Praxis Fiber Workshop: One Year, One Outfit
The opening night energy at the One Year, One Outfit exhibit, now on view at Praxis Fiber Workshop, seemed especially buoyant as I stepped into the gallery space. Yes, we’re still delighting in getting together in person as the COVID-19 pandemic grinds on. Yes, it’s autumn, with all the creative energy that the cooling weather and flame-colored trees unleash. But there was something extra in the room.
It was the joy and sense of accomplishment felt by a cadre of creative fiber artists, both novice and skilled, who worked together for one year on an incredibly difficult task: create an outfit of three garments out of natural fibers, dyes and materials sourced within a 250-mile radius of Cleveland.
Think about that for a minute. It meant using sheep’s wool or alpaca fleece, or maybe flax, which grows in Northeast Ohio’s climate. Cotton does not, so that cannot be used. It meant finding a mini-mill somewhere within that radius to process that natural fiber for you and turn it into roving or yarn. Or, if that was not feasible, it meant scouring, carding and spinning the natural fiber yourself. It meant forgoing a bottle of Rit Dye in favor of colors pulled from black walnut, marigolds, coreopsis and madder root.
It meant a lot of work.
That was the One Year One Outfit challenge. The exhibit at Praxis was the participants’ sweet reward.
“So, what you’re seeing is the culmination of over a year of a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” said Sarah Pottle, the co-founder, with sister Jess Boeke of Rust Belt Fibershed, which organized the challenge. “A lot of pivots. A lot of curiosity. A lot of teamwork. A lot of just exploring the world of Slow Fashion through local fiber and color.”
Pottle and Boeke launched the challenge in October, 2020, as COVID-19 cases were beginning their holiday surge. Fifty people signed up for the challenge. Twenty-four completed it. Most were from Northeast Ohio, but some were from Pittsburgh and Columbus. Pottle said the in-person gallery event was an emotional high point for the group.
“We could have done it where you just follow along for a year, and maybe at the end you make a final Zoom call and then you hold it up, and that would have been cool. You know, it would have been a project. But to have a physical space for everybody to, first of all just to see them interact, when we really haven’t gotten to do that because of the pandemic,” she said, taking in the electricity in the gallery. “And then the other part is putting it on display for the public to see.”
Participant Alexa Vicario of South Euclid stood near a mannequin display of her outfit: a woolen knitted sweater, skirt and pair of mittens in shades of brown, from cappuccino to dark chocolate.
“I just wanted it to be neutral and just, something that you would wear in, like, a cozy, Nordic setting,” she said.
Some One Year, One Outfit participants worked in teams of two or three. Vicario worked alone. She bought raw sheep fleeces from local farmers and watched YouTube videos to figure out how to clean the wool, card it and spin it into yarn.
“I learned that it’s possible to make your own clothes. It’s possible to learn and take on a huge project and be able to finish it after a year. And, it’s just–I’ve never done anything like this. And I’m very proud of the end result,” she said.
Each participant was asked to document their process. The exhibit includes their design sketches, practice pieces and samples of the natural materials they used.
Participant Margaret Sankey of Perry, in Lake County, had a small wheel of plaited dry leaves hanging on her story wall.
“I was gonna do, like, a straw hat. That’s, like, the unfinished straw hat that I have. That’s like my rye grass from my yard that molded in my garage,” she said.
“I, like, bleached it, so it’s not really that moldy now!” she quickly added.
One of the goals of the One Year, One Outfit challenge was to connect knitters, weavers and other fiber artists with farmers, and encourage a local “farm-to-closet-to-compost” Slow Fashion movement.
Sankey said she’s totally on board.
“’Let’s make Cleveland like, the renaissance of, like, eco-fashion capital place.’ There used to be a garment industry, you know? And, I was, like, yes! And, it just makes me so excited about making clothes here and starting something.”
Brittany Dobish of Canal Fulton, in Stark County, crocheted a dark gray and terra cotta-colored vest using a vintage pattern from the 1970s. She said the year-long effort made her more appreciative of the energy that goes into something hand-made, like the cream-colored coat she was wearing that was crocheted by her grandmother.
“You didn’t think that your clothing could matter so much. You know the fact that I’m even wearing my grandmothers’ jacket, I mean, I knew she crocheted. But I didn’t know, like, what these projects meant to her when she made them, you know.
The organizers of the One Year, One Outfit challenge and its culminating exhibit hope it gets viewers thinking about where their clothes come from, what they’re made of, and what will happen to them when they finally reach the landfill.
The exhibit also includes garments made by Katie Allen, Erin Carlson, Kirste Carlson, Debbie Christensen, Rebecca Cross, Donna Drew, Janel Franks, Erika Frondorf, Kate Hodges, Aaron Jacobson, Lindsey James, Kerie Johannes, Janette Knowles, Jasmine Kornel, Katy Kvassay, Katie Lunemann, Celeste Malvar-Stewart, Anissa Pulcheon, Sarah Silk, Charity Thomas and Olivia Vanistendael.
“One Year One Outfit” runs through Jan. 14, 2022. January is also when another “One Year One Outfit” challenge begins. Pottle said several people have already signed up.
One Year, One Outfit
Through January 14, 2022
Praxis Fiber Workshop
15301 Waterloo Road
Cleveland, Ohio 44110