This post is a continuation of a series of posts loosely dedicated to exploring how clothes can help shape the way we interact with space. I came across Hillary Predko’s work, first through OCAD’s grad exhibition (that school is getting a lot of love from me lately), but did not ask her for an interview until months later. This is part one of what is a two part interview in which Predko was nice enough to agree to talk to me about her work, leather and personal fabrication. Predko is based in Toronto and calls herself a maker. She is a member of Site 3, a maker based collective and besides being an artist and designer, she teaches elements of her craft in workshops held throughout the city.
Street Idle: How did you get into design and creating?
Hillary Predko: I was pretty young when I started sewing. My dad actually taught me how to sew, he sews and knits and he taught me the basics when I was younger. My grandmother came to stay for a weekend when I was around twelve, and she taught me to sew from scratch. We went the store and got some fabric and a pattern, and in about four hours straight I just did everything. I got really obsessed [with sewing]. And that was kind of the beginning of being obsessive about getting projects done. I’m just always thinking in three dimensions and that comes really easy to me compared to, I don’t know, [something] more abstract [like the] written word or painting. Building three dimensional objects is something that I’ve always just found really satisfying to do.
Leather utility belt by Hillary Predko
SI: Why do you find building three dimensional objects so satisfying?
HP: It’s nice to have something that exists in the real world. And it’s also something I just always found certain proclivity towards. If I tried something [like creating 3D projects], it works more often than if I tried baking. That doesn’t work for me really well at all.
SI: So you feel more at ease in that medium?
SI: What led you to explore personal fabrication and how was your earlier work, like your, “Laced Up Leather,” belt project, was informed by that concept?
HP: The belt project I produced for a class and it was called “Wearable Technology” and the class was pretty focused on embedding electronics in clothing. I was more interested in using fabrication tools. I experimented with the laser cutter because its something that I thought sounded really remarkable. I liked the idea of being able to get rather complicated work rather quickly, so I went with the idea of using lace because I feel like lace exemplifies the difficulty of handwork in many ways. Handmade lace is really expensive because it is such a laborious project to create. Its interesting to contrast this with the laser cutter; once you design something you can replicate near infinitely. I think has this sort of interesting tension between the design and the product because the personal effort involved in putting that level of decoration is really minimized by using this technology. I also like the tension between something that is extremely decorative, but also utilitarian.
SI: What is it about the, “tension between the extremely decorative and utilitarian,” that inspires or is appealing to you?
HP: I don’t know. I feel like it almost has this riot grrl ethos, of being sort of unapologetically female, which I really like. I like the idea of being the badass tank girl chick who is not trying to not be a girl, but who is totally awesome in that femininity. And sometimes if you’re tank girl you need a belt to go through the desert cause it’s hard to carry a purse on your tank.
SI: Could you elaborate a little more on the design and creation process that went into creation of the “utility belt”?
HP: A laser cutter is a CNC machine, which [stands for] Computer Numerical Control. You draw an image in a vector program, I used illustrator, and then the file will be uploaded into the machine and it will trace out the outline. And what I thought was really interesting with that is that, well for one thing, I was using leather and for leather you don’t need to finish the edges so I fit all the pieces into a 18 by 24 inch rectangle. There’s only about 2 to 4 inches of waste out of the entire layout, so everything would be stacked and sewn together to create the three dimensional object from a really tightly utilized two dimensional space.
SI: What were some of the challenges working with a laser cutter?
HP: Laser cutters make leather smell really bad. It is cow flesh and it smells like burning flesh.
SI: Why did you decide to work with leather specifically? What is it about the material that you find so interesting to work with?
HP: Leather is one of those materials that we have not been able to engineer anything synthetic that is nearly as good as the natural material. It is just really, really, beautiful and I have learned more about it since beginning this work. At first I felt kind of badly because it is an animal product and [that] makes me feel a little freaked out, but there’s a huge amount hide produced just because of this [beef] industry. So if this leather isn’t getting used then it’s going to waste. So it’s more like an industrial by-product. It’s not like fur where there is an industry that exists exclusively for fur, leather is something that exists because we have a meat industry. People obviously do want to end that, but it’s something that I think is interesting. [Also leather] ages really nicely, like a leather bag twenty years from now is going to look so much better than the day it was made.
SI: In your artist statement you mentioned that you wanted to in this project spread your ideology and I was wondering what that ideology was?
HP: I think that our society creates far too many consumer goods. There’s a huge volume of goods. There are a huge warehouses, globally that store massive volumes of goods. And with the ability to make something that is customizable and made locally, and made on demand, we can produce things that are higher quality , will last longer, and don’t need to be disposed of in the same way. I think if our culture is going to survive we have to move past having these super trend based cycles of fashion. I think that having beautiful functional objects that we wear is important, we need to shield ourselves from the elements, but the way that it is working right now, I don’t think it is very effective for peoples’ wallets, for the globe. Just I don’t think it’s very good.
SI: Going back to your artist statement I found it really interesting that you wrote, “Women are culturally discouraged from engaging in technological discourse.” How, in your opinion, does technology mediated design encourages women to engage and participate in that discourse?
HP: One machine that I use fairly frequently in my day to day life is an 85 year old industrial sewing machine. An industrial sewing machine that was made 85 years ago is basically identical to one that’s made today. I feel as though traditionally female realms, [which] are often in a private realm, related to domesticity aren’t encouraged to innovate. The fashion industry is obviously taken out of the home, but I think that by combining something that is traditionally female and also innovative and cutting edge is a good way to create a discourse around moving forward with how we think about, well in this case fashion, how we think about clothing, how we think about adornment. I think it’s important to value these realms [traditionally female] as highly as automotive engineering [for example]. I think the way we think about what we wear is as important as the way we think about how we move, but it’s not necessarily weighted equally in our culture.
SI: While we’re on the topic of movement, I want to bring up another quote from your artist statement. You wrote, “I want to design lacy utility belts for two reasons, women are encouraged to carry useless purses that limit mobility and dexterity.” How do you feel fashion mediated by technology can help change the ways that women navigate spaces and how they perceive themselves in those spaces?
HP: I wore this belt very frequently, and one thing that this was designed for is riding my bike. It has a spot to hold a u-lock so that it doesn’t hit my leg while I’m cycling. If you have ever tried cycling with a purse it is nearly impossible. It is really hard. Your leg hits it and you have to go quite a bit slower and I think by the way that this [the belt] interacts with my body, I am more mobile. I am able to navigate space more effectively and to me that’s a huge boon. Backpacks and utility belts, to me, are some things that lend themselves to, I don’t know, a greater level of bodily movement. I feel like there’s something about having a shoulder bag – I feel like there is something very limiting about that range of movement.
SI: Do you mind discussing a little bit more why you decided to create a fanny pack utility belt?
HP: My partner, when I first met him, was a bike courier and I had never really spent time around bike couriers at all, but they have really great backpacks. So I started looking at the bags that him and his friends had and [had noticed] that the design choices that were made are so hyper-functional, because there is so much obsession to detail, like there is so much attention given to the details and I just found that really fascinating to the point that I wanted to try my hand at it. And I mean, obviously, what I created was very different than something that someone would use as a courier. I would not encourage my design to be used by a courier, I don’t think that it would really make their work day any easier. But, just looking at how things were weighted and how straps were placed for comfort and to access things more quickly, it was really interesting and I just like the hyper-functionality of the backpack.
SI: Do you think that functionality and practicality is something that is missing from women’s fashion? And do you feel that technology offers a way of addressing that lack in women’s clothing right now?
HP: I think that pockets are generally lacking from women’s clothes. And I could imagine a really great online interface where you could choose where to put pockets on a dress, or add additional pockets.
SI: Going back to design, you have sited Diana Eng as an influence on work. What is it about her designs that speak to you so strongly?
HP: I think her work is very beautiful and I think she also provides a good model of a small scale design practice that is quite personal. Looking at her work online you can really get a sense of how she’s working and the way she’s reaching out to customers. She’s a really good personality a long with having the technology involved in her design practice and I think that’s something really encouraging to see. I just think her work is really beautiful and well executed.
SI: You had originally designed you project to be copied. Why did you intentionally decide to design something that could be copied, especially since stealing intellectual property is such a taboo and hot topic in fashion right now?
HP: I think better things will always come from collaboration than trying to protect your intellectual property- within in a certain threshold. I think when you’re small and you’re starting out the more you share your ideas the more you’ll get back. There’s an essay I like by an author that I admire, Cory Doctorow, it’s called, “Think like a Dandelion,” and he talks about [how] in the age of the internet it does not cost a lot to reproduce an idea. He’s an author so his ideas are words, [and] clearly there’s more involved in reproducing an object, but we have this idea that ideas are often like human children. You put so much time into them and you want to protect them, but really they’re more like dandelion seeds and the way that a dandelion propagates is to spread hundreds of thousands of seeds. Many will die on the sidewalk, but some will plant a new plant. I think that’s a really poetic and beautiful idea, that if you just put your work out there it will take root. You never know, but [an idea] is likely to be a lot more interesting, inspiring and ultimately rewarding [if spread] than if you were to be very closed fisted with it. Obviously, I’m not doing anything patentable. If I was an engineer who created a new type of motor maybe I would think about this differently, but I think by viewing an object most fashion designers , if they are skilled enough, could reproduce it, so I’m just helping someone cut a couple of hours [or] a couple of weeks of work.
Utility belt pattern by Hillary Predko
*All images are the property of Hillary Predko and were posted with the artist’s permission