Because the industrial zig-zag sewing machine I draw with has only one stitch, a mechanized version of an artist’s scribble, which can scumble or lay in solid color or thin into a line; because I have drawn all my life in a great variety of media, and now that I’m drawing with a sewing machine, there’s no reason to call it anything else; and because drawing/sewing is the primary transformative agent that over days and weeks turns scraps of patterned fabric into works of art.
I still have the power grinders I used when I was
a sculptor, for such materials as steel, cast bronze,
brass, aluminum, epoxy and polyester resin and
fiberglass. From the top, my 7” side-grinder, a real
beast, my 25,000 RPM miniature die grinder, a
screamer but great for details, and my sweet little
4 1/2” side-grinder, a wonderfully versatile
I hated sewing. In Seventh Grade Home Economics, each
of us girls had to make a skirt. I selected the fabric, a
turquoise paisley in polished cotton, but refused to sew
a skirt from it. After my mother made the skirt for me so
that I wouldn’t flunk the class, I refused to wear it. I had
only a vague idea of how to use a sewing machine when
I started to make sewn drawings. But I was trained and
worked for many years as a sculptor, using all kinds of
hand and power tools. An industrial sewing machine is
just another power tool, one that I draw with. I still have
absolutely no interest in making curtains or clothing.
Process generates the imagery. I just have to show up
and do the work. I start by moving around scraps of
patterned fabric and paying close attention to what is
happening under my hands. When something interesting
comes together, I lay it on another printed fabric and
sew into it. I keep sewing, making changes, picking out
stitches, pulling off pieces of fabric and sewing down new
scraps, sometimes even cutting the whole thing apart and
reconstructing it, all in the service of the process, groping
toward something I’ve never seen before.
I shop in discount fabric stores all over Manhattan,
Queens, and Brooklyn, seldom buying more than a yard
at a time or paying much more than $10 a yard, usually
without having any idea of what I’m going to do with it.
Second-hand clothing stores sometimes have very nice
things—there is more than enough fabric in a printed
blouse for my purposes. Whenever I travel to another
city, I try to visit fabric stores and vintage clothing shops,
where I sometimes find wonderful things. After my sewn
drawings were first shown, people started giving me pieces
of fabric and trim. Mickey Kreuger of Windham Fabrics
invited me to his warehouse in Jersey City to choose
anything I wanted.
It is a greater challenge to find thread. No matter how many
spools and cones of thread I already have, I am always
trying to match a particular color in a fabric that is part of
a new drawing. I buy whatever I can find, industrial cones,
Coats & Clark, Metrosene, and Gutterman spools, offbrands
and surplus—polyester, poly-cotton, cotton, and silk.
Weeks or months, depending on size and complexity. For
every hour I spend sewing, I spend another two hours
drawing threads back, one by one, tying them off to the
bobbin threads, and trimming the excess. For example, it
takes about fifteen hours to do five hours of sewing. And
since I never know what the finished drawing is going to
look like until very late in the process, I invariably spend
a lot of time revising, undoing, re-doing, and repairing
collateral damage. Fortunately, sewing/drawing is the most
interesting and compelling thing I have ever done, and no
amount of trouble is too much.
Click on News to learn of current and future shows
featuring my sewn drawings or contact China at
to arrange a visit.