Last spring, when I met Wendi Seminari to photograph some of her work for the 2014 Almanac, I was most impressed with her superb garment construction. Recalling the axiom her home ec teacher drummed in ‘it should look as good on the inside as it does on the outside’ we smiled and rolled our eyes. Okay, so the teacher was absolutely right.
Curious to learn more about what is considered wearable art (or is not) I searched and found representations that ranged from jewel encrusted robes to the latest tech savvy dresses which combine architecture, the human body and new media (wireless interactive technologies and smartfoils). Apparently, the smartfoils change their level of transparency as the viewer gets closer to the dress—not sure which way THAT works! Studio Roosegaarde
There are countless examples of iconic wearable art. Just take a look at any royal court, chieftain robe, theatrical costume, headdress or even papal shoes (not so much anymore, thankfully). That type of wearable art conveys position, power, and prestige and in some cases a connection to the gods with a bonus of religious protection!
So, if wearable art is dressing to impress, then everyday clothing is wearable art’s country cousin. Its humble purpose is function over form. The oddball shapes that make up pant legs and sleeves protect us, keep us warm, keep the sun off our shoulders and in a way draw a boundary between us and not us. Not so much power and prestige here.
Yet clothing’s form is very important to us. So, if we’re not telegraphing position and power, what meaning do clothes have that motivate us to create beautiful garments? The motivation lies in how we can manipulate clothing to reflect back our single uniqueness and individuality to others and influence how they perceive us. It’s the identity we express when we seek to interpret our own creativity in what we wear.
Making ‘art to wear’ is a challenging process. The combination of creative drive and pushing the boundaries of personal aesthetic helps to satisfy our quest for identity. New uses of technology allow artists to manipulate design and the use of materials in completely new ways. Such as the 3D printer that makes shoes! Shifting Paradigms Exhibit. The Shifting Paradigms: Fashion + Technology exhibit at Kent State University’s Museum examines the question of how future clothing and accessories design will utilize new technologies. While technology as a common tool will play a much larger role in the future, the important part is the process of making. It’s original work. And with all original work, it comes down to what a person does with the materials.
Wendi’s says her education in Design has significantly influenced her style in expressive art. As a framework, she creates distinct, clean lines when she pieces her garments. Wendi stays away from over embellishment and instead selects a principal feature to enhance the shape and statement of the piece.
This piece is first in a series she calls, Flow. The concept of Flow began when Wendi read the book with the same name by Milhaly Csikszentmihalyi. Wendi says her work making wearable art gives her deep enjoyment, enhances her creativity and through this feels completely present in the moment. In this piece, Flow represents movement through space and time. She likens it to a meandering stream which follows a winding course.
Making this coat was an experience of meandering for her as an artist as well. She started with an Italian mohair knit that she fulled to create a dense fabric perfect for a coat. The properties of the thicker fabric led her to select a pattern with few seams, minimal shaping and raglan sleeves.
With the drama of the purple mohair fabric, Wendi enhanced her concept of Flow with a stylized meandering stream created by hand needle felting a variegated wool yarn in a random pattern up the right front over the shoulder and down the back. Next she embroidered a simple stitch over the ‘meandering stream’ using three shades of silk thread. She enjoyed this soothing course of hand work and even finished the felled seams with whip stitches.
The thickness of the wool dictated a lightweight facing and along with the wool blanket edge created interest through contrast in color and materials. The green silk facing is a perfect foil for the darker purple wool edging and soft coat fabric. Finally, Wendi decided to open up the collar to create an asymmetric neckline and focal point for the complementary color scheme. The finish was a stacked button and bead closure with a hidden snap.
In this piece, Wendi repurposed a rib-knit cardigan. Becoming a serious student of fabric and fiber dyeing, Wendi experimented with the over-dye technique used on a constructed garment. Yep, the concept is a little like tie-dyeing T-shirts at summer camp. But instead of random whorls all over the shirt, this piece represents fabric dyeing strategy. The intentional placement of the resists created a petal-like motif along the shoulders and collar effectively drawing the eye upward toward the face.
This is a case of garment deconstruction which doesn’t involve water (no dyeing, felting or fulling). Participating in a Guild Challenge activity, Wendi took a sweater apart and using the existing fabric, created an entirely new piece in a completely different style. Note the distinct clean lines and limited amounts of embellishment.
This dupioni silk kimono style jacket experiments with color application and dye. Wendi painted the silk before immersing it in the dye pot. The simple row of beads and charm at the bottom of the jacket speak to Wendi’s individual aesthetic.
Wendi continues to refine her skills with color and dye techniques. This last fall she took a Master Dyeing Class at the Textile Center in Minneapolis that was an intense six week program which provided challenges as well as camaraderie with other textile enthusiasts.
One last note; here is another exhibit of wearable art from Africa called Majestic African Textiles. It’s exhibited at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and runs through March 2, 2014. It is amazing display of wearable art and cloth. Majestic African Textiles