FEATURE
HANDWOVEN JACKET, VEST, AND PIECED, FRINGED NECKTIE of cotton, silk, rayon, and wool, 2011. Photographs by Mark Bolles/Creative Photo and Graphic, except where noted.
Cecilia Frittelli and Richard Lockwood


Weaving the Past and Present


 

Cecilia Frittelli and Richard Lockwood occupy that intriguing intersection that seems to be contemporary craft’s saving grace—a new, growing paradigm of living with one foot in the past, embracing our old cultures, techniques and simpler values, with another planted firmly in the future, looking to educate a new generation, and staying true to recycling, buying local and other important environmental movements.


“We kind of feel like we are in the farmer’s market,” Cecilia Frittelli and Richard Lockwood explain. It is not the typical comparison you expect from the Saratoga Springs, New York, clothing artists, but a closer look at their enterprise reveals some similarities between their handsome, handwoven wearables and the flourishing farmer’s market and local foods movement. Like the food craze that has swept the nation, Frittelli and Lockwood’s garments celebrate a return to a more direct relationship with those who supply us with goods, and whether the goods are comestibles or clothes, many of the same tenets ring true.

TEXTILE STUDIO, after renovation, 2010. Photograph by Richard Lockwood.

For buyers, it means a more intimate knowledge of who helped bring these items to your table or closet. But, perhaps most of all, it is the satisfaction of letting your dollars speak to your values and beliefs, of making conscious choices about who we support through our business, choosing those who appreciate us as an individual consumer rather than a tiny speck in the huge bottom line. In an age where big box retailers are coming into criticism for everything from exploitative overseas labor and practices, to contributions to controversial organizations, it seems the general public is ready for a more meaningful, community-based exchange of goods. Husband and wife team Frittelli and Lockwood are riding this changing tide. “We’re providing a beautiful product, at a reasonable price, that’s made with love and in a small factory or craft shop. People respond to that,” Frittelli explains. “It’s the opposite of the impersonal, consumer kind of process that so many of us go through in many other aspects of life,” Lockwood adds.

For Frittelli and Lockwood, it means working tirelessly on every aspect of their business, from each step in the design process down to the marketing and even equipment repairs. It is important to them that they have a hand in everything they produce, and this dedication serves as the foundation for their business crafting woven jackets, shirts, vests, neckties, scarves, shawls, and more. Both artists come from more commercial experiences in the weaving world—Frittelli having worked in New York City’s bustling garment industry in a sample-weaving studio after college, and Lockwood on the more technical side, having grown up and worked part-time in the culture of the New England textile mill towns. After he and Frittelli met, Lockwood applied his loom expertise and savvy with bike mechanics to improve productivity on the old looms Frittelli had been collecting. “I worked out a system of using brake and derailer cables to be able to streamline the workings of the loom,” he explains. Soon, he began to take interest in the more artistic offerings of the old machines and Frittelli showed him how to weave men’s necktie fabrics.

HANDWOVEN MEN’S SHIRT of cotton and bamboo fiber, and SCARF in bamboo leno weave, 2011.

“That’s kind of how his end started,” Frittelli says. “We were doing that as a sideline. Richard was a public teacher and I was a garment center weaver, but we had this feeling that we wanted to do some of our own work. We’d do craft shows and things on the side, and it kind of grew and grew and ended up being our main career.”

Their early garments were often of rayon chenille, playing off of the fabric’s craze at the time. But the chenille—which typically works best with plain weaves—soon became limiting. Frittelli, a self-proclaimed “yarn junkie,” wanted to explore more complex weaves, like those she worked with in the garment industry, and both she and Lockwood were excited when other fibers became popular again. It was always important for them to source their fibers nationally, or even more locally when possible, using mercerized cottons, silks, wools, and linens. Today the same is true, with the addition of other “green” fibers like soy, bamboo and even hemp to their arsenal.

Together, with the part-time help of a tailor and two weaving assistants, Frittelli and Lockwood design, weave and sew every inch of yardage that makes up their garments. They carefully select their yarns, often blending them for better effect. “We’ve always mixed yarns in an interesting way and experimented with which yarns were compatible. We usually use a baseline of silk with our mixes,” says Lockwood. “The blends are really nice because we can control how much drape there is,” Frittelli adds. “Sometimes one hundred percent of a fiber is too drapey, you need something a little stiffer, so you do silk and linen. If you want something really warm like a jacket or outerwear piece, you do wool but then you want a little drape or sheen so you add a cotton. Almost all our things are blends.”

The qualities of their yarn will sometimes lead them in the creative process, determining whether a particular yardage will be better suited for a shawl or a vest. They weave roughly thirty yards of a design at a time, taking a sample garment with them to craft shows, knowing there is more back at the studio should a buyer request a different size or a custom garment. Over the twenty-five years they have been designing, Frittelli and Lockwood have arrived at a line of enduring silhouettes, constantly tweaking the designs slightly to keep up with changing fashions, fits and body types. Men’s vests may evolve from a more classic design with pointed edges and a belted back, to a more cardigan style vest with straighter sides, a snugger fit and no lapel. “We know everyone’s going a little more casual these days,” Lockwood reflects on the changes in menswear. “But we try to stay flexible enough so that we can adapt the specific cut or style to the customer’s wishes too. We have samples with us at shows, and we give people the chance to sort of design with us.” They stay current on fashion to some extent, more for colors than style as not every trend lends itself well to the more rigid structure of handwoven fabric.

Besides, their work functions in a timeless way that trends do not afford. The overall aesthetic of their clothing implies a return to a more classy, tailored look of days past. A time when garments were not mass manufactured, but were crafted and tailored with careful attention to details—the way a jacket sleeve falls just so, or how a subtle juxtaposition of different woven fabrics on a vest sets off a dress shirt. That is not to say that the work feels old fashioned. While the garments have a vintage air, something that would seem at home on the high-powered executives of television’s Mad Men, the designs, textures, colors, and weaves retain an of-the-moment sense, and the modern mark of luxury in fit, quality and shape.

More than just a dedication to a traditional craft or aesthetic, Frittelli and Lockwood’s venture embodies a commitment to a particular lifestyle, centered around the handmade, local economy and community. This commitment came full circle in the development of their impressive Textile Studio storefront located in the heart of the growing Beekman Street Arts District in Saratoga Springs. Set up like a hybrid of a gallery space and an open-format production studio, with looms in the front area and windowed sections throughout, the space encourages customers to stop by and witness the weaving in action firsthand. This set up speaks to the artists’ commitment for transparency and relationship in the production process, and for educating the common consumer about handmade crafts. “We like that concept of people seeing that this is where we show and sell our work, but we also make it here too. They really appreciate that,” Frittelli reveals.

As quaint and charming as the studio is now, it was no easy task to get up and running. Set in a 1850s-era building, it took many months and lots of hard work remodeling before opening the doors in July of 2009. True to their commitment to preserving tradition, Frittelli and Lockwood repurposed the building in keeping with its historical roots, earning them an award from the local preservation society. Both artists speak passionately about the community support and connection in the area, with nearby artists working in all varieties of media, and events like receptions, demonstrations and open studios where the public can come, discuss the work and even let their children try their hand on Frittelli and Lockwood’s small hobby loom. Their gallery is stocked with a range of products, from their handwoven clothing to smaller, lower price point items like aroma pillows or eyeglass cases made from fabric scraps, so everyone can afford to take a souvenir home with them.

HANDWOVEN CARDIGAN, made from pieced and fringed leftover fabrics, and SCARF of silk/rayon eyelash yarn in olive and sprout.

Having everything produced right there in the studio allows for full and immediate creative control. “Since we do everything, all the cutting and sewing and so forth, we can adapt very quickly to whatever changes come up,” says Lockwood. The artists rely on each other, as well as their longtime customers, to gauge new directions while staying true to their overall look. “We’ll test the market,” Lockwood continues. “If we’re going to a show and have an idea for something that’s a little bit different, we’ll ask customers how they like it or what would they like to see that they’re not seeing, and then go back and make those adjustments.” This loyal customer base, plus the numerous galleries that carry their work, have kept them going through the ups and downs of the struggling economy and craft market. “We’ve been doing shows for twenty-five years,” Frittelli states. “It’s not like we’re the new kids on the block. A lot of our customers see us year after year. They’re pretty loyal; they’ll buy something when they see us and we get a lot of good feedback that way.”

One aspect that sets Frittelli and Lockwood apart, and no doubt part of their success, is their commitment to menswear —not generally a popular segment of the wearable market, but one that fills a void of wearable art options for men. “I think if I were trying to function by myself without being a partner with Cecilia and being able to show our work together then I might not be as enthusiastic about trying to make a living at doing this,” Lockwood says of the menswear line. “I think the mixture works out well.” Frittelli agrees: “The mix is what works, because couples will come in together. Maybe the wife is the one attracted to the work in the first place and she kind of drags her husband along, but then he says, ‘oh, something for men’ and gets excited and starts trying things on. Often it ends up being a sale for him and she’ll pass because she has many other choices.”

Still, they find men to be pickier consumers, more particular in what they look for and generally less likely to go for that impulse buy. This means Lockwood pays special attention to getting a garment’s details just right, being sensitive to the sleeve length or fit of a jacket himself. “If I were to try to design menswear, I think I’d have a very hard time,” Frittelli laughs. “I’m like, what do you mean it’s a half-inch difference—what’s the big deal?” Lockwood does not work strictly on menswear; he is more than willing and capable of weaving yardage, designing or cutting fabric for the women’s line. While Lockwood generally works with finer yarns to give the menswear pieces the versatility for a variety of climates, there is a lot of trading and borrowing of designs and fabric. Their customers run the gamut from creative types like artists and musicians to more conservatively dressed lawyers and executives, and female customers looking for something more toned-down can certainly choose from yardage that was originally designated for menswear, or vice versa.

Another key to Frittelli and Lockwood’s long-standing success seems to be their business savvy, and their ability to adapt to changing times and markets. “We feel that we have to be smarter and more creative than ever before, to use our time well and to be very sensitive to what our customers are looking for,” Lockwood reflects. “Yes,” says Frittelli. “We can’t just work alone in our studio. That’s why doing shows is so important.” They keep their eye on new artists and developments, and often serve on jurying boards to keep a finger on the pulse of the wearable market. The field is changing, and both artists understand they have to keep up or get out. “Keep open the options of doing some teaching, of connecting with your community,” Lockwood suggests to new craft artists. “Find how you can be valuable not only in what you produce but in what you know and what you can share and how you can lead people in a direction of appreciation for fine crafts.”

Frittelli and Lockwood occupy that intriguing intersection that seems to be contemporary craft’s saving grace—a new, growing paradigm of living with one foot in the past, embracing our old cultures, techniques and simpler values, with another planted firmly in the future, looking to educate a new generation, and staying true to recycling, buying local and other important environmental movements. More and more, the general public seems pointed toward a new lifestyle where creativity and handwork are appreciated both for their functionality and the sheer beauty they add to our world.

It may not be an easy life, but if Frittelli and Lockwood are any indication, it can be a highly rewarding one. “I love having our own business,” Frittelli asserts without missing a beat. “There’s something really wonderful about getting up off the loom and seeing this big roll of fabric that you’ve created, that’s going to live on in a garment. Or someone coming into our booth, buying a garment and coming back the next year saying, ‘I have to get another garment from you because I enjoyed it so much.’ It feels like a good business to be in; it just feels right.”

Lockwood, too, takes pleasure in the process itself, recognizing the significance of the new artistic paradigm they demonstrate. “The notion of starting with an idea and being connected with it all the way to a completed garment—there are very few times in our lives these days where you have connection with something, completely, all the way through. Our lives are fragmented in so many different ways that the thought of coming up with an idea, seeing it through to completion and then passing it on to somebody else is quite wonderful.”

 

 

 

 


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Nubian Jewelry

Kate Mensah

Philadelphia Craft Show

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