In Conversation with Ace & Jig

Self-described as "a textile love story," Ace & Jig is the passion project of Cary Vaughan and Jenna Wilson, first launched in 2009. As textile devotes ourselves, A&J is a collection that we look forward to welcoming into our stores season after season. Their incorporation of print, color, and timeless, comfortable designs have earned them the title of cult-designers, and with good reason. We caught up with Cary and Jenna to chat about their most recent collection - already flying off our racks - and to learn more about their rich, deep love of textile and pattern design, their production ethics and affiliations with India, and how they manage to collectively work bi-coastal while still remaining close friends. Thank you Cary and Jenna!


ET: You two met and first befriended each other as fashion design interns, and after both having your first children launched Ace and Jig. What is your working relationship like?  How do the two of you delegate, balance each other, and also challenge each other? Are there certain “Cary” qualities and certain “Jenna” qualities visible in each of the designs and textiles?

A&J: We are constantly in communication, being bi-coastal this means we are always jumping on planes or on video chat all day long exchanging ideas. We talk a lot! Luckily we are prolific expressers and over-communicators so it works :) We've been friends and co-conspirators for so long that we finish each others sentences. When it comes to design we don’t always agree on every little detail, but the things that make us swoon are always the same. 

Our textile design process is a true mash up of so many influences and trials. No one design is singular in origin - by the time we get a textile to the place where it feels good its already journeyed afar. We might start with a tiny seed of an idea, we add more to it, morph it with another idea, try it, change it and then start all over again in true collaborative process.

ET: This season you’re influenced by the art and design of the Bauhaus- an early 20th century German art school that “aimed to re imagine the material world to reflect the unity of all the arts.” There has been a resurgence of this idea of surrounding ourselves with beautiful, art-focused items in the past few years, and it’s one we identify with strongly at Erica Tanov. Can you tell us a little more about how the inspiration of the Bauhaus came into fruition? Was there a textile or image you found particularly inspiring?

A&J: So many things about the Bauhaus movement resonate with us. We were drawn to the philosophy as much as the aesthetics. The emphasis on functionality and the sense of equality about the movement echo values we share in our process.  We are both long-time fans of the Bauhaus school of weavers like Anni Albers and Gunta Stozl - the whimsy and geometry of their rule-breaking work has always been a source of inspiration for us. One of our first brainstorming sessions back when we were just conceiving of ace&jig took place at the Brooklyn Public Library poring over ancient dusty volumes of Bauhaus weavings. This season our Fable, Stockholm and Union textiles are particularly akin to the Bauhaus aesthetic.

ET: Similarly, tell us more about the importance of the Bauhaus’ principles of incorporating art into your own personal material worlds.

A&J: We love the Bauhaus commitment to function and beauty without exclusion. Our houses are covered in our childrens’ art, and in our own collected textiles. Nothing pretentious; only things that bring us joy, like Cary's floor peppered with rugs discovered at bazaars and handed down from grandmothers and Jenna's Don Freedman 1970's naked lady tapestry.  If you have dinner with either of us, you are going to find yourself surrounded by our kids' art.  And no, we are not minimalists - so there is a lot of it!

ET: While designing each collection, the two of you pull from an archive of textiles and found treasures and use these as jumping-off points for the textiles. What does the rest of the process from initial ideas to final execution look like?

A&J: Our initial fabric designs glean from just about anywhere - we are hugely inspired by global textile traditions and the textile scraps we have gathered on our travels - but we also draw from so many other sources. It could start with a favorite work of art or architecture, a landscape etc. We travel to India- as often as our lives will allow us to- where our textile creation process is particularly magical. We work one-on-one with an expert hand-weaver who, with the help of a a translator, and a lot of sketches, visuals and hand-gestures begins the planning phase. Weaving is incredibly technical so there is a lot of back and forth. We then work with a hand-dyer who is somewhat of a magician - getting the exact shade right every time with not a measuring cup in sight. The skeins of fiber are dried in the sun, wound on a wheel concocted out of an old bicycle and then the painstaking warping process is begun. We start by making small hand-looms and tweak and tweak and tweak until we get the pattern and texture just right. Only after all of our custom yarn-dye woven textiles are dialed in  do we start designing the clothing styles.

ET: You mention that the stripe is at the center of each collection- a recurring motif that has endless possibilities for inspiration. What else continues to inspire each of you, both in and out of work?

A&J: Our families are a constant source of inspiration. Both of us are inspired by our grandmothers: hardworking heads of their families who put an emphasis on making use of their resources and not creating waste. Many of our collaborations with artists like Caroline Rose Kaufmann, Milena Silveno, and Pauline Boyd are inspired by this idea and utilize our cutting room floor scraps. Another source that propels our energy forward are stories and history- what makes a great story? What is the story behind that blanket on your bed and where did it come from? From many nostalgic memories ideas are formed and transformed.

ET: Total transparency is a key value of your company, particularly in your working relationship with India. I know that you both visit multiple times a year to work personally with the weavers and artists. Can you describe this process more? How did you find this group of makers?

A&J: We did a long, worldwide search before we happened upon this truly special group of artisans and textile experts. When we travel there we spend most of our time in the factory with them, perfecting our fabrics on antique wooden hand-looms. It’s a very familial environment; we work all day [and] eat our meals together.

ET: Will you describe a little more what the holistic Kaizen philosophy is and how you and your partners carry out this goal?

A&J: Kaizen is the Japanese practice of continuous improvement. We are still and always exploring the limits of the woven textile, experimenting with new weaving techniques and challenging ourselves and the weaving medium. With each new season we learn more, and we like to think our fabrics get more complex and interesting and unique, too. Within our business practices too - everyday we take small steps toward doing things better. Our Indian partners are very committed to the Kaizen philosophy as well. They employ 90% female artisans, offer free childcare, and even garden on site with reclaimed water.

ET: Do you have any favorite memories or stories from your travels to India?

A&J: Trying to cross the street in Mumbai! Travels by auto-rickshaw. Learning to tie a sari. The Alphonso mangoes from Bombay! The markets in India never disappoint - sensory overload!


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