Cook & Gates Makes Tote Bags Gallery-Worthy
And piles in enough sand for a faux beach party.
Ethan Cook and Sara Gates turned their hand-dyed, aesthetically complicated bags into the sort of art pieces that earn gallery shows—as evidenced by the one they held at Live With Animals in Williamsburg. Here, Sara, who now runs the biz on her own, explains how the whole thing—including the massive fabric waves—came together.
“That gallery space is actually pretty big—you can do whatever you want. We had these grandiose plans to build rooms and cover everything with our fabric, and we realized it was just too much. I asked Ethan what would be the most inconvenient thing to make out of fabric, and his first response was, ‘Liquid.’ We were like, ‘Let’s make an ocean!’ and went from there.”
“I bought a 1,000-yard roll of canvas, and we used almost all of it. We built a structure out of wood and chicken wire and used fabric stiffener to create the ocean. We did this whole line of beach-bag-like bags, and we made blankets with Mary Meyer.”
“We had a closing party, and surf bands played in the ocean. The whole thing was quite a construction project—it was great, but it was an undertaking. I’ve done installations but nothing this huge. The waves were probably eight or ten feet tall.”
“We had a ton of sand. To do something so simple like that and alter the entire space—we could have not built the ocean at all and just had sand on the floor and still changed the whole experience. You can get caught up in wanting to do bigger and to do more, but we’ve found that keeping things simple and to-the-point always makes it better—a better bag, a better installation, whatever.”
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Sara Gates Shows Off Her Space
She’s adorned it with all kinds of massive printing tools.
Sara Gates has been live-working from the same location in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, for the last six years—long before most people were converting lofts and familiarizing themselves with the G train. “When I first moved in, I lived with a bunch of people, but over the years, the business has sort of taken over. It was half-house, half-studio, and now it’s more like three-quarters studio,” the woman behind the dye-happy bag line Cook & Gates explains. Here, she shows off some of the highlights and heavy machinery of the studio, where she also runs a screen-printing company.
“These are the two screen-printing presses that I use. I tend to do pretty small runs. I work with a lot of local artists and designers. I do up to a 1,000 pieces but not usually more that that.”
“To create the printing designs, you put photo-sensitive emulsion on a screen, let it dry, and tape the image—which is black on clear—to it. You put it in this machine, which vacuums it in place, and turn a 6,000-watt light on it to expose it. It’s really bright—and also really loud. The light hardens the emulsion, and the black blocks the light. Then you hose it down.”
“I do a lot of oversize printing, which a lot of printers don’t do because you need huge screens and huge equipment. There are little versions of the equipment, but printing tiny objects just on T-shirts is not that compelling for me.”
“The dyeing I do for Cook & Gates happens everywhere. I have buckets all over the place—I do a lot of it on the roof. That bag on the clothesline has been living on the roof for three months. That’s its home.”