Handmade: Native Danish crafter finds identity, love here
Born in Denmark, Alice Bronston came to the U.S. at age 21 for what she thought would be no more than a year.
“I came here for one year to separate from my twin sister, and to establish my own identity,” recalls the 76-year-old Bingham Farms resident. “We needed to have our own personalities, and it was hard when you’re always together.”
While developing her individuality apart from her identical twin, she met the love of her life, got married a year and a half later, and made this country her home.
As someone who’s been creative almost her entire life, Bronston started making her clothes when she was just 12, getting a few tips along the way from her father’s cousin, a professional tailor. “She would come and visit, and give me hints, but it was just something built in me to learn to sew,” says Bronston, who still speaks with a Danish accent.
Passionate about her craft, she later learned to add a more personal touch to her garments. She attended an art show at Somerset Mall in 1988, where she fell in love once again – but this time it was a form of art that caught her eye. She became smitten with hand-dyed fabric. “I asked where I could learn to dye fabric,” she recalls. “They had hand-painted silk.” Her curiosity and need to be more creative led to classes at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center (BBAC) where she learned to dye natural fabrics. One of the teachers was a member of the Creative Arts Council. Bronston later joined and remained a member for 15 years.
Bronston discovered dying fabric allows room for play, along with an element of “surprise.” She says, “In the beginning, I was dying some scarves, and they didn’t turn out the way I liked, so then, I thought, ‘Hey, I’m going to dye it again.’ I just put other dyes on top of it, and it turned out great! That’s what’s so much fun about dyeing –you’re not always in control of how it turns out.” And while shades of blue are her favorite colors to play with, she admits, she’s “really attracted to the whole rainbow.”
The hand-dyed and hand-painted “art wearables” she began creating with various silks and cotton served as the basis for a home-based garment-making business she started in 1989 and had for about 15 years. She was able to sell her striking jackets, dresses, blouses, shawls and silk scarves by word of mouth at local art and craft shows as well as galleries around town. Some of her jackets are quilted with lightweight batting, and her cotton pieces are three layers of fabric, stitched with 1-inch between stitched rows, and frayed edges for added texture and eye-appeal.
But Bronston says, “ I stopped (the business) because my husband was ill and I didn’t have the free time to do it anymore.” Lately, she’s resumed her passion, however, only to make one-of-a-kind pieces for herself that often attract compliments when she’s out shopping.
“I had taken a break for several years, and meanwhile, I moved, but I’m getting back into doing things again, but I’m not sewing for anybody else. Occasionally, I’ll make a gift.” When she travels back to Denmark, Bronston says she’ll be taking each of her sisters one of the silk shawls she recently hand-dyed.
“In Oct. 2014, I joined the Creative Clothing Club, which meets once a month in Troy,” she says. “After not being able to do my sewing, etc., for a few years, I found it very stimulating to meet with about 60 women with shared interests. I right away got back to making different things, including my fabric dyeing.”
Bronston is also a quilt-maker and has several she has done hanging throughout her home, made with “little scraps of fabric leftover” from garment making. She’s also gifted some to her son and daughter.
Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/DetroitNews Handmade.
Contact Alice Bronston at email@example.com.