Portrait of an Artist: Justine Dennis
September 16, 2011 1 Comment
During a recent trip to Louisville, KY, some friends and I stopped by an art fair in Speed, IN. The booths presented everything from wooden kitchen utensils, to pottery and paintings. But for me, a collection of colorful and unique hats was the most memorable. As soon as I passed Justine Dennis’s booth, a quirky cherry pie hat made me smile.
When I stepped inside, I was enamored with her fiber necklaces. Before I knew it, my friend and I were trying on everything within arm’s reach.
From feathered fascinators to swirly toppers, some of the creations seemed to be straight from a Dr. Seuss storybook. I must admit, I was surprised at how flattering and wearable these unique creations turned out to be once upon our heads. We couldn’t tear ourselves away, much less choose a favorite.
As we shopped, we asked the artist about her unusual technique. Neither quite felting nor sewing, Justine deconstructs old sweaters for her materials. With the raw yarn she crochets a single cord and then takes to her antique Singer sewing machine, adjusting the tension to sculpt a new fiber creation.
Her technique, which she calls “torsion sewing,” is born from her experience as a potter and production weaver. Using the crocheted cord as a coiled “warp”, the thread of the sewing machine becomes the “weft.” As she explains, “Without restrictions of the shape of the loom, I am able to send the stitchery in all directions back and forth across the yarn. The internal forces with the fibers cause the structure to curve into a bowl shape as I sew, in much the same way as a potter manipulates clay into a bowl. By varying the tensions I can configure the piece as I am creating it.”
The shape it takes is always a surprise; sometimes it becomes a hat, sometimes a necklace. “Only once finished, do some pieces reveal their true identity to me.” Occasionally, she told me, the left over material from a hat will become a necklace. If you’re keeping track, that’s 3 lives out of one strand of yarn. When Justine revealed this repurposing aspect of her process, well, let’s just say I was sold.
In the end, Kiersten chose a stunning black feathered number that is sure to hold its own when she parades it on a Sunday afternoon in Harlem. I brought home a turqouise fiber necklace that I plan to wear with everything from a tee shirt to a cocktail dress.
Images via JustinDennis.com