Think globally, act locally. That’s Carol Sogard.
From Detroit, Sogard has been a professor of graphic design at the University of Utah for more than two decades. Her work as a designer, educator and community-engaged artist focuses on the type of contemporary issues that affect the entire globe: habitat destruction, climate change, industrial pollution, plastic waste. To create her works, she gets her materials locally, from found materials, fabrics and reclaimed plastic bags, and, melding digital collage, weaving and sewing, she creates works that confront us with our immediate behavior and our relationship with the natural world.
Sogard says she is always buying fabric, regardless of whether or not she has a specific project. She searches out reclaimed materials, “like old tent fabric, used burlap coffee bags, and billboard vinyl,” and she always has leftover white material like curtain trimmings and old bedsheets. “It is perfect for dyeing and painting. At first, I used standard fabric dye. Then I discovered natural dyes, like tea staining and dried avocado seeds that, when boiled, create a beautiful mauve color. If I have a colored fabric that is not a favorite, I will usually bleach dye or paint it. Dyeing and painting bring new life to the materials. Because of this, I end up with piles of altered fabrics that get stored away, waiting for the next project. Sometimes they are used for a large sewing project, but there are still many leftover scraps. As a result, my scrap fabric bin is often overflowing.”
Her global concerns became real local each holiday season, when she would become frustrated with the waste associated with wrapping presents. “I decided to start using my fabric scraps to make reusable gift bags. Selecting combinations of unconventional materials that are uniquely combined and stitched together is a big part of the bag-making process. Since I had no shortage of dyed, patterned, painted, and reclaimed material, it was easy to find interesting combinations. Sewing the different materials together created opportunities to discover new textures and colors. It has become one of the most enjoyable parts of the process. Each holiday I would replenish my supply with new gift bag designs. Now, whenever there is an occasion for a gift, it is just as fast and easy to make a handmade bag instead of buying wrapping paper. A handmade bag makes the gift feel more special. Adding the ribbon and the gift tag is also part of the creative process. I also have a collection of ribbons, string, and fabric scraps sewn into strips of ribbon. Adding extra elements and a handmade tag makes the entire gift package feels like a design project.”
The friends and family who have been recipients have loved the bags. “No two bags are alike because they are all sewn from different fabric scraps. They feel uniquely customized for the gift recipient. I love that these are original pieces that cannot be mass-produced. It is probably the reason why it will remain a hobby for me.”
Commercial and academic settings generally prefer to pigeonhole an artist. Our “Variant of Concern” series cuts across this grain, exploring the practices that may lie outside an artist’s more recognizable output.