Fashion Friday Q&A with Savannah Barr Dempsey, embroidered with love
Fiber and textile artist and clothing designer Savannah Barr Dempsey, 25, lives and works in the Pajama Factory, 1307 Park Ave. Her work is on display in a brick and mortor studio, Volund’s Wingtips, within the factory as well as the Volund’s Wingtips Etsy store and Facebook page. To make an appointment to see her work, call 989- 415-8859 or contact her through the Volund’s Wingtips Facebook page.
Tara D. McKinney: Your work is truly original. How did you learn your craft?
Savannah Barr Dempsey: I learned to knit, crochet and quilt from my grandmother and aunts from an early age. Once I got to school, I dove into the historically accurate ways people made their clothing. I have a bachelor’s in English and a minor in fiber arts from Clarion University. A lot of what we do in our shop includes using historical techniques to create modern things. I like the idea of using these old techniques so that they don’t just disappear into the ether. A lot of older women passed on their knowledge of fiber arts to me – nail binding, using socks, etc., These techniques are now on display in museums as evidence of the way women’s creativity flourished during a time when their words weren’t valued. Now we’re going back to the old ways and seeing amazing quality work as a result.
TDM: What is the process of designing a new piece like for you?
SBD: I make a lot of scarves. I buy a lot of white fabric because it’s cheap, but then I work in a color gradient, dyeing the pieces and sewing them into a quilt. I like geometric shapes and designs using hexagons. I use a lot of layers. I guess you could say that I employ a modern aesthetic. Once I made crocheted shoes for my husband. I just kept crocheting around until they were foot-shaped.
TDM: It sounds like the process of creation is really organic for you. Where do you find your inspiration to make and design items?
SBD: I feel like the factory has a big influence on what I do. I’m surrounded by people doing wacky things and that helps. I like walking outside and finding feathers. I’m like a squirrel collecting lots of tiny objects.
TDM: Can you give me an example of what one of your designs might cost?
SBD: My biggest piece, a massive, king-sized quilt with embroidered shisha mirrors, is valued at $2,000. My hand-dyed dupioni silk scarves are $35 to 40, depending on the size of the scarf.
TDM: Do you find that you incorporate style trends as they come in and out of fashion or do you stick to your own design ideals?
SBD: I read a lot of blogs and am very aware of what’s happening in the fashion world, but it doesn’t have much effect on my work. I’d say if anything, I’ll use a current color palette. We’re all into tangerine this year. I think individual fit and aesthetic determine whether you like a piece or not, not if it’s in style.
TDM: Can you describe a piece that embodies your signature aesthetic?
SBD: That giant quilt I mentioned before. Most people know that I made it just by looking at it. I do more than fiber arts. I’m really into the concept of building up layers on things. The quilt has hand beading on it, you can run your fingers over it and really feel the beads. I’m really into texture and using a bright color palette. I’m always encouraging people to touch that quilt.
TDM: How do you give yourself that creative push?
SBD: Sometimes I like using the media as the message. I’ve done a million silk scarves, now can I make them into a sculpture? Looking at objects and trying to repurpose them really gets me going. I also like the National Geographic channel. Sometimes I’ll watch a documentary on people who have a strong tradition of fiber arts, like South American and African cultures. Their clothing might tell a family history of a thousand years. They use color palettes I normally wouldn’t think of.
TDM: Do you have any new designs you want people to be aware of?
SBD: I’ve being making a lot of fingerless gloves during the holidays. I call them shooter gloves. The tips of the thumb and pointer and middle finger are uncovered with the remaining fingers covered. You can use a smart phone, smoke a cigarette, fumble with your keys and still have those three finger tips. I made them for a buddy and they turned out too big. We felted them down and now they fit perfectly. Everybody wants them. I should make a pair for myself, but I never will.
TDM: Are there any local artists you admire or have learned from?
SBD: Jennifer Leidhecker in building seven, studio 45, has been really fun since she moved into the Pajama Factory family. She makes awesome collages. I like bones and taxidermy and Jennifer makes rattles out of skulls and tribal things, all with layers of meaning. She makes beautiful wall hangings and collage pieces that you can just stare at for hours.
TDM: What do you like most about living and working in the Williamsport area?
SBD: Well, I like the factory. There always seems to be something happening there artistically. There’s definitely a resurgence going on. Williamsport supports artists and that benefits the community. Art doesn’t really hurt anyone. Why don’t we art more? It would make us a more peaceful people. People we’ve met have helped us find ways to expand the business. We all help each other. The locals who wear my designs are all excellent people who are just making all the correct life choices. My designs are for people who want their stuff to be more than just stuff. I’m not going to make you a scarf that will be cheaper than what you would find at Walmart, but it will be made with more love. I like to feel that when you use a handmade object, all the energy and good times put into making it get transferred into the person that uses it. That person shares those good vibes as they walk around the city.