Abigail Stewart

September 3, 2012 § 1 Comment

We’ve talked about Abigail Stewart before… This talented designer uses our mohair in a lot of her work and we feel like it’s a match made in heaven! Abby and her mother, Deb, were kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions for us about themselves and NYC’s upcoming Fashion Week on September 12, 2012.

Be Sweet (BS): Where do you find inspiration?

Deb Stewart (DS): My inspiration comes largely from the colors of life, which I have experienced in the best sense.  I pave the thought process of what my mind’s eye sees, and my mom follows up with the textures and patterns.

Abby Stewart (AS): My inspiration mostly comes from stories – sci fi novels, gorgeous films, glam rock concept albums. I get interested in lush visual worlds that stay with me long after I’m finished reading, watching, or listening; then I communicate them into my design work. I imagine the garments are part of an atmosphere.

BS: Tell us a little bit about your collection for Fashion Week.

AS: Our SS2013 collection is inspired by Susanna Clarke’s 2004 novel Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. The clothes themselves are a magician’s garden – literally, the garden elements in a magical landscape: flowers, vines, the sky, koi fish. My mom created the topiary hedges for me. Topiaries are an integral part of manicured English gardening and I felt strongly that we get just the right green. My mom layered two  different greens in featherweight mohair and wove it just loosely enough that, from a distance, the warp and weft glow together like a variegated shade.

BS: How do you like Be Sweet Mohair?

DS: I found Be Sweet inadvertently while looking for mohair for blankets as wedding gifts.  I fell in love with Nadine’s philosophy and partnership with South African women.  The yarns are a quality unsurpassed, and I love that they are made by these women.

BS: What advice can you give aspiring knitwear designers?

AS: Only choose fibers that scream out to be touched and stared at, dyes and finishes that stir feelings, memory, or imagination. Being passionate about the fiber, and excited to see the end result, is the most important part of a knitter or weaver’s work – because it’s what powers us through the problems and the do-overs.

BS: How long have you been knitting and what is your favorite thing to knit?

DS: I have been weaving since I was in college.  I took a 3 month leave during a semester break and went to British Columbia to live on a commune.  Amongst the craziness of that lifestyle, I experienced a lifetime of wondrous friendships and very colorful illusions.  One day, while walking from our farm up in the mountains into town, I saw a tiny loom in the window of a children’s toy shop.  I dusted it off, and bought it, and brought it back up the mountain.  I figured out how to weave a simple 2 harness weave with yarn I found in the same store.  I made little squares of woven material and sewed it together into a blanket.  I was hooked!  I came back to the states to Boston, where I was in school, and found a store in cambridge that had a 4 harness table weaving loom.  I bought that and began to weave scarves- lucky for me this was the advent of the arts and crafts era, so I found a more compatible loom- a floor loom 36 inches wide.  It was in someone’s attic in Gloucester, MA.  They had no idea what to do with it, and offered it to me.  I figured out how to use it, brought it into my apartment in Brookline and set it up, never having seen one or without a picture of one to copy! I figured it out, and began weaving in my little attic room.  Unfortunately, my excitement got the better of me as I proceeded to buy linseed oil for my little contraption of a loom.  I left the linseed oil rag on top of a radiator and spent the night at my boyfriend’s apt.  When I returned in the morning, the half of the house I lived in was burned to a crisp.  The rag had spontaneously combusted.  The stairs were somewhat in tact, so I went upstairs to take whatever was still there, and of course the loom had been burned, but not the weaving books I had just bought! I still have them with charred edges!

SO, I bought another loom -this one a production style 60 inch wide loom from the Mannings in PA.  They were one of the first companies to sell handweaving supplies.  I finally had pictures and directions, and began a small cottage industry of weaving.  I graduated college, and moved to the Berkshires and opened a small yarn shop called Sirius design.  I drove my shawls and scarves to NYC, and made appointments with 5th avenue stores.  Vogue Magazine photographed my wares, and I was off and running for 3 years.

I went back to grad school for speech therapy and special education, and made weaving my avocation rather than my vocation.

I have always vacillated between using weaving as my vocation.  My wares were shown in a store on Rodeo Drive in CA, and I had a shop in Maine for a short stint, but came back to Boston and returned to teaching.  I have had an AVL loom from CA – a very complicated loom which is 16 harnesses and 4.5 feet wide.  It is my jungle gym of a loom in the living room aside my cello.  It is here that I now have come full circle and weave fabric for my daughter, who has become a successful fabric designer and artist in her own right.

BS: Do you find it easier to design for Fall or Spring?

AS: For autumn, we can experiment in riskier ways with texture, chunkiness, finishes, warmth, weight – a lot of fun for my mom (except for when she has to hand-brush 25 yards of damp mohair boucle in one weekend). On the other hand, for spring, I get the challenge of using fibers in avant-garde ways to complement the lighter marketable silks I like. Usually the woven work we do in spring is for the editorial pieces, which is freeing and fun.

BS: What’s your favorite color palette to work with?

AS: Right now, I’m really into pairing neons with pastels and dark, rich shades. I’m always looking for ways to fuse an unexpected element, like the fluorescents, or metal hardware, with sophisticated materials like the ones my mom and I work on together.

BS: Which designers inspire you?

AS: For silhouette, I take inspiration from mid-20th century Balenciaga, Galliano-era Dior, and Rei Kawakubo, because they all embraced exaggerated, hyper-feminine shapes. Aesthetically, my personal heroes range from Olivier Theyskens to Thierry Mugler, Haider Ackermann, and Colleen Atwood, who does the designing for Tim Burton’s films.

BS: How is it working with your mom?

AS: I could go on about working with my mom all day. It’s an incredible experience – after all, she taught me how to make and build things, and my earliest memories are of popping bubble wrap from her yarn shipments. When I went to Parsons, I felt like I was studying design for the both of us; I learned architecture for her materials. My favorite part of our collaborations is learning from her technical mastery, watching her work out the necessary balance/tension/numbers for my ephemeral ideas. When I get overwhelmed, she has the most intimate understanding of my creative process. She reminds me how to stay focused, just as she did when I was little.

BS: What is your favorite sweet treat?

AS: Donuts, donuts. Donuts.

DS: I cannot live without milk chocolate or white chocolate.

Thanks Abby and Deb! Be Sweet wishes you well at Fashion Week!


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