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.


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

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:

Upcycled & Re-Styled Vintage Victorian Lace Dress

Today is the start of Me Made May 2017, an annual event encouraging people who sew/knit/crochet/refashion/upcycle garments for themselves to wear and love them more.

In honor of the event, I'd like to tell you about a vintage Victorian lace dress that I upcycled & redesigned.

I absolutely love upcycling & remaking because:

  • it requires problem solving (which I love)
  • I can find superior materials & natural fibers (much harder to find new)
  • it costs more time than money (perfect on an artist's budget)
  • it's sustainable and eco-friendly
  • I never have to worry about someone else wearing my same outfit

A few years ago while shopping at the Alameda Antique Fair, I found a wad of beautiful old lace at the bottom of a pile.  I can't remember how much I paid for it, but I'm positive it was less than $20 because that's how I roll.  After I got home, I realized it was a dress, stained and damaged but with beautiful eyelet and lace, and probably dating from the early 1900s.

Last year, while thinking about what to wear to the inaugural Ohana Festival, I decided I'd like a lightweight lace dress to stay cool in the heat, so I set about re-designing the vintage dress.  Here's what I started with:

For this project, my design challenges were:

  • the waistline was miniscule
  • the silhouette was outdated
  • the lace was damaged and stained in a few places
  • the lace and cotton is extremely delicate so it won't withstand any pressure or pulling

I believe the original front of the dress was the V-neck, but to be honest I'm not sure.  I wanted to showcase the lace in the front, so I chose to make the V-neck the back of the bodice. I also chose to keep the long sleeves, which worked for a summer dress due to the sheerness of the cotton and lace.

After I surveyed the damage and stains, I decided on a cropped, somewhat loose silhouette which would allow me to wear the dress without being in constant fear of ripping it.  Again, the material is so light and airy that it drapes well enough for a loose silhouette.

When I re-design a dress, I start with a basic idea of the silhouette I want, then tackle one area at a time, stopping to try the dress on after each basting or stitching. I do a lot of pinning on the dress form, then stepping back to observe and make design decisions. I don't make or use a pattern and I don't really measure too much, I just go slow and see what looks good and allow the garment to guide the design as I go.

The neckline needed reshaping, the shoulders needed repair and reinforcement, and I needed to repair the lace in a few other areas.  I was able to leave the sleeves as is, long and with closed cuffs, only because I have really small hands and wrists (our ancestors were tiny humans).  After I reversed the bodice, I noticed that part of the skirt had a continuation of the same lace so I oriented the skirt to match the lace at the top. I created an empire waist that is just wide enough for me to slip the dress over my head (and bustline).

(Forgive the color differences, I took these photos under very different lighting conditions.)

I'm really happy with the way the dress turned out, and it's managed to survive long active days at two different music festivals. I wore it this weekend to Stagecoach, styled with a black vintage slip, vintage jewelry and my Heritage boots.

With my gorgeous girlfriends Kime & SueBee in Yucca Valley, CA.

With my gorgeous girlfriends Kime & SueBee in Yucca Valley, CA.

As I said, the dress has survived two long and active music festivals, but at the very end of the night, when we were almost home from the Stagecoach festival, I bent forward in the passenger seat of the car and heard a rip, which happened in the back of the skirt. One of the many things I've learned from Exene Cervenka is that ripped clothing has soul, so I'll repair it and wear it again.

Repairing & Embellishing Shirts for Davíd Garza

My dear friend, musician & artist Davíd Garza, called me a week ago and told me he was mailing me three shirts to repair and embellish, just days before he was coming to my town on tour with Sara Watkins.  I used to do alterations & repairs, but I stopped doing it because I prefer the creativity of embellishing, rather than utilitarian repairs.  Knowing that Davíd is an artist and a free spirit, I knew these repairs didn't have to be boring, and that I could get a little weird with my embellishments.

When I opened the box he sent me, I was shocked at the state of the shirts.  I should have taken "before" shots so you could see what I mean.  I was *this close* to calling him and suggesting he retire the shirts.  One cream-colored button down was riddled with black mildew spots on over half of the shirt.  The sweatshirt was stretched out and had varying sizes of holes throughout.  A gauzy black pullover was faded, stretched, and looked like something had been chewing on it.  The fabric was so thin that I had a hard time picturing how to repair it.

I spent several hours repairing and embellishing the shirts, and here's how they came out:

This was the shirt that was half-covered in black mold dots.  It's a Mister Freedom shirt, which retails for a few hundred dollars when it's in good condition. I bleached the hell out of the mold stains, going through three treatments and washes until they came out to my satisfaction. Then I patched a big red stain on the front with some fabric that Davíd had sent.  I sewed some arrows on the top of the patch to add some subtle interest, and then I sewed an arrow on the opposite pocket. He mentioned wearing this shirt "at a nice dinner" so I kept the embellishments somewhat subtle.

Davíd wore this shirt on stage the night that I gave it to him, which made me really happy.  

This gauzy black pullover was the biggest challenge, so I got really creative with the patching.  The green patches on the side and elbows were already there, so I chose two fabrics that complemented those & added some + increase + symbols.

This shirt was never going to be fully restored & perfect, so I went more for a more mysterious soulful vibe.  I used two fabrics to create large patches over several larger holes.  The fabrics each had linear visual elements and some texture, so they fit right in with the textured, gridded main fabric of the shirt.  I added increase symbols via a large back patch, with subtle stitching over the square patches & also with some metallic paint.  The paint was another method of reinforcing a few holes, because it added strength to the fabric.

The final shirt is a Free City sweatshirt that had seen better days.  I patched a handful of holes, then painted two of my gold arrows on it, per Davíd's request.

I've never patched a knit garment before.  I found a knit fabric in my stash (all these fabrics were in my stash) that added some contrast and interest, then used an accent color (maroon) and a zigzag stitch to create the patches. For a few of the holes near the collar, I hand-stitched them with the maroon thread to reinforce them, using a bit of a darning technique.  Then I painted on the gold arrows, just two.

Davíd changed into this sweatshirt immediately after the gig.  It looked great on him.  You might catch him wearing one of these shirts on tour with Sara Watkins.

It's funny that two of the brands have the word FREE in them, as freedom is one of my biggest values.  These shirts were a challenge but I love the way they came out!

Making a Stage Banner from Scratch

As I was designing & producing merch for John Doe's June/July tour, during one of our conversations we somehow came up with the idea of me making a stage banner for him. 

I've never made a stage banner before, but I love making new stuff.

I purchased some black canvas, thread, grommets & paint.  We decided the dimensions of the final banner and I set out to sew it up.  I just made the pattern up as I went along.  This was the only sketch I made, the rest was made up in my head or on the fly.

It took a lot of measuring and ironing but it's really just a bunch of straight stitching.  Two features that I added in that I'm proud of are a channel along the top where he can add in a dowel to stabilize it (if he needs to) and four pockets along the bottom where he can add in weights/washers to weigh it down. He probably won't need to do that for indoor gigs, but it might come in handy for outdoor gigs, and if I'm going to make a banner I might as well make it deluxe.

I mitred the corners and gave each border a double stitch for durability. This banner is going to be transported back and forth in and out of dark rock clubs, in and out of the tour van, and it'll spend a lot of time rolled, folded or wadded up, so durability is key.

Then it was time to paint the thing. I knew the design I wanted to paint on it, arrows, but I needed to make them straight and large enough to fit the scale of the banner.  A projector would have helped at this point, but since I don't have one I just had to hack it out.  I laid the banner on the floor and used several different types of rulers, pins and painters tape to block out the design. This was time-consuming and I did have to walk away from it for a little bit before I finally got the right dimensions.

By the time I got the design right, laying in the metallic gold paint was almost easy. Mind you, this is all done on the floor on my hands & knees, trying not to mess anything up.  Fun!  

I'm really happy with how it turned out.  

Featherweight Studio custom banner for John Doe

Featherweight Studio custom banner for John Doe

I can't wait to see it onstage! I hope the metallic gold shimmers in the stage lights. The design is flexible to be hung vertically or horizontally. This banner will be showing up in a lot of photos this summer, and when the tour is over I'll be using it at Featherweight events & in photo shoots.