BY KATRINA RODABAUGH // Today I’m thrilled to share the work of Slow Fashion Citizen Jerome Sevilla of Gridjunky. I’ve been following Jerome on Instagram for several years, and while his craftsmanship, choice of colors and fibers, and his designer’s approach to textiles make him one of my favorite creatives to watch, it’s his use of recycled fibers that actually blows my mind. He makes beautiful hats, scarves, sweaters and bags but oftentimes by unraveling a quality secondhand sweater or tenderly dissecting a family heirloom to be made into new creations. The boldness and thoughtfulness in his approach to materials is something that comes with his passion and commitment to simply make the most beautiful things.
What if the highest quality fibers are out of our price range but we don’t want to settle for their affordable counterparts? How can we shift our thinking of “new materials” and be resourceful in accessing the very best fibers anyway? In Jerome’s case, by unraveling a beautiful Banana Republic sweater or cutting into his mother’s stash of beloved table linens. Combine this discernment for materials with the trained eye of a graphic designer and a minimalist bent on what makes beautiful garments and, well, it’s a powerful result. Jerome’s drive for the most gorgeous fibers combined with his willingness to take apart the materials around him manifests in a particular magic that’s all his own. It’s a refreshing and inspiring approach to truly making Slow Fashion work regardless of budget.
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I love imagining how your work as a graphic designer informs your work with textiles. Can you talk about any overlaps or shared aesthetics between the two?
I think the creative process in general is an important overlap. Visual designers aren’t trained to come up with one idea per project. We come up with ten, or twenty, depending on the concept. Then we start killing the weaker ideas, and nurturing the stronger ones. This idea of “killing your babies” was first introduced to me in high school when I took photography. This was way back when, so we’re talking about chemical photography, with the darkroom, and stinky solutions, and staring at timers, and shaking canisters. And we eliminated bad shots the same way we weed out good ideas. Each roll of negatives was cut and printed en masse onto one print, and you circled the ones you wanted to enlarge into actual prints. Successful designs rely heavily on one’s ability to self-edit. My textile work is cultivated in the same way, where everything starts as a bunch of ugly sketches.
How did you learn to knit? To sew?
I’ve been hand sewing all my life. My mother and grandmother were a constant resource. I grew up making this and modifying that, and it wasn’t really about practicing heritage skillsets, it was just a necessary skill to have. I’ve always been different from everyone in terms of personal style. Being able to modify clothes was a major part of my identity and individuality.
Knitting was one of many things that piqued my interest on the internet. Back then Jared Flood had this blog that I liked a lot. I’m pretty sure it was called Brooklyn Tweed back then, but I could be wrong. There were a lot of people on Flickr back then, too. So I just decided to do it one day, simple as that. Took me about a month to really get the hang of it. That was … gosh, 2009. Wow.
Your work with recycled or redesigned yarn is stunning. What inspired you to deconstruct that very first sweater so that you could work with that yarn? Weren’t you intimidated to start unraveling?
Thank you. No, it wasn’t intimidating at all. I was really into it! Maybe it’s a creativity thing, but I like destruction. And if I can take something and kill it, and turn it into something else, that’s power. The object represents creative power. I’m inspired by that. That process of destruction and creation is addictive. When I started recycling yarn, it wasn’t nearly as profound. I killed that first sweater because I was poor and had no money for yarn. Technically, this is still the case.
You’ve mentioned cost is prohibitive in buying quality new yarns, yet you’ve chosen to deconstruct vintage garments to gain access to their valuable fibers. This makes me cheer! It’s something I think about so much in my work: Choosing quality secondhand fibers over cheap new ones. But in this equation we choose the value of time — our own time — to locate, acquire, wash, deconstruct, redesign and work with quality fibers over the money of buying new materials. Can you talk about this tension and thoughts about value, about making something new from something old and investing time — sometimes so much time — to access quality materials?
I see it as an act of defiance. Think about the value that this person placed on that sweater. That value becomes zero when they decide to donate it or throw it in the garbage. I defy that assessment of value. The fast-fashion industry trains us to want more, and we apparently do. That’s so stupid. The best silk thread I’ve ever worked with was recycled multi-strand from a Banana Republic sweater. I have tons of it. I’d estimate the value of this black silk at about $100 or so a skein. I’ve sewn with it, knitted it, and wefted it into cotton. That sweater wasn’t worthless.
There’s a minimalism in your work that has such power. Do you consciously try to work with minimalism — paring color, line or composition back as far as possible as you design — or does this just materialize organically as you work?
I just don’t like a lot of fuss. I believe the subject of a work should be concise and clear, and there is nothing easier from a production standpoint than minimalism. I wonder if that’s a terrible thing to say? Either way it’s true. I’m no artist; I’m a designer through and through. Things should be neat and beautiful at the same time. I suppose this goes back to the self-editing thing. Composition requires a conscious awareness of the layout, and how the work is seen. There has to be negative space. In magazines it’s white space. In knitting it’s stockinette (for me, anyway). Patchwork looks amazing when there are long swaths of consistent color.
Mending, you know it’s my passion. So when I see your work with denim, hand-stitching and mending it makes my heart race. Do you find working with denim and working with yarn to have any similarities?
Well, working with sharps is a nice change from the knitting needles, but it is more physically intensive. I have so many compositions in progress, it’s pathetic. With my knitting, I have a max of two projects, but in sewing I believe I have five or so. In that respect, the two are very different. Sewing is a very quick process most of the time, so I tend to favor whichever project I’d most likely wear. On the other hand, I’ve been knitting this alpaca shawl for two years because I basically hoard the process of knitting. I like picking it up every once in a while. I like that it’s there. Sewing isn’t like that. Either I finish it, or I kill the idea.
In one of your blog posts you wrote, “I guess what I’m trying to say is that the meaningfulness of these fragile things is paramount in my thoughts, and that working with them gives me a very private sense of accomplishment and emotion.” I love this. I’ve been thinking about the connection between healing, mindfulness, and cultivating connection or meaning through slow fashion. Can you talk about the meaningfulness or sense of accomplishment that results from handwork and redesigning fragile textiles?
The majority of my yarn and fabrics is recycled. The yarn was bought second hand as sweaters, typically from flea markets and thrift stores. However, the fabrics are all recycled directly from my home, mostly from my own wardrobe, but some also came from my family. The things I make out of these fabrics carry the memory of our lives, and the places we’ve lived in. They’re not worthless. They’re immensely valuable to me.
Lastly, can you point us to three artists, designers, or makers currently inspiring your work?
PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion Citizen: Rebecca Burgess and Fibershed
Photos © Jerome Sevilla, used with permission