House Visit - Tristan Lane Collinsworth

I spent a recent rainy morning with Tristan Lane Collinsworth in her cozy victorian apartment.  Tristan is studying history and has a penchant for collecting vintage clothing and clogs.  She also makes the coolest embroideries.  We spent much of the morning going through her closet to find some of her favorite pieces.  Every piece had a great story behind it.  Her great aunt was married to a member of Steppenwolf who styled and sewed pieces for them. She has given Tristan some really great clothes from that time, including a cobra skin jacket.   

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Questions with Tristan;

When did you start embroidering?  I began embroidering at the age of 9 when my great-aunt (a powerhouse talented artist of many mediums) taught me. That very first project I made was a cross-stitched ladybug on a handkerchief, very sloppy and loose but she treasured it. I lost touch with embroidery for years until two summers ago--my heart was broken and I was lost in need of something to keep my hands busy and my feet on the ground. I already had sewing supplies at my parents’ house, leftovers from childhood craft projects as well as the near-constant mending of my vintage clothing so my exploration of embroidery happened very naturally. What had once been frustrating as a child seemed intuitive in those first few months, almost pre-programmed in my hands and I couldn’t stop myself from doodling. 

What elements do you find most fulfilling about it? And most frustrating?  When I’m embroidering my brain relaxes, my body loosens up and I decompress from all the other stress I might be experiencing. Embroidery is such an ancient, traditionally female practice and there’s something so comforting and purposeful about putting a needle and thread through fabric like millions of women before me. I draw a lot of inspiration from the artistic women in my family who preceded me with sewing and embroidery: my great-great grandma Frances, great-grandma Mary, and great-aunt Sharon. I like to think our work is connected by common threads; that I am continuing their legacies in some small way.

Rarely do I find myself frustrated by my work. At first it irked me how long it took to execute some of my more elaborate plans, since I can be really impatient sometimes. But gradually embroidering has made me more patient and more forgiving of myself.

As someone who collects a lot of vintage clothing, what do you look for in pieces?  I’ve been fascinated by fabric for as long as I can remember.  I’m really attracted to unusual textures, like nubby woven wools but I’m absolutely in love with rayon, gabardine, linen and cotton which are all very smooth, wearable fabrics. When I’m shopping for myself I’m drawn to clean, classic lines found in silhouettes from the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s although recently I’ve startedto throw some ‘60s and ‘70s into my closet. In the past I would buy any random vintage dress I found at a goodwill and I’d plan to alter it or make something new but there’s not enough time in the world for all the projects I’ve taken on so now I look for items in good condition, although if something has an amazing print or fabric texture I have no problem patching up a small hole or replacing missing buttons. I’m a stickler for metal zippers on everything (modern zippers have nylon teeth) and am currently obsessed with abstract prints from the 1940s and the color green.

If you could be your age now in another decade, which one would you choose?  And why?  There have been times in my life where I wished I was born in another decade or century just for aesthetic purposes but the world we live in is where I was meant to be. The past affords us the perspective of history and while the modern world is far from perfect, I would prefer to live in it because at no other time in history have women been free to do as much as they can now. If time travel were possible I’d take a short trip to another time period to see whatit was like on a quiet afternoon but I’d want to return to the present.

What projects do you have on the horizon?  I’m currently working on a series of larger, abstract experiments in texture using a method called crewel work. I’m also in the process of building frames for my pieces with the guidance of my grandfather who is teaching me how to mill reclaimed redwood. 

While I love to use handwork as a solitary self-care practice it’s also a great way to interact with other people so I’m trying to plan a small handful of workshops for the near future and create a mending/ quilting circle with friends where we can make magic as a collective.