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:

Creativity & Confidence: Getting in the Right Mindset to Make Something N

About six weeks ago I received the idea to do something totally different, something I've never done before.  I have fear & doubt about proceeding, but I'm going to do it anyway.  I'll share more details about the project over time, but for now I want to start sharing the process of how I manifest a new idea.

For me, the first stage is receiving the inspiration, which I'll write more about in another post. Currently I'm in the second and third stages, and I bounce back and forth in between them:

  1. Inspiration
  2. Is this anything? (aka questioning & self-doubt)
  3. Putting some time, investigation & work behind the idea

I bounce back and forth between stages 2 & 3 because self-doubt never really goes away, and sometimes it takes some work toward a project to build the confidence that I'll be able to complete it.  It would be great to skip step 2, but I think the best we can do is minimize it. Having gone through this process for several new creations, I am aware that stage 2 is coming so I am getting better at not letting it delay me for so long.

[Fun fact: After receiving the inspiration for my first two T-shirt designs, I tried to ignore them for over nine months before finally figuring out how to get them made. The first T-shirt design ended up being sold in Urban Outfitters.] 

I've been working on this new idea over the past 3-4 weeks, but the doubt has seriously crept in:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • Who am I to pursue this idea?
  • How am I going to pull this off?
  • This is a waste of time.
  • This will never go anywhere.
  • Nobody cares.

(The voice in my head can be a REAL dreamkiller.)

If I let the voice in my head say enough of those phrases, then my momentum comes to a screeching halt. 

Realizing that my momentum is lagging, I need to do something to make that inner dreamkilling doubtful voice take a back seat.  When creating something new and getting out of my comfort zone, I need to cultivate an environment of possibility, expansion, belief, open heart and open mind.

Here are a few things I'm doing to accomplish this:

I'm being deliberate about how I start my day. I'd fallen back into the habit of checking my phone as soon as I woke up, and that's a recipe for reactionary living & self-doubt. Now I'm making myself do one of these things after I wake up & before looking at my phone or computer:  go for a walk, stretch, read, draw, or meditate. Those are all things I can do for free, as soon as I wake up, and they help open my mind and heart.

When I catch myself doubting, I'll change the channel. Our thoughts run so constantly that sometimes we're not even aware of what we're telling ourselves. When I catch myself in doubt mode, I'm going to distract myself. Think another thought, go do some dishes, jump up and down til I laugh. We don't have to entertain doubtful thoughts.

I'm going to do some visualization. Seeing is believing. I haven't done anything like this project before, so I really have to work on believing that I can pull it off. Can I even picture myself doing it? The picturing can be a visualization as I'm drifting off to sleep, a quick imagining after I wake up, or short daydreams. 

Look for clues & signs of confirmation.  These have already been coming. I think the universe sends us clues & information constantly, but we have to be open and attuned to seeing it. I see the world as a mirror, and I can look at what's around me and learn from it. A few examples so far are seeing others do what I want to do, seeing venues where I can present my project, witnessing in others the qualities I'll need to develop.

Get out and do something new. This helps remove me from my routine, shakes up my energy, and puts me in the path of expansion, inspiration & getting new clues and signs.  For example, I recently went to a free Creative Mornings lecture, despite not being very interested in the topic. The speaker moved me to tears, and by witnessing him I received some clues and information for my own project.

As soon as I can turn the volume down on my doubts, I can pick up my momentum again and get back to work. That's my goal for this week!

>>------>  Did you read this?  Was it helpful? Any questions?

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!

Spending a month in Austin, TX

I'll be spending a month in Austin, TX, starting mid-June, and I'm super excited about it!

I'm a native Texan, went to college at UT, and still have a bunch of close friends who live in Austin.  I love that town and have already tried to leave California to move back there once (my job at the time moved me back).

That job is where I met the wonderfully talented Marc Johns.

That job is where I met the wonderfully talented Marc Johns.

I can't wait to fill up on breakfast tacos, humidity, Topo Chico, friends & fried avocado tacos.  It's always time for tacos.

I'll be housesitting for friends and part of the arrangement includes access to a full art studio. This is the cherry on the ice cream sundae. I'm treating the month as my own made-up artist-in-residence experience.  I'm housesitting for a UT Fine Arts faculty member so he's on board and already gave me some guidance. I'm going to experiment with new materials, have tons of uninterrupted studio time & plenty of room to make a mess.

I have lots of Texas reminders in my home.

I have lots of Texas reminders in my home.

Naturally I'll still be working & making money to pay the billz; I'm mailing supplies ahead of time & will take my Featherweight sewing machine on the flight as my carry-on. Good thing my Featherweight is so small, light & comes with a custom box.  I've consciously fashioned my work with Featherweight Studio to be flexible to do along with traveling, but this will be my biggest stretch away from my own studio. 

I'm looking forward to new inspiration, lots of new work & to connect with new collaborators & clients.  See you in Texas!