fabric that I found at a thrift store months ago. The button closures are made entirely out of a hanging plant holder from the 1970s. After finishing the piece, I named it Emmylou Vest because it reminded me of something that Emmylou Harris, one of my favorite musicians, might wear. Music is a huge inspiration in my life, and I name a lot of my pieces after musicians.

Do you have a “day job”?
Yes, I do. I work part-time at
East End Food Co-op. The job is great because it gives me the opportunity to meet and spend time with a lot of wonderful, creative people who either shop or work there. I would like to eventually focus on Iron City Upcyclery full-time without having to work a side job, though. That’s a goal of mine.

Tell us about a typical day in your crafting life.
When I’m on top of my game, I like to get up around 7 a.m. and do yoga for an hour or so before anything else. After that, I make coffee or tea and eat a healthy breakfast while listening to one of my favorite records. I like to check my messages and maybe update my sewing blog with some new photos and write-ups before noon, typically, and then comes my favorite part of my day: working in my studio. My current studio is on the top floor of our home, and it is very conducive to creative work because I’ve put a lot of time into the space. The window faces west, which fills the room with beautiful natural light in the afternoon. I have a big work table for cutting and sketching, and I have a desk for my pride and joy, my vintage Morse sewing machine! My dressform takes up a corner, and I have a rolling garment rack that migrates around the room. I keep my fabrics semi-organized in an old dresser, but it can’t hold everything, so I also have boxes of notions and scraps underneath my work table. My studio walls are plastered with inspiring imagery cut from old magazines, photos, found objects, etc. I have a collection of old design books, sewing books, and art books at hand. I also keep a radio in my studio with a stack of tapes; most recently, a friend of mine sent me a stack of tapes from her home label, Stunned Records, and I’ve been listening to those while I work. I also have The Lord of the Rings on audiobook, and that definitely keeps me riveted during long studio hours as well! My studio time is broken up into periods of designing new pieces, choosing and cutting fabric, sewing (and sewing and sewing!), altering, creating labels and tags, and photographing finished pieces. I work really well at night, too, so oftentimes I’ll take a break in the afternoon to do other things, then return to the studio later. I definitely have stamina when it comes to sewing – I suppose because I love it so much.

What do you find most challenging about being a crafter?
Remaining true to your creative vision is sometimes challenging when your items aren’t selling well. The issue of compromise is a difficult one, and each artist approaches it differently. I don’t like to compromise my clothing designs, but if I need to ensure a broader appeal and guarantee some sales (for example at a craft fair), I will make lower-priced items instead, such as upcycled belts, totes and pillows. That’s how I tackle the issue of artistic integrity within the handmade market.

What advice would you give to someone entering the crafting world?
Find a space to do your work. Spend time on craftsmanship. Meet other crafters. Get feedback and exchange ideas. Go to a craft fair and check out what other people are doing. Go to art shows and get inspired. Keep a sketchbook with you. Don’t second-guess yourself – just go for it! Do what you love.

Do you show your work locally?
Yes, I have pieces at
WildCard artisan boutique and at Zombo Gallery, both in Lawrenceville. On March 25th, the last Thursday of the month, I’m having a trunk show at WildCard thanks to the shop’s proprietress, Rebecca Morris. I’ll be showing about a dozen of my newest clothing designs from 6 to 8 p.m. Everyone is welcome to attend! There will be music, wine, and sweets!

What is the one tool you couldn’t live without?
Probably my sketchbook. Get those ideas down before they’re forgotten!

Favorite movie or TV Show?
I don’t have a particular favorite movie, but I love foreign films.
Breaking the Waves is a wonderful film from Lars von Trier. I studied German film in college, so of course I love classic movies like The Blue Angel and Nosferatu. I also adore David Lynch and John Waters – really any directors who explore American culture in an absurd sort of way. I will admit that I also have a huge weakness for ‘80s movies like The Lost Boys andGhostbusters, too!

Favorite book?
Anything written by Turkish poet
Nazim Hikmet.

Favorite colors?
It changes daily. Today? Hmm, electric blue.

Favorite superhero?
Peter Venkman count?

Favorite food?
Veggie burritos. No hesitation there.

Famous last words?
“I should really (insert cleaning task here).”

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