Press "Enter" to skip to content

Recycled goods fashioned into cloaks for design competition

Remember how wearing your pajamas all day, every day became a thing during the coronavirus pandemic for lots of people stuck at home, whether working or not?

That state of attire inspired the theme for a design competition called “The Cocoon Cloak” sponsored by artist and fashion jewelry designer Judith Hendler in partnership with the Huntington Beach Art Center. Hendler, who is big on the environment and incorporating used materials in her own artwork, required that the cloaks be made using nothing but recyclables.

The creations of participants in two categories – community college students and the Art Center’s Artist Council members – are on exhibit at the Art Center in a show that ends Saturday, June 12.



“Cocoon Cloak” has turned out to be a hit among folks who don’t typically frequent the Art Center, drawn by curiosity over how the designers managed to re-use and upcycle common everyday materials.

“The show has gotten attention from a non-traditional audience,” said Kate Hoffman, Art Center executive director.

Non-traditional? Folks who aren’t art collectors or regulars from the art community, she explained.

“Like, normal people.”

Judging by the feedback from Huntington Beach Art Center visitors, including passersby drawn in by a banner outside advertising the show, the craftsmanship, ingenuity and imagination put into making the 24 cloaks on display is more relatable than trying to fathom a work of abstract art. They also love that the exhibit features the work of community college students.

“People can relate to it,” Hendler, who lives in Huntington Beach, said during a visit last week to the art center. “It’s not intimidating.”

Unlike, say, abstract art.

“It’s very grassroots,” Hendler added. “Anybody can do it, rather than saying, ‘I don’t get it.’”

Yet the cloaks are works of art, fashioned from all kinds of fabrics and materials at hand: terrycloth towels, silk saris, doilies, cotton work pants, old sweaters.

COVID-19, Hendler said, has made us more resourceful: “It’s opened a whole new world of what can I do with what’s around me.”

Late-night idea

Hendler sponsored a similar design contest last year, her inaugural effort to celebrate the overlooked talent of students in the community college system. Hendler, who turns 80 this summer, fondly remembers her studies at Los Angeles City College from younger days. She later became known for the iconic big jewelry pieces she created from used aircraft acrylic materials.

But a planned exhibit of last year’s student designs as part of the Art Center’s 25th anniversary could not take place because of the statewide COVID-19 shutdown. The current exhibit at the Art Center, which reopened earlier this year, includes seven pieces from the 2020 contest.

There’s also a small niche in the gallery where a few of Hendler’s necklaces are encased – as more examples of how recycled material can be used to create art and fashion. Pairs of Hendler’s earrings also can be purchased, along with “Cocoon Cloak” buttons, to raise funds for the Art Center. Some of the unisex cloaks from the 2021 competition also are for sale by the designers.

The students who created the cloaks attended community colleges in Orange, Los Angeles and San Diego counties.

The spark for “Cocoon Cloak” came to Hendler, like many of her ideas, around 2 a.m. She got to thinking about how it might be to have some kind of a wrap to handily pull on over the ubiquitous daytime PJ’s should the doorbell happen to ring. So she searched out a faded lavender bed sheet from the used materials she keeps around the house and sewed the contest prototype.

Her cloak is in the exhibit, too, but Hendler wants the attention to be on the work of designers like Eleyna Gomez, a Saddleback College student who took first place in the student competition, an honor that included a check for $300 provided by Hendler. The second- and third-place winners – Loren Blackwood of Orange Coast College and Sofia Carrillo of Palomar College – also received cash prizes.

The winners in the category for Art Center council members: first, Christie Grimstad; second, Patricia McKenna; third, Janet Johnson.

‘Surrounded by sewing’

Gomez, who lives in Mission Viejo, takes classes in fashion design at night. She’s been at it more than five years, working toward Saddleback’s certificate in advanced fashion design and apparel manufacturing. She expects to finish in 2023. It’s taking this long because Gomez, 40, works full time during the day – as a chemist for a pharmaceutical company.

A Canadian immigrant, Gomez’s parents are from the Philippines and emphasized careers in the sciences for both their daughters. (Gomez’s sister is a biologist who runs clinical trials.) But growing up, Gomez said she was “surrounded by sewing” – both her mother and grandmother were seamstresses. As a child, Gomez got to help rip out seams but didn’t learn to sew.

Gomez moved to Orange County in 2009. She decided to take sewing classes, at her mother’s suggestion, after an attempt to learn how to do a few things over the phone wasn’t working. Gomez had inherited her grandmother’s 1970s-era Singer sewing machine, but now she uses a Husqvarna Viking, purchased from a local shop where repairs can be easily made.

For her recycled material, Gomez turned to the “huge stash” of promotional T-shirts given to her by a cousin, hip-hop DJ  Rhettmatic (real name Nazareth Nirza), who runs Beat Junkie Institute of Sound in Glendale. Those colorful shirts had what Gomez describes as “amazing graffiti prints and really cool graphics” that she cut and fashioned into an abstract, checkered houndstooth pattern. She lined the inside with an end-of-roll fabric discard and trimmed the cloak in gold bias tape “to bring the hip-hop feel.”

She titled her cloak “Tees of Hip-Hop and Houndstooth.”

While she is not planning to leave her profession, cognizant of her mother’s voice in the back of her mind, winning the “Cocoon Cloak” competition and a pair of on-campus awards for her designs has inspired Gomez to go to Paris for a class in embroidery and beading.

A quote from Gomez graces the wall above her cloak at the Art Center: “Versatile, sustainable and fly – designing and constructing this cloak was a joyful reminder of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.”

If you go

  • When: Tuesday to Thursday, 12-8 p.m.; Friday, 12-6 p.m.; Saturday, 12-5 p.m., with an exhibit closing celebration from 1-3 p.m.
  • Where: Huntington Beach Art Center, 538 Main St., Huntington Beach
  • Info: 714-374-1650 or

Source: Orange County Register

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: