A Chat With Moo-Young

We are so excited to welcome Seattle-based designer Francine Moo-Young's eponymous line into our stores this winter season. Originally from Jamaica, Francine incorporates her unique upbringing and background into all elements of her work, blending styles and technique in a way that is truly personal and entirely original. From an early age, Francine cultivated an appreciation for textiles and sewing, stating that an accidental encounter with bleach and early tie-dye school projects heavily impacted what has now become her signature style. Focusing on suede and shibori dye, each Moo-Young piece tells its own story, as Francine decides how to use each suede hide only after careful consideration and time spent with each. Francine was kind enough to share some process photos and "invite" us into her studio to learn more about her and her exquisite work. Thanks, Francine!

ET: You're originally from Jamaica and come from a very unique background of makers and artists. Can you tell us more about your upbringing and how this has shaped and impacted your work?

M-Y: I was born in Kingston, Jamaica. My family is very large and diverse, so when I think of my immediate family it includes my parents, three sisters, grandparents, my grandmothers’ sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles and numerous so-called ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’ that were long-time family friends. When I was 4 ½ years, my family moved to Florida.  My parents gave up everything due to the political situation and started over. In Jamaica, my mother had a good job and my father owned a business.  Florida was a culture shock. Thank goodness my ‘family’ also moved. I was lucky we all lived in the same community- just a block or two away from each other. School started at an earlier age in Jamaica and so in Florida, I was bored at home and became a trouble maker. To pass the time, my grandmother and her sisters taught me to sew. I used a needle and thread and learned hand stitching. I made dresses, suits, blouses, and coats for my dolls. Anything my grandmother and her sisters made, I made in doll size. I could not care less about playing with dolls. I became obsessed with the making.

I have an ethnically diverse family, but overall, I consider myself Chinese-Jamaican. I’m not more one than the other, just both. With this kind of diversity, I think I was influenced in more ways than imaginable - by the clothes, styles, education, topics discussed, variety of foods and so on. I don’t think I was heavily influenced by one particular style but was encouraged to explore, discover, and imagine. I was given the freedom to just be and create with no right or wrong but yet always striving to be better. Not to be confused with being a perfectionist... being better meant solving problems- it meant finding better ways. Although family would visit from around the world, I was mostly visited and surrounded by my grandmother and her sisters. They lived through the depression, the wars, and went through struggles. One phrase commonly spoken was, “when there’s a will, there’s a way.” So whatever I wanted to be or create, I knew I could. The problem was, I didn’t know what I wanted. I knew I just loved making.

When I first started working with leather, I didn’t know what I was doing. I wasn’t trained in leather- I am a pattern maker by trade. I am not even sure how it happened. I have always loved textiles and had been sewing and a maker since I could remember. What I learned from my grandmother and great aunts continues to drive me today – to not accept conventional wisdom and to push boundaries. I think there were a few key moments that brought me to where I am now: my love of textiles and anything tactile, learning to sew, my first experiment with bleach getting on a turquoise cloth (amazing!), and my first tie dyed t-shirt in art class.

ET: You mention that each suede piece is hand-cut based off the feeling you get from each hide. I'd love to know more about this and any other steps/rituals you utilize in your personal creative process.

M-Y: Most of my making comes intuitively. I’m drawn to branding marks and scarring on leather. If I’m making a bag, I like to make that mark part of the focal point. I want to make sure the hide tells its story.  But regardless of what I’m making, my process and plan is general with no expectations. I generally start with an idea and a rough pattern. I don’t force the leather to do something it doesn’t want to do. When I first began making bags, I would intend to make one shape and often would end up with something completely different. When I made my first suede dress, I let the weight and drape of the leather tell me where to cut and put my seams. For my first dress, I wanted to make a muumuu. I started sewing several pieces of leather together, only cutting the seams I was sewing. I played with the leather and eventually I knew what was next. Sometimes this process takes a long time. I’ve sat on items in the works for over a year. Everything has to feel right otherwise I won’t proceed, I’ll just wait. But once I come up with a pattern that suits the leather, I choose which piece goes where. Each piece takes multiple hides, so I like to match up the hides so that they compliment each other. Sometimes it takes sorting through at least 20 hides to find two that I like together. Also, if the organic edge is trying to get my attention, I’ll save it so that it can be shown off in a piece such as my scarves and ponchos where I leave the organic edges.

ET: Suede and shibori dye seem like such an unusual pairing- when did you learn to shibori dye and how did you begin incorporating that into suede work?

M-Y: I’ve known about shibori for a long time, but never had the facilities to try it until recently. When I started working with leather a few years ago, I wanted to bring my love of color, pattern, and anything wabi-sabi to leather. I knew I didn’t want to do the traditional leather work. I experimented with mono types, batiking, and other non-traditional leather painting and dyeing. During this period I just played. I tried everything I could. One of these things was a shibori workshop using silk and cotton to dye. That class renewed the fascination I have with dyes and the unpredictability and transitions that occur. After that two-day class, I wondered how I could get similar results with leather. It would have been much easier to work with silk and other natural fabrics, but I wanted to make something that I could wear in the Seattle cold, something different. With fabric, the dyes seep through and dye the layers that are folded or pleated. With leather, the dye doesn’t seep through. With that challenge, I began to explore, creating new folds or pleating to create some of the traditional shibori aesthetics.

ET: Do you have any other combinations of either material or finishing that you like to use or would like to explore?

M-Y: There’s so much. I worked with feathers almost ten years ago and would like to bring those back into some of my leather pieces. I have thoughts but not enough time. I also want to make felt pieces with leather. I have a lot of ideas for this. One day I’ll get to them.

ET: Do you have a favorite material you enjoy working with more routinely?

M-Y: Right now it’s leather. I live in Seattle and most of the clothes I like to wear are not suitable for everyday or not suitable to go out and about in. I found myself lounging in sweats, mostly men’s over-sized pieces. I was getting into a rut and wanted to wear something that felt like sweats, but kept me warm and cozy in the Seattle weather. So for now, I’m completely obsessed with suede.

ET: Where do you look for inspiration?

M-Y: I find inspirational in everyday life. Sometimes it becomes overwhelming. I don’t even know how to explain what inspires what. When I decided to be a full-time maker, I worried that I would run out of ideas. This is so not the case!

ET: Can you share any upcoming projects that you're working on and excited about?

M-Y: I’m currently working on some home goods ideas ranging from pillows, rugs to what I’m calling pot sleeves. I’m also further exploring shibori folding and pleating for leather. I just finished a batch of different folds with some amazing results.


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