Stitchy and Patchy

Although I was there for Stitchy–a monthly(ish) stitching event at the Pilsen arts collaborative, residence, and gallery Roxaboxen–I was not sewing. Rather, I was helping Stitchy founder Anthony DiSteptes arrange the evening’s snack of bananas and Spanish pastries on top of two pillars. Or, as he put it, “making art.”

Stitchy centers on creating both community and garments. Like family dinners, the event is held around a table, thereby undermining sewing’s status as a solitary act. Furthermore, DiSteptes and Roxaboxen founder Liz McCarthy’s invites for each new arrival to “pull up a chair and feel free to use the sewing machine,” making it difficult to discern regulars from newcomers.

Brandon, a Columbia College student, planned to repair a displaced shirt button. In this way, he was fulfilling the dream of a community-based repair workshop that DiSteptes harbored upon setting up shop. Although DiSteptes posted bi-lingual flyers all about Pilsen and had a trickling of interest, the idea of a community clothing repair center never really took off. Perhaps exemplary of this, Brandon ended up never returning from a “smoke break,” leaving Stitchy with a still unattached button.

However, DiSteptes is optimistic: he is pleased with Stitchy’s position as a “salon” for artists to casually meet and talk about upcoming projects. “Now that [Stitchy] has progressed into a collaborative arts event where guests can talk about their passions, anyone at Stitchy can become a sort-of-expert on a topic they didn’t know anything about before.” In its eclectic collectivism, Stitchy has progressed to teach more than just sewing, but also whatever niche tactile activity enthralls the visiting artist chosen by DiSteptes. This definitely rang true at what was said to be The Last Stitchy, where presenter Samantha Bittman (who DiSteptes was “excited to finally have”) talked about her work as a weaver, textile designer, and painter.

Before Sam’s discussion, however, Stitchy-goers were enjoying what they consider to be a Sunday night break from work and stress. The intimate crowd of primarily art students knitted, planned February birthday parties, and joked about unfinished Stitchy projects (most notably, a messenger bag delegated to forever be a giant clutch unless its maker can find the “perfect cross-body strap”). One Social Education PhD candidate at Loyola even got a head start on her degree by directing my misguided knitting attempts. This warm sense of community was not altered by Sam Bittman’s arrival; even her first forty Stitchy minutes were spent sitting around the table, working on embroidery for a new art piece.

Upon reaching a good stopping point in her embroidery, Bittman began to discuss something “[she] hardly ever talks about: [her] time working with textiles.” This experience is largely based around the creation of textiles on a jacquard loom–which uses a computer to create repeating algorithmic patterns in a way that, to Bittman, is limited only by pre-established perceptual paradigms of color and pattern. For Bittman, the Jacquard loom is both technical and visceral–so much so that, while working at a mill in Seattle, Jacquard patterns could “move [her] to tears.”

While hardly what one would expect from a job spent staring at a computer screen, Bittman has found a way to investigate how fractals and mathematics can enable her to create complementary, but distinct, graphic and textural patterns. In her dissection of mathematics to create art, Bittman has discovered a physical way to represent math’s cognitive beauty. This tactile representation enabled by complex investigations into the interactions between textile patterns versus overall appearance allow any observer of Bittman’s work to walk away with a greater appreciation for everyday textiles–from office paneling to warm blankets. Moreover, this work in a textile mill and intense interest in the interplay between creating graphic and textural patterns truly fit the Roxaboxen gallery’s focus on creation.

Like Roxaboxen’s exhibit “Making is the Mirror,” Bittman investigates the concept of creating through looking at how Pantone’s color range falls short of humanity’s ability to perceive color. Not only did Bittman’s discussion function as live art within Roxaboxen’s present gallery, but it also fostered conversation among the Stitchy crowd. Even while Bittman discussed how an upcoming work (related to her earlier embroidery) was inspired by printer ink tests and Pantone’s inability to access the entire visible color spectrum, Stitchy attendees were welcome to join the conversation–making Bittman’s presentation more interactive panel than stoic presentation.

While the bananas were on a pedestal, Bittman was not. And by the end of the night it was evident that Stitchy, just like Samantha Bittman, discovers how discordant threads can intersect among one common code (or thing, or interest) to create something beautiful.

For future events, keep an eye on