Talking to Tractorgirl: interview with Julie Gibbons

Several months ago I befriended the lovely Julie from Tractorgirl - which is the coolest webname ever outside of Granny Corner. After browsing her site and finding page after page of makers & their encouraging, inspirational stories along with a wealth of advice on visual marketing & improving your own artistic practice, I was not only impressed but really felt the good will she shares with such exuberance! Julie is a prolific creative practioner herself and a supporter of makers everywhere!

 

I had only recently started artworkerprojects when I got in touch with The Tractorgirl, just to say 'hi, look, I've made a website, you seem cool and friendly' and the super friendly, enthusiatic reply straight back was a generous offer to feature me here on her page "The Crafted Object"! I felt so validated and legitimate! Julie's interest and support at the beginning of my weblife was really important and empowering and will never to be forgotten because she said 'hi, yes!' and it may be simple, that one 'yes', but it was powerful. And its only taken me oh, maybe a year, maybe two, to respond in kind?  It's taken me a while to not only find my voice here online but also to settle on an angle that felt right for me, something that genuinely intrigued me beyond a token feature.

I wanted to try for something earth shattering, preferably, but having spent several months trying for earth shattering I knew I'd never get there but as it happened, after I interviewed Nita-Jane here, I found I wanted to ask other creative women professionals - who's interest in fashion sits very well with their everyday creativity - what do they really think about the threads between sewing, fashion & art? I wondered about clothes, nice ones, about making them and making art/craft about wearing clothes, curating our cupboards and what we think about these important things. (Yes, I think nice clothes are important and that this is big part of my life, and that that's ok)

Louise Bourgeois by Annie Leibovitz. "Fashion always played a dominant role in the life of the celebrated sculptor, particularly during the last decade of her life, when she created a series of fabric “drawings” assembled from her personal collections of sheets, towels, discarded clothes and similar material. Portraits of Bourgeois clearly demonstrate that she knew a thing or two about textiles and that she cherished them: velvet, thick cotton and linen constantly re-appeared in her bold, versatile wardrobe." Source 

Louise Bourgeois by Annie Leibovitz. "Fashion always played a dominant role in the life of the celebrated sculptor, particularly during the last decade of her life, when she created a series of fabric “drawings” assembled from her personal collections of sheets, towels, discarded clothes and similar material. Portraits of Bourgeois clearly demonstrate that she knew a thing or two about textiles and that she cherished them: velvet, thick cotton and linen constantly re-appeared in her bold, versatile wardrobe." Source 

Ok so Louise Bourgeois and her staggering genius aside, I wanted to know about women like me for whom fashion (and making their own fashion clothing) is an activity which can inform our central practice, be it fine art, surface design, jewelry or architecture. About women who are determined, imaginative and enthusiastic about their commitment to conducting a creative life while wearing cool clothes. So I put together some questions for Julie, similar to those I asked Nita-Jane (fashion/ pattern designer) and though I know I tend towards wordiness of unfeasible lengths and asked waaaay too much for one sitting, she responded with such thougtful and insightful views it gave me a renewed appreciation of just how clever we are. Women like us who wear clothes like we care about them in a deliberate way and what our style means to us. 

Tractorgirl makes and Sarah from Pie-in-the-sky and their lovely hand made clothes

Tractorgirl makes and Sarah from Pie-in-the-sky and their lovely hand made clothes

So...broadly, the following questions relate to fashion and home sewing; how they inform one's aesthetic and one's artistic practice, how this might be demonstrated by the clothes one wears and admires; one's sartorial choices/decisions and what part clothes and fashion play in the life of an Australian ‘creative’…  

Hey there Julie! 

Hi there Rosie! 

First thing you need to know: Julie lives in a solar-powered weatherboard cottage in rural Australia. Its just so very beautiful there!

First thing you need to know: Julie lives in a solar-powered weatherboard cottage in rural Australia. Its just so very beautiful there!

So tell me first, what are you views on the relationship/s between fashion & art & design?  

At the very edges of all creativity, there is a kind of singleness of purpose or energy; it's like there's only one holy grail that we all strive for – a core, if you like. It all just comes out in different forms. So, I think those words can be all just aspects of the same thing. 
However, when you break it down into generalisations about what is commonly referred to as “art”, “design” or “fashion”, it's really about what aspects of each pursuit are emphasised. For me, “art” is about higher ways of expressing ideas, “design” is about engineering the elements at your disposable to best serve their purpose and express those ideas; “craft” keeps the materials you use front and centre in the idea that you're trying to express. “Fashion” implies an element of popularity as well. Each of these words can be appropriate for a single item – for instance, a beautiful piece by Issey Miyake or Vivienne Westwood can easily be described by all those words.

Julie is a maker. "Once upon a time I used to be a jeweller and silversmith. The pieces in this collection were made as an extension of some of the techniques I learnt when I was studying for my PhD Fine Arts."

Julie is a maker. "Once upon a time I used to be a jeweller and silversmith. The pieces in this collection were made as an extension of some of the techniques I learnt when I was studying for my PhD Fine Arts."

From when & where did your appreciation of fashion & design begin, what person or culture sparked & nurtured your style, from the beginning? 
I've always loved pattern and colour. My mum was a fabulous seamstress and worked as a dressmaker for most of my childhood; my grandfather was a dress pattern designer for the home sewing market, and my grandmother was the manager of a clothing factory – so I guess I clothing seemed a natural thing to be interested in, and I've always appreciated good design and good craftsmanship. I think going to art school was the catalyst for a deeper understanding of all things art, design and craft. I certainly keep my eyes open now as to what's happening in contemporary fields of art/craft/design and love delving into art and design history for all it has to offer.

Holiday reading. This image and all the following are from Julie's Instagram.

Holiday reading. This image and all the following are from Julie's Instagram.

How would you describe your style now? 
Still mucho colour and pattern! I love texture too – perhaps that appreciation has grown, the more I've been involved in craft and the understanding of materials. 

I love the comment “look great whether you’re a country modernist or an urban bohemian” on your shop! Can you expand on that, does this reflect your own style?  
Haha! It's always about being eclectic. No particular rules; or perhaps more correctly, understanding the rules really well, mixing them up and playing around with them. And yes, that's definitely about me too.

You have said “My family history is littered with other artists, makers, and designers. My mum was a fabulous seamstress, and when I was little, she taught me to knit, crochet, and sew.” Do you have a group of women friends that you physically share sewing stories & projects with? (Physically as opposed to virtually, online) 
I do have a few special friends that I love talking to about making things, but it is a bit limited here in rural Australia. Sure, I know quite a few makers, and I also know quite a few artists; throw in a few issues of taste, and the area on the Venn diagram where those sectors meet is relatively small. And I live on a farm, so popping over for a cup of tea and a stitch has to be a bit more pre-meditated. I'm very thankful for the online community.

"The view from the office" What??!

"The view from the office" What??!

How and when do you shop for clothes? 
Most of the time, I buy very un-fancy jeans and t-shirts; it's rare that I shop for something special. However in recent years, I've bought a few handmade things (favourite thing is still probably a tunic from Secret Lentil). Other than that, I tend to make simple tops and skirts for myself, in a variety of fabrics so I can play games with pattern on pattern....lots of clashy patterns.

What/when was your most recent really dressed up occasion (eg black tie type affair), what did you wear? 
A wedding; and I wore a beautiful op-shop find – fabulous guipure lace top in deep burgundy, with a sunray pleated skirt.

What do you think has been the hardest garment you’ve ever made?  
Probably just trying to get anything to fit me – I've got a big bust and big hips, and trying to get something to fit that doesn't end up looking like a sack is a challenge.

At what proportion of the whole would you put your self-made garments? Would you make, say, 50% of your wardrobe? More/less? 
Probably about a third – but there's also several “business-y” office-type outfits in there, that I'll never wear again and I really should get rid of!

What would you like wear to a black tie affair in your dreams?! What outfit, by whom, from where, fantasy details please! 
Something by Vivienne Westwood (oh, she's such a hero!). And some Trippen shoes. OK, they're probably not “black tie”, but I wear what I like.

Vivienne Westwood by Time Walker

Vivienne Westwood by Time Walker

Tell us about something in your cupboard that you keep but never wear. What is it, why don’t you wear it, and why do you keep it? 
I've got several things. I keep some things out of sentimentality, like an oversized army shirt that my first love gave me, that he'd decorated with a union jack and gingham. A lot of love when into making it, and so I've kept it for that. Other pieces I keep because even though I don't fit into them any more, they're still great pieces of clothing and I can't bear to part with them. Perhaps my daughter might like to wear these curious and beautiful clothes one day when she's older.

Where do you see the renaissance of home sewing leading? For me, I see the vintage movement perhaps taking less of the spotlight and home-makers becoming more & more focussed on individual specialties such as footwear (diy shoes!) and primary producing their own materials, (to a greater or lesser degree, such as spinning, weaving, dying/printing/embellishing/decorating) along with selfdrafting garment designs. Newer technologies such as 3D printing and laser cutting are also becoming more commonly accessible & incorporated into domestic creativity just as re/upcycled materials are. What possible avenues of self-directed fashion/creativity do you forsee & how might this play out in real life? Where do we go with this? 
Gosh, that's an enormous question! And I think there are always going to be cycles of DIY/craft vs. mass manufacture – it's a fashion cycle as much as anything else in fashion (which happens about every 20 years or so, as my grandfather used to tell me!). However, as much as these newer technologies become increasingly 'available', I still think that (a) there will be a very large proportion of the population who will not be bothered and just want to go and buy stuff from the shop; and (b) there's going to be a plethora of ugly stuff (such as a lot of 3D printing that's going to have to be melted down). Good tools, whatever they are, still need vision and expertise to get a good result.

Vivienne Westwood, doin it her way

Vivienne Westwood, doin it her way

Working with and inspiring other creative people and businesses, have you ever considered how one’s dress informs or influences how we (creative folk) do business?  If so, how might it? 
Only in the sense that if you can manage to project your 'style', that then becomes part of your brand (especially in the creative industries)  -  and customers respond to personality perhaps more than the actual goods offered. 

What fashion advice, if any, do you think creative professionals should heed? Does it devalue a woman intellectually to be actively interested in fashion?  
Of course if you're a designer and that's your job then definitely not. For everybody else however, I think you've always got to be able to present yourself well if you wish to be taken seriously, so you need to be interested enough that you know what suits you; but you don't have to be obsessive about it. 

Last comments? What did you think of the questions, which interested you the most? 
Phew! There were a lot. I've skipped over several, as I really don't see myself as actively pursuing 'fashion' – I just like what I like. It's more to do with quality and comfort than anything else, but of course I always love colour and pattern and inventiveness in the way something is cut and shaped. 
And I realised I probably definitely need to clean out my wardrobe. ;)

THANK YOU JULIE! You so rock. And I do like your work. And where you live is truly awesome. And your response to my many, many questions is - as always - generous, thought provoking and well grounded; this is a fascinating way to get to know someone better! My very, very best wishes to you. xxx 

Now, for anyone reading this, would you be interested in sharing your views as per above? I’m not looking for a new ‘thing’ for my blog although I have two other women in mind to whom I’d like to pose some questions, but there are some themes that resonate with me personally which in turn fuels my own thoughts around sewing, fashion & women artists and I'd love to know your take on these critical issues. Please do let me know via comment or contact me with any musings, I would love to hear from you!

I would disclose that in writing this I’ve looked at and lifted ideas from Seamstress Erin and the amazing Women In Clothes (there are a couple directly lifted from that excellent endeavour, if you haven’t done already, have a look it’s an amazing survey) so this isn’t a new and revolutionary in depth analysis, just me and my inquiring mind.