Saturday Studio: Blass-tastic Scholastic Centennials!

Alyssa Dumire, Director of Education

September 1st marked the start of this year’s Scholastic Art & Writing Awards season! Students in grades 7-12, ages 13 and up, can now begin uploading their best creative work to earn all kinds of opportunities for recognition, exhibition, publication, and even scholarships! Awarded students, you may know, join the illustrious ranks of alumni like Andy Warhol, Stephen King, Zac Posen, and Amanda Gorman. Perhaps our most famous local alum (so far) is none other than Fort Wayne’s Fashion Designer Bill Blass, who earned five awards in the 16th annual Scholastic Awards. While Blass’ 100th birthday is this year, the Scholastic Awards celebrates its centennial in 2023! In honor of both, today in the Studio, we’re looking to Mr. Blass for inspiration.

What do you want to be when you grow up (even if you’re technically already a grown-up)? Bill Blass knew the answer to that question early on, and, as a teenager, set about bringing his dreams to life. By age 15, he was already selling gown designs to New York fashion houses! While perhaps some of the students who enter the Scholastic Awards have their future careers planned as clearly as Blass, we encourage anyone with an interest in art and/or writing to enter. An Award might give them (or you!) the boost to turn that interest into a creative career!

Bill Blass, American, 1922-2002. Dress. Rayon grosgrain ribbon and polyester, Resort/Spring 1988. Loan from the Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection, Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design, Indiana University, IU 1989.176. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

You can see some of Blass’ early designs in the exhibition, but let’s take a closer look at one of his mid-career garments. Displayed for just two more weeks until September 18, this bold black-and-white dress from 1988 is not made from regular fabric…can you tell what it is?

It is woven ribbon! The skirt appears to be made from more ribbon (although not with the same grosgrain texture), pieced together along its length. Couldn’t he have just used plaid fabric? Sure, but weaving ribbon allowed Blass to create his own custom textile for the dress while adding texture and dimension. In a questionnaire also displayed in the exhibition, Blass said fabric was his greatest inspiration–when he got “stuck” creatively, he would drape fabric on a mannequin (Try it out for yourself in the FWMoA Learning Center!). We can imagine that for this design, the fabric probably came first too! Maybe one day, Blass found himself playing with pieces of discarded ribbon when the idea to weave it together, creating his own fabric, struck him. The finished design, with the long, drop-waist bodice showcases the woven textile while the striped skirt ties in (literally) with the striped ribbon used in the weaving. 

We’re going to become textile designers by weaving paper. Why use paper when we already know how to weave with yarn? We can easily manipulate the width of the paper or even shape it into curves (just cut it!), creating more possibilities to play with the pattern and rhythm of our weaving.

Gather these supplies:

  • Paper, at least 2 sheets in 2 different colors
  • Scissors
  • Glue or glue stick
  • Optional: ruler and pencil

First, choose your colors! I wanted to limit myself to just black and white, both in a nod to the original and to see how interesting of a pattern I could create without any color. Choose one to act as both your “loom” and your “warp.” Think of it as the background color. I chose black.

Fold your loom paper in half, hamburger-style. Cut through the fold almost to the opposite side, leaving a border. You can use your ruler to create evenly spaced cuts (and practice measuring), create a pattern with different widths, or cut at random. I cut my strips in a pattern of wide and skinny. Unfold your loom.

Now, cut strips across the width of your other paper, which will become your “weft” (white, for me). I, again, cut a variety of thin and thick strips.

Time to weave! Choose a strip of weft paper and slip it under, then over, then under your warp strips. Repeat until you’ve reached the other side, then choose another weft paper and repeat, this time going over first. Consider what pattern you’ll create in this direction as well, and continue adding wefts until you’ve filled your entire loom.

Use a dab of glue or a glue stick to glue each end of the wefts to the loom, on both sides of the paper. 

Ta-da! Imagine a use for your woven “textile.” I think mine would make a great rug.

Would I enter it into the Scholastic Awards? Well, the jurors look for three criteria–skill, personal vision or voice, and originality–with a greater weight on the latter two. My weaving, unfortunately, would be unlikely to receive an Award on its own, but it could become part of a larger, more expressive work. Or, I could weave together photographs I took or drawings I made. Even the simplest process or assignment can become an Award-worthy work with a little extra zhuzh!

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