For Dee Clements, who makes beautiful hand-woven goods out of her Chicago design studio, Herron, sustainability is key. “I know it’s an overused buzzword, but it’s really important,” she says. Though she’s talking about the environmental impact of large-scale textile production and why she mainly uses small-farm fibers that aren’t chemically or unethically produced, sustainability, in a creative sense, is also on her mind. She’s refreshingly honest about all of the time, effort, risk, and other not-so-Instagrammable realities it takes to keep a practice going, to make meaningful work and put it out in the world.
That said, her Instagram feed is lovely, full of works-in-progress and pieces that have a comfy feel to them while maintaining an edge and sophistication: a muted, dusky palette punctuated with just the right hot pink or bright yellow, soft textures balancing out the precision of intersecting geometric planes. Locals have been able to check out her wall-hangings at spots like the Winchester, where they add to the restaurant’s airy, want-to-sit-there-all-day atmosphere; to the home shop Humboldt House; and to the new Roman & Williams–designed Freehand hotel. This past year, she’s partnered with retailers willing to support her vision of responsibly-made textiles; for CB2, she designed a rug and created a sold-out run of pillows, along with designing two more rugs for The Land of Nod. And lately she’s been busy sampling for her own line, which should be available on her site in September.
Originally from upstate New York, Clements came to Chicago in 1998, to attend the School of the Art Institute. She put herself through college and then worked as a seamstress for the Joffrey Ballet before moving into costuming for theater, film, and TV, while doing her own work on the side. She started Herron five years ago, with a collection of scarves, though what she really wanted to make were “textiles you can use, but that can be really artistic. I was always interested in rug weaving because rugs can be real statement pieces and you can be painterly with them, but I had to work up to that. So I started taking my drawings and putting them towards pillows and blankets and that’s when my work started getting noticed — when I stopped doing the thing that I didn’t really want to do but that I thought people wanted, and started doing what was really natural to me.” If that sounds like a do-what-you-love truism, Clements has earned the right to it through persistence and hard work.
“I’m aware that the mission I’m trying to pursue can come off as preachy and I don’t ever want that to be the vibe,” she says. “I want to make things that people love and that aren’t pretentious, that I’m connected to and that people feel connected to.” Clements is serious in intent but light in mood, with a whole lot of heart, and when we visited her studio on a recent Monday morning, we left wishing we could start every week that way.
It was a couple of years ago that Chicago-based artist Samantha Bittman first captivated us with her intricate, meticulous paintings on woven textiles. We’ve been transfixed by her work ever since, so when we had the chance recently to visit her studio and delve into her process, we jumped. Bittman creates dazzling surfaces of optically challenging patterns that draw you in to reveal greater depths, dimensionality, and unsteadying shifts in perspective. There’s an objective, mathematical precision to her pieces but there’s also a remarkably human warmth — the result, perhaps, of giving in to the parameters created by the loom while also resisting them.
Caitlin Mociun may have been the author of a cult-hit fashion line for only a few years, but the lessons she learned from that stint — about the way she wants a customer to feel, or about the way a body moves in space — inform nearly everything she does today. That first becomes clear when she talks about her massively successful fine jewelry line, which she launched almost as a palliative to her days as a clothing designer. “I never really liked doing my clothing line, and when I switched to jewelry it was such a different response,” Mociun told me earlier this fall when I visited her year-old Williamsburg boutique. “It seemed to make people feel good about themselves as opposed to clothing, which often makes people feel bad.” But it’s when she talks about her boutique that you realize that nothing in the shop could be the way it is if Mociun weren’t first a designer.
It's a quiet summer week here at Sight Unseen HQ. August is approaching, we're spending more and more weekends out of the city, and the time in between them is becoming increasingly shorter and less productive. But that doesn't mean we don't know from hard work — we've spent the last four years pouring inordinate amounts of time and effort into the stories on this site, and so we're all the more sympathetic when we see other blogs doing the same. Case in point: the ridiculously extensive, print mag–worthy interview with ceramicist Ben Medansky we spotted recently on the blog Los Angeles, I'm Yours, a city-centric cultural resource founded in 2011 by The Fox Is Black's Bobby Solomon with editor Kyle Fitzpatrick. We've excerpted part of it here, along with a selection of the accompanying studio photos.