I have been sewing since I got my first machine at 11 years old, and I went through formal education at Seneca College in Toronto where I studied Fashion Arts. While I gained the knowledge I needed to get an entry level job in the fashion industry, I was not very interested in the actual industry of disposable fashion. I loved to sew and create unique things so I applied for a job stitching costumes for the Stratford Festival. This was an incredible opportunity to learn traditional tailoring techniques, work on beautiful period costumes and build one of a kind pieces. Since theatre work is generally a seasonal contract I found an opportunity to travel around Canada and work for different companies. I also picked up new techniques as I was working on costumes for ballet, theatre and opera.
I naively thought I would have the same luck if I moved to Australia, so I packed by bags and shipped out for new opportunities abroad. I arrived in the height of the recession only to find major cutbacks at the national theatres, so I started looking for other employment options. I met an auto upholsterer who was satisfied with my level of competence behind a sewing machine and taught me the basics of auto trimming.
Neil Hancock and learned to pattern, cut, cover and fill awkward 3D shapes, and sew with difficult fabrics. I started to love upholstery, and most importantly, I learned to always be looking for new opportunities for growth in my field.
What type of material do you prefer to use and why?
I love leather. I love the way it smells. I love the way it stretches and marks and gains a beautiful patina. I see leather as an investment - when you take care of it, it gets better with age.
What would you most like to make that you haven't so far?
I would love to do a full interior in a hot rod!
Which designers influence or inspire you?
Alexander McQueen was my favourite designer, but I see him as more of an artist. He really understood proper tailoring, but was very playful with silhouettes, patterns and textures. His work was generally a bit dark and kind of romantic and he was always pushing boundaries. The amount of thought put into each collection and detail put into each piece is astonishing. He was so creative and incredibly gifted in his craft. I really respect his work.
The most significant development in garment construction would probably be 3D printing, although that has nothing to do with sewing. You can actually print a wearable garment that requires no assembly. The technology is still in it’s infancy though… I don’t fear redundancy just yet.
If you could collaborate with any artist, designer, craftsperson, or even company who would it be and what would your dream project be?
Duane Ballard is a Leather Worker based in California. He creates really incredible tooled leather art. I would love to be a fly on his wall for a day, just to observe his technique. He does everything from wallets to custom motorcycle seats. I guess my dream project would be a collaboration on a really flashy Hot Rod with Duane.
What is the structure of your studio and your use of it -- are you in a shared space, are you in the studio every day?
I’m lucky to work from home. I have a studio space with a large cutting table, an industrial walking foot sewing machine for leather and an antique Singer sewing machine for lighter fabrics and linings. I’ve pretty much maxed out the space with shelving and racks to hold leather, and patterns. I’ve got a couple of half-finished upholstery projects stashed in there too. I try to force myself to take a day off every week, but when you love what you do and you work for yourself, it’s hard to turn your brain off.
At this point I’m still a one woman show. I do all the designing, cutting and sewing for my leather bags and accessories. I also sculpt foam and cover motorcycle seats and take on small upholstery projects.
What is your personal philosophy about what you do, and about handmade?
To me, handmade means buying quality at a fair price. I think we should put more thought into the things we purchase and buy things that are built to last. The values we are fed through social media and marketing encourage people to buy the latest model and the newest technology. We spend so much money on things that are engineered to fail, or have a very limited lifespan. We buy clothes that go out of fashion before we can wear them out. We are importing stuff from China that is filling up our landfills here. I think if we put more thought into our everyday purchases, and shopped locally we would spend less and pollute less.
Can you explain a bit about your making/sewing process?
When I work with a client for a custom piece I start with a discussion about what they are looking for and ask for photo references. I will draw up a rough sketch, and present leather samples for approval. Then I draft a pattern and cut a sample out of vinyl or canvas, using the actual hardware for the piece and present it to the client. Once I’m given the go ahead I cut the project from leather and either machine or hand sew the finished product. If I’m not working with a client I will test out the product for a week or so before I produce more for retail sale.
What’s your favourite part of the process?
This probably sounds cheesy, but my favourite part is presenting the final product to a client. I know how special it feels to have something that is one of a kind, and uniquely yours. I get incredible satisfaction from releasing a finished product to a happy new owner.
Making my own schedule! I don’t sit in rush hour traffic. I don’t get up before 7am. I’m a night owl so I work the hours that suit me best.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about selling their handmade work?
Start now. Stop making excuses that you’re not ready. Experiment a lot and take lots of risks.
Check out the other items available from Natalie in her Etsy Shop! You can also find her here:
Upcoming Markets: Natalie will be at the Pop Up Flea Market at the Thornhill Community Centre Sunday November 29, 2015 from 11-5.
Interviewed by Kvetka of OohLaLaBeadtique, November 20, 2015 in Toronto.