Discover more from Amanda Rataj Studio Newsletter
Chairs, low-waste sewing
In this newsletter you’ll find:
More on my chair project
“The Chair Project”
I’m both surprised and… not! to feel relief and contentment at having Generation open last month at Craft Ontario. This project has been on my mind for so long (since 2017!) and took the majority of 2022 to complete, so while a part of me respects the process, the other part is happy to have it over with. On to new things!
I’m happy to be able to show a few of the exhibition documentation images in this month’s newsletter, in case you have been unable to visit in person.
This project first occurred to me when I moved house and inherited my dad’s table and chairs. His father, Rudolph, had been a master carpenter and had built each of his children a dining room set (six chairs and a round table) when they moved out. I’ve grown up in, on, and around my Opa’s furniture my entire life, and I think most members of my family take it for granted — it’s just always been there!
I never met my Opa but I’ve always had this intimate relationship and connection to his craftsmanship and the style and creative choices that he made when constructing beds, tables, chairs, and an entire cottage (!). The chairs I inherited were still dressed in their 1970s brown and no longer looking their best. I can be relentlessly practical, so weaving my own fabric to recover them was a great excuse to update their fabric AND spend some time thinking about the company he worked for, Brunswick Manufacturing.
Brunswick Manufacturing was started by a man named John Stene. He hired my grandfather to design and build furniture in the late 1950s after closing his furniture import business; the name came from the location of their first workshop on Brunswick Avenue in Toronto. Their market was primarily institutional: offices, hospitals, universities, libraries, and other spaces across the Greater Toronto Area all purchased Brunswick’s mid-century-style wood and laminate chairs, tables, and credenzas. Everyone in the family has an experience of going somewhere (the doctor’s, a classroom, thrift store, a meeting somewhere) and thinking, hmmmm, that chair… Only to flip it over to find a Brunswick label affixed to the underside
I’m very grateful to the Ontario Arts Council for their support of this project and exhibition!
I’ll share more about the project and yardage I wove next month — but first I wanted to share a side project that I created for the opening reception.
I made three different yardages for these chairs (the seat, the back, and the piping), and I knew that there was going to be waste involved in the upholstery stage. I wanted to find a way to use these pieces instead of just throwing all that material and hard work into the trash.
I had my upholsterer save all the small scraps of fabric, and then I worked with a local letterpress printer, Allsorts Press, to print a 5”x7” card with a line drawing of the chairs on it (the original drawing was in my last newsletter!). I glued a small fragment of the fabric “waste” to each card and gave them away at the opening reception.
Beyond reducing my waste, I wanted to do this for two reasons. The first comes from my learning experiences as a student studying fine arts and my professional role working in a museum for the last decade. Art in these contexts is not meant to be touched or interacted with — it goes on the wall or a plinth and you experience it first and foremost with your eyes, not with your hands.
One of the most important reasons I make craft is that it’s meant to be experienced with your senses: touch, sight, scent, sound (maybe taste, though not usually with textiles!!). Of course, in the context of exhibition I haven’t wanted folks to sit on my chairs or use or touch them, so I wanted something people could touch — and take.
And, secondly, I’ve been looking for opportunities to cultivate generosity in my practice. By nature, craft is expensive to purchase — I certainly can’t afford to buy work by all the peers I admire, and while I do when I can, I feel increasingly frustrated that art and visual culture seems to be becoming something for only the wealthy to collect, hoard, and hide behind paywalls. Don’t get me wrong: artists must be paid for their work — this isn’t a hobby for me — but in my experience, we're often getting the short end of the stick (things I've experienced include: criminally low wages, requests for free work/labour/items, no presentation/exhibition fees, poor consignment rates, expensive table fees).
I don’t want to participate in this system more than I have to, but I also don’t want to make something that you have to have money to enjoy — so these cards are a way for me to be generous with my work and practice in a small but material way.
I also love paper ephemera (again — a material experience!). These cards have been available for visitors to take home throughout the exhibition — after it concludes this Saturday, February 25th, I’ll give away any remaining cards through this newsletter.
Dovetailing nicely with one of themes behind my exhibition cards is the Goldfinch Textile Studio Eddie Smock Dress, a zero/low waste sewing pattern. I sew my own clothes sometimes, and I offered to help test this pattern for Emily.
Other than a singular coat (which was very low waste because I made a mock up first and then wove everything to size), I’ve never sewn with any of my hand woven fabric before, but, of course, not wasting any of it would be very important!
In case you like sewing too, I thought I’d share a link to the Eddie Smock Dress PDF pattern. There are no pattern pages to print and tape together, you mark everything right onto the fabric. I was super impressed with the comprehensive and information-packed pattern, which comes in two cup sizes and and inclusive size range. And there were so many good test sews too!
2023 has been flying by so far. I’ve visited the Burlington Handweavers and Spinners Guild to talk about my practice and got to have a good poke around their library. Last week I visited with students at the Ontario College of Art and Design University to speak (virtually) with textile and jewelry students in the Professional Practice course.
Next month I’ll have some new things to share as I get back into some design work and studio projects.
In the end I wasn’t able to complete the test sew, but it’s still on my to-make list!