participants: Lyndsey Helling (LH), Lauren Tweedie (LT), Sherèe Lutz (SL)
place: Studio, Katz Drugstore, Kansas City, Missouri
background music: anywhere from podcasts to 80s/90s pop
SL: I wanted to start by saying that I get more compliments on your pieces than on the rest of my wardrobe combined. I think people just intuitively sense the uniqueness of it—how the hand painting makes it something that you did not simply buy off the rack. It is almost more like a wearable work of art!
LH: Thanks. It’s true, especially with the hand painting and also with our vintage line.
SL: That leads me to one of my first questions—what is it that you look for? I know you have talked about being influenced by vintage, the 60s, and things like that, but what specifically draws your eye?
LT: Graphic, I think that is what is really reflected in the vintage pieces and fabric that we pick out.
LH: As well as the hand painted, like the eyeball yardage.
LT: I think that is definitely the element that brings everything together—everything being very graphic.
LH: And with that, keeping our shapes very simple.
LT: It’s about balance.
SL: That makes sense it’s all about balance between having a bold graphic and the need for cleaner lines.
LT: Right, exactly. We just keep everything very minimal in terms of shape and silhouette.
LH: But then we will mix up our shapes a little bit too, we will add little things so it is not exactly the same every time for each collection. We kind of bump it up each time and try something new.
LH: We have learned so much with each collection as we go and then into the next one saying, ‘well, we can do this now, let’s try this.’ I mean I just started sewing with our first collection about two years ago.
SL: I do want to talk a little about your backgrounds. I know you [Lyndsey] are originally known for your ‘trashion’ line. How has that informed what you do now?
LH: I have kind of veered from that a little bit. That was different because while I did sew that a little bit, a lot of it was more sculptural—there was no pattern or anything. I would just piece it together with the different trash and recycled materials creating it from what I had there as opposed to having a set pattern. So it was kind of almost the reverse process, if that makes sense. There were not really any rules or restrictions. I just made it up as I went, and had to make it work with the materials I had. Many times I did not know how those materials would work—some things you cannot really sew. I had a bunch of 35 mm film that I had big plans to make this outfit and it was just very difficult to work with and it had no flexibility. So, I learned a lot from the materials through that process. And then I tried my hand at sewing, and my husband said ‘it seems like that would be so much easier than the trashion, what you were doing.’ And I felt the opposite from him a little bit! I’m not sure why.
SL: Do you think it could be partly because the trashion line was never intended to be worn as street wear?
LH: True. It would be created and you could get one or two uses out of it for some crazy special event. So maybe there was not as much pressure?
LT: It was not day-to-day wear, what it was made out of.
SL: And then I know you [Lauren] have your BFA in fibers from KU. Was it a focus on fashion design?
LT: No, it had nothing to do with fashion. I had never tried my hand at garments until about two years ago with Lyndsey. The majority of my thesis work was hand embroidery and screen-printing, like yardage printing.
SL: Which is kind of ironic, that you have hand painted some of the GirlFridayKC works, because you have screen-printing background.
LT: I do, but similarly to how Lyndsey had to be responsive the trashion line, we have needed to be responsive to materials and limited equipment we currently have. We work with what we have.
LH: I like that though.
SL: Is that then how the hand painting started, and how does that process work? Do you make sketches first and then a grid system, or is just free-form?
LH: It is pretty free form.
LT: For the eyeball collection, well both hand painted collections we have done, we have not had any kind of grid system. We lay the yardage out…
SL: I love that, because that is still very responsive like what you were both doing separately.
LH: With the eyeball, Lauren and I have very different hand techniques in the way we paint and it is very collaborative. We lay out the fabric, I’ll be on one side and she will be on the other and then we will switch, and we will trade brushes. So it is not ‘Oh, Lauren painted this whole left side.’
LT: You can absolutely tell a difference.
LH: When you step back you can definitely tell what Lauren painted and what I painted. So it is very important that we mix it up and switch sides so that it is all cohesive.
LT: So it is less obvious. Maybe someone who didn’t know that is how it is painted wouldn’t be able to tell, but it is distinct to us.
SL: How can you tell the difference? Is one more gestural, etc.?
LT: Mine is probably more painterly. I have a really loose style, and Lyndsey’s tends to be more precise. It’s funny because that is also how we work and sew too. I am very responsive and I’d even say careless at times [laugh], and she is more exact.
LH: I can be much more rigid and precise. So it’s really good balance. I’m glad that I have your [Lauren] input because it makes me step back.
SL: Is there ever a garment that one of you does completely by yourself? Or is it always collaboration?
LT: It is pretty collaborative. With the vintage fabrics, we decide on the silhouette together. But then one of us takes on a particular garment.
LH: With the hand painted stuff, it’s pretty much us together. The collection for the West 18th Street Fashion Show was very collaborative.
LT: It was very challenging!
LH: It was. Because we wanted to step out and do something a little different. We thought the 18th Street Fashion Show would be a good platform to branch out and try something new.
LT: With the Fashion Show we did all digital prints. When I was in school, another one of my focuses was a portfolio of digital patterns, designing yardage. So I worked a lot on designing the yardage for the fashion show. Also, that was the first time we had done a digital print together. Obviously, it is not as loose and gestural as the hand painted collections, so it took on a completely different tone than the rest of our work. I think that really surprised people just to see that, even though it is still very bold and graphic. It looks completely different. So it was good for us to try something new, but I think we both realized we actually enjoy the hand painting much more. It was a learning process.
LH: I am glad we did it.
LT: Me too. It was really sportswear that we did and it is much less ready-to-wear than what we do typically which is probably more accessible.
SL: That is why everyone loves your work, because of its combination of accessibility and uniqueness.
LH: We like to make things that we would like to wear, and that usually goes over well. We will make a dress for fun, and it will be really interesting to see the feedback that we get from it. We realized that people are responding and maybe we should try to make something out of it.
LT: That is how our eyeball collection came to be.
SL: It is such a one-of-a-kind pattern, what inspired it?
LT: It was the 18th Street Fashion Show two years ago.
LH: We were just attending and thought ‘what can we do. We can make something to wear to this.’ So we did the eyeball print. You [Lauren] came up with the print.
LT: I don’t know where that came from honestly!
SL: Maybe a dream or your surrealist subconscious [laugh].
LH: Lauren made the wrap maxi and then I made a little mini shift dress, and we wore those to the fashion show and people were saying ‘I need that’ and asking ‘where did you get that?’ [laugh]. So that was when we thought maybe we should make a little collection of this print. We really like it.
LT: So we did that a few months after we made those dresses for ourselves. We made a whole collection of them and sold them at Donna’s Dress Shop.
SL: What kind of paint do you use?
LT: It is a textile pigment normally used for screen-printing. I don’t think it is necessarily intended to be used for hand painting. Not to say that it can’t or shouldn’t be, I just don’t think it is commonly used that way. But it is what I used as a screen-printer. We just adapted that. I also did a lot of dye work when I was in school; the fabric just takes it differently absorbing it into the actual fibers, whereas this paint sits on top. But dye is a lot harder to control, so we use this instead and it basically acts like paint.
SL: Do you have to heat it and fix it somehow?
LT: Yes. It has to all be heat set, which is its own process, hours of ironing and pressing.
LH: We wash all the fabric first. Then we mix our pigment and put it on there. Then we heat set it, which we originally started by just going over and over with an iron for hours. But then we got a press.
SL: I should hope so! [laugh]. Do each of you have a favorite part of the process?
LT: I enjoy painting the most.
LH: I had never done that before, it is very therapeutic. I didn’t mind those nights of being here for hours, just painting out yards and yards of fabric.
SL: Maybe it is something about the repetition?
LH: It is a nice change of pace to sitting there sewing and cutting everything out so precisely and working with the patterns.
LT: It is a big undertaking, but that is what makes it special.
SL: We [Lauren] know each other from working together in more traditional art museum spaces. Do you think your connection to that world that has informed your work?
LT: I think it has a little bit. In a way, I’m attracted to certain artists and types of art—like Bauhaus and Bauhaus textiles too, Gunta Stölz, and Anni Albers. I really like lady artists. Their work is so graphic, bright, vibrant, and simple as well. I think that is a direct reflection in what our aesthetic is now. I would say those are the big ones. We also like fashion designers like Marimekko. She [Lyndsey] lived in Finland for a while, so that is a big part of her aesthetic.
LH: I didn’t really get turned on to it until I lived there, and was not really even aware of Marimekko. The people are wonderful; if you ever get the chance to go, great design is everywhere.
LT: Isn’t that the dream? We also like Pierre Cardin, very mod 60s, and very graphic.
LH: Working in vintage in general, the shapes and prints that we see.
LT: Any kind of decorative arts honestly. Vintage clocks, or dishes, anything you know. Decorative arts in general are what I’m attracted to, which is a direct reflection in the clothing and textiles.
SL: Luckily, all those lines are getting blurred now and hierarchies fading! I know the Met recently had a big fashion design retrospective through their Costume Institute. So what can we look for in your new line coming out?
LT: It is a combination of the past lines. It will have new shapes and fabrics and everything. Also, another run of the eyeball print which will be very similar to the first one, but it is something that we get a lot of requests for since it was such a limited run.
SL: Still, over a year later? Wow!
LT: Yes. We get calls about it regularly which is crazy.
SL: Is that unusual to have this one extreme hit?
LH: It was just so unexpected.
LT: I think we would both like to move on from it and that is maybe the goal from re-releasing it—hopefully raising funds for bigger and better projects in the future. I don’t know what those projects are yet but it will help fuel that—fuel new work. But I’m excited about the shapes we are doing for this collection and the vintage line. We are doing shorts, which I know is pushing it for fall and winter, but I think it will be good.
SL: But with tights and tall socks it can work.
LT: We will help them get it!
LH: They just need to be shown!