Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Fiber Arts: Sewing with Gail Hale

A post by Sophia BenderTony PhonethibsavadsNaomi Thompson, and Anna Keune

This is the first in a series of blog posts about the Creativity Labs’ fiber arts summer workshops. Tucked away on the eastern side of Bloomington, the CL team attended a workshop to learn how to use the sewing machine by artist, self-proclaimed maker and innovative recrafter, Gail Hale. Gail worked with the Creativity Labs team several times in the past, including assisting the creation of a cosplay costume as part of the Re-Crafting Mathematics project. This project was the overall frame for our sewing workshop at her private makerspace. As an artist of the Discardia group, that repurposes discarded materials into refashioned wearables, our workshop project was in true discardia style: sewing a grocery bag out of sheer synthetic fabric, which was repurposed from curtains.

The wonder-filled studio, with painting and dried out beehives dangling from the ceiling right over mannequins wearing hats and dressed in fashion projects in progress and former Trashion Refashion outfits, a fridge covered with reused magnets and shelves stacked with fabrics for projects to come, we gathered around a large and heavy wooden table, eager to learn.

To get started, Gail laid out the metal pattern used to cut the bag-shaped cloth for the project. The sheer fabric was slippery, and Gail fastened the pattern tightly onto the fabric, using old metal irons and pieced of railroad tracks that she gathered and cut apart years ago from a former workshop. To prevent the fabric from fraying, Gail recommended to use a woodburning tool to cut the fabric along the metal pattern, neatly sealing the synthetic fabric’s edges.


From left to right: Metal irons and railroad track pieces hold down the pattern. Kate practices her cutting skills. Kate adjusts the fabric before sewing.

Next, it was our turn. Rotating around the group, one by one, each of us carefully stepped towards the pattern and cut a small area. While this is a rather unconventional method for cutting fabric, it was an innovative use for old tools, underscoring Gail’s spirit of making. Moving forward, to save time, Gail provided each with pre-cut fabric pieces. 

Janis at Gail’s old Singer machine.

Ready to get our hands on the sewing machines, we all followed the same order to sew our shopping bags. First, we sewed up each of the sides, before moving on to the handles. Some of us decided to sew two “triangles” into the inside bottom of the bags to create a flat bottom and we learned a new term from our newest team members, Ed Gentry: We called this boxing it up. For the handles, Gail suggested a really neat trick to provide extra reinforcement and to flatten the seams so they would lie comfortably against your shoulder. This involved sewing along the handles once, then opening the seam and sewing each side down. However, some of us had sewed our seams too tiny to use this technique! She also said the sides of the triangles be sewn down to provide a more finished, secure look. Some of us opted to do that, and some didn’t.

The Creativity Labs team working hard

This fun workshop that kicked off the Creativity Labs summer series of fiber arts activities not only enriched our understanding of the intricate and fascinating craft of sewing, but also gave us a chance to learn more about each other, our past experiences and our interests moving forward as a research team. Thanks so much to Gail for helping us out!


  1. I loved meeting new lab members and having more time with those of you I already knew from previous projects. Thanks for your interest in repurposing tools and materials in unconventional ways.

  2. Inspiring and wonderful use of your space, Gail. Great post. Much support for these kinds of effort (or should I say, play?)