STARTING WITH A SCARF...

Back in '96, I was ten years old, and had finally convinced my parents to let me take a couple woodcarving classes with a Connecticut artist who made shuttle replicas for NASA, and her daughter was in my violin ensemble.  Fatefully, as I cut my thumb shaving the bark legs of my wooden rooster, I fell in love with carving.  From then on, I carried a small Swiss Army knife, gifted by my grandmother with her mail-away Marlboro points, and thus bore the enameled cigarette logo, front-and-center-- much to my mother's horror.  And over the years, it carved birch marshmellow sticks, bows and arrows, the good ol' New England classic: a whale.

It seemed wonderfully familiar when I began carving linocut blocks while taking printmaking at the College of Charleston during undergrad.  Eventually, I became a Printmaking Instructor at my alma mater, and began creating printed objet d'arts like playing cards and hand fans in the studio.  I liked the idea of printing something usable, the added element of functional design.  

One afternoon, I stumbled upon a Youtube documentary (as one does) on the "The Last of the London Fabric Printers," David Evans & Co.  Much to my surprise, the textile house, which sadly printed its last silk square in 2001, used carved blocks to relief print on silk fabrics.  Their fabric was beautiful, almost other-worldly, and I became inspired to use my acquired skills to transition from printing on paper with presses in a public studio, to block-printing on silk with nothing but elbow grease in my home studio.  

The first textiles I printed were scarves inspired by female rulers like Cleopatra, Athena, Theodora, and more.  They are listed chronologically below, with the oldest first, to the most recent, last.  For now, I have decided to focus on pocket squares, but it all started with a scarf.  Or maybe with a Marlboro-branded Swiss Army Knife...

DESIGN TIME...

The pocket squares I make are inspired by historical figures, and creating the designs is a process that begins with research.  By looking at artifacts, literature, architecture, portraits, fashion history, and artwork from the figures' lives and times (thanks, internet), the designs come together through small notes, ideas, and drawings.

The Frank Pocket Square is inspired by the American poet Frank O'Hara, known for his influence on The New York School and Jazz Poetry.  The first poem I read of his, and one of the most lovely things I have ever read,"The Day Lady Died," is an elegy to the late Billie Holiday, which inspired the gardenia motif for the design.  

After consolidating the research ideas into maquette, or scale drawing using freehand and drafting techniques, the design is transferred onto golden-cut linoleum blocks mounted to birch.  I carve the stamps by hand using gouges and knives, carving away the blank or negative space, so that the positive raised surface remains, like a three-dimensional drawing.  

Once the carving is finished, the blocks are rolled with ink and then registered using a jig onto natural silk squares.  I use my body weight, kneeling on the block to press the ink through the fabric, much like the traditional Indian method of printing used for thousands of years.  Except I have the addition of volleyball kneepads which helps with long printing runs immensely and adds a certain element of... Sporty-Spice-style.

After the inks have cured, or dried, for at least a week, they are dyed using Jacquard and natural pigments, leaving the printed parts slightly embossed and opaque on the colorful silk.  This is perhaps my favorite part of the process, not because it's the end, but because it is the birth of an idea coming to fruition.  Sometimes the design organically changes, takes on a life of its own, turns out a surprise, and sometimes it's exactly as I had imagined it.  I never know, and maybe that's what keeps me coming back....

TOOL TIME...

I create my pocket squares using a variety of tools, some old and some new. These are a few of my favorites, some of which have been passed down in my family for over 100 years. Often, when I am drafting designs, I think about the hands that held them years ago, and it makes me feel connected to the past and to my relatives. 1. Globemaster Vernier Caliper: Used by my maternal grandfather, Kenneth Ernest Stephens, in his woodworking projects for the boats he restored in his lifetime. I now use the calipers to register blocks, making sure lines and sides are square and equidistant. 2. Staedtler Architect Ruler: Another one of Ken's tools, used for everything from creating signage to charting waters, now it drafts maquettes of my designs. 3. Yasutomo Bamboo Baren:  This baren, made of layered bamboo, is used to pull proofs of my carved and inked blocks. It's an ancient tool, used by Japanese and Chinese printmakers as early as 700 AD. 4. American Electric Supply Co. Measuring Tape: Passed down from Ken and my grandmother, Eileen Frances Maher Stephens, this treasure was manufactured in Hartford, CT, where they both spent their childhood, and also where my wife and I eloped eight years ago. 5. Family Photo: My great-grandfather Franklyn Sydney Maher, made this for his mother, Mary Benway Maher, and it reminds me of all the artists in my family.   6. Sterling Winstead Scissors: Mary Benway Maher inherited this set from her mother-in-law upon her marriage to my great-great grandfather, Reginald Tallman Maher.  7.  Brass and Cherry Framing Square: Used by Franklyn, an avid photographer, world traveller, and amateur genealogist, this square is a reminder of how many people came before me, how I am like a fraction of an inch on a ruler with no end.

I create my pocket squares using a variety of tools, some old and some new. These are a few of my favorites, some of which have been passed down in my family for over 100 years. Often, when I am drafting designs, I think about the hands that held them years ago, and it makes me feel connected to the past and to my relatives.

1. Globemaster Vernier Caliper: Used by my maternal grandfather, Kenneth Ernest Stephens, in his woodworking projects for the boats he restored in his lifetime. I now use the calipers to register blocks, making sure lines and sides are square and equidistant.

2. Staedtler Architect Ruler: Another one of Ken's tools, used for everything from creating signage to charting waters, now it drafts maquettes of my designs.

3. Yasutomo Bamboo Baren:  This baren, made of layered bamboo, is used to pull proofs of my carved and inked blocks. It's an ancient tool, used by Japanese and Chinese printmakers as early as 700 AD.

4. American Electric Supply Co. Measuring Tape: Passed down from Ken and my grandmother, Eileen Frances Maher Stephens, this treasure was manufactured in Hartford, CT, where they both spent their childhood, and also where my wife and I eloped eight years ago.

5. Family Photo: My great-grandfather Franklyn Sydney Maher, made this for his mother, Mary Benway Maher, and it reminds me of all the artists in my family.  

6. Sterling Winstead Scissors: Mary Benway Maher inherited this set from her mother-in-law upon her marriage to my great-great grandfather, Reginald Tallman Maher. 

7.  Brass and Cherry Framing Square: Used by Franklyn, an avid photographer, world traveller, and amateur genealogist, this square is a reminder of how many people came before me, how I am like a fraction of an inch on a ruler with no end.

HELLO...

My name is Elizabeth Calcote and I'm a designer based out of Charleston, South Carolina.  For the past four years I've been carving blocks to print textiles ranging from silk scarves to cotton tea towels to cloth napkins under the name Sistersgrimm Design.

Now I am creating a line of block-printed hand-dyed pocket squares and bandanas called Cote Squares, which are inspired by historical figures.  What I love most about what I create is wearing them, folding them, and styling them to add a touch of vibrant color to my otherwise simple,  menswear-inspired taste.  Coco Chanel said, "Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off." My advice: maybe just add a Cote Square!