The course of my life and career choices has been educationally based. My senior year of high school in California, I went to beauty college. My mom kept telling me, “You’re not going to sit around on my couch and do that forever.” So I became a hairdresser. I thought that it would be better if I used my talents artistically and soon I became very good at my craft.
At some point, I started doing makeup on print models. The designers would run into snafus on the models, so I would rush in to help. I tailored for awhile, then became a florist. It was all design. Everything seemed to keep looping back, no matter what I did. Finally, I met a clothing designer at a friend’s who said, “You need to be designing and making clothes.” She was really accredited by some of the best fashion schools. Working beside her, I considered it an apprenticeship, even though it wasn’t. But I couldn’t have paid for a better education.
I was a dressmaker for a few years in Los Angeles. Then I moved to Milwaukee 14 years ago. The demand for custom dresses isn’t big here, but I still have a group of women I design for (I always begin by asking “Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly?”).
All these years later, even though I’m not solely a dressmaker, I’m still good at hands-on work. So when I met a master upholsterer, my direction changed. Because I’m a meticulous sewer, it was good for his business.
What’s harder to do? Fashion or furniture? Well, what I’ve learned is that a body moves, changes. A piece of furniture–it just sits there. On a sofa, then, a line is a line, meaning if there are vertical stripes, those stripes need to go up the back, down the cushion, across the seat, and down–in a perfectly straight line. But on a woman’s body, it doesn’t matter as much because of the curves of her particular body and how she moves. I mean, it matters–especially to a dress designer–but not as much.
As an upholsterer, you get to know the different fabrics. You get to be able to say, “This fabric has a good hand.” In the industry, a “hand” means “the feel of it.” Each fabric has a different weight, different stretch, different pattern. All that stuff matters.
I’m still learning. You sew, you sew. You keep learning.