This is not your grandmother’s sewing circle.
In a few weeks, Brooklyn-based artist Amanda Browder and members of a fledgling public arts organization will temporarily transform a two-story Greenpoint building into a Cristo-like shroud of quilted fabric.
But before that, they’re sewing.
“People think steel, wood and concrete as art materials, but they don’t always think of fabric that is something that can be a primary public arts sculpture,” said Browder, who once draped a three-story patchwork of fabric out of her apartment in Chicago when she was teaching at the Art Institute of Chicago.
She sought to expand upon that project in Greenpoint and designed plans for an “awe-inspiring shock” to local residents that was created with community participation.
After refining her plan to sew together over 1,000 feet of donated fabric strips by the end of May, Browder realized she needed a few extra dexterous hands. The North Brooklyn Public Arts Coalition came on board, organizing three community sewing circles and securing a $1,500 grant from the Brooklyn Arts Council, while Browder called every friend, artist and quilter she knew to sew the thing up.
“The collaboration just made the project bigger and more legitimate,” said Browder.
Last Saturday afternoon, 35 volunteers huddled in a former convent in Williamsburg cutting and sewing colorful swatches of cloth according to Browder’s instructions. By the end of the day, the scrappy bunch had completed 23 rolls of fabric at a total of 850 feet.
“Even if you had no experience sewing before, there was a tutorial to help you learn,” said Coalition volunteer Anne Palermo, who cut fabric and laid it out to measure. “We want to make it a fun atmosphere so that people wouldn’t cut and run.”
Two more sewing circles are planned this spring. In the meantime, the arts coalition continues to raise money by offering to sell swatches of the final artwork through a new fundraising Web site, www.kickstarter.com.
When the project is, ahem, sewn up by the end of May, it will hang down the façade of a building in a giant, downward-pointing chevron. The group has not chosen a site, but narrowed it down among a few lucky finalists.
Browder hopes that her project will make art accessible to Brooklynites, who may not associate sewing with sculpture or public art, and part of the public’s everyday experience.
“Anybody can make this,” said Browder. “You just have to put your mind to it and get people together and it will be just as fantastic as a building or a permanent public sculpture that is larger than ourselves.”
Sewing circles will take place on April 18 from 2-5 pm at the Lutheran Church of the Messiah (129 Russell St. between Nassau and Driggs avenues in Greenpoint) and on May 1 from 2-5 pm at St. Joseph and Dominic Catholic Academy (140 Montrose Ave. between Manhattan and Graham avenues in Williamsburg). For information, visit www.kickstarter.com.