Evelyn Bennett concentrates as she works with a piece of cloth. This time it's something frivolous, a tiny elephant that will become a stuffed toy. Tomorrow it could be a costume for a Shakespearean play - or a duffel bag.
Bennett, 27, is an artist whose medium is fabric. In her chilly basement studio, surrounded by piles of cloth in a multitude of colors and designs, she says she's working on 25 projects, all in various stages of completion. Some need just a few touches, she says. Others are barely under way.
All are labors of love for this fabric junkie, who delights in going on shopping expeditions to Portland fabric stores with her parents, Chris and David Bennett.
"The easiest time to cut into fabric is right when you buy it. You have no emotional attachment then," Bennett says. "And you have to remember there will always be great fabric out there."
During the summer she sells aprons at her booth at the Astoria Sunday Market. She spends five or six hours a day on the aprons, but says she's having trouble keeping up. She also sews custom clothing for clients. But they have to decide what they want at the outset. "I hate alterations, I won't do them," Bennett says.
At heart, Bennett is a designer, not a seamstress. "What I need is a patron, so I can just create and someone else can sew for me," she says, only half joking.
Born on Malta, Bennett lived in Singapore when she was a toddler, and later in a Mexican village and in Indonesia. Her parents moved back to the United States when she was 4.
As a child, her first sewing project was a poncho that was supposed to have been a nightgown. She began collecting and wearing costumes when she was only 8 or 10, she says. She remembers dressing her father in a costume as he sat watching football on television. She also made her parents Viking costumes one year for Halloween, with big horns and fur hats.
With a career goal of becoming a costumer, Bennett majored in fine arts at Western Oregon University, earning tuition money as a note-taker and a nude model for life-drawing classes. After graduating in 2001, she started leaning toward biology, which was her minor, with an eye to becoming a scientific illustrator. A course at the University of California at Santa Cruz ended that plan. "I got sick of it. If I couldn't do it for two months, I knew it wasn't a career," she said.
Returning to her first love, Bennett signed on as costumer for "Shanghaied in Astoria" for the 2001 season. The show was triple cast, there were 20 to 25 characters and she had just one month to get ready. "It was like costumer boot camp," Bennett says. When it was over, she was burned out. "I had four boxes of leftover materials. I handed them to my next-door neighbor who became the new costumer," she says.
After that, Bennett worked at the Flavel House for a few years and started taking martial arts classes. She spent two years designing a tattoo from Celtic knot books. Last year, on her birthday, she had the design tattooed on her back.
With her business, Bizarre Productions, just about breaking even, Bennett is facing a major career change. She recently took a job as an on-call residential adviser at Tongue Point Job Corps, where she might work her way up to teaching art or sewing. Or she may decide instead to take the Apparel Design course offered by the Portland Art Institute.
"I'm still figuring out what I want to do with my life," Bennett says. "I have a really big decision to make in the coming months." Whatever she decides, the fabric of her life will probably always be fabric.