Today’s studio sneak peek is the last of 2013!! I am so excited to have begun this interview process and have loved meeting and learning about each of these artists, from local and afar. Some have been new to me, others are friends and artists I’ve known for quite some time. Each of them has shared something unique about how they work in their studio practice! I launched this series in March not knowing how I would find new artists but each interview has evolved naturally and I’ve featured 18 artists over the last 9 months! These artist have included textile designers, a garment designer, painters, a graphic designer, photographers, a music studio producer, a potter, a mixed media artist, and quilters!
Today’s interview is inside the Studio of Allegory Lanham of A Thousand Needles. We met while in Houston at Quilt market, where we both attended the Bad Ass Quilters Society Gala. Allegory has a distinct sense of fashion, topped with a funky hairstyle that matched the blue tunic shirt she designed and wore that evening. This is probably one reason I sat near her and and we struck up a conversation about life, quilting and how we both came to there that evening. I learned that she was born and raised in Kentucky where she learned first-hand quilting traditions passed down through her mother and grandmother. She didn’t come around to quilting as a form of her own artistic expression till years later…post college after trying her hand at all kinds of other forms of creative expression. She kept a needle close by throughout though and fashioned garments and garment patterns along the way. As she states on her blog, she turned to quilting when she desperately wanted to sew something flat! These days she teaches, designs and created both garments and quilts.
HKPS::What age did you suspect or know you were an artist?
AL::I know I was young when I realized I *wanted* to be an artist. Maybe 5? Or 6? At that age, the revelation just meant that I colored a lot and then read lots and lots of books (my other passion). I never started *feeling* like an artist until the past year or so.
HKPS::What mediums do you work with?
AL::My primary love is fabric but I’ve tried just about every medium you can imagine over the years. That idea of wanting to be an artist meant that I tried drawing, sculpting, painting, metal work for jewelry…all of it. My art supplies are numerous. On a typical day though I’m using fabric and embroidery floss along with my sketchbook and colored pencils (I do all my design work on paper).
HKPS::Where do you make Art and how big is your studio?
AL::My ‘dayjob” (I hate calling it that because I love it so much and really do it at all hours not just during the day) is done in my studio which is a side-room of the house. I’m lucky that there’s a bit of a hallway that leads to it and I can be slightly isolated. It’s not very large…maybe 10ft x 15ft? If that. I should measure some day. I’d say 90% of the fabric work is done here. Sometimes I’ll take a project out in the main house to sew by hand but not very often. Any time I want to play with some other medium, I’ll do it in the main rooms of the house. All the paint and such stays far far away from the fabric.
HKPS::Do you consider yourself to be an organized person?
AL::Yes? Depending on the day. Oh, more accurately, depending on the deadlines. Things have their place, certainly but if I’m in the middle of 3-4 large projects then the studio is a disaster zone. I think it’s important to note that only those large projects are thrown everywhere though. I like working in a small bit of chaos. If something isn’t going well, I can push it to the side and grab something else. But fabric has three main places it lives (depending on the size pieces), patterns have their own drawers sorted by types and interfacing has its own shelves. Those things never change no matter the chaos.
HKPS:: How or where did you learn your organizing habits and systems?
AL::I feel like I just invented it by myself along the way. As I devoted more time to my work, it became necessary to find things. A *super* organized, labelled system didn’t work for me though. I need to see things sometimes when I think about them. Or move other pieces around while I puzzle out a design. Materials are always organized to save me time hunting but projects also live in bags and boxes. That’s not to say that at some point I’ll dump that whole project box out on a side table and look at it while I work. To see if the colors are working for me still.
HKPS::What types of schedules, systems, tools or tips do you use to help maintain organization in your studio?
AL::I have a planner that I use for my teaching schedule and I’ll put major deadlines in there. That always helps to remind me. On the first of each month, I’ll sit down and write a list. Items that absolutely have to be done get dates next to them (and usually appear at the top of the list). Things I’d like to work on get cluttered on there as well. It’s always an ambitious list..let’s see…this month’s has 25 items on it and some of those have 3-4 components. I know not all of it will get done and things will get added to it as opportunities come up. But this system works for me because I feel like I can spend less time during the month figuring out what I *should* be doing and just sew. This year I finally invested in a wire drawer system from IKEA for my scraps and it’s helped a lot. They’re sorted by warms, cools, neutrals and holiday. I work in scraps a lot for my projects and I used to just have this giant tub that I would dig and dig through. Now scraps have a home and I can just yank a drawer out to work from.
HKPS::What kinds of materials/tools do you find challenging to keep organized or locate when you need to use them?
AL::Purse hardware and I are having a bit of a battle right now. I need to figure it out soon considering some upcoming plans that I have but right now I swear that I’ll have a magnetic snap then it disappears when I need it. Then reappears once I’ve gone out to buy a new one…in that same cup I swear I already looked in. I work in a lot of sizes that are very close to each other, too. For example, I have 1” and 1 1/2” metal sliders all mixed in a basket right now. There might be some 1 1/4” in there too…it’s a slight mess. I know there’s a cup of sliders but I’ll have to pull out and measure for making a bag. My dream is to have one of those tool cabinets full of purse hardware with each section labeled. That would make me incredibly happy but I can’t possibly fit another piece of furniture in my studio right now.
HKPS::How often do you purge or declutter your supply stash due to space or other constraints?
AL::It’s gotta hit me. Especially working in fabric and fabric scraps, I feel like I need access to a lot. I’m the type that’s more likely to mix lines and designers and such all together. So while I do buy bundles of fabric, I almost immediately break them down and split them into different projects. Which would make it difficult to buy for a new project if I cleared out my studio. Maybe twice a year or so, after I’ve worked on a couple of projects at once and my floor is full of fabric…I’ll just clear out all the pieces I just cut from. Instagram makes it easy to destash. Either full pieces of fabric or just snap a pic of the scraps left over from one and sell them as a set. That way they immediately go in an envelope and get shipped off, instead of staying and adding to my enormous stockpile of scraps in the studio. (Follow her on Instagram to find great de-stash deals!)
HKPS::Please describe how creative cycles of organization or disorganization affect your creative process? Are there certain phases of projects that are more or less organized?
AL::Like I mentioned before, I can’t ever just work on one thing. I think a lot about my quilts/bags before I ever sew them. Sometimes a stack of fabric can sit on my side table for a month. I’ll switch out a color or two in it and let it sit for another couple days. But this means when I go to cut and sew, it’s a whirlwind. So I think about two or three projects, leave fabric out for those while cutting another two that have already sat. It *seems* dis-organized whenever anyone glances into my studio. There are these little piles of fabric around, some of which live in baskets but most are just put on any available flat surface. If fabric is sitting in a pile, it can’t be pulled for anything else…that messes me up.
I try once every other month to re-organize the small things that end up getting scattered from work: that stray bit of embroidery floss or those buttons I decided not to use. I have a terrible habit of turning anything into a pincushion. So I’ll pull pins out of things and put them in an actual pincushion during this clean-up.
HKPS::Do you give much thought to your artistic body of work in terms of historic value and the overall artistic legacy you will leave behind? How do you store/archive your work or records? If not why?
AL::This is actually a strange question for me. I love quilting history. I have books on it and I’ll base my own work on some very traditional work that I’ll spend days doing research on. Yet I’ve never actually considered my own quilts a part of quilting history. My quilts will get labels, if I remember to sew them in but I don’t think of a legacy. Now that I’m sitting and thinking about it, I think that’s just tied into the fact that I see my ‘art’ getting used every day. My couch is covered with quilts and so is the bed. I can spy four handmade pillows from where I’m sitting. If I’m carrying a bag, it’s one that I made. I have plans for more work that can be displayed and is meant for hanging instead of carrying but I’m reminded daily that my art isn’t at all “hands-off.” There’s a quilt on my bed that has been patched so many times…and I love it dearly. My husband is hard on blankets. I don’t know how he does it. And that was always the reality of what I do, it was going to be beat-up and dropped and dragged and loved and torn. It’s so weird..because I wonder if those quilts of mine will even survive and yet in my studio right now I have three 1930s feedsack quilts that were found unfinished and I’m taking every care to finish them, knowing that I won’t get it exactly how the person who cut those pieces intended but I hate to see them undone. It makes me want to at least put a note in each of my project boxes that named what quilt I intend for them to become.
Thank you so much Allegory for inviting us into your studio space and providing us with the photo’s. Thank you for sharing some of the organizing methods and systems you use in your studio practice. If you would like to see more of her work head over to A Thousand Needles website or her Etsy Shop to see what’s available for sale. I’ll be back with another artist DOUBLE feature next week to ring in the New Year!
My greatest wish is that through seeing how other artist work we can learn from one another. There is no ONE correct system or way of organizing. There are as many creative systems as their creative makers! My aim is to highlight these unique makers in each interview. A HUGE thank you to each one of this year’s artists for inviting us into their studio and sharing their systems and how organizing affects their creative process. There will be more to come next year and I’m working on ways to share this feature via other avenues. I am also planning to expand the series to include other sneak peek interviews into creative small business sometime around mid-2014. If you missed any of my previous Inside the Studio posts this year please go back and take a look!
* Inside the Studio was my brainchild in 2011. There are a lot of popular studio features on the web and in magazines but I’m specifically interested in showing how organizational process influences the artist’s studio work. These photo’s are not styled and are typical of how the artists working studio looks. I request that each artist leave their space as it would be on a daily basis (just like I ask my clients). This series is meant to highlight how artist REALLY work rather than showing STYLED shots (popular in home and organizing magazines and blogs). I’m sure just like me, you are fascinated by the “behind the scenes” sneak peek into these artists working lives!