Japanese techniques, old-fashioned quilting and the love of a few nutty women propelled Gini Corrick from making clothes to making internationally lauded art — that she wears.
Gini Corrick’s work tools look right at home in her kitchen. A slow cooker. A microwave. One of those boxy white roasters you use when you need more oven room at Thanksgiving. In these, Corrick concocts her fabric dyes, often using natural materials such as an avocado seed that she’s cranked into a vise and sliced. (It exudes, of all things, a vivid red.)
Into these dyes, Corrick immerses fabric that she’s twisted, pleated, puckered or bound around a length of PVC pipe. Once untwisted, unpleated, unpuckered or unbound, the pattern of dyed and undyed cloth is, however imagined, always a revelation.
“That’s why I never, ever, take it off the pipe before I go to bed,” she said solemnly. “I wouldn’t be able to sleep.”
Finally, Corrick stitches the dyed fabric into stunning wearable pieces of art that have earned her national and international honors.
Yet she won’t claim mastery of the craft, hewing to an artistic philosophy, common to many cultures, that flaws enable the spirit of a garment to roam free.
Her first one-woman show opens at 4 p.m. June 7 in the Terrace Room of Kenwood Isles apartments, 1425 W. 28th St., Minneapolis. Public hours are 1-4 p.m. June 8-14.
Corrick practices the ancient Japanese technique of shibori, which looks at first glance like tie-dye. Really amazing tie-dye. The technique dates back to the eighth century, but “is definitely having a moment,” according to a recent Wall Street Journal article about hot design trends.
Shibori involves specific ways of creating elaborate patterns of dye transfer and dye resistance. One of Corrick’s favorites involves tightly stitched pleats that, when undone, look like great grins of horse teeth, which is what she calls the pattern.
The hallway of her cozy apartment overlooking Uptown is half-closet, half-gallery, hung with her creations. There’s Deep Purple, an early design in which she cut through three of four layers of sandwiched silk to create a chenille effect, then added a panel from a vintage kimono that she further embellished.
There’s the madly contemporary Ella Coat made from an old Faribault wool blanket that she shibori-dyed and hand-painted, then cut in a spiral column requiring only one seam.
Then there’s Taking the Dragon, a masterpiece made with her daughter, Rose, also a textile artist. It courses with an appliquéd dragon that rises from the fabric with scales, claws, sprays of yarn and fire from knitted copper wire, the entire body outlined with tiny seed beads. The coat has toured to shows around the world.
An art form of human history
Corrick comes to her love of fabric honestly. Her mother, Anna Barsalou of Dubuque, Iowa, won second prize at the 1939 New York World’s Fair for a quilt called “Olive Branch,” with a dove on each wreath of leaves. Given the rumblings that would become World War II, “I think she was thinking of how to make the world safe for democracy.”
At the time, Corrick was trying to make her own world safe for playing tennis and being outdoors — not stuck inside with a needle and thread.
“My mom tried to teach me, but I was such a brat,” she recalled. Eventually, Corrick learned, “and before she died, I made her a quilt so she’d know she hadn’t failed.”
Even now, Corrick sleeps beneath a quilt she made in her mother’s honor and also one of her grandmother’s old quilts, “so I can remember her when I go to sleep. It’s in shreds, but it’s a good feeling.”
Corrick’s conversation is laced with references to generations, to centuries, to eons. Take her approach to clothing design. She’s a disciple of the bias cut, a technique introduced in the 1920s by Madeleine Voinnet, a French dressmaker whose single spiraled seam flattered the figure.
“Draping the human form is so vital,” Corrick said, with some passion. “Since the time of Eve, we have done this.”
Her second career
Yet Corrick hadn’t always done this, at least not with such artistry.
She mostly had used her sewing skills to make clothes for herself and her five kids. Of raising her family and her 53 years of marriage to William Corrick, she said, “I think it’s the most important thing I ever did — my greatest accomplishment.”
But then the kids grew up, and her husband retired as longtime city attorney for New Hope. In 1985, they bought 60 acres of land near Cross Lake. That brought her in contact with a group of quilters in Brainerd, who said she just had to join them.
“Well, I fell in love with these women,” she said, laughing. “They were nuts like I was.”
During their sewing sessions, she began seeing how to transfer the principles of quilting to clothing.
“You have to learn so many ways to accomplish things,” she said. “That’s the exciting part: tackling the problems.”
Upon her husband’s death in 1999, she returned to the Twin Cities. Her textile work became more art-oriented, and she became active with the Minnesota Textile Center and helped found Wearable Art MidWest.
A coat closet was remodeled to install a dye lab. Her bedroom’s walk-in closet became a sewing room, with three machines, scads of spools and walls riffling with thumb-tacked pages torn from magazines.
In 2005, the Textile Center gave her the Spun Gold Award for her lifetime commitment to this art.
It’s probably time to note that Corrick turned 90 years old this month. Her second career has lasted for years. Worth considering, that.
Nor is she slowing down: “I’m just introducing myself to felting.”
Kim Ode • 612-673-7185