Sewing is common across cultures, connecting materials for protection, decoration and comfort. It reconnects that which has been broken or torn—it’s an act of repair, of making something whole again, or new for the first time. Yet, I use a sewing machine to disrupt and subvert these purposes, seeking to explore the boundaries of fragility and impermanence. I repurpose the act of sewing by using a machine that is not threaded or sewing things together that are barely tenuous. My marks are the holes left by an empty needle. In the absence of thread, when using materials that so obviously can’t hold together, the goals of repair, protection and comfort are possible but never certain. It is this area of uncertainly in which I situate my work.
I learned to use a sewing machine when I was in 6th grade. My mother had a beautiful light blue singer sewing machine and I wanted to learn how to use it so I took lessons at the Singer Sewing machine store in Richfield, Minnesota. I made a one-piece red jump suit with blue zig zag trim and a long red, white and blue skirt. I continued to sew my own clothes throughout high school — a green corduroy jumper, a navy blue pinstripe wool skirt and matching vest, even a two-piece swimsuit.
Years later, the sewing machine has emerged as an iconic tool I use in my art-making– partly because I enjoy its mark and partly because of the meaning its use imbeds into my work.
As an extension of my arm, I create gestural lines comprised of small holes by drawing with an unthreaded sewing machine. I sew fabric together in unexpected ways. The mark of the stitch—such an intimate mark—literally touches the bodies of almost every human being on the planet through the clothes we wear. A stich can be recognized as a symbol of our commonness, of our connectedness and of our interdependence.
Working with a sewing machine, I feel a kinship to women who have used sewing in the past and women who sew today, to create, to mend, to express and to survive. Upon learning of the Rana Plaza Factory collapse in Bangladesh, I began to make work that signified what I could imagine remnants from the tragedy looking like. The remnants I made were sewn back together in tribute to those who survived the collapse.
How do I reconcile my dependence on this basic act of sewing to cover my body, keeping me warm and dry, with the deplorable working conditions under which my clothes are now made? How does this connect to my own history? And what can I do about it? In the coming weeks Alison and I hope to share our impressions and reflections as we learn from garment workers and others in Bangladesh.
I believe the act of remembering can be an act of resistance.