Some people look at things and see them for what they are. Victoria Adrian looks at things and immediately sees what they can be. A jacket no longer simply warms your body, but your soul. A rug designed for your feet, now touches your heart. By discovering modern applications for the lost arts of chain stitch embroidery and rug tufting, Victoria is able to unlock the possibilities of the everyday. With a simple belief that beauty can be found anywhere, she single-handedly, one stitch at a time, makes everywhere, a little more beautiful.
A jacket transformed from outerwear, to wearable art. A rug that graduates from the floor, to a wall. That’s what Victoria Adrian does. Takes the everyday and makes it beautiful. In her hands, a length of thread becomes someone’s personal mantra. A few more stitches and art is born. Victoria’s mastery of chain stitching and rug tufting developed from her extensive experience with denim repair. Resuscitating remnants of tattered cloth and breathing new life into each and every one of them. In doing so, she grew to understand every thread that goes into creating a single piece. Look closely, and you’ll find stitched into each creation, is a little bit of herself. Her hometown of Detroit, where manufacturing was born. And every twist, turn, and detour she has taken to finally find herself in New York. Some write their biography, Victoria tells her story with every stitch.
How and when you began working with textiles and sewing techniques?
My dad first taught me to sew on his old Singer machine. I was in middle school. At the time, I was really inspired by the art and music of the 60s (still am). Growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, the only access to fashion was provided by local malls, which didn’t allow me much opportunity to express myself through my clothes. So, I began making my own. Once I figured out the basic construction of clothes, I began to sew appliqued designs onto everything I made. Shirts, pants, bags, you name it. Looking back now, I can see how sometimes my work hasn’t changed all that much from when I was a teen. To this day, I still use embroidery to express myself.
What led you to take on the ancient and sadly disappearing art of chainstitching?
I discovered chainstitching when I was working as a denim tailor in my neighborhood. I had learned to use different machines to construct and repair jeans. The machines I used were all very technical and focused on the internal construction the jean rather than the outside. Discovering chainstitching allowed me to mix both the technical side of denim as well as the creative side.
I feel as though people think it’s more of a 20th century discipline, but the origins of chainstitching go all the way back to 5 BC. How were you first introduced to it and what specifically caught your eye? Were you drawn to a specific period?
The first time I saw someone chainstitching I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea this craft still existed. I immediately wanted to learn but had no idea how I was going to get my hands on a machine. Fortunately, my former employer purchased a machine. No one initially knew how to use it. So, I taught myself. In the beginning, I associated chainstitching with the era spanning the 30’s – 60’s specifically in utility workwear and vintage sportswear. At the time I was really inspired by fine line tattoo art which eventually led me to treating chainstitching as an artform. A new medium, brought to life on wearable canvasses.
Since learning more about the craft I have discovered a lot about the different practices of chainstitching and the uses for traditional garments in different cultures. It’s pretty amazing because what I know only touches the surface. There are machines that allow for freehand control but can add cording, sequins, ribbon, etc. It’s all about finding the actual machine and having the patience to figure out how to use it.
You are also known for your intricate rugs. Which craft did you learn first? How does the rug making process differ from chainstitching and does one discipline help understand the other?
I began chainstitching about 5 years ago and rug tufting a little over a year ago. When I began embroidering I started to see inspiration in my surroundings in a way I had never before. I found inspiration on the streets, on the sides of buildings and in architecture. I could walk past a place a million times, but one day, depending upon the time of day, my mood, or the light, a design would pop out at me. I didn’t realize how much I needed this creative outlet. Although I was already working with textiles, I was practicing with a much more technical process.
This same inspiration motivates my rug making. I would immediately get a visual in my head of how something would translate into a rug or an embroidered piece. The actual craft of the two are incredibly similar. There are common variants of control for the type of embroidery and rug styles you want executed. My embroidery machine can switch from a chain stich to a chenille/moss stitch same as my tufting guns can create either a “loop pile” or a “cut pile” texture. The options to create or fill with different types of yarn or thread apply to both practices. I don’t think I would be where I am technically and creatively with my rug making, had I not had an understanding of embroidery beforehand. The freehand nature of both disciplines allow for the personal expression I crave. To me, the machines I use are no different than the varied brushes an artist uses to create.
Do you prefer one to the other?
Right now, I am really enjoying experimenting and learning more about making rugs. There is still a lot of machinery and equipment I can incorporate into my work so I am excited to see where it can go. Rug making allows me to work on a large scale. Which I love. They’re like murals compared to my embroidery pieces.
That said, there is something so special about the mobility and impulsiveness of embroidery. I have travelled to so many places for the first time because of embroidery. I have met so many new people and have been able leave something special and unique on their clothes in only a couple minutes. I will always appreciate being able to pack up my machine and set up somewhere new and sew.
I guess that’s a long-winded way of saying that I hold both close to my heart.
We really enjoyed the The Bodega/Diesel Jean Jacket you did for us at Art Basel? Do you have a favorite piece you’ve made?
That was such a fun project and really incredible experience. It was the first time traveling to Miami and meeting the Bodega team. I don’t think I have a favorite piece but have more of favorite memories that comes along with creating pieces. The Art Basel project is definitely up there for me. There were so many talented creative people involved in that project and a mutual trust and respect among the artists. I felt as if everyone could really be themselves and the Bodega team wanted to showcase exactly that. I can say the same for this project as well. Thanks so much guys!
What percentage of your wardrobe would you say has accents that you have personally added from your skill/craft?
Ha, surprisingly very little. I went from learning to embroider to it turning into a full- time job pretty quickly so I didn’t have much time to create for myself. I realized I liked the process of making a piece more than actually having it to keep. I find more enjoyment in seeing someone excited about getting to wear it than myself. Also, by the end I have already stared at the piece for hours and dissected every inch of it so I’m okay with giving it some space. I do however tailor almost all of my clothes, I mainly wear vintage so being able to change the size or fit of a garment makes it pretty easy to shop.
What is the most enjoyable part of your artistic process?
The spontaneous nature of discovering new techniques mid project and ending up with something far different than you originally designed. I also enjoy the challenge of trying to figure out how I can execute a style or idea when there isn’t a readily available, obvious solution.
For instance, while making the Better Days rug, I had an idea halfway through that I wanted a wanted the finished piece to have a very minimal “speckled” texture to replicate sand. I tried a handful of different yarn types and weights but couldn’t get the exact look. Finally, I grabbed a spool of my chain stitch thread and blended it with my rug yarn and voila! I wouldn’t have been able to pre-conceptualize that method without stepping back, looking at the piece as a whole, and then experimenting until I found a solution that satisfied my vision.
Are there any other styles of sewing/stitching that you enjoy. Are there any that you absolutely can't stand?
I love tailoring and seeing the transformation of an already constructed item turn into something new from the inside out. It differs so much from embroidery as it’s all about numbers and measurements with very small room for error. With chain stitch embroidery you are embellishing the outside of a garment with uniqueness and beauty from the imperfections. With tailoring you are doing almost all the work on the inside of the garment with precision. At times, this is the part where I drive myself crazy. I have a tendency to get very obsessive with small details while trying to achieve the perfect fit. I believe every stitch really does matter even when it is on the inside of the garment. I do enjoy getting to use that side of my brain even when it is frustrating. After it’s on the body and the person is happy it’s a great feeling.
What was your initial reaction when you saw the task presented and the subject matter for this this particular project?
I was incredibly honored when the Bodega team reached out and asked me to be a part of this project. A lot of my work is blending the modernity and freshness of street fashion/sportswear with old hand techniques. So, I immediately knew that I wanted to be part of this project. I can always tell when a project is right for me, when I find myself brainstorming before I even get off the initial call. I have worked with Bodega before and when it comes to designs and concepts, they kill it 100% of the time. I knew that the bar was pretty high and that I would have to make this really special. And I was happy that they trusted that I was up for the challenge.
What does “Better Days” mean to you?
I see “Better Days” in a very different light than I did before this project. I now realize that I always thought of the phrase to mean, ‘better days” were coming. Or “better days” was a mantra of sorts, to help weather the hardships of the moment. As I worked on this rug. And stared at these words. I began to realize that each day is indeed “better”. Better, despite the struggle. Or the hardship. Each day was “better” because of the experience. Yes, there were tough days as I created this rug. But each day brought with it, new knowledge and inspiration. And what’s better than that?
What role has the pandemic played on your artistic output? Do you feel like it has given you more time for your craft? How has it affected the mood or productivity of your artwork?
At the beginning of the pandemic I channeled my time and energy into making masks for hospital staff. This kept me busy and gave me the feeling I was able to at least control my day to day life tasks in an extremely uncontrollable time. As medical grade masks finally became more accessible and the need for handmade masks in hospitals was diminishing, I sorta retreated into my house and onto my couch for a really long time.
I had always fantasized about putting work on pause and fully focusing on my own art. When that day finally arrived and it was no longer a fantasy, but a really strange reality, I was a bit lost. I didn’t embrace this time of unknown “freedom” and continued to just stay inside my house. It made me feel guilty as given the current climate of our world. I began to recognize and view time, health, and privilege very differently. I was just mistakenly waiting for “better days” and not doing anything in the moment to get there. Those days taught me a lot. And this project really helped me get out of my house, back in the studio, and start making again. I forgot for a minute there, it feels a hell of a lot better to create something outside of yourself rather than sitting on the couch thinking all the time. Thanks for this opportunity Bodega <3
How do you find/maintain inspiration?
I’m constantly finding inspiration in things when I am not looking for it. Especially just on the streets. Typically, if I go looking for it, I end up a million miles away. When this happens, I find it best to take note of it, write it down and remember to reference it down the road for something else. With the accessibility of the internet and the resources available now it can be a bit over stimulating. I can tire myself out by just getting too excited by an idea.
For design I will always have my go-to’s: typography, op art, and intentional over design. I can sometimes get in a pattern and I find myself gravitating towards the same themes but when I break away from my typical aesthetic it can actually be more fun.
To maintain inspiration, I entirely thank the people I surround myself with for that. I am regularly exposed to such an incredible group of current day artists and craftsmen/craftswoman that it’s really easy to be inspired by the energy and originality from people you know.
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