Crushing on Sarah Quinton


Tucked behind Nathan Phillips Square and city hall, the Textile Museum of Canada (TMC) is an oft-overlooked institution in Toronto that has been compellingly connecting cloth, culture and art for the last 35 years. Sarah Quinton, the Curatorial Director of the TMC, tackles, and overcomes, this challenge season after season, researching, importing and sharing with us textiles from every corner of the earth — from shawls from Afghanistan to mola blouses from Panama.

How did you get into the study of textiles?
I grew up sewing my own clothes, taught by my mother and older sister. In the late 70s I was looking for a subject to study in college and felt myself drawn to the craft’s resurgence; particularly weaving. And so I became a weaver and made a few articles of lumpy, ill-fitting clothing. Soon afterward, I studied textiles in a fine arts context and have continued that line of interest.

One of your latest exhibitions, “Skin and Bone” by David R. Harper, features embroidered portraits of people on animal skin. Is the future of textiles in “multimedia?”
Not only the future, no. It’s the present. We see textiles everywhere, intentionally and unintentionally. If you look in art galleries, you see textiles in Will Munro’s underpant collages at the Art Gallery of Ontario; artists such as Allyson Mitchell, Grace Ndiritu and Jeremy Bailey explore textile patterns, colour and politics in their videos; and there is an ever-increasing interest in Do-it-Yourself activities with personal and political actions at their core: craftivism, recycling, new feminisms… and still the role of the independent merchant in the craft market is going strong.

From Drawing with Scissors: Molas from Kuna Yala

What is the narrative potential of textiles? Can textiles tell a story?
That’s what textiles do best! All objects tell stories if you listen even a little bit. Objects are living things. We make them, we use them, we wear them, we choose them. We change them by wearing them out, by recontextualizing them, and we are shaped by them as much as we shape them.

What are your favourite textiles, pieces or artists?
Well, like anyone else, I’m most in love with the people and things I’m currently working with. You mentioned David Harper’s exhibition “Skin and Bone.” Along with David, Stephen Schofield is showing “Stumble,” a series of extraordinary textile sculptures. Kai Chan is a Toronto artist whose work is the subject of a 35-year retrospective, “A Spider’s Logic,” that opens at the Textile Museum of Canada on November 7, 2010. His work might be considered “multimedia!” When I was traveling in the Yucatan in the early 80s, I bought a string bag that I still covet. Its structure is incomprehensible to me, and I don’t even want to know how it was made. And who can resist Junichi Arai’s textiles?

interview by Lydia Guo
photography by Rachel Wine

Crushing on Upside Dive

Sibling duo Mike and Angie Dalla-Giustina have turned their lifelong passion for thrifting into a well-loved business; the two collectively own Upside Dive, a hidden East-end gem in the Toronto vintage scene. Mike and Angie share their tales of rural Toronto, their childhood idols, and their love affair with well-crafted clothing.

How did you two dress in elementary school? How has your look changed?

Angie: When we moved from Toronto to a small rural community (in the 80s) I dressed in stacked bangles and dolman sleeve tops. Let’s just say it wasn’t well received.

Mike: I remember being briefly obsessed with Chucks, peace signs, and vests. I think both of us have forgotten a lot from those early years, probably due to living in a little town and never really feeling like we fit in.

From an early age we were thrifting, usually out of necessity, as money was tight for a single mother with four children. Most of all we never felt parental pressure to dress a certain way, so we experimented when we wanted to. We’ve become more comfortable with who we are (could be that age thing) and we’re less concerned with defining gender roles. We have more of an appreciation of the piece in its form – material, cut, shape, quality – while setting aside who the design was intended for. That said, the shop takes priority so we often wear practical, comfortable clothing, saving the exciting fashion for our customers.

Being siblings, do you often disagree when it comes to the business? How about clothes? Do you ever share clothes?

Mike: Actually, all the Dalla-Giustina siblings get along. An important part to the business succeeding is our shared mentality and keeping it all level. We occasionally butt heads over ideas, but it definitely helps to flesh out ideas with one another. We also discuss with Elisa and Natasha, who act as great exterior moderators. Sometimes Ang and I can get so focused we get a bit blind-sided.

We don’t often share clothes, maybe a scarf or two. We definitely share a love for well-crafted pieces, and a good backstory is an added delight.

How do you think the rise of vintage inspiration in the fashion world over the past decade has affected sales at vintage stores? Does it make selling real vintage easier or more difficult?

Vintage and second-hand clothing has definitely become a major commodity in the last 20-30 years, and with its rise in the mainstream once again it perpetuates more vintage sellers, more vintage buyers, more creative minds musing on it, and an established business format. I think the real issue lies with the lack of value put on vintage and second-hand clothing. Fast fashion has offered an alternative to buying vintage by creating newly made vintage-inspired pieces, but the real power lies in the hands of the consumer. It would be one thing if corporate clothing manufacturers were responsibly producing well-made pieces that would retain value, but they don’t. The bottom line for them is money, and the consumer is happy to have the 15-minute look. We have faith that there will continue to be customers who value vintage, but fear that well-kept vintage will become scarce and deplete cherished vintage shops.
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