Today’s Artist Sunday post is going to be a little different. I’ve been thinking a lot about the subjects raised in my previous Sunday post, and it somehow tied in with what I want to talk about today.
Dori Czengeri is an extraordinary lady. I have the privilege of knowing her personally, having worked at her studio for about two years.
Before I take a trip down memory lane, here is her main site: http://doricsengeri.com/
And I was especially delighted to find there’s also a blog, where I found a few familiar faces and places 😀 https://doricsengeriblog.com/
I was a few months shy of 18 when Dori took me in. I had just finished school, and was desperate for job to help support my family, having recently lost my stepfather. I needed a job I could continue working during my army service, which was supposed to start in half a year.
I showed up to the job interview with a bag full of my beaded creations, among which were some beaded dolls, turtles, a few necklaces and possibly a beaded rock or two. I didn’t actually know it was a job interview, I was naively under the impression that just by the power of the person that referred me there I would get to work in that magical bead palace, full of shiny pretty things. Fortunately, I passed the entrance skill tests and interview, and started work there shortly.
I think Dori is the first artistic person I ever met that fully supported herself with her art. It’s a little sad for me to admit, but even 12 years later I still consider that my favourite job. I got to sit and chat with some lovely women while making beautiful jewelry. Watching and learning from Dori was an added bonus – she took me under her wing and taught me a lot about design, form and use of colour. She was kind and patient as she let me work at the hours that suited me during my army service, and very supportive as I was preparing for the entrance exams to the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, even though it meant I’d be leaving the job and the city.
I could go on and on about the work at the studio, but I suspect that I should at least show what I’m talking about first:
I picked these two examples because they are the closest to my two favourite sets from the time I worked there. Dori seems to find inspiration in everything around her. She’d sometimes burst into the studio, a whirl of colour, excitement and her faithful little fluffy dog that always followed her around, waving around some crazy weird thing she just bought at the market and telling us what an amazing design element she just discovered. Interestingly enough, by the end of the day she’d normally work it into her latest collection, be it some funky-coloured feather, or a set of springs (or whatever other unexpected object she saw that day) and it looked completely in its place, where it was clearly meant to be all along.
Now how does this tie in with my last Sunday post, a patient reader that made it this far might ask.
While soutache (the basic component of Dori’s creations) is a pretty old material, which has been used in decorating clothes as far back as the fourteenth century, that embroidery technique looks nothing like the things in Dori’s shop. She told me how she was playing around with the silky ribbon back when she worked in textiles, and then ended up folding it a certain way as a lightbulb went off in her head.
Every element in her designs has a name and a creation story behind it. There are certain design rules and logic that contribute to the architecture of the piece, and special tips and tricks that make the sewing of the elements easier and more manageable. As her business grew bigger, and she became more and more famous in the fashion circles, copy-cats sprouted like mushrooms.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of “soutache artists” online today. They blatantly copy Dori’s elements, technique, colour and material combinations. I don’t know anything about patenting a specific technique, especially one that can be quite easily reverse-engineered. I remember seeing a “how to” post somewhere in the russian handicrafts community, where a woman barbarically butchers one of Dori’s earrings, tearing off the leather on the back, to see what the back side looks like, so that she can copy the piece better.
It’s interesting how almost none of the sites on soutache jewelry embroidery in Russian mention the true origins of the technique. A lot of them make the leap from “hundreds of years ago this was used to decorate clothing like so and so” to “and now we do this, like this and you can buy it for this much from us”. The only mention of Dori on these sites that I came across seems to be a sentence that they just copy paste from each other, often losing the Dori component in the process, and simply mentioning the Russian speaking Israeli designer that actually worked for Dori, learned the technique, and then buggered off, starting her own studio. There was also mention of Michal Negrin, another famous Israeli artist, whose works are all over the place here, none of which are in soutache (but then I don’t really like her stuff, so I might’ve easily missed it if she ever did make anything in this technique, although it’s still highly doubtful she came up with it first).
Some of the English sites mention Dori as the original creator of the technique, but all in all, according to my google searches, soutache jewelry seems to be just another way to create pretty things, like crochet or knitting.
I can see why – it’s an amazing material that lets one make wonderful designs. Seemingly easy for someone that knows their way around a needle and seductively effective. Hell, even I am guilty of trying to make something in this technique years after I worked with it officially: My mother needed a jewelry piece to tie her outfit together and I saw some soutache in the perfect shade of ash pink while buying beads to make her something instead of the nasty looking pendants she was considering. I never took photos of the finished result or showed it off anywhere though. To me, it was just a feeble attempt at “fan art”. Creating it was a fun process, that brought back fond memories of working at the studio, and while it served its purpose at that wedding my mom was a guest at, I feel guilty and uneasy about making it in the first place, now that the excitement of helping my mother out has subdued.
I often see and hear it said that it’s okay to copy something as long as it’s for your personal use only. It’s kind of what I also do in these posts, when I attempt to copy someone else’s style or drawing technique. Copying high fashion pieces for private use is a widely used practice in Russian speaking crafting communities. Sadly, another widely used practice in Russian speaking crafting communities is stealing other artists’ designs and selling them as their own. Most of the English speaking crafting forums and sites I’ve been to give credit where credit is due, and they generally seem to respect various copyrights a lot more.
I’m not going to embroider today’s comic page in soutache. I’ll probably post today’s comic later today or tomorrow. For some reason, looking at all the beautiful soutache creations by artists who are not Dori Czengeri, depresses me. Probably because I feel they stole something from her, which is a typical fan-girl reaction. Which also depresses me. Because not only is that inaccurate, it’s also hypocritical of me, which is a third depressing thing about today’s post.
I wonder how Dori herself feels about the current state of soutache embroidery. Last I remember she learned to shrug it off, saying that with fame come copycats, and that it can’t really be avoided. Being the creator of a beautiful technique that snowballed into a huge handcrafted art movement is a pretty awesome legacy, when I think about it.
In conclusion, I think I should visit the studio again some day soon, it’s been at least 6 years since I was there last.