Monday, 28 December 2015

Interview with Mathew Gnagy: Adjunct Instructor at the New School, Wardrobe for NBC, Owner of the Raleigh Collection and Author of the Modern Maker series of books.

This was the second interview I completed for my Humanities class, subject being knowledge production.  You can tune into Mathew's podcasts from time to time and watch him working in his studio.

1. Can you describe your working space? Be as detailed as you like.

My workspace is small and contained.  I used kitchen counters and cabinets that I purchased at Home Depot to build my work table and storage.  It's roughly 12 sq ft.

2. What are the practices of your daily life?

I wake somewhere between 6 and 7am and have morning coffee and start my day by combing through my files, or googling things that are related to my research, or at least related to whatever I woke up thinking about that morning.

3. What do you 'do'?

The short answer is that I "make clothes".  The long answer is that I study early modern tailoring and garment industry to better understand the context of dress from the standpoint of regular everyday people, living and working day to day rather than studying the politics and aristocracy.  I'm interested in the common folk.

4. What is the knowledge produced?

This is an interesting question and one which I was discussing with one of my tailoring students last night.  On the surface, it appears as though the knowledge I produce is about the cut and construction of early modern clothing.  The deeper aspects, however, seem to be more about resurrecting an older way of thinking about process and creation.  Almost like looking at the negative space of the evidence that we have about the period and its clothing.  And by negative space, I mean trying to decipher the steps in the process which are not visible in the end product except by what they leave behind in terms of fit, shape and accuracy.  A prime example is the basting process in tailored goods.  It is temporary and it is removed before the garment is passed to the client.  You can't see it directly, but you can see it in the way the clothing fits and moves.

In today's world, we have a mindset of "one tool, one job, one way".  The longer I study the work of these old master tailors, the more evidence I find of a much deeper and holistic mode of thinking.  Each step in the process has multiple results.  For example, using specific proportions taken from the client's own body, one not only makes the pattern, but the seam allowances are included.  It may not seem like much, but in our modern work, the allowances are added in a separate step.  Similarly, the aspects of sculpting and manipulation of the plane of fabric are natural results of the method by which the pattern is taken...however in the modern world, the sculpting has either been eliminated altogether (because the pattern makers don't construct and therefore don't understand or know about it), or is must be painstakingly calculated into the numbers used to draft a pattern.  The easy way of explaining it is that the processes were created to SERVE THE ART rather than using a standard system and forcing the art to bend to the will of the immutable nature of modern process thinking.

5. How does [your work] take shape in material form?

The simple answer is that it results in historical clothing.  The complicated answer is that those clothes have an essence, a feel and a look that is easily identifiable as more authentic because of the intense observation of historic processes.

6. Are there problems with your space?

I don't have a lot of problems with my space except that it is a little small.  However, on the positive side, I find that the smallness of the space leads me to be more responsible when stocking it, or when planning the steps of the project.

7. How does this effect your work/knowledge production?

It doesn't have a large effect on my work, though when I look at historic depictions of tailor shops, they do seem quite small, so in that respect, I'm putting myself in the same environmental situation as the tailors of the past.  It definitely leads me to think more thoroughly about the process and helps me to understand which steps of the process should be batched together and where they should take place in the shop.

8. What lead you to do the work that you do?

It's a long story, but I began to learn craft techniques such as knitting, crochet and hand-sewing when I was very young.  I was 6 when I first laid my hands on a crochet hook and began to learn how to use it.  Knitting followed shortly after and was superseded by weaving, tatting, macramé, sewing and sculpture.  By the time I was 10 years old, I had already knit about 5 sweaters, I had purchased or built three different types of weaving looms and had the beginnings of a significant library of craft books and knowledge.  In High School, I was asked to make costumes for several students in one of my literature classes which focused on British literature and Shakespearean theatre.  It was my first real foray into creating items for other people.  I fell deeply in love with the process of research to understand what was correct to make and what was not.  It was that experience, more than any other, that started me on the path that has led me to my current work.

Sorry this has taken so long to be published.  Thank you Mathew for taking the time to chat with me about what you do.  You are inspiring!

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