Spotlight on Marissa D’Agostino and Delainie Wheeler of Backtalk Branding in Detroit.
This is the second installation of my Creative of the Week series, where I interview and spotlight the artists, writers, creative business owners, makers, and freethinkers I admire. Today, I’m excited to introduce you to Lexie—a talented poet and fiber artist—and one of my best friends for the past 12 years.
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I realized I was creative at a very early age—probably three or four. My parents were very supportive of my creative endeavors, and were creative people themselves. My dad is a sculptor. And I can recall how he had some of my early crayon scribbles displayed at his work bench. How he had pom-poms I made hanging in his car. And how he helped me string bunches of cloth I had sewn together as a sort of mobile over my bed.
His support of my work early on was great encouragement to keep going, and to keep trying. My mom sewed a lot of our clothes and costumes when I was small. She was always happy to give me some scrap fabric to “work on” while she sewed. She taught me the basics of many of the fiber arts I do today—hand sewing, machine sewing, and knitting. As I grew older and showed an inclination towards writing, my parents were big supporters of my work as well.
In addition to being creative, I also have a strong streak of perfectionism running though me. I have a very hard time when my creative output doesn’t match my vision. I can be incredibly hard on myself. I remember having a meltdown in 5th grade art class because I could not get the project I was working on to look how I wanted it to. That definitely alienated some of my peers. To this day, I think my self-criticism definitely keeps some people at arms’ length.
Creativity got me through the pandemic, full stop. The pandemic shrunk all of our worlds. For a long time there, my world was reduced to a one-bedroom apartment. I plunged myself into creative projects to help fill the expanse of time that opened up, and I truly feel like it saved me. The satisfaction I felt from teaching myself a new skill, and eventually completing a project was so deep and so immense. It really bolstered me during an extremely dark time.
I feel that my mind is best occupied when I am fully engaged in a creative project. I remember taking a week off in the midst of the pandemic, and since I couldn’t go anywhere, I devoted my time to sewing projects. I felt fully myself that week—I was really IN IT, figuring things out, completely engaged in a project. I felt so refreshed after that week, and really able to go back to my normal life with a renewed sense of positivity and possibility.
One of my favorite ways to express my creativity, perhaps unsurprisingly given my inclination towards fiber arts, is through the way I dress. One of the biggest struggles I’ve had during the pandemic is not being what I describe as “a person in the world.” In the before times, I worked in an office every day, and I loved picking out what I was going to wear each day, how I was going to present myself to the world.
I work from home currently, so there’s a lot less world to present myself to. I find myself thinking a lot about clothes and what might work well together, whether it’s a specific pairing of colors, or silhouettes. I get such a sense of satisfaction when a sartorial pairing I imagined in my head works out, much the way I get pleasure and satisfaction when one of my creative projects is completed, and the vision I had in my head makes its way into the world.
I have to admit, when I’m in the middle of a creative undertaking, whether it’s a sewing project, or cooking a meal, wherever I am working looks like a disaster zone. I am not neat or organized in my making – I am constantly moving from task to task, and I don’t clean up after myself in the midst of working. I do it all at the end. I also often don’t read instructions – I get so excited about a project that I just want to dive right in, and that has lead to some serious creative disappointments.
I can also get very absorbed in a project in a way that time sort of ceases to exist to me – if I’m engaged, I can work on something for hours, without realizing how much time has passed. But in my day to day life, I’d say I’m an organized, reliable, responsible person. I’m capable of compartmentalizing my creative life from my day to day life and handling what needs to be handled – though I’d probably rather be working on a creative project!
The hardest part for me, as always, is being a perfectionist. I am often able to envision what I want a finished object to look like – sometimes even before having the skills to execute it. When a project doesn’t turn out how I think it should, or when it takes me a long time to learn how to do something, I can be really hard on myself.
The easiest part for me, as previously mentioned, is conceptualizing a final project. I am a visual thinker, and sometimes just seeing a specific color combination sets me off on a path where I come up with an idea for a weaving project, or for a sewing project. It’s the process of getting from the idea to to end product that can be difficult!
When I was in my MFA program, at some point I heard the advice – not sure if it was from a professor or from a fellow student – that even the bad poems I wrote serve a purpose. They’re a bridge that helps you get to where you want to be. That’s how I try to think of every creative project – even if it doesn’t turn out the way I hoped.
I documented most of my creative projects on Instagram starting at the outset of the pandemic, and it has been so helpful to look back – I can really see how I have progressed, and I can see how the projects I felt turned out poorly are truly the foundation for the things I am now very proud of. It all matters. It’s all practice. Keep going.
Pre-pandemic, I loved taking classes in-person. My local craft store, Brooklyn Craft Company, offers a wide variety of classes for makers of all skill levels.
They pivoted to online classes during the pandemic, which were also great. YouTube and Instagram are also a great resource. YouTube has so many step by step how to videos for essentially anything you’re seeking to do. Instagram is a great source of inspiration.
I love following other knitters, sewists, and weavers to see what they’re working on, to find new patterns, fabric sources, and more. There are so many creative people out there and it’s so exciting to see so many different takes on fabric arts.
I would love to be in a place where I felt comfortable making knit and sewn items for other people. I’m really proud of the skills that I’ve built, but I still have work to do in order to be comfortable giving finished objects to people. A lot of it has to do with the finishing of pieces.
For example, I have a fairly simple sewing machine, so the finishing on some of my garments isn’t as nice as it could be if I had a serger. There are ways around this, but I’m still learning as I go. I would also love to work on larger scale woven pieces. I love Maryanne Moodie’s large scale weavings, and would be thrilled to have the skill set (and the space!) to tackle something like that in the future.
As for new skills, I’m obsessed with all things quilts. It’s such an intricate, beautiful form of fabric art. I have made several garments from cutter quilts, which are quilts that have stains or damage that make it unlikely they’ll be used for their intended purpose. I see the thought and skill that goes into making quilts (and that’s why I only repurpose quilts that might otherwise end up in the trash).
Five years from now I would love to be making my own quilts—the idea of coming up with the color, fabric, and shape combinations makes my brain light right up.
If you’re starting to knit or sew, find a good simple pattern, and make that several times. I decided to just wing it with the first sewing project that sent me down this path. I didn’t use a pattern. I just went for it, and the end result was something I didn’t want to wear. It was fun to use my brain that way, and I learned a lot, but I would have been much happier if I had a garment I actually wanted to wear as the end result.
Read the directions. Then read them again. Google things if you don’t understand them. There are unlimited resources on the internet. Also, whether you’re knitting, sewing, or weaving, document your work. I can’t tell you how satisfying it feels to look back through my old projects and see myself improve, project over project.
It’s okay to make things just for the sake of making something. Your creativity does not have to be your side hustle, or your main hustle—but that’s also awesome if it is!
I’ve spent 16 years in advertising, and now I’m using that knowledge to help creatives grow their own small businesses. Will that include you this year?
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Spotlight on Marissa D’Agostino and Delainie Wheeler of Backtalk Branding in Detroit.