CNCHnet . . . The Textile Arts Webzine of the Conference of Northern California Handweavers

Finding My Creativity Again

When I was young I thought I wanted to be a clothing designer. I even went through a year of college at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandizing in San Francisco before I gave up that dream.  I realized that I wasn’t the sort to come up with cool new designs or even care enough about fashion to try to predict or ride the wave of trends and bring something new to the table.  The truth is, I just always liked fabrics and the process of making stuff.  I liked the thrill of accomplishment that comes with finishing a project and being happy with the result.  That wasn’t enough to drive me into fashion design.

Choosing the palette

Choosing the palette

So I wandered into other fields: graphic design, then publishing, then the world of insurance and financial planning.  I was busy raising kids and working.  I pretty much stopped sewing for many years, but eventually the creative impulse in me needed to resurface and my love of fabrics and sewing needed to be expressed.  But the old days of buying a pattern and some fabric and making myself something to wear was no longer the thing to do. I needed something else.



My step-daughter, Heather, is naturally creative and is always exploring new ideas about how to express herself  in the world and appreciating other people’s creative expression.  A few years ago she came across the work of Katwise, who makes wildly popular, outlandish, elfish coats out of old wool sweaters. Each one of her coats were fetching hundreds of dollars, but she couldn’t make them fast enough for the demand, so she did a wonderful thing. She shared her technique so others could make them too. Heather told me about the book Katwise published and sold online that described her technique. I was intrigued by the coats and I especially loved the idea of recycling old clothes into cool new garments. I was inspired by Heather’s enthusiasm, so I bought the book, learned the technique, and made a cotton sweater coat as a birthday gift for Heather. She loved it and so did her sister, who wanted one too. So I made one for my other step-daughter out of t-shirt fabric. It was completely different and look fabulous on her. The next one was for my daughter and again it was totally unique to her style and looked amazing on her.



By this time I was hooked. This was a completely different kind of sewing than I had ever done before. It was creative, not just mechanical. I was designing as I constructed. There was no pattern to follow, no instructions to read, just a general technique and complete creative license to do whatever I wanted. I was crawling around on the floor, chopping up t-shirts, letting the fabrics and the colors and the textures inspire me in how to mix and match. I was no longer worrying about whether I did it right. There was no right or wrong. If it came out too big, I would chop off some fabric and sew it again. If it was too small I would just add in another piece. The technique made room for whatever I wanted to do. The process allowed me to loosen up old perfectionist habits and let my creativity fly. Using the technique Katwise taught, I developed my own style and began to have a lot of fun putting together different colors and patterns for completely individualized wearable art.


I made a few more of these for others that wanted them and did my first craft fair in December of 2012, where I sold a couple of these jackets and some other items I had begun to make now that my creative juices were flowing. People close to me encouraged me to try and get them into stores and find bigger outlets to sell them, but I have remained adamant that I’m not interested in becoming a factory. I do this to have fun and feel creative. I can only do that if it’s on a small scale and I only work on these pieces when the mood strikes me. I do a few pieces on commission when someone orders one. I start with the customer’s measurements and let them tell me what colors and length they like, but I make it clear that the choice, placement, and combination of fabrics will be my decision. It’s a creative process as much as a mechanical one. I let the colors and textures lead me and I never know how it’s going to come out until it’s all done. I literally design as I construct each garment and delight myself as I go. I always hope the customer will love it too and I haven’t been disappointed yet.


See more of Brenda’s work on her website:   Google Katwise to find out about buying directions for constructing similar coats.

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