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Going from trash to très chic

(Photo contributed)

By Emily Thurlow

Deborah Carter has an endless supply of materials that she uses to create her fashion line, Smooth Stone Clothing.
Sometimes she uses linens or cotton. And sometimes, she works with a dash of trash.

Sometimes she uses linens or cotton. And sometimes, she works with a dash of trash.

“Very rarely do I actually buy fabric,” said Carter, while glancing from one end of her Lenox-based studio to the other. “In fact, about 90 percent of the materials I have in here are donated.”

Carter designs and constructs women’s apparel out of both common and uncommon threads. But instead of relying on brand-new fabric, she uses recycled materials.
Though she sewed growing up in Westfield, and made much of her clothing as a teenager, Carter first started dabbling in the upcycling movement — which transforms items that have outgrown their first use into something of value — a few years ago.

Following high school, Carter attended the University of Vermont for her undergraduate degree. From there, she moved to Boston briefly before taking a bite out of the Big Apple and enrolled in a two-year program at Parsons School of Design in New York City. She also studied at The Arts Students League of New York.

While in New York, she designed women’s sportswear on 7th Avenue. Much of the aesthetic at the time include big prints and floral prints.

“It was fast-paced and eye-opening,” she said of her experience. “It was a great opportunity to be creative and come up with designs.”

While there, she met her now-husband, got engaged and moved to California. She came back to Massachusetts by way of Lanesborough roughly 10 years ago and started to get back involved with the arts. Locally, she has studied at IS183 Art School of the Berkshires in Stockbridge. She’s also had a studio at NUarts in Pittsfield and taught art classes for pre-schoolers and after-school clay classes in Lenox. Though she’s exhibited at a number of locations throughout the state, including St. Francis Gallery in Lee, Canyon Ranch and The Springfield Art League Northeast Juried Exhibition.

She switched art forms again after she took one of her jackets, switched out its sleeves and added pockets. Carter went to see her stylist at the salon, who is also an artist, and he encouraged her to further pursue the art form.

“I was painting a lot at the time and I thought, ‘Yeah, I should do this’,” she said.
Since then, she’s created a number of unique garments, including a wedding dress from a jean jacket, blouses from tablecloths and curtains, and even a dress from a mosquito net.

Though the majority of the garments available through Smooth Stone Clothing are geared toward an older and creative demographic, Carter also has a segment of her brand that she has deemed a little more “wild and crazy.”
When Eric Wilska, who owns the Shaker Mill Bookstore in West Stockbridge was opening the barn next door, Carter found inspiration from many of his unique pieces of furniture, like his desk made out of books. Having always wanted to construct a dress out of paper, she sketched out a design. That design became a dress comprised of 850 pages of a dictionary that has since been on display at the bookstore.

She’s also been influenced by artists like American sculptor Louise Nevelson, who helped set the trend of using trash as more of a creative medium. Some of the more unconventional elements she uses include potato chip bags and Kodachrome strips of film. She’s also repurposed her mother’s 1939 piano book into a piece she calls, “Judy’s Tutu.”

“I wanted to create art that’s wearable. Ideally, I’d like to have a traveling exhibition, so that I can make a statement in different places,” she said, adding that she’s an advocate of the environment. “I think we have to be more conscientious. People need to be aware of the need to recycle.”

In continuing her effort to create wearable works of art, Carter has started to explore other less-sustainable materials. She’s begun to experiment with plastic orange newspaper sleeves, single-use plastic bags and a literal pencil skirt using yellow No. 2 pencils.

Currently, Carter has three dresses on display at No. Six Depot Roastery & Cafe in West Stockbridge. In the windows are a cork dress, the Kodachrome dress that’s titled, “You Oughta Be In Pictures,” and Judy’s Tutu. She also has “A Bird’s Nest Dress” up at Hancock Shaker Village.

For those interested in contracting Carter to create a garment, call 413-441-3220 or visit smoothstoneclothing.com.

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