Chris Fraga-Thornton

Chris is another of those  women you want to keep as a close friend…if she’d move next door I would really be happy.  Her humor is delightful (see question 15) and her life story is enthralling.  She’s an artist whose easy manner and sparkling smile draw you into the fold and make you want to stay and play with colorful bits of fabric.  Those who weren’t fortunate enough to take one of her classes last year might not know that she even brought cookies and trail mix for her students…gotta love that!  This year Chris will be teaching a terrific class: Placemat Purse and Organizer on Saturday afternoon…think Christmas presents!

Chris answered our e-mail interview this way:

1. The unauthorized biography of your life is titled: Thank You. I Made it Myself.

Since my mother first pointed out the difference between buying “off the rack” and designing your own custom-fit clothes, I have loved creating my own styles.

2. If forced to choose, would you be an eraser or a permanent magic marker?

My life is written with a permanent magic marker, no question. There have been some crazy twists and turns to make me who I am today. I’m hoping, when I’m 95, I can still read all the writing on my life’s wall, and that I’ll leave some lessons others will find worth reading, also.

3. Do you live with any animals?

Our grand-daughter’s miniature Australian Shepherd lives in our guest house (with my daughter and grand-daughters). I’m thinking he needs small sheep or goats to herd; right now, he tries to herd the grandkids.

4. What are you currently reading?

Take Me With You, by Carlos Frias. It’s a wonderful book about the journalist son of Cuban Americans who has the opportunity during Fidel Castro’s illness to visit the family left behind in the ‘60s. He describes the Cuba journalists and foreigners are not allowed to see, and it is wonderfully full of familial closeness, long-kept secrets, political wrangling, and the real Cuba with its faults and potential.

5. What is the most surprising response to your art you have ever received?

People often ask me where I buy my clothes. I was most surprised though when some of my outfits were modeled in a charity fashion show and several people were really upset to know they were originals and couldn’t be purchased.

6. How do you know when your work is done?

I look for balance. It’s something I feel on a visceral level. Sometimes it’s as simple as knowing when enough is enough. I think of Coco Chanel’s theory of accessorizing with jewelry: Put on everything you think you want to wear, then remove one piece.

7. What do you listen to while you create?

I listen to ‘60’s to ‘80s rock and rhythm & blues. When I’m free motion quilting on my big quilt frame, which I do sitting in a chair with wheels so I can glide the length of the frame, it’s more like singing than sewing. However, when I’m spinning or weaving, I watch classic black & white movies (with no commercials, which I find terribly disruptive).

8. Why do you sew? What is your purpose?

I started seriously sewing when I was a pre-teen and wanted clothing my family couldn’t afford. After attending my Freshman formal and finding someone else wearing “my” dress, I embraced the concept of original clothing. Now, I love creating custom clothing, accessories, and home décor.

Most recently, I attended my son’s very formal wedding in Uruguay and was able to sew a gown I could never have purchased which was cut to fit my figure and designed to fit my personality and the occasion. I also designed my daughter’s and grand-daughter’s outfits.

9. What do you know that you don’t know?

I know that I don’t know what my one true art form is. Like many artists, I flit from one to another. Sometimes I’m in the mood to draw, paint, or make jewelry. Other days, I want to spin beautiful fiber or weave a truly wondrous piece of cloth. Then I might get the urge to create a garment from a textured treasure no one else wanted, but I found at Marden’s! I guess I’ll keep on trying a little of everything and maybe it will hit me one day.

10. How does, or should, the word “passion” relate to an artist?

Passion is that which drives us to create! Sometimes we are so preoccupied by what we have to accomplish to survive in this life, we lose sight of what makes life worth living. For artists, passion is in the act of creation itself. Perhaps we feel a oneness with Creation when we take a little bit of nothing and turn it into Something! Maybe that’s why most of us are so inspired in the woods, surrounded by organic things. (Costume design is a fun outlet for my artistic passion!)

11. Looking back, knowing what you know now, is there anything that you would do differently?

I would have listened to my mother and attended the Rhode Island School of Design after high school. My dad was more practical and believed that being creative was all well and good, but you need a marketable skill. (He was an accounting professor, after all, so I really can’t blame him.) As it stands, my profession has paid for my creative endeavors and given me enough free time to pursue them.

12. A lot of artists want to be famous and some just want to make a living doing what they love. Where do you see yourself in five years?

I love teaching and writing. The feedback from my students has been tremendous. There is no greater satisfaction for me than seeing my students leave my class smiling and feeling great about their creativity. (The picture shows projects made by two beginning sewists: the purse on the left by a 29 year old, the purse on the right by an 11 year old.)

In five years, I would like to have a studio with a view, big enough to invite students into, but intimate to allow one-on-one interaction. While they’re not enjoying classes, they could revel in the Maine outdoors in winter via cross-country ski, snowshoe, or snowmobile; and in summer, kayak, canoe or hike.

13. If you could give advice to anyone aspiring to work with fibers, what would it be?

It’s okay to strive for perfection; it’s when you expect to actually achieve it, you get into trouble. I noticed how many of my projects were being left undone when I got discouraged with them, and I adopted a new philosophy: Better Done than Perfect. I finish the project the best I can, often changing it drastically from my original vision. I learn from my mistakes and move on. This way, my creativity is channeled in a positive direction, and I waste much less time and energy.

14. When it’s time to “tap” your creativity, where do you go to get the juices flowing?

I go to my studio. It’s small with a steeply pitched roof and skylights I can stand in and watch the treetops sway. With windows on each end, I can hear the leaves rustle like waves. But the juices really get flowing when I start pulling my stash out from its hiding place in the eaves: boxes and boxes of fabric and yarn sorted by color and/or type. I surround myself with my treasure and just start letting the ideas flow.

15. How many projects do you generally have going at one time?

I’m not sure this is a polite question to ask! Right now the count is (deep breath): two knitting projects; some angora/wool blend waiting to be plied on my wheel; finished a woven table runner yesterday; a T-shirt is cut and ready to serge; two handbags and a tote are in progress; several quilt tops await in various stages; two wool rug hooking projects; a couple Russian punch needle embroideries, and some Swedish weaving.

I guess I’ll just say several.

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