Creating Custom Rocknroll Capes for The DRAMASTICS

Last month marked the third installment of my creative collaboration with multimedia artist Nathan Carter.

This time Nathan brought his multimedia exhibition of The DRAMASTICS: A Punk Rock Victory Twister in Texas to the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas. If you've been following along, you'll remember we first collaborated on a T-shirt and tote bag for his exhibition at the MOCA in Denver, then we made more tees & totes for the Casey Kaplan Gallery in NYC. 

For the tees & totes, Nathan sent me scans and cutouts of his individual motifs and figures, and I laid them out into designs and oversaw the production and printing.  It was a true design collaboration, a lot of fun, and they resulted in successful sales for the museum shops! 

For the exhibition at the Nasher, we printed up more tees & totes like before, but Nathan had a more ambitious idea for The DRAMASTICS' live performance.  Since the band would be playing live at the opening, he had a vision for making custom rocknroll capes for each member. And he wanted them in pink satin.

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I started brainstorming what kind of pink satin cape silhouette could look cool and still function while people were singing and playing instruments. I wanted the capes to be lined, so that they looked punk but polished. I have a giant full length wool cape from the 1960s that has a front panel and two long slits for arms to come through. I sketched a shortened version of that and Nathan approved it. I traced off a pattern based on the wool cape and quickly stitched up a sample out of cheap satin that I could take on a trip to New York with me. I also created a little sampler to show how the applique and paint would look.  

 Cape plans. We ended up nixing the collar.

Cape plans. We ended up nixing the collar.

Since Nathan's studio is in Brooklyn, we set aside a few hours to hash out the final cape design together in person.  Again, he had a collection of shapes, words & motifs that we could choose from, so I guided him through what was possible via paint and applique with satin, and together we chose what should go where. We worked quickly and decisively, and he had the resized and recut stencils ready for me before I left town. Easy & fun!

 Figuring out yardage & yield

Figuring out yardage & yield

Once I got back to my studio, I needed to make 3 smaller capes and 3 larger capes. I revised the original cape pattern into a larger version based on measurements I took from Nathan's shoulders. I don't have any formal patternmaking education, so I was really winging it. Then I had to figure out how much yardage of pink and black satin I needed. You have to place pattern pieces in order to get the best yield, which basically means you're wasting the least amount of fabric. I gave it a good guess and when it was all done I only had a little left over.

After buying the fabrics, my next step was to determine which shapes got painted, and which got cut out and sewn down. Here are all the pieces I had to cut out:

  • 24 cape pieces out of pink satin
  • 24 cape pieces out of black satin
  • 36 silver glitter lightning bolts
  • 24 hearts
  • 6 guitars
  • 6 giant lips
  • 12 glitter eyeballs
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Each cape was a little different (with custom names & guitar shapes on each "sleeve") so keeping track of all the pattern pieces was a huge challenge. I embellished each individual pattern piece first, whether it was appliqueing the motifs with my sewing machine, or painting letters or designs using the stencils Nathan gave me. I used an assembly line technique, and had to time everything correctly so that the paint could dry before I started constructing the capes. It was about 5 straight days of being immersed in capes. But it all came together!  For the cape closure, I decided buttons or snaps wouldn't hold up to a punk rock performance, so I used giant silver safety pins. Appropriate for the overall look and function.

I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to see our capes in action, so we took a road trip from Austin to Dallas for the opening event. This was the most fun I've had on a design collaboration yet. I'm still high from the experience and I can't wait for an excuse to make some more capes.

Here's a great video montage of the capes and the opening event by Native Process Films:

More Shows in Texas this Fall!

I'm so excited about Featherweight's fall schedule of events:

9/9 Makers Market @ Mueller - Austin TX

9/24  Group art show @ Nature's Treasures - Austin TX

10/1  CraftHER @ Fair Market - Austin TX

11/11-11/19 East Austin Studio Tour, group show @ Solid Gold - Austin TX

11/18  Flea Style - Houston TX

12/3  Craft Market, details TBD - Lockhart TX

12/16  Origin Designer Market @ Mueller - Austin TX

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Manifesting Murals | PART 5: You Might Get Lucky

This week marks the one year anniversary of painting my first murals. Two murals in 10 days, in fact. Prior to painting these murals in Austin, I had zero mural experience & no reason to believe I could pull it off.  Following is the 6-part story of how I did it. [Read from the beginning.]


We were going to attempt the mural on the back wall of the Continental Club starting at 7am on Thursday, July 14th. It was due to hit 100 degrees that day so Dana and I wanted some time before the sun cooked us completely, and we had to be finished by around 1pm. 

I had paint, I had partners, I had a stencil that I hoped would suffice, but I was still scared as hell about those ladders. On Wednesday night I had plans to meet friends for drinks, but I was stewing and worrying about the ladders. Remembering my commitment not to doubt, I needed to clear my head. I said a prayer out loud, saying how scared I was and that I didn't think I could do it. I asked for help. I said I couldn't do it by myself. I didn't want to give up on the opportunity, but I also didn't want to be an inexperienced idiot and fall off a ladder and break my arm or split my head open (or Dana’s). I felt better after I spoke my fears and prayed for help. 

That night I met my friends met at the private bar of the Hotel Saint Cecilia. About eight of us sat outside in the darkness, sipped our cold margaritas and chatted. It was super hot out, so at one point my mind wandered. I was still worried about those ladders. For a moment I sat quietly and my eyes drifted to the window of the indoor bar where the lights were bright. A figure moved through my line of vision, and I recognized him. It was Evan Voyles of the Neon Jungle, a friend of a friend I'd met a few times, the guy who designs and hangs all the big neon signs in Austin. Hangs neon signs, I thought. Up high. This guy might know something about ladders!

I was nervous to bother him, but I needed help so I got up without telling my friends where I was headed and made a beeline inside to bug Evan. I'd barely said two sentences about my dilemma before he grabbed a paper napkin and took a pencil out of his pocket. "The trick is to triangulate," he explained, drawing a straight ladder on a wall and a diagram of how to tie a rope to secure it. He said he'd developed this method after falling off far too many ladders. 

He was literally the perfect person to ask about ladder safety methods, and he'd shown up right where I wasn't looking for him. And he was really gracious about it. "Here's my number in case you need help," he said. "But we're starting at 7am," I replied. I really didn't want to bother him. "I'm up early, busy day tomorrow.“ he said. Then my friends found me and told me they were leaving. I tucked my paper napkin ladder diagram into my purse and wondered at the perfect luck that I had to run in to him, and felt proud of myself for asking for help and keeping the faith.

The next morning I met Dana outside the club at 7am. Fabian pulled up in his truck with two straight ladders, and I showed them my cocktail napkin schematic. We had to move a wooden bench and dug out some dirt to place the first ladder. It felt pretty sturdy, and we tried the rope triangulation, but the angle where we had to set it was steep. We tested the second ladder and realized it was shaky, old and really too short. I was not confident at all with our setup. The last thing I wanted to do was bother Evan, but we were stuck.  I called him. "I can be there in about 20 minutes," he said. While we were waiting, Fabian used the good ladder to boldly climb up to the roof and help us hang the stencil.

A few minutes later Evan skidded up in his truck. In a seemingly effortless motion, he lifted a giant ladder off his truck, placed it on the ground, threw some rope around it in his triangulated pattern, re-tied the rope on on our first ladder, gave both ladders a quick test and then popped back in to his truck. "Call me later when you want to drop it off," he said, and drove away. It all happened in a blur. He was like the angel of ladder safety! 

We now had two very sturdy ladders so Dana and I were set to go. I was a bit nervous at first to be so high off the ground, but once I started painting I was able to focus on the task at hand. The black brick was textured and also had some deep furrows in it, so it sucked up a fair amount of paint. I had to go slowly to follow the stencil without destroying it, laying in enough paint to cover the thirsty brick without causing any drips. Dana and I each worked on a ladder; I set the outlines and she filled them in. 

One funny thing about that morning is that absolutely no one bothered us or asked us what we were up to. Granted, it is in an alley, but several cars and a construction crew passed us by without a blink. In theory, we could have executed the entire mural in broad daylight without anyone's permission. There's a wonderful tradition and history for guerilla art, but it's not my style. I’d be too scared of getting caught and I want my art to be an invited part of someone's property.

A little bit after noon, about five hours in, it looked like we were finishing up. I painted over several spots and could have kept painting for another hour, but we were getting overheated, sunburned and hungry and the bar employees were set to start arriving at 1pm. I quickly painted my signature and we cleaned up our materials. We took a bunch of photos, high fived, and then returned Evan's ladder to him at his studio. I bought lunch, and then we all departed. I got back to the house where I was staying, showered, then lay on the bed under the ceiling fan. My muscles ached and I was bone tired from the heat. But, again, I was totally high.

I had painted two murals in three days. It happened. It's real. They're still there.


Stay tuned for the final post.