About Laverne Zabielski & Truly Wearable Art

My mother was the daughter of Methodist missionaries. My dad was the son of Catholic, Polish immigrants. We ate kiełbasa, fried chicken, golumki, and deviled eggs.

I come from, lace tablecloths and china. 

I come from sewing machines, cotton fields, flat roads and drought,

mountain roads, chiggers, poison ivy, and way too much humidity.  

“Take one day at a time,” my mother said.  She taught me to sew. 

“What do you think, I’m made out of money?” My dad asked. He was a sergeant in the United States Air Force. He drove a cab at night and taught me to develop film in the dark room on week ends.

When I was 15 we moved to a new base. The first thing I did was decide not to be shy anymore. I didn’t know if you could just up and do something like that. I always thought shy was something you were born with but I figured I’d give it a try. I borrowed a white, low cut, sleeveless, cinched waist, circular-skirt dress. I had a suntan from being a water safety assistant at the pool all summer and that white dress next to my dark tan and no glasses, well, when I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t believe it was me. I learned the power of making a decision to make a statement. 

Why do I  want you to experience the pleasure of statement making? For the energy and it’s uniqueness to match the uniqueness of your personality. Your uniqueness, gleaned from your full life, is your most desirable asset. Your power tool.

I, too, have had a full life. Rather than react, which comes from the gut, I have learned to pause and respond, which comes from the heart. I have learned to express myself fully. 

I am living a creative, layered life.

At this stage in life, we are in our most powerful place. We know we have something to say. We are strong in our convictions and we express them through our work which we perform with integrity. 

Maybe in the past we were not at ease with our body, the way we carried ourselves or the way we talked about beliefs, opinions or values. Now we are beyond all that. 

Let's work together and acknowledge that it’s time for adventure and serenity, calm and intrigue. It's time for statement making.

We know life is complicated. Like ourselves. We know life needs to be experienced. Like ourselves

I will be your “go girl.” I will whisper your beauty. It is time now to let go and unleash. Express yourself fully, boldly. After all, you are in control. You have hutzpah and it’s hungry. Let me help you feed it. 

The woman desiring to feed her hungry hutzpah knows.

She knows who she is


where she is going.

You are the kind of woman who is full of wisdom. You are presenting yourself to life, vibrant and bold. All the color, all the flavors of emotions, creativity, of a life lived are coming out. Your friends gather around. You have wisdom to share. Your elixir is desired.

Everything you’ve gone through in your life, your joy and sorrow has made you rich with life’s color. You have become the full open flower, the orchid, the rose.

I give you another tool to express yourself, to bring out your fullness, to unleash what you really want to give to the world.

What I have for you is not a piece of clothing. It is art. It makes you feel lovely, elegant, playful, sensual, beautiful, and colorful. It fills you with energy. It presents the unique you. Your most valuable asset. Your power tool.

Your uniqueness is why people listen to you, want to know more about you.

What I have for you

Is a designer statement piece.


How I came to be who I am and do what I do


It was the lipstick floating on toilet paper that gave my mother away. When she put that red across her lips, it not only changed her face, it changed her stance when she stood at the stove and stirred.

grace laverne tilson zabielski 1946

grace laverne tilson zabielski 1946


In 1998 a friend suggested I learn to dye fabric, then I could cover my books in silk. I enrolled at
the University of Kentucky. Six weeks after starting classes my 26 year old son had a
paralyzing accident.

When I first received the call from the emergency room nurse on September 11, 1998, I assumed she was telling me the worst so I wouldn’t be getting my hopes up. I listened as she stated Donnie's condition: collapsed lung, paralyzed, no brain damage. I knew he would pull through. And I knew I was strong and in control.

I marched through those steel gray emergency room doors as if to say: Come on Donnie we can handle this, let’s go on home. Of course we couldn’t—not with all those tubes and that paralysis. The first thing he said to me, the very first thing was, “I’m sorry.” That was before all the tubes were inserted and I’m sure neither one of us knew it would be weeks before any real conversation would take place and that I would learn to read lips and tell him things from some place inside me that could only be spoken then.

Several weeks later as he became stronger and only a few tubes remained in his arm and his throat and other hidden places under sheets that I could never see, we moved on to the mundane. Who will care for his dog while he’s in the hospital and can he live on his own, even if he is paralyzed? I didn’t even ask, can he? I simply assumed. 

"Should I quit school to take care of him," I asked myself. When I realized this was forever and we both had to learn to deal with it, I decided to stay in school and learned the most important lesson of my life: focus.

The only way I could manage classes and intensive care was going to be by picking one thing. I chose the Arashi Shibori technique for dyeing fabric. Not only did I make books, I began designing collections to wear at my performances. What I discovered was that when you wear art it changes your stance. No matter how you wear it, or fold it up in your lap, it is beautiful and has energy. 


We got a note from Danny John’s teacher. I mean, he’s only three and a half. 

“It’s the sillies,” she said. “He’s got the sillies. Won’t settle down and do his work. He’s just too silly. Doesn’t seem to know what is socially unacceptable.”

So this is how he turned out—too silly. “What is socially unacceptable, anyway?” I ask.

“Playing in his food,” she answers.

“Interesting,” I say, “considering his favorite friend is an artist and she calls food ‘art’ and Hershey’s syrup ‘food paint.’ Maybe he’s making food art?”

“And about his hair. Maybe it would be better if he didn’t get it cut so short. It disrupts the class. The children gather around him. ‘What did you do to your hair?’ They ask and they all want to touch it.”

Oh my god, they want to touch him? He’s the one who wants it cut so short. Do you think it could be he likes being touched? 

So this is how he turned out—too silly, having too much fun, and he likes to be touched.

What is socially unacceptable, anyway?


Johnny does important work at eighteen months. I wash the kitchen floor. I’m with Johnny and with Johnny is where I want to be. I wash the kitchen floor and get it clean. Johnny climbs up on a chair he has pushed up to the counter. He gets a dishrag and brings it to me. He wants to help. He has important work to do. He has his rag and he wants to do his important work of washing floors. I concentrate on washing the kitchen floor as he concentrates on washing the kitchen floor.

Nothing is more important than anything else, and the floors are clean. I begin to prepare the dinner. I take out the chicken, wash and dry it and Johnny pushes the chair up to the counter to do important work. He takes the dishes out of the dish drainer and I brown the chicken. He puts the dishes in the sink, and I brown the chicken. Johnny does the important work of putting clean dishes back into the sink.

I walk out the back door to put the dirty rags in the laundry and Johnny closes the dryer door for me. The towels are dry. I take them out of the dryer and Johnny closes the dryer door for me. I open the dryer door, put the wet towels in and Johnny closes the dryer door for me. Johnny does the important work of closing the dryer door. I add spices to the chicken. Johnny sleeps as I write.

Donnie, DJ and Alyssa, Vyonne and Johnny 2016

Donnie, DJ and Alyssa, Vyonne and Johnny 2016


July 1984

Sitting at the kitchen table, my face is on fire. Allergy? Or is it stress? I can barely write. My wrists won’t move. I just took Dana to the airport. She’s been living with her father for the past nine years. One week just wasn’t enough. I cried for being such a shitty mother, for leaving her when she was five, for her wanting me to come back and I never did, for not hearing her sing in the choir, for not seeing her lead cheers or play basketball, for not being there when she came home from school, for not listening to her tell me what’s going on in her life. Tears rolled down my face. Salt set my skin on fire. One week just wasn’t enough.



First, my mother made sections, laid the rag across her finger and combed smooth the silky strands, wrapped them down, under, up and around, tying a knot then sliding her finger out. The next morning she untied each one—chocolate swirls. Pulling them back, I sat, pretty, 


When I feel the wind on my skin there is an ache in my chest that calls to me, tugging at my arms, pulling me into it’s sensuous embrace. I pack silk and dye in preparation for my journey to the farm. We are moving there to grow old. In small, incremental stages, we will put our life behind us, piece by piece.

Each trip down I carry one belonging with me. Today I’ll take my flower-covered Sadler teapot. I’ll leave one artifact behind; the old wooden porch swing by the back door. I’ve asked each child to pick one thing and take it now; a piece of jewelry that hangs on my walls, a painting from my art class or one of my handmade artist books.

Last week we installed the wood stove. Larry sculpted a glistening copper chimney. Later we climbed the roof, nailed metal roofing down, then gathered wood off the mountain. And stacked a woodpile.

During the evening I processed the silk I had dyed earlier. Wrapped in newsprint, heat set the dye as the silk steamed in the old canner on the wood stove. I love hanging the freshly rinsed silks in the barn, the contrast between the rawness of the wood, its roughness and the softness of the silk, sensuously moving as the wind blows through the cracks in the barn. I am in awe of the individually wrapped and twisted silks, saturated with dye that hang from nails spread across old planks— the way the dye drips on the paper beneath making another artwork all of its own from the colors that bleed and drip into curvilinear lines making soft amorphous shapes.

It doesn’t matter that the barn is dirty. It does not interfere with the process. I have deliberately chosen a process that can be flexible. These are the things that make the rhythm of my art apparent. The way I swing the big barn doors open and prop them with an iron rod. The way I move up to the long table Lester tied tobacco on when he owned the farm. The way I envision silk eventually hanging like tobacco from the ceiling, blowing in the wind making a silent sound instead of the rustle of dried tobacco leaves.

My dance saunters over to the wood stove. I stoke the fire while silk steams, setting the dye, keeping the color brilliant. The hues vary as the seasons change and I gaze through the open barn doors onto the valley and let the colors in the field, the trees, or the reflections in the pond guide me in the choices of colors for that day.

This is the gift I love most to share—my ability to arrange life so that art is always there to be woven in as time permits. And time will always permit­­. One must be ready.


I began as a writer, writing the truth about my experiences, no matter how painful. As my children became teenagers, I became a visual artist. This is when I learned having something to create in process at all times will get you through the hard times. While much thought and contemplation goes into visualizing a piece of art or project, the actual tasks for completion are somewhat routine and can be completed in the midst of chaos; wrapping, dyeing, steaming, rinsing, ironing and then finishing the edges to create truly wearable art which is vividly layered and intrinsically contains the stories of my life. 


In 2004 I received my MFA in writing from Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky. I studied Shibori silk dyeing with Arturo Alonzo Sandoval at the University of Kentucky.  Fiber art and artist books have been exhibited at The Friedman Chapman Gallery in Louisville, KY, MS Rezny Gallery, The Singletary Center for the Arts,  University of Kentucky, Carneigie Center for Literacy and Learning and Artsplace Gallery, Lexington, KY,  and Claypool-Young Art Gallery, Morehead State University, KY.  Creative non-fiction essays and poetry have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including: The American Voice, High Performance, The Sun, Now and Then, and Southern Exposure. "The Garden Girls' Letters and Journal," my memoir, was published in 2006 by Wind Publications.

Read my Artist Statement.


Currently I live in a cabin in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. My inspiration comes from hiking in the woods and trying to figure out how to capture the colors I see.