the person we want to introduce you to today is a whirlwind of motion, color, and thought: sky cubacub of rebirth garments. in their words, “rebirth garments is a line of clothing, lingerie, and accessories for the full spectrum of gender, size, and ability” (support the deepening of their amazing work on their new kickstarter campaign!!). we talked mental health, disability, the historic suppression of vibrant color, and what happens when they get stared at on the street.
Sky Cubacub: I had a Rebirthing ceremony May 21st, 2013, so I just turned three years old. I’ve always had panic attacks and extreme anxiety, and lots of times I feel like it does help me, it’s what really fuels my drive because I’m just so anxious and I need something to do all the time, and so I’m just really, really into working [laughs] – really obsessive over making things and making them perfect. But in 2013 it was getting to be too much anxiety; it was absurd, it was making it not able for me to work. So I was like, ok, I’m just gonna become a new person. So I had this goofy performance art ceremony. I just wanted to become a little bit less anxious and I wanted to not have so many panic attacks all the time. I felt like there were a lot of things that I was keeping in me from my past that I couldn’t get rid of, but I was like “I just need to get rid of it now, because it’s not doing me any good.”
I met this really amazing person Heather Lynn who’s one of my good friends, she’s a queer crip performance artist, musician. And I was working with her on her rock opera called Templehead and so I was meeting a lot of awesome ladies and queers and I was just like, I should just become a new person now. So I had a lot of them come over and I put on a cream white unitard – that was like me, dead – and then my friends buried me with chainmaille, special pieces. I had my friend Crispin running the whole thing, he had some liturgy that he stole from the Hare Krishna temple that he worked in the gift shop for, and then I just changed things and took out the word God and things like that [laughs]. Their rebirthing ceremony is actually a funeral, and I was like “Oh, yeah, I have to die to become a new person.” So then my friend Zach grabbed me out of the pile and we went behind stage and I changed unitards and then I crawled up into a stretchy pink knit dress that he was wearing and then he brought me out and like gave birth to me. I was wearing this unitard that was silver and covers my head, hands, and feet, because I had just found out a couple days before that Liberaci was born with like a weird glittery skin over them. So I came out with a film over me but then I burst out of it and into a colorful unitard.
The Atmosqueer: How did it feel after all those transformations?
The first time I did the rebirthing, I didn’t cry for like four months, and I had been crying every single day before that. So I feel like it really did work and help me a lot. Even if at first I was like, “I don’t know if this is really gonna do anything,” if you just believe it or say that that’s what’s happening it can be like that, I guess — it might work. The next year I had a really big first birthday and I had a ton of people performing. It’s just like a renewal every re-birthday. I don’t want it to go away because it’s so important. That’s why I call everything Rebirth: because I feel like it really worked for me.
What made you want to do chainmaille?
I just loved the texture, so much. I would take beading classes at Caravan, but every time we would go there I would look at the samples, and chainmaille just felt so good and looked so cool to me. And when I first started, everybody else had like one inch of their bracelet done and I finished my whole bracelet super fast. So my teacher [Rebeca Mojica] was like, “Oh wow, you really got it.” Her most advanced class at the time was a weave called Dragon Scale and she told me recently that still out of the hundreds of times she’s taught it, I’m the only one that’s ever finished within the class. Usually people have to take it home and work for a long time but I totally finished it. It’s just really good feeling movements to me.
Have you worked with people with disabilities? I have nerve damage in my arm and I’ve always felt really anxious about small motor skills. When you’re teaching, how do you orient with people who have different abilities?
I did teach my friend Heather Lynn, who loves doing obsessive small things but she has carpal tunnel because of hot gluing. And right now I’m working with my friend who’s diagnosed with having Asperger’s and was always told their whole life that they couldn’t do things with fine motor skills. And so when they got really into chainmaille last year they were like, “Oh my god, I can do things with fine motor skills,” and I was like yeah, of course, you’re so good and you got it, that’s so fucking stupid that people were just telling you that because of some dumb medicalized diagnosis. I’ve also been working with very tiny kids with very small hands. I think that’s probably my strength, adapting things. I was just telling my friend that part of me feels like I’m not that great of a chainmaille teacher because everything came so easily for me that I didn’t ever have to problem solve; I didn’t have these different kinds of difficulty with it because it just came so naturally to me. And I first started chainmaille eleven years ago, so it’s just like a movement that I do. And I can pick up any weave and just look at it and be able to copy it without any instructions, because it’s just like how my brain thinks, in chainmaille. But I’m super patient in that I don’t ever get frustrated if a person isn’t getting it. So I think that’s where I am strong. And there’s a couple different tools that you can use, too.
I’ve been wanting to teach — I have a friend Sandy, and I’ve known many people who don’t have a lot of their fingers, because I went to Bell school and they had a large deaf population there. My mom taught there as a sub, and she was one of the only subs that knew sign language so she was the main one. She was really good at helping with adaptive sign language, because a lot of the kids that were deaf didn’t have many of their fingers, but that’s supposed to be their communication style. She’s really good at figuring it out, so maybe I get it from her.
What’s the development process like for your garments?
I measure people, because I just like making custom things. I don’t like just being like, “I’ll make a bunch of these things and hopefully they’ll fit on somebody.” If I don’t have somebody in mind then I just make it for myself. I can think in pattern making — I don’t ever illustrate or draw. I’ll maybe write notes about what I’m thinking of but it’s easier for me to think in 3D. I know pattern making is flat but I can wrap things around the body in my head. That’s more so how I think. It’s definitely because of unitards and stuff, because it’s your whole body. So now I have all that very imagined in my head. That’s the only thing I’m good at – I’m terrible at trying to draw flat illustrations that are supposed to look 3D.
We loved your manifesto, and in it you talk about the historic suppression of color because “colour threatens disorder – but also promises liberty”(Batchelor, 65). How did you start to learn about that?
I wrote the manifesto while I was in this “Women’s” “Writing” class – both of those words are in quotations because our teacher was super cool and is like “Women can mean a million things! Writing can mean a million things!” This person Romi Crawford is like a rockstar to me, she’s amazing. We had to write a proposal for what we were writing about and I was like, “I want to write a manifesto.” Everyone else treated it as a normal school assignment but I never liked doing that and I always wanted it to be like bigger things, so I’m like “This is going to be the basis for my whole company.” She was so into it and was really supportive, like “Yeah, do it, and get it published,” complimenting me on how that’s why I advance really fast because I’m always trying to push instead of just doing throwaways. But she told me about the book Chromophobia, so I read it all in one day (it’s a thin book, a really fast read). I was reading two books a week, because I was like, I wanna have a ton of disability studies theorists and things, and I hadn’t really been able to read books that weren’t just for school for like so fucking long. So I was like, this is for pleasure but it’s also extremely academic or whatever, but that’s what I like. So I just researched a million books and ordered like probably forty books, and I read like twenty of them in a semester. I was just like, “I need to cram this info into my brain now.” Lots of it is things that come naturally to me in my thoughts, but they helped me back them more in a way that other people would respect more or something, I guess.
The first book that caught my eye was from Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, the Staring book, because I’m so interested in the idea of staring because I get stared at so much–because of my face makeup, because of my tattoos, because of the way I dress–a million different things. Even when I’m not wearing my makeup, and I think that I’m dressed completely boring, people still will stare and talk to me so much and I have no clue why. Like, how do they know?! And the most is because of my headpieces when I wear them–people touch me on the head all the time. But yeah, I wanted to use other people’s quotes in order to strengthen my argument, so it’s not just seeming like I’m the only one thinking it. I wanted to be like “everyone’s thinking it, let’s just put it all together and have more intersectionality!”
When did you first start wearing headpieces?
I guess I started making them in sophomore year of high school. I shaved my head for a piece; I wanted to glue pop-tops all over my whole body to go with a dress that I made. I started making headpieces because I liked having a bald head — when I was little I had hair below my butt for so long and I never cut my hair — so now I love having short hair because it’s so easy to make your hair be whatever. Shaving it just opens up so many possibilities. I started wearing the headpieces pretty much every day right after high school because I had made a bunch for my collection and then I just started wearing them all the time. But before that I just used to wear a bunch of hats, like I have a huge hat collection. I was convinced that I wasn’t born in the right time, but now I think I am. Or maybe I should be born in the future, but I don’t know. I would just always watch old TV shows and think “I want to dress up so much!” but now I think it’s great because I can dress up in any era and it’s all acceptable.
Our friend who runs a fashion blog [Hoda Katebi of Joojoo Azad] was thinking of creating a collection of modest-wear. I was thinking, your model of having everything be tailored seems like the best model. She’s in collaboration with a tailor and stuff because she wants it to be open to all gender expression, but things aren’t when they’re already in a size and you can’t re-shape your body in the way you want it to be seen. So I think she’s thinking of doing it the way you are.
Yeah, I’m also really interested in that and right now am really focused on making lingerie. But I’m also into the idea of everything that I make as lingerie–like a unitard could be lingerie, or a completely covered dress can be lingerie, just whatever makes you feel confident and sexy is lingerie. It doesn’t have to be completely see-through or crop-top, even though that’s what I like, it’s not for everyone. But I still want to be like “these leggings are lingerie.” I guess that’s a thing that I want more people to know about and I don’t think other people have talked about in my interviews. I consider everything to be lingerie; I consider myself to be a garment-maker over a fashion designer. I’m definitely interested in making some more covered clothing too.
a video of sky’s work being performed is coming soon on this very website, so stay tuned!