Wearable art: Designer, owner of Smooth Stone Clothing creates 'upcycled fashion'
Clothing designer Deborah Carter isn't afraid of making garments out of unconventional materials. In fact, she loves it.
The Lenox-based clothier makes colorful, sturdy tote bags from billboard vinyl and boat sails. She crafts whimsical, wearable dresses from cardboard, paper, bottle corks and potato chip bags.
"I like to make clothing, but I'm really charged by the recycled materials being garments," said Carter, owner of SmoothStoneClothing.com, during a recent interview at Six Depot and Roastery in West Stockbridge where three of her dresses are on display in its gallery window.
Making clothing from recycled materials is a recent passion. Carter began her foray into "upcycled fashion" — new clothing items crafted from already existing garments — a few years ago.
"I never throw anything away, especially clothing. Being a sewer, I always knew I could make it bigger; I could make it smaller; that I could change it if I needed to," she said. "I had this jacket and thought, 'what if I added different sleeves and a pocket.' I wore it to the salon, where my stylist, who is also an artist, said: 'You have to do this.' I thought he was so right. I was painting at the time. Sewing and construction is art. It's all about composition, color, textures. It was the perfect art form to transition to."
She's since made jackets with sleeves made from cargo pants, shirts and tunics with Country Curtain curtains and vintage linen table cloths, and vests from window screens.
Carter was no stranger to the sewing machine or the dress form. As a teenager in Westfield, she made the majority of her clothing.
"I'd go into school and kids would be like, 'Did you make that too?' I pretty much spent my weekends doing that," she said. "I remember begging my mother to take me to the fabric store. I worked at a fabric store too when I was in high school."
After completing her undergraduate work at the University of Vermont, she moved to Boston before finding her way to New York City, where she enrolled in Parsons School of Design.
"I did the two-year associate's degree program at Parsons," Carter said. "Parsons was great. The associate's program was just the right degree because it was all the pattern-making, the draping, the technical part of it. I worked in the [fashion] industry before Parsons and then worked in the industry, obviously, after Parsons.
"It was an eye-opener. Just the tempers that would flare was new to me. It was great. My friend and I would have a lot of fun coming up with designs. We'd be designing for the customer, but then sometimes, we'd design something on our own and get it through the sample room. It was something that we wanted."
During her time in New York, Carter met her husband and the couple eventually moved to California. They moved their family to the Berkshires nearly a decade ago.
Carter became involved in the art community. She was one of 10 artists featured in "Ten Spot" at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts during the 2015 10X10 UpStreet Arts Festival.
"My painting was featured on a billboard. When the show is over, they say you can have your billboard. It's kind of like a tarp; made of small woven strings of plastic," she said. "I decided to make tote bags out of it."
But it was really only a year ago that she began focusing on using unconventional materials.
"[Last] summer, Eric Wilska, who owns the Shaker Mill Bookstore, was opening the barn next door. Everything in it is made from books," she said. "I said to him that I'd always wanted to make a dress out of paper. I said, 'What if I make a dress out of a book?' I made him a sketch."
The dress was displayed at the bookstore and Carter was hooked. She made a dress out of wine bottle corks and reached out to Lisa Landry, co-owner of Six House Depot and Roastery, to see if there was space in the gallery.
"There's a two year waiting list for a show," Carter said.
Instead, Landry offered her the gallery's window. A third dress, one made from individual cardboard pieces shaped like star anise (which has since been sold) was added to the window lineup.
It was there that an Instagram fashionista, Purely Patricia (also known as Patricia Fox in New York fashion circles), first saw Carter's creations and a new opportunity opened up for the designer.
"She contacted me and we met in Great Barrington," Carter said. "We're collaborating. I'm currently working on a piece for her made from single-use plastic bags. It's amazing. I'm just so inspired."
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.