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Leslie Gates (May)
Each month, a different member and NAEA awardee is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Leslie Gates, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Art Education at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, where she coordinates the undergraduate and graduate art education programs. She has taught visual art at the high school and elementary levels in both urban and rural contexts. Leslie's research interests are art educator's professional learning, assessment in the arts, and feminist and choice-based pedagogies. Her research, using participatory and feminist approaches, often means she is working alongside art educators to identify problems and work towards possible solutions. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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August 16, 2012

The Intersection of Art and Living Inquiry

My first attempt at constructing a new pair of jeans actually happened at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in a research methodology course. The course was entitled, A/r/tography, and was taught by Rita Irwin and Sylvia Wilson Kind. Similarly, my first men’s dress shirt was constructed in another research methodology course, Narrative Inquiry with Carl Leggo as the professor. I entered my PhD program with an interest in the social psychology and visual culture of dress. Being able to work artistically along with theorizing pedagogical issues was radical for me. Wild and wonderfully exciting. My education in education prior to my studies at UBC were amazing. I have little to criticize about my undergraduate and MA experiences. However, at that time I did not understand, nor do I remember being encouraged to explore how my artistic practices, my teaching and learning, and my inquiry might relate, intersect, or disrupt one another.

There are some really exceptional graduate programs out there. There really are. I just know that I chose the right program for me at the right time. It was the right place. I feel lucky to have been influenced by the people that happened to be there at that time, the faculty members and also the students.

One of the reasons I chose UBC was because of the work that was being done concerning arts-based research. The questions and theoretical frameworks I was encountering from established and emerging UBC-connected scholars not only deeply resonated with me, but also encouraged me to think and work more profoundly and simultaneously more broadly. I began to make more connections in all aspects of my life, to live life differently, more art-fully.

I wrote a paper about those first jeans I created without any formal training in clothing construction or pattern drafting. It was a fairly phenomenological exploration, including an inquiry into my subjective experience with materials, memories, senses, and the like. But, the experience changed jeans from something I consume, to something I am able to not only produce, but simultaneously reproduce and trouble. Artistic production can extend beyond formal analysis and visual communication. I believe inquiring through artistic processes, even those that do not produce objects, can produce new understandings and also be transformative.

This week, Noah Kershisnik came by my studio to finish some jeans he started a couple of weeks ago. Apparently, I have a machine with a stronger motor even though we both have vintage machines. BTW, if you are looking to buy a sewing machine, I would suggest scouting one out at your local thrift shop. Do some research about any machines you find, but you can often pick up an excellent all-metal machine for $30 or less.

Noah is an undergraduate student and a maker of things. I know there are artists out there who refuse to make another object in this object-saturated world (see Douglas Huebler and Tino Sehgal for example), but it is amazing to hear how Noah is restoring an antique straight razor so that he can learn to shave with it. Or how he makes his own shoes from real lasts (a wooden form of the foot in shoe making) that he hand carves. He makes his own soda pop, his own hair pomade, and he sews.

Tino Sehgal's "The Unilever Series: These Associations" currently exhibited at the Tate Modern from July 25 to October 28, 2012

When Noah found out that I have made more than a dozen pair of my own jeans, (altering commercial patterns and drafting from existing jeans), but that this year I was finally going to draft my own pattern using my own measurements, he wanted in! I lent him a couple of my books so that he could start gathering his measurements. That was something he could do while I was busy with my own work. When I ran into Noah a few days later he had not only taken his measurements, but had drafted his pattern and had made two pairs of shorts! Do you ever have students like this? He’s not even my student. In fact, after seeing how he addressed a specific part of the fabrication process, I learned a trick or two from him! The student became the teacher. This is fabulous! Noah was obviously motivated without me pushing him or encouraging him beyond the initial invitation to join in the “jean’s jam.” Check out Noah’s most recent pair of jeans that he just completed! Amazing right? Even for a film student who has had a couple sewing courses, these turned out great.

Insert image of Noah’s jeans... front and back1

Insert image of Noah’s jeans... front and back2Noah’s jeans...Front and back

How might we invite such self-motivated passion in our students in our art courses? How might we encourage students to think deeply about their making and the impact of such making? How do we teach students to teach themselves, that it is okay to teach themselves, that it is necessary for learning? I really believe this. I think we are all self-taught. The only way we learn is if we are open to it. We don’t learn in a vacuum, right? We might not all be formally taught within a specific institution, but we are self-taught to a large degree if we accept that we learn from our relationally lived experiences regardless of where those might occur. For example, Noah did not get all of his instruction from me. He recalled prior learning experiences, making inferences that helped him get the job done. He searched through books, the Internet, and asked for advice from his friends who have had experience in sewing. In sharing our work, we both learned more as we offered each other feedback from our individual efforts. This seems like a pretty decent model for learning a skill. I wonder how this model might translate to the art classroom... Now, to finish our pattern for our jeans draft!

Pattern Drafting PART III: This is the third installment of my description of the instructions I followed to create my own pair of jeans (adapted from Helen Joseph-Armstrong’s Patternmaking for Fashion Design (5th Ed)). Check out Parts I & II and then add this section to finish up this foundational draft. After this part is completed, then we will create a sloper (a simple pattern without any of the design features like pockets, yokes, seam allowances, or closures) and create a muslin or toile (a test garment to check the fit of our jeans). Finally, we will design a pattern and construct our jeans. I will provide some guidelines for designing your final jeans pattern, but there are many tutorials and instructions online regarding the actual construction of the jeans. I’ll add those references when we get there.


Part 3 - Complete Foundation

Add the following draft segments to the pattern you started from the last blog posts on Pattern Drafting PARTS I & II.

Part3_detail_upperPart 3 - Detail - Upper

Mark points zf (front hip mark) and zb (back hip mark) by measuring 3/8” out from each side of C.

M-S =     half of M to zf. Mark S.
N-T =     half of N to zb. Mark T.

Square a line in both directions from S and T. The vertical lines are your center creaselines. Use them as your grainlines as well.

Part 3 - Detail - Lower

Leg line: Start with the following measurements and then alter the knee and hem openings as desired. Mark 4” out on each side of the knee line at the center creaseline and 3 3/4” out on each side of the hemline. On the back, mark 4 1/2” out from each side of the creaseline and 4 1/4” on each side of the hemline. Alternatively, you can take measurements from your favourite pair of jeans. Use the measurement at the knee (front and back) and the hem opening (front and back).

Draw a curve from P to D to zb and continue the curve beyond at a gradual slope until it blends into the leg line above the knee. (gray line)

Draw a curve from R to D to zf and continue the curve beyond at a gradual slope until it blends into the leg line above the knee. (red line)

This jean foundation is complete when both front and back are traced onto another long piece of paper and then cut out (front: Q-R-D-zf-knee-hem-knee-M-xf-Q and back: P-D-zb-knee-hem-knee-N-xb-O-P). This is your sloper. We will use it next time to create a test fit (muslin or toile) of our jeans!

-Daniel T. Barney, PhD


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Rita Irwin

Dan - I love reading your columns and this week's column was such a treat. It's been several years now since you completed your PhD at UBC and I am still referring other PhD students to your work - and believe me, you continue to inspire others, even if you have moved on to new challenges! Thank you for sharing your journey! Rita


I love your three posts about male jean patterns. Very good explanation. Really useful!!

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