Carol Ziogas has been sewing most of her life, and became a self-employed artist at 17! She loves to collect textiles and books about textiles, and discovered a love for traditional Japanese stitching styles – so much so that she has demonstrated her skills at the Tokyo International Quilt Festival. Carol shares her passion for Japanese textiles and stitching with all of us here and on her blog and etsy site.
How long have you been interested in Japanese textiles and sashiko? How did you get started?
Oh, since maybe 8 or 9. My mother was a hand quilter and went through a Japanese phase in the 1980s. I was introduced to sashiko, blue and white style, and learning about Japanese design motifs when I was in grade school. Mom collected shibori, kasuri, and other interesting bits, which she gave to me after I turned my interests into a business. I still have those pieces because I promised her I wouldn’t sell them.
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What are your earliest memories involving your own creative expression?
I wasn’t allowed to use Mom’s sewing machine until I could prove I was responsible enough to handle hand sewing, so I was sewing little knickknacks at age 6, then onto the machine around age 8, I think. I was also introduced to researching and writing around age 8. Around age 11 I got into making paper models from kits, then designed my own. I taught myself weaving from a book when I was 12. If you can’t already tell, I was not a socially active or popular child.
Do you feel that you chose your “passion,” or did it choose you?
I ran from my mother’s legacy of sewing for a long time, then it caught up to me and I’ve been working with it ever since. I was a jeweler for ten years, traveling the West Coast and selling at shows. Someone broke into my car one night and stole all my tools, my custom pieces, and the camera I’d used to photograph them. Why did I leave all that in my car? It’s a long story. Let’s just say it was the first and last time I did that.
A year later I bought my first bolt of kimono silk on eBay, then started collecting vintage kimono. I’d been interested in kimono for years, but the timing finally felt right to dive in, so I did. That was maybe 2003 or 2004. Working with textiles is meditative work for me in a way that jewelry and metalwork never was, so it feels like the right thing for me to do.
What inspires your work?
Everything. If you could see my house, my garden… Color and texture everywhere. I fill up any flat, empty spaces with color and texture. I have synesthesia so inspiration is in everything around me. My research library is pretty comprehensive and keeps growing. Thank goodness my husband knows how to build more shelves.
What different creative mediums do you play around with?
Writing, photography, sewing, weaving, and jewelry. Does gardening count? Gardening.
What does your studio look like? Where does the magic happen?
My husband is incredibly supportive. He did a complete remodel of our living room/dining room area and it’s now our retail showroom. The spare bedroom is now an office, and since all the kids moved out, one of their old rooms is now my studio. As we grow, he installs more shelving. It’s amazing. We live in an old Victorian with a somewhat feral garden. I feel incredibly fortunate.
What is your favorite tip for organizing your stash of creative supplies?
How do you make time for creating? Do you try to create daily?
I have deadlines for my professional creative work, and I try to get things done on time, but it isn’t easy. We’re running two creative businesses, so most days my brain is filled with “ship this, order that, send those emails and return those calls.” Finding the brain space to create something new means taking hours alone to dive into research, digging through my library, and sketch out what I’d like to do. Sometimes it’s more intuitive and impromptu; something in the studio catches my eye and I start creating.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
I’ve been a self-employed artist since I was 17. It’s pretty much all I know at this point. If I’m not motivated, there’s something wrong.
If you were no longer able to use the medium that you are now working in, how else would you express your creativity?
Pick another medium. I’d write full time if I didn’t have two businesses to run.
When all my jewelry tools were stolen, I went back to college for a few years and studied theater and Shakespeare. That got me back into costuming and textile research, which I’d done when I was in my teens and 20’s. Then I switched majors to Anthropology, which also includes textile research. There are infinite ways to express creativity. If you don’t find them, they’ll find you.
What is your typical day like?
Wake up around 7 or 8, read the news for a while, feed the cat, make breakfast, study Japanese while I eat, then around 10 AM I get down to work. We have the Etsy shop (retail) and a wholesale import business, so there are always emails and calls to answer. When it’s late at night in California, it’s the next business day in Japan. Sometimes those email conversations can go past midnight.
Which current trends are you following?
Fortunately I’m at a point where the trends are following what I’ve been doing for a decade (sashiko), so that’s nice.
What is your greatest accomplishment to date?
Demonstrating sashiko in Japan at the Tokyo International Quilt Festival for the past two years. As a non-Japanese person this is kind of a big deal.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received on your creative journey?
See things differently. Be open to changing your perception of what something “should” be. Learn about tradition, but don’t be a slave to it.
I’m leading a textile tour group to Japan in May-June 2019. Pretty excited about that.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us today?
Most of us are very, very good at underestimating ourselves. Step up and see how far you can go.
And follow Carol on YouTube to learn more about Sashiko! Here is a video about Sashiko basics:
Blog: The Ardent Thread
Interview published June, 2018.
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