TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sidney's Ties, A Weaving of Memories

"Sidney's Ties", detail, by Rayela Art, 2009

It really helps to explore the boundaries of one's potential artistically when there is a patron in sight. In my case, Joyce Levy has been that benefactor. Formerly a board member of the now defunct Textile Arts Center of Chicago, Joyce's love of art and textiles has given her the pleasure of supporting an unknown like myself with fairly large projects. Projects that I would not have been able to explore without the financial backing. I started quilting in the early 90's and even with limited skills, she commissioned four quilts in memory of her brother Bruce. The quilts were made from Bruce's t-shirts and went to his wife, parents, best friend and Joyce. You can see those quilts and learn more about their story in my former post.

Rachel Biel Taibi (Rayela Art) with patron, Joyce Levy.

Joyce, a brilliant lawyer, comes from a family of talent and enthusiasm for life. Her mother, recently deceased due to a medical error, was a psychologist and an avid collector of folk art from around the world, including a large collection of Native American silver work. Bruce, a cancer victim, was a mathematician, a minimalist, but gifted with words. The patriarch of the family, Sidney Levy, is recognized around the world for his work in marketing and behavioral management. Sidney is now on my short list of patrons. He commissioned me to make something interesting out of the ties he had worn for the last 40 years. Thus, "Sidney's Ties" came into existence.

"Sidney's Ties", A Woven Quilt
Hand-stitched, 37" wide x 61" long

"Sidney's Ties", back

"Sidney's Ties", closer views, top and bottom

After Bobette passed away, Sidney went through a purging phase and moved to a smaller place. At 88 years of age, he no longer wears his ties. What to do with them? So many memories tied up into them... Ties worn to work, ties purchased at favorite stores, ties received as gifts, ties that went overseas... These pieces of silk represent a lifetime of woven history, thus weaving them together make an added statement of all the memories that tie us together.

Sidney Levy, patriarch of creatives.

I have not had the honor of meeting Sidney in person, although I have had the pleasure of speaking to him on the phone and via email. I was tickled to find a video of him on the web, an interview posted by "Life in Perpetual Beta":

Find more videos like this on Life in Perpetual Beta

The project started with a visit from Joyce to visit Sidney in Arizona. They spread the ties out on the bed, over the quilt I had made in Bruce's memory. "Surely something can be made of this!"

Ties laid out for "Sidney's Ties".

My initial mock-up was quite different from the final piece. Some people plan everything out before they dig in. I don't. I work from an intuitive level, changing things as I go. This can be difficult in a commission as the future owner of the piece has to be as free spirited as I am. When I asked Sidney what the budget was, he said, "Go until it is finished." A mandate like that can only come from someone who understands and has experienced the creative process.

"Sidney's Ties", mocked up.

I like texture and have been exploring how to make my textiles more dimensional. I had seen a demonstration of rushing at the quilt show and thought that would work for framing the photos. I had to gut the ties to make them pliable enough for gathering. This was also the first time I had worked with fabric transfers. I used the pre-treated fabric sheets that Caryl Bryer Fallert sells at her shop. I stuffed each photo and quilted around the body outlines. These ties were the special ones. Joyce had written little notes attached to them and I wanted to incorporate her words, but ended up not figuring out how to do that in a way that worked for me.

Joyce and Bruce as children, "Sidney's Ties"

Young Sidney, "Sidney's Ties"

Bobette at 23, "Sidney's Ties"

Sidney, who wore all these ties...

I used buttons, glass Czech beads and fresh water pearls to lighten and highlight the central figures. They glow when they are under a spotlight. You will notice that the piece is not straight. I don't like straight lines. Maybe I can't even do them, but I know that the ethnic textiles that I so love are often uneven, crooked, worn and all of that tells me a story. So, "Sidney's Ties" is also crooked. Life is beautiful, full of wonderful memories, but Sidney and his family have also had their share of grief, of the pain that can make any straight back crooked. So, this tribute to a life well-lived hopefully captures some of the dualism that propels each of us from youth into maturity, from life to death, and from need to abundance. I thank you, Sidney and Joyce, for the great pleasure this project has given me!

"Sidney's Ties", back detail.

See Sidney's bios at the University of Arizona and at NorthWestern University's Kellogg School of Management.



  1. There is something in worn textiles that expresses the wearer's life energy and character. I miss all the fabrics I discarded when I didn't know what to do with them. It is a remarkable chance to create relics from what the loved ones used. This is a relic!

  2. This is an amazing piece of work! My Aunt Esther uses Uncle Clarence's ties to make pillows for her grands; I only hope they love those pillows as much as I love them. It's fabulous when people re-use clothing to make meaningful projects; yours is just wonderful!

  3. Olá Rayela,

    Acho que é a primeira vez que vejo uma colcha feita com gravatas.
    Para mim o que torna interessante é o facto de serem incluídas pessoas/memórias nesta obra de arte.
    Está muito bem concebida e conseguida.

    Desejo-te um bom fim-de-semana,


  4. I love the depth and texture. This is a real treasure.

  5. Absolutely incredible! Has he received it, yet?

  6. Obrigada, Jose...

    Thanks, everyone! I still have not sent it. I emailed him about whether he wanted me to include the dowel or not (complicates packaging), and he answered other things, but not that yet. I will ship it Monday or Tuesday and he said he is going to hang it in his office in Arizona where it will be seen by all the folks who hang around him. So, I'm excited that he will be able to share his collection and his story.

  7. How lovely, I have just finished a rag rug project with donated clothing including ties and could not find out a way to include the ties but wove the sky with them and it worked perfectly. We are about to embark on another project hopefully to create a map using school uniforms from the Wirral schools, but it will not just involve schools, it will involve older ladies from Wirral Methodist Housing and will take place in the local art gallery. Here is hoping we have the grant in the bag!

  8. I just came across this story (while websurfing). This is the most incredible necktie quilt art I've ever seen! It's absolutely gorgeous, original and stunning! Thank you for sharing the very lovely story. I liked the memory pieces you made in honor of Bruce, too.

    1. Thank you, Cathy! I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting Sidney in person last year in Tucson. I have a new site and posted the update with pics of us and of the textile in situ: http://www.rayela.com/sidneys-ties/

      He is truly an exceptional person and making this piece was challenging but so fulfilling as his story brewed in my mind. :)


“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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