"There Are No Rules": Breaking Free with Upcycling Artist Lisa Friederike

"There Are No Rules": Breaking Free with Upcycling Artist Lisa Friederike

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Anyone who knows me, knows I love denim. So when I saw upcycling artist, Lisa Friederike's IG feed of embellished denim jackets and shirts, I immediately had to follow her.  Not only are her designs right up my alley- nature themed, but all her pieces are thrifted and salvaged. So with many of us becoming more cognizant about our fashion choices I wanted to find out more about Lisa's background, creative process and how we too, can create our own wearable pieces of art.

Could you tell us a bit about your background, what life experiences you had that led up to you creating these beautiful pieces of art?

I have been creative and loving art all my life.  The only time as a child that I would sit still was when I was coloring or playing with Play Doh. But the older I got, the more detached I got from it.  I was told by adults it's not worth pursuing a career in arts and had the starving artist image that always gets painted by society in my head. So I always saw art as a hobby.  

I'm originally from Germany, and I moved to Canada in 2017 to Haida Gwaii in B.C.  There I fell in love with the nature and scenery.  Then in 2020, I lost my job due to COVID and I had a lot of free time on my hands.  I suddenly had the urge to create something.  The only possible way of shopping on the island is two tiny thrift stores.  I found this denim jacket and I just had this vision of "I'm gonna put something on the back". They also had a huge bin of fabric scraps and it was perfect.  Thrifting was always a huge passion of mine.  I love the treasure hunting, the digging and finding the cool piece that nobody else has.

My partner bought a sewing machine for me to sew curtains for his van (I still have not sewn these curtains!) but I am using the sewing machine for my work.  When I made my first piece I had no idea how it would turn out.  I went into this creative journey without a plan, and any thought of how it would go on further.  After I created my first jacket, my roommate wanted one as well.  Suddenly people showed up at my doorstep and just gave me stuff,  because the community was really small. So I kept on creating and that's basically how it started. I don't have a background in art, I just learned to sew when I was nine. I was always interested in keeping my hands busy and creating something from scratch.  I love one of a kind designs and for the my jackets, they're all unique. That's very important to me.

Lisa's first creation

What is your process when you're about to create another piece?

It varies a lot. Sometimes I'll take inspiration from nature and very often ideas evolve through that. Sometimes a design idea comes before my inner eye and I suddenly see the lines and colours. When this happens, I just have to get to making it right away. Other times, I'll get ideas that pop into my head when I'm observing my environment like a super interesting tile floor in a restaurant or a cool design on a spoon at the thrift store. Of course platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, have so much inspiration as well.  My art is very much based on how I feel so I have to be in the right mood and mindset to start but if I am, it has to happen right away.

I normally sketch everything out first, and then use paper cut outs to see how it would look on the jacket. Then I choose the fabrics, cut out the pattern, and arrange it on the jacket- this is the tricky part, not getting caught up in rearranging. I want it to be perfect but it's something I'm trying to get away from.  Then there's a lot of ironing, pressing and then sewing.

Do you have quite a large collection of fabrics? How do you organization system?

When I first started off, I had one cardboard box and all the fabric in there. Every time I would create, I would dump the box out on the floor and pick through it.  But very quickly that one cardboard box escalated into nine see-through big plastic bins. So now I sort by colour, patterns and fabric types.  But I think the "creative mess" is also a beautiful thing. The only person who will ever understand it is yourself and there is nobody else has to understand it

Usually when people come into my studio, I'll say, "Ignore the mess".  Today I cleaned up for you but it's usually like way more messy!

I often say "excuse the mess" and "I'm sorry, all this stuff is laying around". But I love it. I love even coming into your studio and seeing how you work, your workbench, and to see your process and materials. Nobody has to judge that mess because it is your creative process. 

You briefly mentioned you're trying to get away from perfection and constantly rearranging the fabric before committing to a design.  Do you find that its difficult for you to be spontaneous with your work?

It is very difficult for me to go with the flow.  Then again, I'm German and we never do something unplanned.  However I discovered through my art that I don't have to do that and my art is mine and mine alone. It doesn't have to have any kind of outcome if I enjoy the process. That's the most important part. Obviously I appreciate that I get the chance to sell my items and show it to the world.  But lately, I have gone away from creating paper patterns and I take the scissors and literally start cutting, making only a few adjustments.  I kind of force myself to like it without the perfectionism behind it.  Not to think about "this looks too handmade and people won't like it", or in general, "will people like what I'm doing?" I think that's a huge fear artists often have and I really just want to do what I love, for myself.  I think I actually create better work if I have that mindset, because then I'm pouring all of myself into the art without thinking about anybody else. Then people will connect more with my work.

I think we judges artists' creativity by the value that society gives it. Unless we're making money from an activity, we're programmed to think that what we're doing is unnecessary and unimportant.  But I really do believe it's important, and part of your identity.  Expressing your creativity is like a muscle.  The more you practice being creative and tap into that mindset, the easier it is.  When we're younger, so many adults tell you for example, a snowman is supposed to be white and you shouldn't colour it different colors. Often times when I go into my kids' school, and I look at the art that's on the wall, they almost all look identical. And I'll ask my kid, "did you not think to maybe make this bird a different size or colour?" And they say, "birds are supposed to be this way" and I think it's really unfortunate. Not to say that it's the teachers' or school's fault, but creativity takes a lot of effort and time. Often we're not given that in the school or workplace.  So I think we limit ourselves a lot of the times.  Creative work and creativity is almost like a luxury.

Yes, I feel very fortunate to have this luxury. Since I have been doing this, it also has given so much back to me.  When I first started, I was not in a good mindset and state in life, it was very chaotic. But for my mental health, and for my own well being, being creative, and doing this was so important.  I think that creativity should be encouraged. When I was younger, I wanted to take art as one of my major subjects in school. I remember my mom saying, "Just keep in mind, art is taste and somebody will put a grade on whatever you're creating and it has to be within standards."  I have always been very much against society's standards and fitting inside a box. Your creativity and creative work doesn't have to make sense to anybody else. To me, that's what makes art so beautiful.  Everybody can do whatever they think is right and there are no rules. The right people will connect with it.

Do you have any tips for someone who wants to make their own piece of wearable art?

You can start from as little as a kitchen towel with a design that you like and sew it by hand on a jacket that's in your closet.  You can use whatever old pieces of fabric, like towels, tablecloths, T-shirts and use whatever means you have to sew it on.  I have a very simple Singer heavy duty sewing machine that works for me.  Just get started!  I use a zigzag stitch most often on the machine so the fabric won't fray out.  If you hand sew, I recommend folding in the hem a little bit.  I also focus on natural fabrics like cotton, denim, linen, silk, hemp, canvas, because they are easier to work with and more durable.  I really try not to use synthetic fabrics, like polyester and nylon, mostly because you can't iron them, are thinner and slippery to work with.  Also, there are no micro-plastics in natural fabrics that pollute the water when you wash them.  But once in a while I do use some polyester fabrics, just to also give them another purpose so they don't end up in the landfill.

What are some of the obstacles or challenges that you you face in your work?

As every other artist, an obstacle is space and time. But I also think that these shouldn't be a limitation for you to start something because it is possible anywhere and anytime, if you want. For me, a big obstacle is having the inspiration, feeling the feelings of being inspired. And starting a piece and not being stuck in the mindset of "it has to be perfect".  

I think unfortunately, if you look at Instagram, or the way of presenting your art on social media, as much as it is an advantage for artists, it's also our very own demon. Because we compare ourselves so quickly to others and I think every artist goes through those phases.  Often I don't have an inspiration and I just don't feel it.  I was told by one of my art professors that every artist needs downtime, and it is the biggest thing you will not get taught in art school. But take your time, take your space. Good art, and and the inspiration for it will come to you. It comes and goes, it is an ebb and flow.

I'm currently experiencing what you would call an ebb. I think I've just been stuck in this production mode for so long and I just need to get back to that creative space. Yes, social media is great, because you get to see everybody's work. But it is limiting in the way that it can hamper the how you feel about your own work and almost sets limitations to creativity. For example, I might not want want to make a certain design because I feel like someone else has done it better.  When I'm trying to think of a new design or I'm in that creative space, I'll ignore social media.  I don't want to infiltrate my mind with other people's ideas because I think that taints your own vision and growth as a creator. Do you feel that?

I totally agree. I often stumble on other fibre artists and I have thoughts like "they're so much better than me", "should I even start this?", "but they have the right set up".  And in the end it all doesn't matter.  Whatever you make, is what you are, and who you are.  What they make is who they are.  Social media can definitely be haunting that way.



If there was one piece of clothing you had to wear for the rest of your life, what would it be?

It sounds totally cliche, but a denim jacket.  Mostly because I'm always cold!

Whats one fashion trend current or in the past that you love?

The boyfriend look.  I love everything oversized.  I have never followed trends, and have always had a "special" way of dressing myself!

Baby Lisa

Whats one fashion trend that you dislike?

The very cropped tops- this again comes from me always being cold.  I need something to be cozy and warm in.  I'm also not a huge fan of the low rise jeans coming back.

Which celebrity or famous person would you want to dress or see wearing one of your creations?

Wim Wenders, who is a photographer and filmmaker.  I'd also love to sit down and have lunch with him, just to get to know him, I really admire his work.

What's your favourite piece that you’ve created to date?

The jacket with a woman's face on the back.  Through creating this piece, I worked through a lot of emotions.  The face represents not a specific woman, but all women.  I come from a large family of strong women and during that difficult period in my life, it helped me feel closer to them.  

Whats your favourite thing about living in Canada so far?

I love Canada- I love the space, nature, friendly people, peaceful way of letting things be.  I feel more free.  Where I'm from in Germany, everybody knows and is in everybody's business.  Back home in Germany, the first thing I'm asked is "how much money are you making? have you registered? can you call it business?".  It's all practical and has nothing to do with my art.  I'm also the most unpunctual German and I've adjusted to this "Canadian time" very well.  Five minutes just don't matter that much here, whereas back in Germany, I had to be at least ten minutes early to work or I'd be in trouble!


You can find Lisa on IG @lifrikeart and her work at www.lifrike.com

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