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Origins and Inspiration of the Manly Shirt



My creative process involves starting with a problem and then looking for a solution. Sometimes the answers come while I am driving or working on something else—the idea just needs to be planted.


And so it goes with neckties. They languished in a bin for years. The silk ones were separated and given to a quilter who turned them into a quilt titled “Wall Street”. The polyester, dacron, rayon and other ties just went into a plastic storage tub as I had no idea how they could be used in my art. I really thought about donating them as I felt that my house was reaching Hoarders status, but my friends assured me my décor was just Organized Chaos.


The problem that presented itself was I needed to develop a man’s shirt. I thought about it for months. At first, my thinking was to just use “manly” material for the gusset at the back and my stash of neckties would be used to embellish the cuffs and the collar.


In a meeting with a very good friend , a master creator, accomplished artists and inventor, I ran my idea of the Manly Shirt at a brainstorming session over coffee. She suggested that I use a tie for the gusset in the back.


I first I dismissed this crazy idea, but the more I thought about it, I realized this was the perfect solution. Instead of a man or woman wearing a tie in the front, the tie was adorning the shirt at the back. It was sort of a reversal and, therefore, a surprise. The old saying about the mullet hairstyle came to mind, “Business in front, party in back.”


Now I started dismantling ties for the gusset, ironing them and pairing them up with shirts that would work for those particular prints, stripes and colors. I also discovered I needed more ties—so it was off to Senior Day at the ARC Thrift Store. Imagine my surprise when I found a peek-a-boo tie, and naturally I kept that for myself.


Peek-a-boo ties were the rage in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Inside the lining of a tie was a secret silk screened image of a sexy pinup girl, which echoes my philosophy about my new style of man’s shirt, “Business in the front, party in the back.”


(For the images for this blog entry, I would use four shirts, but four different ones so you could show two fronts and two backs and that way you could show four designs. Also, I would have all of the ironed. Of course include the peek-a-boo tie.)

Necktie Obsession

Necktie Obsession

My first encounter with neckties was with my father, who generally wore khakis for his work, but would dress in a suit and tie for Rotary or fancy dinners. Always at a loss on what to get him for Father’s Day, Christmas or his birthday, I resorted to neckties. He appeared to like him as he wore them and I don’t think it was in order please me. I think he really loved my tie selections.


Later on, his girlfriend had all of his ties made into a quilt, a true time capsule as you can see what was in style each year for decades. Wide width, garish prints, stripes and polka dots. A tie could be subdued and subtle or an outlandish statement. Neckties added a wild splash of color in an otherwise drab suit. I can picture some of my father’s ties. One tie of my father’s in particular that I remember had a leaf pattern on it. Various brown and green leaves on a dark brown color field. On the background, some of the leaves were serrated, some not. Some leaves with a central vein, some not. Most of my father’s ties were polyester as I didn’t know much about silk as those ties were way beyond my budget.


I love that polyester is referred to as virgin polyester or international polyester.  You never know about polyester. As I got older, I ceased giving my father ties, but they always remained in the back of my mind, and I appreciated all the colors, patterns, and textures—they are absolutely beautiful.


My love of neckties has grown over time and I have made discoveries of the many uses of neckties beyond their conventional function in my art practice. When I deconstruct a tie, especially a woven one, I have discovered the back of the tie is as beautiful as the front—the colors change. The interfacing in the tie can be different and each tie label is a work of art unique in itself.


As an art teacher at St. Joseph’s School in Fort Collins, Colorado, I was always getting odd donations with the remark, “I thought you might be able to use this for your art classes.”  When I couldn’t think of an immediate use, I just kept the items. Some of those donations are still with me today, and I am just waiting for inspiration on how to use them.


I had a parent drop off a boxes full of neckties and I was instantly intrigued by the kaleidoscope of colors, patterns and shapes—especially the wide end of the tie and how ties narrowed—they looked like deflated snakes.

Snakes on Planes

Snakes on Planes

I don’t know when the idea occurred to me, but the way the wide end of the the ties narrowed reminded me of snakes. An art class idea! Snakes from neckties. A soft sculpture. My St. Joseph Elementary School art students picked out which tie they wanted, put a wire hanger through the tie, and then stuffed the tie. Voila! A snake sculpture. Once the wide end was stuffed, button eyes added, and if they wanted a tongue, they all had the appearance of cobras.


I displayed them by hanging them on the ceiling in the hallway outside the art room. The effect could have something out of Raiders of the Lost Arkor Snakes on Planes.


Although the snake sculpture became a part of my lesson plans every year, I did amass a large quantity of neckties. When I left teaching, of course, the ties went with me and were relegated to storage along with the other materials the school told me I could take “what I could find use for”.  As an aside, I usually find uses for all the things I have collected, although some ideas for use do take longer than others.


I started my own studio/gallery and called myself a Reclamation Engineer/Recycle Artist. I also started collecting wool sweaters—mountains and mountains of them.


First stop for neckties was an embellishment for the hats I made from fulled/felted sweaters.  The necktie embellished hats sold like gangbusters and were very popular at the Recycle Arts Festival at Santa Fe.  Eventually, I wanted to move on and come up with new ideas. The ties went back into storage and and the hats morphed into something else. So did the ties.