Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My comments on the topic of "cutting".....

Whilst perusing the blogs I follow this morning, I came across one whose work I truly admire. I don't know it this person follows mine, I doubt it, but I do comment on hers in a complimentary fashion on a frequent basis. This blogger is a fabulous artist, makes things that I can never in my wildest dreams emulate. I have only the greatest respect for her work as an artist and a textile curator.
That said, there seem to be growing concerns about a populace referred to as "cutters". A 'cutter' by definition is one who cuts into antique garments to either sell piecemeal for what would be (probably incorrectly) assumed to make a higher profit...or me, the dollmaker/doll dresser.
Not certain if this person was singling me out, though it surely felt like it.
It is her general opinion that all should boycott someone like myself, who uses pieces of antique garments to repurpose into doll clothes for antique dolls, or doll making.
We are all entitled to our passions and feelings, and I do not want to make any waves or discredit anyone's opinion.
Making a generalization against anyone or anything is a trepidatious thing.
I do wish to publicize my opinion on the subject of 'cutters' and take this opportunity to defend myself and those who are included in this persons request to boycott the work of anyone who uses antique fabrics/garments in the creation of a new item.
Not all of us are disrespectfully taking an 1850 silk gown in displayable condition and cutting it up needlessly for our own profit. I'd say there are very FEW persons who would consider cutting up a truly historical garment, and these are the people who sell the fabric piecemeal. They are not doing anything constructive with the item, and these are the same folks who would take a Peterson's Magazine or Godey's and pull out all the colored fashion plates to sell individually, destroying the historical integrity of the magazine.
It's a crazy world we live in, and some people are out for merely profit...and some are persons of integrity who have worked hard to learn a nearly lost craft.
I am a CUTTER. I proudly admit that.
I am a Living Historian.
I am a craftsperson.
I cut up old nasty petticoats that are bloodstained in many places, are ripped, have torn and shredded lace and hems. These petticoats are from the late 19th/early 20th century. They are not displayable. They are not wearable. The work required to make them such is so costly and time consuming as to be a deterrent, which is why so many of these common articles wind up stashed in a trunk rotting and disintegrating.
I buy lots of clothing from sellers who don't even know what they've got. Just a trunk full of pieces of clothing. These items are most often falling apart at the seams and everywhere else.
Do I plunder such useless textiles for my work? YES. Where else are you going to find real brass hooks and eyes? Jet buttons. Beaded trims. A world of treasure that somebody initially threw away. There's no integrity left as a complete garment, so why waste the precious gems left behind?
There are people like myself, who see a treasure in someone else's 'trash', and make a new treasure out of it.
Being 'green'.
Historically accurate .
Most clothing from any century other than our own spoiled, throwaway 21st was re-used in some fashion. It was re-styled as fashions changed...and the remaining fabric not used, stored away for some purpose in the future (and often forgotton till someone like me comes along). The useable garments were then repurposed into childrens clothing. Then doll clothes. Crazy quilts. Pillows. Then lastly, cut into rags for homekeeping.
To call for an outright boycott of anyone using antique fabrics in their work is unfair.
I have pieces of collars, bodices, skirts and skirt linings, sleeves....they came that way, straight out of the trunk and they WEREN'T cut apart by the seller. There is no way to restore them to their original condition.
Should I throw these items away or let them continue to hide away for another century till there's nothing left of them?
I will continue to use what's left of salvageable parts of late 19th century garments. I am recycling them into a smaller version of their former selves for others to enjoy. And lets face it, there's not too much profit in that...the hours of tedious handsewing are never 'paid' for. I make far less than minimum wage on most projects. It's a labor of love and a desire to keep the past alive that keeps me doing what I do.
There are plenty of people who want their antique french fashion doll to wear a dress that looks like it actually belongs to the doll! A discarded, torn apart bodice will make a dress for this doll.
There are NOT many options for modern fabrics that replicate antique fabrics.
Yes, there are cotton reproductions aplenty. BUT, many textile blends from early times are no longer manufactured nor is it even known how many were made.
I would sincerely appreciate buyers take my statements into consideration that not all craftspersons are "ignorantly" plundering historical garments.
If in doubt, ask questions before committing to an all-out boycott.
Thanks for letting me express my humble opinion.


  1. Hi Robin, I too am a so called cutter, I to felt like she was singling me out. I to take rotted old slips and salvage what I can into a doll dress or slip or what ever.I have never taken a perfectly good garment or even a not so good garment and cut it up for the sake of making a doll dress. Thank you for your write up on this issued, I will be posting one to in the next week myself. YOU GO GIRL, Julie

  2. BRAVO! That was a very "well said" post!

  3. Robin, this was excellently stated.

    I too am a "cutter". I'm an artist, but I am also a collector and seller of vintage clothing and a member of VFG (Vintage Fashion Guild,

    From Day 1, I have always used vintage and antique trims and fabrics on my sculpts. I will not cut up a
    vintage item of clothing if it is in good condition, or even if it is in fair condition and can be repaired. HOWEVER, if a vintage item of clothing is on it's way to the landfill.......let me at it. I know many other artists that follow the same prescription. Reuse/Recycle/Repurpose - as you said.

    This topic has actually been addressed several times on VFG, and the consensus is that there is absolutely no harm in repurposing vintage/antique clothing if it is damaged and also as long as it doesn't have some historical importance (i.e. a Paris designer gown from the early 1900s).

    I have no idea whom the blogger with the original post on this, but please, you are doing nothing wrong and infact doing everything right.

    hmmmm, I may actually post something on my blog about this.

  4. Robin, I found the orignal blog post on this and left a comment. She left me a very nice response with the suggestion that artists just add a simple statement that no vintage/antique fabrics were damaged, etc....

    I think this is a good idea, as I know myself when I have seen repurposed vintage I always wonder, did the artist cut up a perfectly good 30s (or whatever) gown?. I think it would take the confusion out of a buyer's mind.

  5. Brava, Robin!
    Well-stated. I too am a 'cutter', but I would never dream of cutting into an intact displayable/wearable garment. Most of my treasure comes my way as small scraps and pieces, though I do have some entire garments that I treasure.
    My problem is locating antique fabrics in the first place.

  6. Amen!!Very well stated. Not every "vintage" garment is usable and to make something new and beautiful from such remnants is commendable.

  7. Thanks so much for all your input on this...I really appreciate it! If you look on the left side of the page, you'll see a china doll in a green dress.

    I made this dress from findings at an estate sale. The main body of the dress was from silk fabric probably c.1945, cut out to make what I assume was to be a cocktail dress but was never constructed. I found a pillow covering sewn out of the same fabric! The trims are from a different silk and velvet sofa pillow. The pillow in awful shape, not all the fabric okay...but I removed the fabric, and salvaged what I could from it and it was just enough to make a wonderful French Fashion Doll dress!

  8. I don't understand this. Of course most people would not dream of cutting up a historical finished piece in good condition but when it is loose fabric or a piece that is too damaged for any other use why not repurpose it? In your dolls and others this allows fabrics that would have been thrown away to be preserved and displayed for many more generations.

  9. Keep going girl, your fabrics and embellishments that result in your clothing is a master art piece. I have an old vintage dress with rhinestone buttons (1940). It has a whole in the back of the dress. No one will want to wear the dress-so to me recycling the fabric and buttons is the way to go. Keep going girl!

  10. This discussion is a good one to have, because there may be people out there cutting up perfectly good garments. I have a dress that looks perfect from the front, has been cut up the back by someone. I suspect it was a child who wanted to easily dress up in grandma's old dress from the turn of the century. I bought it with the intention of using the dress and the fabric for my dolls. Now I have guilt. ;-)

  11. Hi Robin~
    It would have been nice to you to leave a comment on my blog with your feelings~ I would have replied that you indeed read my post on cuttin I clearly state my defination of cutter~ a person whom which cuts GOOD INTACT CLOTHING...not at all those of us all who scour and collect precious bits of olde. I have seen first hand, garments on eBay as garments~ pre 1900 pieces of clothing, only to have them offered to me cut up into squares for the fabric. It was after this that I decided that """I""" would add a statement to my dollys, that I do not cut CLOTHING. I never said it is a must for everyone to do....tho I think it a very good idea by Sue. There is nothing more wonderful than making something beautiful from odd bits that would otherwise be unappreciated
    kindest, rachael

  12. The person is a friend, and she did not mean you. Not to worry. Your blog is gorgeous!!!

    Christine ~ Zwee!!!!!!!

  13. This is my first time to view your blog. Great discussion! Just for your information Sommerset has a call out to artist TO DO ARTWORK WITH REPERPOSED CLOTHING~~~ we'er artist, and most artist do know what would be proper in regaurd to the value of an object~~~but~~~I'd also say some people who are artist, just don't know. And those of us that do know the differance would never destroy anything of historical value. You're right, if people are concerned, they should ask the right questions. I'm a multi-media artist, I use everything. So I'd say check it out befor you tare it up. And I love your work! BEAUTIFUL~~~~~ Great blog~~ Deborah

  14. Hello, I love your dolly dress creations. do you have a store site? I am shocked that someone would ask to boycott others who re-use old clothing. If anything your are giving the clothing a new purpose and in essence you are recycling- which is the green thing to do. It is an art form to take old items and re-create with them. Anyway, your blog is lovely. Don't let others discourage you!

  15. This is my first time reading your blog. As someone who works for a museum and who views herself as a conservator first and an artist second, I want to lend my support to what you do with old textiles. I divide historical textiles into three categories: 1) those that are display worthy 2) those that are research worthy and 3) those that, either because of their condition or because they are so well represented in museums, can be worn or repurposed.

    I do preserve many old textiles that are too worn and soiled to be displayed because they are still useful for research, but there are many old textiles that are nothing but rags unless the salvageable bits are re-used. I truly believe that we honour historical textiles when we re-use them, and that we are carrying on a great historical tradition of remaking garments.

    And finally, I love your work. It is just gorgeous!

  16. I am behind you 100% my friend..Very well said!
    You are more than a awesome doll maker/Artist You also do what I feel so deeply in my heart
    that is
    To keep alive/continue our heritage and history through thread and cloth, that the Mothers and Sisters of so many years ago that have been given to us.