When Nancy Shaw Cramer closed her Main Street gallery in Vineyard Haven in 2014, she didn’t spend much time enjoying retirement. Instead she launched a new business creating one-of-a-kind pillows, scarves, and clothing.
It wasn’t much of a stretch for Ms. Shaw Cramer to get into the clothing business. She’s been a textile artist for many years. At one time she was one of the top 10 tapestry artists in the country. Walking away from the gallery business gave her a chance to get back to creating her own art. Although she originally thought that she would jump right back into weaving, instead Ms. Cramer found herself drawn to clothing design. A few experiments led to a full clothing line, which she has been offering through her website and the occasional showcase at her home.
Next up, the designer will be one of a dozen artists featured at the new cooperative gallery, Martha’s Vineyard Center for the Visual Arts, opening at the former Piknik location on Dukes County Avenue in Oak Bluffs on Memorial Day weekend.
Her line of clothing and accessories includes drapey jackets, coats, tunics, and elongated vests as well as scarves, bags, and pillows. Each of her garments can be worn in a variety of styles and can complement a range of body types. The loose-fitting wrap jacket can be worn either open or crossed over, and secured at the neck with a scarf or brooch. Similarly, the voluminous coat can be belted close or, in a unique twist, the oversize collar/capelet can be scrunched up and tucked in to serve as a top closure.
Ms. Shaw Cramer also works with silk organza, creating scarves and transparent jackets and coats that can serve as elegant over layers. “The organza pieces don’t have any side seams,” she says. “They have a fluid drape.”
The looks all benefit from a feel for flow, and often feature design twists like the coat’s capelet and an asymmetrical hem on the long tunic. “I really like things that are very simple, minimal,” says the artist. “When it comes to the jackets and coats, I love thinking that you can wear them in a lot of ways. My one goal is that every woman can make her own look.”
As a textile artist, Ms. Shaw Cramer chooses her fabrics carefully, basing her selection on quality as well as wearability. She works oftentimes in blends — silks, wools, or cottons — to provide for wrinkle-free, travel-friendly wear. All of the pieces, though they are one-of-a-kind, are priced very reasonably. Tunics start at $165, coats at $250.
The artist/designer has also ventured into a few collaborative efforts. A while back she started designing necklaces with her friend Karen DiMaura, whom Ms. Shaw Cramer used to represent as a photographer in her gallery. The extra-long necklaces are made from covered cable wire with an interesting bead or bead cluster placed every few spaces. With fellow textile artist, internationally known quilt artist Denise Labadie, Ms. Shaw Cramer began a collaboration a few years back using Ms. Labadie’s handpainted silks to create wearable art scarves and other items. The two friends named their line for their initials Cl or Ciel — French for sky. Now Ms. Shaw Cramer is also doing her own painting on silk for her designs.
The new venture has given the former gallerist another outlet for her creativity. Although she has taken up weaving again, and will have a show of her textile designs next year at the West Tisbury library, for now she is deriving a great deal of pleasure from clothing design.
“I really wasn’t planning another business,” she says. “I thought about it, and said, I’m just going to see what evolves. When the day comes when I’m not having fun and it becomes stressful, I’ll just quit. When doing it that way, it keeps the pleasure in your work, but you can still have drive and intensity. You can focus on being the most creative in the moment without the stress. I’m fortunate to be in the position that I can do that. The best work comes out of people who can just keep it apart from the business side and stay focused, and let the creativity take them there.”