Wednesday, April 2, 2008

An interview with Abby Glassenberg!

Abby Glassenberg is an incredible soft sculpture talent and a favorite of ours over at Schmancy. She has been making plush pieces since 2005, and if you read her blog (and you should read her blog), then you already have an idea just how much she's accomplished in that time. Her new website is launching this Friday. She was kind enough to do an interview with us, and had some inspiring and helpful answers to our questions. Thanks again, Abby!

S- From what I observe, you’re an incredibly prolific plush talent.

AG- Thank you! I actually work more slowly now than I have in the past because each piece takes longer to complete.

S- On average how many pieces do you finish in a week?

AG- I usually make one complete sculpture every four or five days, depending on how much time I have to work. On most days I can squeeze in about two hours in the studio, but that can totally go out the window if one of my children is sick or school is canceled or something.

S- How long does it take you, from the initial concept to the finished product, to complete a piece? Can you give people a little bit of an idea of that process for you?

AG- If I am drafting a totally new pattern, starting from some photos and a sketch, it probably takes a few days longer than if I am making a bird that I’ve made before.

S- Your work seems startlingly accurate at times! Your attention to detail is incredible. Do you do a lot of research for your pieces?

AG- I enjoy the research process. I usually look online and in birding books for some images of what a real species looks like in nature. Then I look at commercially made soft toys of that particular bird and I look at other artists interpretations, too. This helps me to get a sense of how the body form has been broken down into basic shapes and exaggerated for effect. Finally, I create a sketch as close to the size of the finish piece as possible. This sketch becomes the basis of the first draft of the sewing pattern.

S- One of my favorite parts about your work is your use of mixed media! You create fabrics out of unlikely sources and often enlist the help of found objects. What are some of your favorite materials to work with?

AG- I really like to find fabrics in unexpected places, like the labels sew into clothing or flour sacks. Those bits of fabric that sneak into your life and you don’t even realize it. Most of the other found objects that eventually get incorporated into my sculptures I find at the Wellesley Town Dump. I pick up things and take them home and then think about them, sometimes for a very long time, before I figure out what exactly they should become.

S- Where do you find most of your materials?

AG- Most of my birds are sewn from Kona cotton that I buy at commercial fabric stores either locally or online. I love Kona cotton because it is strong and I stuff very firmly. The rest of my fabric I have collected over many years for all over the place. It’s an addiction.

S- A large part of your sewing skills are self-taught! Are there specific tools you could not live without or you wish you'd known about sooner? Do you have any tips or books you'd recommend to someone looking to hone their skills on their own?

AG- Yes, I learned to sew in 8th grade Home Economics. I bought my sewing machine then, too, and it is a very basic machine (a Bernette 330) and I love it. The manual had gone missing for over a decade, but it recently was found and that was a big help.

Learning to use my machine to my advantage was a long process, but has really cut down on my initial frustrations. The first big milestone was figuring out that I needed to use a very short stitch length! Then, changing from a regular presser foot to the running/quilting foot. This keeps the tiny pieces that I sew from getting sucked down into the machine! Using very thin needles (I’m fond of size 10) helps a lot because they make smaller holes in the fabric. Most recently I have switched to wool stuffing which I am loving.

Freezer paper is an invaluable tool. I draft all of my patterns on it and then iron it onto my fabric and sew around it before pulling it off. This allows me to be very accurate in sewing tiny shapes.

Surgical forceps are also a tool I could not live without. Great for turning tiny things inside out, for stuffing firmly without poking a hole in the fabric, and even for clamping fabric together.

Coating hand-sewing thread with beeswax to prevent tangles is a great tip, too. And tiny sharp scissors, of course. I could go on, but I’ll stop there!

There are some great books out there for people interested in learning techniques. I recommend Good Design in Soft Toys by Rudi de Sarigny, Anatomy of a Doll and Designing the Doll, both by Susanna Oroyan. Interestingly there really doesn’t seem to be a book specifically about creating soft sculpture. Maybe I need to get to work on that!

S- Reading back entries in your blog, it's amazing to see how your work has come along over the last three years. To me, it really seems you've found your own style within the genre of plush. In retrospect, do you think there are certain things that stand out as having inspired changes in your work?

Last March I had a wonderful show at the Wellesley Public Library. I made 53 soft toys for that show and afterward I suddenly realized that I didn’t want to make toys anymore! I knew I needed some time to focus on making more complex, sculptural pieces and that is what I did, without any real goal in mind. As I started to post them on my blog and on Flickr they started to attract interest from galleries and retail stores and things just took off from there.

AG- Your business actually began as a creative outlet/way to occupy your time while your first daughter, Roxanne, was napping. I find a lot of people in the crafting community are mothers as well, and I imagine it would be a definite struggle to balance the two. Do you have any advice to other mothers looking to balance attention to their craft with attention to their kin?

For me it has always been important to have a balance in my day-to-day life. I feel so thankful that I am able to be at home with my two daughters, Roxanne and Stella. Being here each day, teaching them and watching them grow, is the most important thing in my life right now. But I need to have something else going on at the same time, something that connects me with the adult world and give my mind another area to focus on. Sewing soft sculpture has become that other area. The combination of being a mom and being an artist is really a good one – I can work from home, my work is quiet, I can pick it up and put it down at any time. My blog keeps me connected to this wonderful community of creative people who inspire and motivate me every day.

S - I love the shift you’ve made from cute softies for kids, to more detailed pieces, collage, and now mixed-media sculptural pieces. Do you envision yourself as ever branching away from soft sculpture, or continuing to branch into other forms of art?

AG- Soft sculpture is my true love.

S- I was talking with someone the other day about how plush seems to have changed in the last few years. He was describing fabric and stuffing as "the new sculpture." -- the materials are more accessible, and they can be cheaper and easier to recycle than more ‘traditional’ forms. To me, the evolution of your work embodies that shift from "plush toys" to "plush sculpture". As your audience widens, do you find you’ve met any resistance to the concept of plush as sculpture/art?

This is a good time for plush. The market is growing and there are lots of galleries and stores interested in indie fine artists. I am so happy to be able to participate in this new interest in alternative, affordable art-making.

S- Speaking of which, you’ve been doing a lot more gallery shows! How do you feel the experience differs from craft fairs or selling your work on your own? Is there one you prefer?

AG- I am really enjoying showing my work in galleries. I love thinking about how to create a cohesive body of work and then plowing away over several months to make it happen. And there is truly nothing like arriving at an opening and seeing all your hard work on display and watching people interact with it.

S- You have a gallery show opening on April 4th at the Paperboat Gallery? Can you tell everyone a little bit about it?

AG- The show is called “Feather Your Nest” and I will be showing with the amazing Amy Rice. I will have ten soft sculptures in the show which opens April 4 and runs through the month. There will be an opening party on April 18 if you live near Milwaukee. All of the work will be for sale through the gallery. I’m totally excited to be part of this show!

S- Has anything in particular been inspiring you lately? Books, songs, other artists, blogs, etc?

AG- I know I’ve said it before, but I am continually inspired by the work of Tamar Mogendorff. She is my soft sculpture hero.

S- Any other up and coming plans we should know about??

AG- I have a few shows booked for the winter of 2008-2009. My website,, is launching this Friday, April 4, so come check it out! And otherwise I am busy experimenting with new designs and new materials and having a lot of fun.

Thank you so much for interviewing me! Plush You was my very first show and I think it is awesome.


Thanks again to Abby for her great responses. Make sure to visit her blog, etsy and flickr to see more of her work and show your support. Also, if you're in the Milwaukee area, make sure to check out Abby's latest show at the Paperboat Boutique and Gallery. It runs April 4th through the 30th!

1 comment:

Jane said...

Gray and green, parrots and chimpanzees. :)