My mother taught me to sew at a very young age. I can remember the empowerment I felt while hand sewing buttons onto an old cloth diaper as she watched. Her mother, in turn, fostered in me an interest in fashion. When visiting her, my grandmother and I would look at the children’s clothing magazines she had collected since I had last seen her, and she would encourage me to pick out my favorite piece, which she would often buy for my next birthday or Christmas gift. The garments were always much more beautiful in person, and I believe it was these smocked and ruffled gifts that sparked my interest in the sartorial.
I connected these two matrilineal dialogues - sewing and fashion – in my studio practice, and brought together the worlds of intrinsic tactile labor and the external accumulation of cloth. Through learning how textiles and garments have been made throughout history and the social, economic, and environmental dangers associated with their production, I realized my autonomy regarding what I make is a privilege in the global context of “women’s work” and it changed the way I valued clothes, and thereby the way I work. This connection forces me to assess the deeply personal affect of cloth and its universality, simultaneously.
Deconstructing garments began as a way to familiarize myself with their construction. By investigating its making through unmaking, the labor of the garment’s creation is revisited. In this way, cloth becomes ubiquitous with life – not only with the life of the wearer of the garment, but its maker. Because of this, my work often refers to the woman’s body. There is a spectrum of critical commentary present that refers to the labor enacted by women that seems in some ways ceaseless, and in others obligatory and absurd. In Getting the Spots Out, a polka dotted bed sheet has had all of its red spots removed except one. Referencing sex and menstrual blood through the materiality of the textile, the labor of removing every red spot magnifies the absurdity of feminine shame and labor in a domestic context. What appears as an embossed or cut-out pattern is a manifestation of invisible labor, evidenced by the remaining red spot.
By recontextualizing everyday cloth, I explore themes central to the history of women’s work, its labor force, and the local impact of a global economy – primarily through found textiles. While I use this material familiarity to highlight universal themes prevalent in the garment’s connotation, I beckon the viewer to see the object and its life anew, subverting the hegemony and history stitched into the seams of the fabric.
Kimberly is an artist and educator living and working in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She recently earned her MFA from UNC, and she received her BFA in Fibers as a Distinguished Scholar from Savannah College of Art and Design. Her work has been exhibited across the southeast, as well as abroad.