Stitch by Stitch

There’s one common theme behind these artists who spend their days stitching and sewing: they make all their products with love. From embroidery to Japanese Sashiko to sewing, these international creators show us that handmade items involve patience and a lot of love. In a world filled with mass-produced, easily-disposable items, they’re slowing it down stitch by stitch. We sit down with talented makers to learn about what sparks their passions, how they launched their business and what’s next for their brands.

Ancient Japanese Technique: Sashisko

Katie Klein, Founder of Oakland Abode

Why is Boho style back on trend?

I think that as access to mass produced, disposable items has increased, there’s been a pendulum swing towards style that feels unique and natural. Bohemianism is about free spiritedness, wanderlust, nature, creativity and warmth. Boho style is a soft and romantic escape from some of the more harsh aspects of the modernity we live in.

Do you see Sashiko as a ‘vintage” art? How were you introduced to that art form?

Much like shibori, sashiko stitching is a centuries old Japanese technique. Sashiko was a method to mend cloth especially for people who had no other option but to fix what they already owned. I find this really refreshing in a culture where everything is easily and inexpensively replaced. I’ve taken inspiration from ancient sashiko and applied it to new ways of adorning and mending shirts, blankets, and children’s overalls. It’s lovely to breathe new life into items that might otherwise end up in a landfill.

Is Sashiko a new direction for Oakland Abode?

It might be my new go-to for winter crafting. Natural dyes are very inspiring to me, but it gets cold when you’re working with wet fabric outside in the winter! One thing for sure about the works I make for Oakland Abode is that I’m always testing new forms of expression.

Finding Inspiration All Around

Delphine, Founder of MamboKiwi 

How and where did you learn your sewing techniques?

I’m French, but I’ve been living in Spain for 16 years. I learned sewing at the skydiving center where I sewed special jumpsuits. This was an important moment in my life and the beginning of a great story. Later I started repairing clothes for individuals and shops, I also made costumes. The inspiration to launch my creative career came when I was looking at a wallet on the internet– I immediately fell in love with the fabrics. The desire to make my own accessories and creations grew, so I started with a small wallet. I posted it on Facebook and to my surprise someone asked for the price. My second creation, a cover for my tablet, sold within one hour of me posting it on Facebook. That’s how it all started.

What’s inspiring you right now?

I find inspiration everywhere. From watching Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings (I was inspired by the warp cord on the book covers) to fashion of the 60s to scrolling on Pinterest. I’m also inspired by the color of fabrics and the sun.

Where does your love and eye for fabrics come from

It comes from the 70s and 80s. I’m in love with geometric shapes as well as retro and kitsch flower fabrics. This vintage style reminds me of my college years. I find my fabrics by spending a long time exploring the internet and shops near my home. I’m always looking for very good quality.

Embroidery on Paper

Alison, Founder of Koto Designs

How did you come up with the idea of embroidering paper goods?

It was actually a kernel of an idea that snowballed. Every year I make handmade Mother’s Day cards, and while I was searching for ideas I found an image of an embroidered snowflake. I thought that the geometric shape would transfer well to a card, so I experimented with a few flower designs, embroidering directly onto the cardstock. The cards were a hit with my friends and family, and I’ve always been tempted to open an Etsy shop. After some trial and error I refined my technique, opened the shop, expanded into notebooks and art, and now I sell regularly at markets around New York and online.

Your creations are architectural (it’s gorgeous!) is that your touch?

Thank you! Architecture does have a major influence on my work, both directly through my pieces that are based on buildings and structures (like the Chrysler Building) and indirectly in my abstract artwork. The medium of embroidery on cardstock has a natural architectural quality because it requires a high degree of precision. One misplaced hole means a incorrectly drawn line of thread. This can lead to major problems, not unlike a mistake on a blueprint.

Limitless Possibilities with Stitching

Amanda, Founder of Crewel Ghoul


What did embroidery bring to your life?

Embroidery fulfilled a creative outlet that I needed. It’s a way to express myself and de-stress. I find embroidering meditative and I like that the possibilities are endless with what you stitch. I think it’s a huge challenge to work with this medium, but I think you can see improvement and results if you work hard at it.

Your animal portraits are impressive, how did you learn and hone your skills?

I don’t have any traditional arts or craft education. Everything I’ve learned has been self taught or taught by my grandmother when I was young. I thrift shop a lot and I collect old embroidery and needlepoint books along the way. These include a small library of references to more current books that I’ve studied. The internet was also a good source to learn new stitches. I embroider almost every day and I think that trial and error has a lot to do with how I figure things out and get the texture I’m going for.

What is your favorite subject to embroider and why?

I think my favorite two images to embroider are pet portraits and anything floral/botanical. I like being able to figure out how to capture an image of a pet and keep the quirks and characteristics that make that animal who they are. I love doing floral and botanical embroideries because it’s pretty much limitless in what you can embroider from nature and I like bright, vivid colors.

Clients Getting Involved in the Creative Process

Charlotte – Founder of Chachapoildechat

Can you describe how you feel when you create?

Relaxed! I’m generally a very worried person, but when I’m in front of my sewing machine I feel relaxed. I think a lot about both bad and good things, but I’m relaxed. Also, I feel pretty self- confident when I see what my fingers can make. It’s a good feeling and I should feel more like this in the real life!

How did you learn to sew, draw a pattern and match colors and motifs?

I learned a lot on my own. When I turned 15, I fell in love with patches. This inspired me to buy a tiny sewing machine and begin my first quilt. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped sewing since. I don’t like to follow patterns because their steps are not always easy to understand. So with time, I’ve created my own patterns. When I want to create a bag, I try drawing it then sewing it, and it works (or sometimes not!). Looking at patches and fabrics for hours allows me to match différent colors, motifs and spirits. I’m very keen on fabrics and the thousands of ways to mix and match them.

What makes your brand, Chachapoildechat, special to you?

I try to make things different than what we’re used to seeing. I sew and I create with my heart because I love what I do. My customers have the opportunity to participate and collaborate during the creative process because they can choose their fabrics and pockets they want on their bags. This produces a beautiful and special creation that’s unique for each client. I think that’s what makes Chachapoildechat special.

Knitting for Generations

Siobhan, Founder of Boston Wool Works

Knitting has been a tradition for several generations in your family. Tell us more about this.

My mother and my father’s mother were both huge knitters. My mother was known for always knitting something. During her battle with ALS she kept up her hand function for many years longer than expected by knitting! She would make something just for you, and she was so wonderful at picking out styles, colors and materials that perfectly suited the recipient. 

My father’s mother descended from Scottish Highlanders and knitting, sewing, and repairing clothes were important parts of the work of the women in that family. Being able to knit warm sweaters, socks, and hats for your family were as important to survival in cold pre-modern climates as the lumber and carpentry work the men did outside the home. My grandmother knit like her hands were on fire, and could whip out a sweater in a few days. My grandmother died in 1984, but we are still working through her yarn and fabric stash!

In Ireland and Scotland, where my family comes from, knitting was not a luxury or optional– it was necessary to survival. But as generations moved away from subsistence farming and into cities where mass-produced clothing became available, knitting became more of something to do for pleasure. This is the luxury I’ve been able to experience for my entire knitting history.

You have experience with various forms of fiber arts. Which one is most addictive?

I’m usually obsessing over the specific piece I’m making in that moment. But in general, I’ve always found knitting to be easy to obsess over because you can start a project so quickly (I often just grab needles and yarn and figure out what I’m making as I go).

 I’m often asked if I find knitting meditative, and I have to honestly answer “no”… I see it more like a way to blow off steam so I can have patience with the world! It’s much more aggressive than what I normally think of as meditation.

However, weaving satisfies a different part of my brain, and I get obsessed with it in a different way. If knitting is the bag of potato chips you can’t stop eating, weaving is like composing and performing a piece of music. There’s lots of initial thinking and figuring out how things are going to work together (and lots of erasing!), lots of work in setup that forms the foundation of your piece, and then a performance (the actual weaving) that invariably has some twists and turns you didn’t anticipate but make the whole process more enjoyable!

And working with recycled materials is a real passion of mine. Being a New Englander from a large family, it’s very hard for me to throw anything away because I might need to use it at some point, and I get special joy out of rescuing abandoned and unloved materials and turning them into something beautiful. So I guess they’re all my favorites!

What are your preferred patterns and items?

I’ve really loved developing my shoulder bags that are made out of two sweaters and a belt. It’s been so satisfying to try to figure out how to make an unusual and practical piece using recycled materials. I adore the finished result: a lightweight bag with a good capacity that is sturdy enough to use every day and is unique. My fringed scarves are another favorite piece of mine. I’m not a very fussy dresser myself, so I like pieces that take little effort and look great. The fringed scarf is already sewn in place, so you simply slip it over your head and it serves as a beautiful accent piece (and adds warmth!). I make them out of recycled yarn from sweaters, and have expanded to wool, cashmere, linen and silk. I love finding sweaters that yield gorgeous yarn and finding creative ways to use them. There’s nothing like the feel of handwoven material– it makes you feel grounded and connected to the maker and the materials in a way that commercially-woven fabric can’t.

Encouraging People to Use all Their Senses

Jordan, Founder of Thistleandthread Designs

How did you and your husband meet? How is it to be both co-workers and life partners at the same time?

Paul and I met while we were working for the same non-profit in Uganda. I moved out there after college to put my counseling degree to work, and Paul and I ended up working on the same assignments. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we were attracted to each other, and the rest is history! It’s been interesting navigating our life-partner and co-worker relationship these past couple years. I moved back to America a year before our wedding to handle the visa process for Paul’s immigration and during that time that I started Thistle and Thread. When Paul moved to America, he started helping me. Even though he now has a full-time job he still plays a vital role in the business. We’ve worked hard on having healthy communication and not to taking stress from the business out on each other.

How would you define the special fiber touch of Thistle and Thread Design?

I’ve been practicing art for many years, and it’s shown itself in many ways. As a child I learned techniques of fiber art in my Granny’s basement. In high school, I learned about mixed media, sculpture and photography. Then in college, I studied studio art as my minor where I learned about painting and color mixing. So when I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in art, I was torn on which lane I wanted to drive in. I loved being able to create a scene with paint, but I also loved how close to home fiber art felt due to the connection with my grandmother. I explored traditional fiber art techniques and starting altering them. I created my own patterns and “painted” with thread. When I studied painting in college, my favorite paintings had raised edges and lines because I loved that I could run my fingers over it. It added another sensory element to the piece. That’s the beauty of fiber, it’s meant to be touched! When people look at my work in person they’re sometimes afraid to touch it; I always encourage them to run their fingers over it. I don’t see the point in spending hours of time making thousands of stitches for people not to experience it with all of their senses.

You organize your artwork in series and collections. How do you come up with a new theme and thread for your collections?

I’m not a naturally organized person, but people encouraged me to think of my work in collections and release my work that way. If I had it my way I would simply create something and throw it out there hoping for the best. When I’m working on a new collection I usually sit down and start making sketches of things that are on my mind. Then I narrow them down, fix them up and find the common thread. Sketches that don’t fit are saved for another day and sketches that seem to have things in common are explored more. I like to have at least seven designs in a collection, so I work to create cohesion between the designs while still letting their unique attitudes shine through. I find that the last year or so has been full of a lot of nature, landscapes and color blocking. I’m not sure what will be next, but I’m sure that it will make itself known pretty soon.

What are some of your favorite subjects and patterns?

Thistle and Thread is focused on finding beauty in the everyday world around us and encouraging our hearts and minds to put our best selves into the world. You’ll often find pieces inspired by travel, nature, home and phrases that pack a lot of meaning. My custom house portraits are some of the most popular pieces I offer and I believe that it’s because it’s a piece that holds a lot of sentiment for people. I love being able to create pieces with soul, and pieces that will serve a unique purpose in my collectors’ hearts and minds.

Making Customer’s Visions Come to Life

Lesia Griffin, Founder of 144 Collections

What made you decide to launch the 144 Collection venture?

144 Collection started as a hobby to help me de-stress from my day job. I’ve always been drawn to creative things like art and music, so sewing was a natural next step. I began creating basics aprons and worked my way up with the help of a fabulous instructor, Mia Tachibana. As I continued learning, I found that I loved making unique handbags and purses. My instructor was great because she taught me how to make my own patterns. I created a few test patterns, which became pouches that I showed my family and friends. They loved them and the 144 Collection was born. I placed an ad for a seamstress to help me with the sewing and met Mary Sue Lee (Susie By George!). We’ve been working together ever since. The collection began with a few types of wristlets and handbags. Each was named after a family member or friend (ex: Tracy Tote). The name 144 Collection comes from the address of my old building where I first started sewing. My logo also pays homage to that building.

Where do you find inspiration for new designs, patterns…

I find inspiration everywhere especially living in NYC. It could come from the shape of a building or a style I see in the streets. I would say most of my designs and patterns come from items I need to travel or requests from my family and friends. For example, my best selling item is the Dorothy wristlet. I designed this wristlet because I needed a compact item to hold my Metrocard, cash and cell phone. Another example is the Angela Clutch that was initially designed for my cousin’s high school prom. I was asked to design and create three different types of clutches. We agreed on a final clutch just hours before she was set to go to prom. The wonderful thing about making custom handbags is that everyone has their own vision of what the perfect bag is. 144 Collection is just helping to make that a reality for our customers.

What project are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on baby accessories. I started making baby bibs and burp cloths when three of my friends were expecting. I wanted to create something custom made, special and from the heart. I loved creating the bibs and burp cloths so much that I added them to my business. They are quickly becoming very popular items. I’m also working on creating more of my color block makeup bags. They’ve also proved to be a popular item.

From past to present

Kristina – Founder of Native LT

How did you develop that passion for Lithuanian patterns?

As I can remember, all my life I was doing some kind of handworks: sewing, knitting, beading, making textile accessories. And I always was interested in traditional Lithuanian weaving, because of my great-grandmother who was a well known weaver. I still remember wooden weaving loom in the sitting room of her house. And I still keep some pieces of her works: bedspreads, towels and tablecloths. This was my great inspiration for many years.

Tell us more about your intention to ‘marry’ an authentic art with modern technology

More than ten years I kept an idea to present authentic fabric patterns in a modern way. Then I met my good friend graphic designer Monika Vilčinskienė and this idea came reality – the brand “Native LT” was born. We worked on an idea to connect the old and the new and we managed to connect traditional Lithuanian weaving patterns and digital printing on textiles to create stylish tablecloths, cushions and table runners. To make tablecloth “Planks” (idea and design by Monika Vilčinskienė) the grainy picture of time-grayed planks were combined with traditional Lithuanian weaving patterns and transferred onto easy to care, durable polyester cloth. Thanks to new technologies – digital printing on textile – planks look very realistic. When you see them you want to touch them. Modern looking tablecloth “Planks” looked perfect in chic urban loft either in a village homestead and we decided to work on this further.

Why did you decide to create/design tablecloths and cushions, what do these specific objects represent for you?

Many years ago, when lithuanian people were living in small and dark wooden houses, handmade home textiles were the only thing which helped to make home brighter and cozy place to live. All homes were decorated with patterned curtains, towels, bedspreads and tablecloths. These patterns still surrounded us in early childhood. But today we prefer to decorate our homes with textiles from Asia or Africa because of bright colors and graphic patters. One day I thought: it would be nice to bring back our traditional patterns to our homes. I hopped other people will love this idea too. And for my big surprise they loved this idea as much as I do. And even more – our tablecloths, cushion covers and table runners were noticed by buyers from USA, Australia an even Japan.

What are your projects for 2018?

At the moment we make prints on polyester or linen/polyester fabric, next year I plan to launch linen and cotton line of table textiles decorated with traditional weaving patterns. I also have a dream to make collection of bed linen.

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Written by Sophie N.

See more information about our featured artists here: Katie , DelphineAlisonAmandaCharlotte , Siobhan, JordanLesiaKristina