Caroline Lee Liu

July 19, 2023

Caroline Lee Liu (b. 1997, SF Bay Area) is an artist based in Chicago. She draws from her experience working in museum collections to make garments and other objects.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

I was born and raised in the SF Bay and now I live in Chicago. The town I grew up in is extremely into antiques and vintage clothing. I make garments and other objects in my attic studio, and I work as a museum collections registrar by day.

My studio practice and personal collecting are informed by the tasks I do at my job. At the last museum I worked, I accessioned quite a few garments from the past century or so, from opera costumes to military uniforms. Being able to examine the insides of garments, how they’ve worn over time, and the mends made to them helped me learn a lot about clothing construction. At work, my daily tasks include: cataloging, organizing, condition reporting, cleaning, and packing artifacts and art – basically trying to consider all the aspects of an object’s existence and how to best preserve it for future use. My favorite part is packing, because you have to protect every side of an object. Then you tag it and tie a little bow. It’s like wrapping a present for the future.

rock collecting jacket

How did you become interested in making clothes?

Once I learned how to sew and started a job where I had to wear a collared shirt, I thought, what if I made the shirt I go to work in? I made the kite shirt because my friend Eian wanted to learn how to make kites together this summer and I thought, what if I made a shirt about it?

kite shirt

What is your driving force?

Learning how to make things. When I learned how to turn a sock heel, my brain exploded. Once you learn what a gusset is, you see it everywhere.

Where did the username “ibreakantiques” come from?

70’s tee from my favorite shop, ReLove. Had to have it…

ribbed split-toe socks, bamboo kite frame

What does your workspace look like?

Very clean. I get messy when I work, but I always try to reset when I’m done, so that I can start fresh the next day. I am a little bit scary about organization, like I can tell you the exact location of almost every single object I own and what it’s sitting next to. The way I think about it is that every object has a home and they like to go back to them at the end of the day 🙂

shirt for tieg

What made you want to begin your series FUTURE HAND-ME-DOWNS?

I’ve had a couple jobs now where I’m basically sorting through people’s clothes and art after they’ve had a big life change. (A vintage dealer once told me it’s the business of death, downsizing, and divorce.) So I am constantly being confronted with the past and future lives of the things people have created and/or accumulated.

With making garments, I’m thinking about the balance between functionality and novelty, as well as the histories of different cuts and techniques. That’s why I prefer to use vintage fabric and notions, to add another layer of time. I want the clothes I make to be able to have many interesting lives.

pleated skirt

Currently, I only really make clothing for myself and my friends, and sometimes I take commissions for mutuals. Since I don’t rely on my studio practice to pay my bills right now, I am very selective with who I spend time making something for. At this point in my practice, the relationship between me and the person wearing my clothes is important (just like a hand-me-down). Like I just spent three weeks knitting a pair of socks for one of my best friends. If I were to price that hourly, it would be ridiculous. It was a birthday present.

How long have you been in Chicago and what do you like most about living here?

I’ve lived here for 8 years now. I’ve met all my favorite people here and the funniest people ever.

What have you been listening to lately?

Shintaro Sakamoto. That one song where Kurt Vile sings with John Prine. Rachael Yamagata’s 2004 masterpiece of an album, Happenstance. Maria Somerville, Sigourney, and Shy One’s NTS sets.

midwest shirt for dena

Favorite artists?

I am mostly inspired by craftsmanship these days, but I admire artists like Christine Hill, Maia Ruth Lee, Liz Magor, and On Kawara, whose practices record the beauty and strangeness of the everyday. Studying at the Roger Brown Study Collection was also really influential for me in thinking about how art and life become inseparable in a home.

I recently saw Lenore Tawney’s work shown with her personal collection of objects at the Kohler Art Preserve. Every single object she collected was perfect…absolutely obsessed…

For designers: Daiki Suzuki, Sarah-Linh Tran, Jenia Kim, Kosuke Tsumura, and of course, Rei Kawakubo.

summer storm shirt

What are some of your wardrobe staples that you didn’t make?

Tees with no side seams, the way tubular knits are constructed is so sick. Sailor pants, any pants without zippers. Camber hoodies. My ‘96 Type II, because of the history it’s part of, and that I got it from my favorite shop back home. The piece I’ve probably learned the most from is a vintage CDG shirt I got for almost nothing while working one of the worst days ever at Buffalo Exchange.

Interview conducted and drafted by Sam Dybeck.