Next up in our Art. Work. artist interviews is Hillary Bird! Hillary is a weaver and the artist & owner of Wabi Sabi Textile Company in St. Louis and has been working primarily with vintage fabrics! Come see her work and more on February 20th!
1. How does working with vintage clothing impact your practice and how you think about the final product?
Working with vintage clothes has impacted my entire life. Since I seriously started to work with them, about six or seven years ago, I've gained a new appreciation of quality made goods, as opposed to mass-produced, one-million-of-a-kind, cheap knock-offs inspired by something that once worked. Vintage garments (that were properly taken care of, stored, etc.) still serve their original purpose 40, 50, even 60 plus years after they were made. It's the same story with so many other vintage, antique or even ancient textiles. That is absolutely incredible to me! So, when I discovered weaving, it really hit home. That's where the quality construction truly begins. Knowing how different types of fibers act and what they are best used for is just the first thought that goes into a textile's long life. Aside from just totally fascinating me, this practice really sets the tone for my work. I use almost entirely vintage yarn and it's impossible for me not to draw inspiration from textiles of a different decade or century. It may not be obvious on the surface, but each vintage garment that passes through my hands on a day-to-day basis strongly impacts anything I make. I hope that one day, years and years from now, someone will pass a piece of mine down to a family member who will then cherish it for even longer. I hope that my work outlives me.
2. What does being a member of the Weavers' Guild of St. Louis mean for your practice?
I seriously hate to say that I've, unwillingly, had to neglect the guild this year because of my hectic schedule (full time work and school, plus teaching and making new products!), but it's always been an invaluable resource to me. The members of WGSTL are incredibly knowledgeable in so many different aspects of fiber art, and I've not met one person there who wasn't thrilled to share info and insight with me. If and when I run into any kind of issue, it makes a huge difference to be able to ask someone for hands on help rather than having to aimlessly search around online or in books for answers. I definitely recommend anyone who is getting into a new art to find a group of like-minded people, they will tell you what you need to know! Also, being part of such a long standing and strong community really makes me feel like I've got a place in this world.
3. How much does the consideration of the consumer influence your work?
The consumer both does and does not influence my work. By that I mean, when I'm preparing for a pop-up shop or craft show, for instance, the consumer is all I think about when creating new work. I look back at what has sold, the kind of response certain things got and go from there. That's not a time when I play around with new ideas; I am strictly making for the consumer, in hopes to sell. On the other hand, when I don't have any kind of deadline looming, the consumer couldn't be further from my thoughts. I make things that have sparked my interest for any given reason and try new things until it works. I still own some of my favorite pieces I've ever made because they just never got picked up. That doesn't bother me one bit. Not to say I don't encourage sales, because that helps the cycle of making flow, but I think my best work comes from a place deep within me, without the influence of others.
4. Can you tell us a little about the work you’re preparing for the Art. Work. show? Or your window exhibition?
I've been working on a kind of loose study of rugs. Back in 2013, I remember seeing this incredible vintage Moroccan Boucherouite rug and thinking, "wow, I want to make something with this kind of impact" and that's when I taught myself to weave. Ever since then, despite being on many different tracks, I tend to fall back into this rug obsession. Not a lot of my pieces reflect this profound connection I feel to rugs, so I really wanted to put my focus there for this show. Rugs are functional objects, and although their design is almost always considered, it's not usually called "art" - but it is art! Of course, there are new rugs that are made on computerized looms and they can be the exception, but older rugs were made by hand. 120 years ago, the average 4'x6' Navajo rug would take half a year or more to make... and that's not an unusual time frame for handwoven rugs in general! The attention to detail and dedication to the final product is just beyond amazing to me, and that's the energy I want my work to exude. For the show, I used a small handful of different rug techniques and most of the designs are inspired by vintage or ancient rugs. At some point in the future, I hope I am able to dedicate a lot more of my time to rugs.
For the window, Angela and I have been working together to make something that more obviously blends "art and craft" together. We've been weaving these tiny shapes and will be putting them together to form something that, from afar, will look more like a collage or painting, in hopes to draw people closer in and question what it really is.