An art exhibit’s opening night is usually high-energy. But at this one, at Praxis Fiber Workshop in Cleveland’s Waterloo Arts District on a recent Friday night, the mood was especially buoyant.
That’s because of what the exhibit of dresses, tunics, skirts, hats, mittens and vests represents. The sixteen pieces on display were made by people who took part in a year-long challenge to make an outfit out of natural fibers and dyes, sourced within a 250-mile radius of Cleveland.
“So, what you’re seeing is the culmination of over a year of a lot of blood, sweat and tears. A lot of pivots. A lot of curiosity. A lot of teamwork. A lot of just exploring the world of slow fashion through local fiber and color,” said Sarah Pottle, over the loud hum of a large crowd inside the workshop’s gallery.
Pottle is co-founder of Rust Belt Fibershed, which organized the “One Year One Outfit” challenge. It started last year, in October, as COVID-19 cases were beginning their holiday surge. Fifty people signed up for the challenge. Twenty-four completed it. Most were from Northeast Ohio, but some were from Pittsburgh and Columbus. Pottle said the in-person gallery event was an emotional high point for the group.
“We could have done it where you just follow along for a year and maybe at the end you make a final Zoom call and then you hold it up and that would have been cool. You know, it would have been a project,” said Pottle. “But to have a physical space for everybody to, first of all just to see them interact, when we really haven’t gotten to do that, because of the pandemic. And then the other part is putting it on display for the public to see.”
Participant Alexa Vicario of South Euclid stood near a mannequin that was wearing her outfit: a woolen knitted sweater, skirt and pair of mittens in shades of brown from cappuccino to dark chocolate.
Alexa Vicario created this outfit from wool. She scoured, or cleaned, carded and spun the wool by hand. The outfit is part of the “One Year One Outfit” garment exhibition at Praxis Fiber Workshop in Cleveland. [Em Good / Praxis Fiber Workshop]
“I just wanted it to be neutral and just, something that you would wear in, like, a cozy, Nordic setting,” she said.
Some “One Year One Outfit” participants worked in teams of two or three. Vicario worked alone. She bought raw sheep fleeces from local farmers and watched YouTube videos to figure out how to clean the wool, card it and spin it into yarn.
A knitted and felted gardening smock was made with wool and alpaca fiber and dyes from madder root, black walnut, indigo and other natural dyes. The garment was created by Celeste Malvar-Stewart and Janette Knowles of Columbus. [Amy Eddings / Ideastream Public Media]
“I learned that it’s possible to make your own clothes. It’s possible to learn and take on a huge project and be able to finish it after a year. And, it’s just, I’ve never done anything like this. And I’m very proud of the end result,” she said.
Each participant was asked to document their process. The exhibit includes their design sketches, practice pieces and samples of the natural materials they used. Participant Margaret Sankey has a farm in Lake County. She has a small wheel of plaited dry leaves hanging on her story wall.
A detail of Margaret Sankey’s story board, showing the natural fibers, dyes and found materials she used in her woolen cropped top and deerskin wrap skirt. [Amy Eddings / Ideastream Public Media]
“I was gonna do, like, a straw hat. That’s, like, the unfinished straw hat that I have. That’s like my rye grass from my yard that molded in my garage,” she said, laughing.
One of the goals of the “One Year One Outfit” challenge was to connect knitters, weavers and other fiber artists with farmers, and encourage a local “farm-to-closet-to-compost” slow fashion movement. Sankey said she’s totally on board.
Margaret Sankey, left, poses next to her woolen crop top and deerskin skirt on opening night of the “One Year One Outfit” exhibition at Praxis Fiber Workshop in Cleveland. Sankey used marigolds, coreopsis and goldenrod to dye the top. She used indigo to dye the deerskin. The small, white half-moons on the skirt are coyote teeth that her partner found in Lake County. [Amy Eddings / Ideastream Public Media]
“’Let’s make Cleveland like, the renaissance of, like, eco-fashion capital place. There used to be a garment industry, you know? And, I was, like, ‘Yes!‘ And, it just makes me so excited about making clothes here and starting something,” said Sankey.
Brittany Dobish of Canal Fulton, in Stark County, said the project made her more appreciative of the energy that goes into something hand-made, like the cream-colored coat she was wearing that was crocheted by her grandmother.
Brittany Dobish, a “One Year One Outfit” participant, attended the opening of the “One Year One Outfit” exhibit at Praxis Fiber Workshop in Cleveland wearing a cream-colored wool coat crotcheted by her grandmother. [Amy Eddings / Ideastream Public Media]
“You didn’t think that your clothing could matter so much. You know the fact that I’m even wearing my grandmother’s jacket, I mean, I knew she crotched. But I didn’t know, like, what these projects meant to her when she made them, you know,” said Dobish.
Brittany Dobish’s grandmother stitched her signature, “Christine Cox,” inside a cream-colored woolen coat she crotcheted. [Amy Eddings / Ideastream Public Media]
The organizers of the “One Year One Outfit” challenge and its culminating exhibit hope it gets viewers thinking about where their clothes come from, what they’re made of and what will happen to them when they finally reach the landfill. The exhibit at Praxis Fiber Workshop runs Nov. 5, 2021 through January 14, 2022. January is also when another “One Year One Outfit” challenge begins. Rust Belt Fibershed’s Sarah Pottle said several people have already signed up.