Today we’d like to introduce you to Alena Saunders.
Hi Alena, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
At the start of the pandemic, I’d given up my job as a server and, having reached what felt like the end of the internet, I started to experiment with natural dyes. The process was so intricate and historical – and it gave me a reason to leave the house. Throwing an old tote over my shoulder, I’d make my way down to a patch of untouched land near my house in Atlanta, Georgia, and forage for kudzu, dewberries, red clay. I wound up with yards and yards of dyed fabric; I hadn’t really thought past the dyeing part. So slowly, I taught myself to sew. When I moved to L.A. (through a series of unexpected twists and a few whims) dyeing became difficult, and I began to reconsider my fabric choice. Now I use primarily denim, which I find by sifting through the bins at Goodwill Outlets across the city. Part of the evolution and ethos of my practice has always been sustainability – or at least to create as little waste as possible while also creating something that people might value and find useful.
I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
While the road hasn’t been particularly bumpy, it hasn’t exactly been smooth. Teaching oneself to sew is not exactly easy. The first jacket I ever made looked like something Frankenstein’s monster might wear. There was a point in the beginning where I was going through some things in my personal life and I was just so angry. I kept tugging on material and would break four to five needles in a sitting. My friends would say to me, “Alena! Stop taking it out on the machine!” But having an artistic practice, in the end, is how we make it through those moments. We just have to come back to the table and have faith that someday we won’t have to buy needles in bulk.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I went to school for oil painting, but obviously that’s not what I’m doing now. I think what I’m proudest of is that the compositional education I received from all those years of painting now wasn’t wasted – it’s just now being applied to making these quilted jackets. It gives me the ability to look at my work as a serious artistic practice. When I started sewing, I was really just farting around, waiting for the pandemic to end so I could — well, I wasn’t sure. But as I got the hang of it, and as people reached out to me to buy them, I felt like — well, it was really affirming. You know, I sure thought what I was doing was cool, but I wasn’t sure that other people would feel the same way.
Are there any books, apps, podcasts or blogs that help you do your best?
I’m a big reader, although I almost never read books relating to artistic practice. Some of my favorite books are:
Dispatches by Michael Herr (I read it probably once or twice a year for over 10 years now)
Kubrick by Michael Herr
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante
The Will to Change by bell hooks
New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton
White Girls by Hilton Als
I Used to be Charming by Eve Babitz
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