Monday, September 26, 2011

My new best friend

You remember how I went just gaga  over the ensemble of NPJ bride Autumn B. Well, that sweet lovely girl happily hooked me up with her dress designer, Wesleann Polkowski! My darlings, I have found a kindred spirit, fellow Joss Whedon fan, and muse all wrapped up in a quirky little package with a sass-pot bow!

Parts of the following interview were edited for length, clarity, and because Wesleann asked that I not let her "come off as bat-shit crazy. "

Hi, my name is Wesleann and I like to sew things.

Read more about Wes after the jump.

You live in Austin, which is less than two hours from my home town!  That's awesome and all, but how are you guys doing after all the fires?
For starters, yes, we are fine here in Austin.  The fires were close - we could see the smoke for days and smell it at certain times.  It played hell with allergies, and tugged on heartstrings. The photos of the rescued animals with burns about did me in (I'm a total crazy cat person.) But tragedy always inspires a great sense of community - there have been benefits and drives and donations abounding here, so it's reassuring to see how much people will support each other. 

Well that's a relief, but what led you to Austin in the first place?
What led me to UT Austin was mostly family related.  We had just moved from Hawaii, and my parents had settled near Austin with my younger sister, and much younger brother.  I chose UT as a college to be near my siblings.  My sister and I were, and remain, very close friends, and I did not want to miss out on seeing my brother grow up and being involved in his life, despite this meaning I would have to stay in Texas, which seemed like hell compared to the paradise I had just come from.  Little did I know that I would fall so in love with Austin I would stay there voluntarily FOREVER!!!

And sewing? Where did that begin?
What led me to sewing was my mom.  She sewed my entire life: every season we got new clothes and dresses and swimsuits and costumes. She was very crafty, and we were always doing projects at home.  So I learned a lot from my mom.

However, when I initially joined the theatre department at UT, it was to study acting. I became disenchanted with a system that allows you to get a degree in acting even if you've never acted in anything before.  (Seriously?!)  So I was doing that typical college wandering thing, feeling lost and being crushed by the pressure of "I must decide right now what to do with the rest of my life" panic. I couldn't leave the theatre department before I declared a new major, so I was forced to take at least one theatre credit during this wandering semester. That class was an intro to set design, lighting design, and costume design.

Now, this will totally sound like bragging, but based on the work I did in the costume segment of that class, after the instructor found out I could sew, I was totally courted by the costume world.  They wanted me, bad.  And it sounded completely up my alley, so I decided to do Costuming (wow, I can still see my dad rolling his eyes at that one).

College was great, and I did learn tons of stuff there - draping, and creating my own patterns, and lots of technical skills.  College was also very hard, and extremely taxing.  I worked two jobs, and slept under a table in the sewing lab more times than I'm proud to admit.  I worked my ass off, and was rewarded by being one of the few undergraduate students to ever be given my very own show to design and build in my senior year.  (Wesleann earned her degree in Costume Design and Construction)

After college I worked for some local theatre companies for a few years, and did some very independent films. Most of this was a continuation of the college lifestyle of working my ass off for little or no money! I worked at a photo studio and an adult store to have a steady supply of money to pay rent and eat sometimes! But you can only dodge student loan payments for so long, so I had to stop spending all of my time working on a 3 month project for $250 (local theatre is poor, y'all) and get a real job!

Why Ion Art?
A friend of mine was working at Ion Art and I had done some moonlighting for her when they had sewing projects pop up.  When a full time position in admin became available, I had a bit of an advantage, being familiar with the company already, and having skills they knew would come in handy on certain projects. So I got the job, and am now running two departments. I still manage to utilize my degree by sewing a wide range of custom-fabricated products such as curtains, upholstery, lamp shades, etc. I love the company and the people and the work we do!

It's so rare to find the "real job" that allows you to be an artist, let alone encourages it's employees to be artists!  

What famous costume do you wish you'd designed?
I have a deep passion for historical costumes and replicas, and keep telling myself that one of these days, I'll make myself a historically accurate replica of something extravagant and elaborate. However, whenever I try to start those projects, they ultimately transform into something else.  Like the Elizabethan dress that became a creepy Circus-themed masquerade ball outfit, or the Victorian dress that turned into a Steampunk concoction!

I am the first to point out historical inaccuracies in movies, but for the life of me can't seem to complete an accurate costume myself without being "inspired" to turn it into something else.

Oh, this vintage lace dress? Let's distress it and cover it in blood!  Hooray!

In a perfect world, I'd have a sweatshop full of minions, who would build outfits for me, so I would be free to design anything I wanted. Of course, in this perfect world, I also have no budgetary constraints, a pet dragon, and Firefly would still be on TV.  

What have you designed that should be famous any day now?
One of my favorite projects has been a line of sci-fi themed swimsuits, just for me and a few friends. As any curvy gal knows, swimsuits are the worst so why not be Batman, or Wonder Woman, or a Dalek, and have some fun with it?

Spandex is an amazeballs miracle fabric that does so much more than just show off your unflattering bits.

I got into a pattern of making swimsuits every year for a group of friends, and to this day spandex remains one of my favorite materials to work with. I hope someday to make a spandex wedding dress for someone! I've made a random assortment of items for years, mostly for friends, in exchange for a bottle of wine and some company. I've done lingerie, burlesque, period costumes...

The wedding dresses started when my best friend asked me to make her a purple vinyl wedding dress that was part fetish and part Gone with the Wind. I've done a handful of wedding dresses in the past 2 years, but also turned down quite a few offers.

I have this personal rule: I won't do custom orders for people I don't get a good vibe from.

Luckily, I don't do this for a living, so I don't have to put up with a lot to pay the bills.  The sewing I do now is for fun, to feed my hobby and creative side, not to drive me insane.  There is just not enough money in the world to get me to work with a super critical, uber negative Bridezilla. 

Who influences you and why?
It's counter intuitive to my hobbies and profession, but I don't really follow designers and fashion trends. I don't watch Project Runway.  So I couldn't tell you the names of anyone in particular whose work I like.  People take fashion soooo seriously, and YAWN, come on people, calm down!  Way to take the fun out of life, stress out about everything!  Sewing is fun to me.  If I wanted to do something high stress I'd jump out of planes or defuse bombs for a living. When doing research for a project, I just go to Google images, and start typing in keywords. 

You know who is really inspiring?  Normal people.

Regular people, like you and me, are home right now sewing amazing outfits for a party next week, and it'll look better than half of the crap you see in a magazine!  And the best part is, they figured out how to do it themselves. Maybe it's hot glued and stapled together, but it looks fantastic, probably better than what I came up with.  Normal people blow me away sometimes by what they can accomplish at their dining room table. The second I get a big head about something I've made, someone else is just waiting around the corner to blow me away!   

What is your unicorn?  You know, that one project that you  haven't mastered yet, but once you do the world will know your name? (It doesn't have to be sewing.  If you have been secretly training for a roll as Prima Ballerina I completely get it.)
I'm not sure if I have a unicorn.  Can it be "championship kitten snuggler?"  "Best at making up ridiculous drinks to put tequila in because we've run out of almost everything?"  Hopefully, it'll be one of the books I've been trying to write in my spare time. One is a sci-fi/fantasy novel, and one is a sort of DIY drinking and crafts photo album collaborative work thingamajig. I'm currently learning tile and mosaic work, and trying to figure out crochet yet again, because apparently I feel the urge to master yet another craft in order to leave even more half-finished projects laying around the house.

Anything else people should know?
People always ask how much I charge for sewing.  I hate that question, mostly because I don't know. If I'm doing some simple alterations or small projects for a friend, I usually charge in wine - I'm a Malbec or Shiraz fan myself - although, I often get surprised with payments. Some of my favorites have been a custom leather bracelet and a huge homemade chocolate strawberry fudge cake! Awesome!

No Wesleann, YOU are amazing. (I'd say "amazeballs" but I don't think I'm street enough to pull it off.) My lovelies, can you see why this woman totally inspires me?!  I have more from Wes on the dress she made for Autumn, but really, her process and that dress deserve a post of their very own so stop by again soon because that post is on its way this week!

Do you know a designer, crafter, or generally fabulous person that would fit right in on NPJ?  Send me an e-mail and let's get our interview on!

1 comment:

Shanna - Nostalgia Film said...

Wes is so fabulous and wildly talented! Thank you for giving her the attention she so deserves for her crafty-awesomeness! She's been an inspiration and teacher to me for sure!