In 2010, I participated in an Austin Fashion week runway show, showcasing recycled clothing. About 25 designers shared one to four pieces each, every garment made from recycled materials. I’d been sewing not quite four years, but had spent much of that time exploring the limits and themes of discarded clothing -- turning something unwanted into something desirable.
By runway day, I'd completed two garments: one followed a familiar dress silhouette and construction, made of black denim, and incorporated about seven zippers; the other, sewn from khaki trousers, was completely improvised, from beginning to end, covered in cargo pockets.
The black denim dress was simple to put together, as I'd made similar dresses from patterns for years. This gave me a chance to spend time figuring out where and how I would attach the zippers for most visual appeal.
The khaki dress was a discovery all along the way. When I cut the legs off the first pair of khakis, I realized that if I turned it upside down, what was originally the waistband would make a perfect hem to the skirt for a dress. And those pleats on the front, hideous as they might look as khakis, created a perfect fullness as a skirt. Cut, pin, sew. Eyeball. Cut, pin, sew. After a very different process, my second dress dress was done.
After fittings and styling, it was runway day. (BTW I finally understood a tiny bit of how contestants on Project Runway must feel — a simple and potent combination of pride, exhaustion, and terror!)
The moment the black denim dress came down the runway, I felt a surge of pride I could sum in one sentiment: "I made that!” The model walked with her left hand on her hip, as we’d agreed, to highlight those perfect, parallel rows of recycled zippers. I remember thinking how lucky I'd been to be so familiar with that dress shape, so that I could focus on this set of details. The polite applause validated my sense of handcraft and attention to finishing.
Next, the khaki dress came down the runway. All I heard was silence. In a moment of panic, I looked to make sure my model didn’t have a wardrobe malfunction. Nope. Blood rushed to my face. Why wasn’t anyone making noise? I noticed several people pointing to my dress, and appearing to hold their breath. They had just figured out that the bottom of the skirt was the waistband, and the rounded tulip shape was made from the pleated front of the original khakis. Finally, murmurs of recognition, followed by vigorous applause.
It wasn’t until I saw this quote that I thought of my runway experience, and the lesson I learned about craft vs. art. Craft is good and respectable. It requires a sense of patience and discipline, and the proverbial devil really is in the details. People relate to the care and love that goes into craft.
But art. Art is visceral, in my experience, both as a creator and as a receiver. It is more forgiving of technique, more tolerant of experimentation. It celebrates intuition and passion. It can bring insight, challenge what you think you see, and take your breath away.
Can one piece encompass both art and craft? Yes. But it was good for me to experience that there is a difference.
Here's a link to a few casual shots we took before the show, but I relied on the pro photog to take shots on the runway... and he did... and now I have no idea where that album is.