Secrets of MASS MoCA: Phyllis Criddle

Every museum has a well-kept secret.  Whether it’s a stolen sketch, a haunted hallway, or a hidden painting tucked beneath another print, such covert wonders are proudly guarded as they help form each cultural hub’s individuality.  Today we reveal one of our favorite secrets—Phyllis Criddle.  You may not have heard of her (yet) because we have been keeping her all to ourselves.

Though only 23, she’s worked at MASS MoCA for 7 years, more than half the life of the museum! Starting as a member of the Art Fab crew, she went from working with hardware to working at Hardware, the MASS MoCA Store, where she is now the assistant manager.  Phyllis does more than run the store.  She has created a custom line of MASS MoCA clothing and accessories, embodying the museum’s mission of catalyzing new, bold art, which includes her famed Wilco dress (seen above, modeled on Phyllis).

Her first MASS MoCA creation was a dress crafted from the museum’s logo-splashed t-shirts.  Completely hand-sewn and definitely one-of-a-kind, the dress was rumored to be purchased by one of the creators of the video game phenomenon Rock BandHis wife even appeared at MASS MoCA this past summer, wearing the dress to the Bang on a Can Festival.  Phyllis also was commissioned to create Katharina Grosse inspired tablecloths, which were draped over every table at the museum’s 2011 Benefit in New York.

The buzz around Phyllis has recently grown ever since she debuted her Wilco fashion line, created out of hundreds of wristbands from the Solid Sound Festival held at MASS MoCA.

We recently sat down with Phyllis to discuss her art endeavors and her MASS MoCA + Solid Sound line.

Can you tell me about your clothing designs?

I like making things out of different and innovative materials.  The first piece I ever sold was a metal dress made from hardware pieces.  The body of the dress was brass mirror plates held together by zip ties and there were turnbuckles going across the front of the dress, bolts coming out of the shoulders, and some little d rings around the bottom.  I made that when I was still in high school and sold it to a family friend who lives in Vermont.  She is an ex-fashion designer herself and just loved it.  That’s when I started making things out of unusual materials.

How did the Wilco line come to be?

There were thousands of wristbands left over from the two Solid Sound Festivals that we’ve had, and no one wanted to see them go to waste.  The Box Office Manager approached me about making something with them, and I thought it was a brilliant idea! I was only too happy to accept.

Were the wristbands already used?

They’re new. Most people keep theirs as a souvenir.  I’ve even seen people come back to MASS MoCA wearing them.  I mostly have customer wristbands, but I also have some staff, and artist wristbands, as well.

How long did it take to make the dresses?

They were very different. The t-shirt dress was stitched by hand. T-shirt material is stretchy so it’s difficult to run through a sewing machine the same way you do with woven material. There are special machines to sew knits, but, I don’t own one, so I stitched the whole thing by hand.  The embroidery on it, the little flowers, was all done by hand. So I think that from start to finish, it took approximately 2 years, but I’m not working on it every hour of the day.  I’d do a little here and there, some days a lot, and some not at all.

The [Wilco] dress downstairs, was more like two months, but I think I put more hours in a day into that one.  The main difference is the sewing machine, though.  I was able to use the machine for 95% of the work.  There was some finishing inside I didn’t use the machine for, but that was very minimal.

Where did you get the MASS MoCA t-shirts for the first dress?

A lot of them were mine already. A lot of them were my dad’s, who also works at MASS MoCA. I bought a few new ones, but most of them belonged to a colleague of mine who used to work in the store.   She brought me huge bags full of t-shirts that she didn’t wear anymore because they didn’t fit right.

Any shirts left? Would you make another t-shirt dress?

I don’t know if I’ll make another dress.  However, I do have quite a few MASS MoCA t-shirts left, both cut and uncut.  I was thinking I might make a tote bag or something with those.

What are you working on now or thinking of working on in the future?

The piece that I’m working on now is a jacket for a woman.  It is a few sizes bigger than the dress.  It’s going to be mostly the fluorescent yellow bands for the staff in 2011, but there will also be the blue ones from 2010.  It’s a fairly simple jacket.  It has long sleeves, no collar, and it’s sort of medium length.  It’s more of a fashion statement than a practical item.

I would also really like to make some belts.  When the wristbands are sewn down to the cotton lining they actually create quite a robust material.  I think it’d be a good material for belts.  The belts will be fairly inexpensive and fit a wider range of people than the clothing.  I’d like to make some simple d-ring belts, and also some slightly more complex ones with holes and a traditional buckle.  I want to do a couple more dresses, a few jackets, some vests for both men and women, pouches, bags, and possibly wallets.

Have you worked on any other MASS MoCA items in the past?

I did make MASS MoCA key chains around the same time of the t-shirt dress. They were like puffy little pillows, made from nylon rip-stock material with painted canvas stitched on top.  I made about 40 of them and they were sold at the store, as well.

Have you been trained in fashion design or did you learn it all yourself?

I am mostly self taught, but I would really love to go to fashion school eventually.  I did one year of college in Toronto at the Ontario College of Art and Design, which does not have a fashion program.  I just did general art there.

 In the future what would you like to do?

I have no idea.  I know that I definitely want to go back to school and earn a degree in fashion, but beyond that I haven’t given it too much thought.

If people do want to buy your  Wilco dress, what should they do?

The dress is up for sale now, it’s $600 and you can find it at Hardware at MASS MoCA

Part of the allure of a secret is being privy to influential knowledge, but we couldn’t keep Phyllis all to ourselves.  We hope that our secret spreads, and we look forward to seeing Phyllis Criddle’s future artistic endeavors.

By Linnea DiPillo

Posted December 19, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Hardware, Secrets of MASS MoCA, Wilco Solid Sound Festival
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