Kathleen McVeigh studied fiber arts in college and collected quilts in varying conditions. She now creates sustainable pieces from vintage textiles. Taking inspiration from each textile piece, she makes one-of-a-kind pieces of wearable art.
How did you get started designing clothes using vintage textiles?
The textiles came first and the designing clothing came much later.
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I have been sewing since I was little, taught by my grandmother who was always hand-stitching quilts, and went on to study Fiber Arts in college. My background in textiles, along with my love for quilting, meant that I had accumulated quite a large collection of quilts in varying conditions. One of those quilts was incredibly soft but kind of damaged in areas, and I thought “this would make an incredibly comfortable coat.”
It all kind of happened organically at first: I made the Quilt Coat and a friend really wanted to purchase it, so I sold it and began another one with the intention of keeping it for myself, and folks in my community kept wanting to buy them, so it grew from there.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
Creating sustainable pieces from vintage textiles has become quite popular, and I think that’s amazing. The more folks who care about the history of quilts and the more folks who embrace sustainability, the better.
I think where we stand out is in our designs. We are creating clothing patterns that I haven’t seen anywhere else; from our Dolly Coats to our summer shorts and tank sets, I’m interested in taking vintage textiles and not just creating simple boxy pieces, but adding a level of detail and a pop of excitement to the design that is unique to Kitty Badhand. Special elements that command people who see the piece being worn out in the world, turn their head and take notice.
How does your environment influence your creativity?
When I think of our environment, I can’t help but imagine it in 3 parts:
- Our studio is located in the artistic hub of Burlington’s South End and we are surrounded by other creatives. I am constantly inspired and motivated by their work and their enthusiasm for what they are making. We have a vintage clothing store within our building called Project Object Vintage, and I draw a lot of inspiration from their collection. It’s such a treat to be able to take a break from the studio and go surround myself with high-quality fashion.
- My style has changed quite a bit since moving from a big city, and the clothing we make reflects that in our focus on comfort and versatility. We are so close to nature here at all times that a dress-up party at a friend’s house can easily end with a trek in the woods to have a bonfire, so I always dress accordingly. I want our clothes to make you feel special and fashion-forward, but be pieces in which you can always move around and be active.
- Our environment in the largest sense, being this planet, is the single biggest influence for our creativity, with sustainability being at the forefront of everything we make. We aren’t just purchasing beautiful materials, we’re researching where they came from, what they’re made out of, who is producing them, etc. to make sure that we are channeling our creativity in a way that is good for our planet and the people on it.
Where do you find your inspiration for your designs?
Literally everywhere, and they usually sneak up on me.
I’m a big “let the textile do the inspiring” and not vice versa.
Usually the fabric will provide the inspiration for what it wants to be. Is it bold? What is the feel and the weight of the fabric? Does it have a pattern, and what kind of clothing would look best with that pattern/pattern’s scale.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your new book Reclaimed Quilts?
Craft and modern fashion are not mutually exclusive, and that you can create your own wardrobe to be sustainable, simply by choosing fabrics and textiles that already exist.
I want crafters to feel empowered to take their love of quilts and be able to transform that into wearable art. And I want folks who make their own clothing to be able to access the rich history of textile making by choosing vintage fabrics for their garments.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
A bit of both. I spend a LOT of time in my head planning and dreaming and mentally creating before I start a piece. Once I start cutting and sewing though, there is a lot of improvisation and rough drafts.
It’s all about trying different patterns and sewing techniques in order to get closer and closer to the piece that has been carefully planned/visualized in my head.
When is your most productive creative time?
I’m a mid-morning girlie. I wake up early but I need several hours to warm up into the day.
By the time I get to the studio, it helps to start with an easy warm up task and by 9:30ish I’m full steam, so full steam that by late afternoon my body is spent. Sewing and running a business is a surprisingly physical job.
Describe your creative space.
Kitty Badhands has functioned and grown within many different creative spaces throughout the years.
I love our current space right now: it’s light-filled and modern, with high ceilings and cement floors.
The space is small but mighty, divided up spatially between a sewing and cutting area, Computer workstations for Dale and I, a wall of just shelves of textiles, and a little decompressing spot with a sofa that is used mostly by our dog. We have also just recently started renting a second space for photography and extra storage, two things that just weren’t fitting in well in our primary studio.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
Thinking about the space having different “areas” is essential for our organization and for co-working in a space where Dale and I play very different roles.
Dale is very clean and organized, and the way I work best is to start out clean, then allow the creative process of making to kind of run wild (and messy), and then clean back up at the end to re-organize my thoughts.
Having a dedicated space for photography and video has also been a huge game changer for us. We used to have to re-organize the entire studio to make room for product or model photography, which meant we couldn’t have photos and clothing making going on simultaneously, which both need to be happening somewhat continuously.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I’d say I have “notebooks” not “sketchbooks.” Honestly, my rough sketching abilities don’t really capture the level of detail in a piece that I’m envisioning, as much as a written description.
Mostly I’m an image collector. I have lots of folders on my phone and computer of images with little notes: a painting with note “love this purple color, ” or a photo from a street fashion photographer with a note like “love the angle of this collar” etc.
How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?
We’ve got multiple fires going at once all of the time. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to produce or compete as a small business.
Most of our projects take months and require us to be in many different “modes” to complete. For example, making a piece of clothing for yourself from a pattern vs. designing/ making/ documenting/ marketing/ selling a piece of clothing.
We’ll be working on marketing one project while sewing another project and designing another all at the same time. It also helps with workflow and flexibility to be able to have a computer day or a making day or a photography day based on who is busy with what, and what you feel mentally or physically capable of that day vs. following one projector linearly at a time.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
New works come about in many ways. Sometimes it’s super simple, like with our Linen Summer Sets: I found a photograph of myself wearing a matching set as a child and thought: I want to wear something like that this summer, I bet other people would want to as well. Sometimes the inspiration and process are years in the making.
The best example of this is probably the Quilted Motorcycle Jacket: I found a quilt that had a unique heaviness and structure to it, and knew it needed to be made into a more structured jacket. Nothing is more structured to me in my mind than a motorcycle jacket; plus, at the time I was also dreaming of the idea of “soft” and “hard” pairings, like the softness of a quilt with the hardness of metal: snaps, zippers etc. This idea was relatively early in my clothing making journey and I didn’t have the skills to create a motorcycle jacket with the level of detail I desired, so I held onto the idea (and the quilt) for a couple of years until I felt comfortable with my sewing skills.
Which part of the design process is your favorite? Which part is a challenge for you?
My favorite part is finding and shopping for the textiles. It’s the first step and the step where I get to dream and really take my hands off of the wheel. To not feel the pressure to “come up” with anything, but just to look and see what’s out there and get inspired.
The biggest challenge for me is the pattern-making process and the fit. I’m self taught, so I started off super basic and have been building my skill set slowly. I have created my set of basic pattern blocks, but taking those pieces and adding/altering/changing them to meet the needs of the new pattern in my head, while maintaining accurate sizing and fit, is the hardest part of the process.
You and Dale work together in the business. Who does what? How do you share responsibilities?
When Dale joined Kitty Badhands in 2021, we did completely separate tasks for the business. I’d source materials, design, and sew; while Dale worked on things like building a new website, creating our brand identity, and photography and marketing.
As we continue to grow, and we have more familiarity with what the other does, and more clarity on our vision for the brand as a whole, we overlap and collaborate more and more.
What do you hope the next year will bring?
We are going to have our first baby in April, so what this year will bring is completely unknown to us, which is scary and kind of wild. How do you raise a baby while owning your own business together as a family? We’re about to find out!
While we know we’re going to have to practice flexibility and grace, we are incredibly motivated to keep growing; with a long list of dreams and plans for this year. We plan to continue to develop community and partnerships with other creatives, including a sustainable manufacturing company who would be able to help us expand what we can offer, help us enter the wholesale market, and allow us to focus more and more on design and less on production.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
It sounds counter-intuitive, but what keeps me motivated and interested is making sure I step away from time to time.
Starting, running, and growing our vision of this business is more than a full-time job, and it can drain my interest and motivation as the stress piles up. After 3 months without a day off, you lose your spark. If I allow myself to step away from work and focus on a house project, or bake, camp, go out with friends, or just sit around and do absolutely nothing, after a couple of days I feel refreshed and I’m itching to get back to the studio.
If I didn’t feel that itch, I probably wouldn’t go back, but it hasn’t happened yet. The spark always returns. It’s a reminder and an affirmation that we love and were meant to do this work: and that burnout is real even when you love what you do, and rest is important.
Where can people find your creations?
Interview posted January 2024
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