Textile entrepreneurs in the Creative Enterprise Zone

By Camille LeFevre

Listen quietly and you may hear the sounds of a resurgent creative industry at work in the Midway Commercial Building (aka, the Triangle Building) at Highway 280 and University Avenue in St. Paul. It may be the only place along the Green Line in which the quiet thrum of the light-rail cars passing outside is matched by the subtle swish, zip and whir of the industry occurring inside.

Here costume and fashion designers, fine artists, do-it-yourself stitchers and industrial sewing students are happily huddled over cutting tables, sewing machines and dress forms. They’re not only creating costumes for theater, dance and fantastical events (think Comic-Con, Steampunk gatherings and the Renaissance Festival), but also designing couture. They’re learning, teaching and sharing their art and craft, stitching skills and business savvy. They’re also behind the resurgence in industrial sewing and a “maker” textile culture that largely disappeared in America decades ago.

On a Thursday in January 2017 this burgeoning community of textile businesses and artists hosted the Creative Enterprise Zone’s first monthly “We Make It Here” mixer in the building. Visitors will discover how Gina Sekelsky took her internationally renowned, finely honed hand lettering and illustration into a new medium, by transforming it into wearable art. Meeting mother-daughter costumers and clothing designers Sheridyn & Kaitlyn McClain is synonymous with immersion in the sumptuous fabrics, textural brocades and whimsical details of the duo’s wedding dresses, medieval costumes and opulent gowns.

In Collective Spaces—a shared costume and sewing studio for professionals, entrepreneurs and students—Sarah Thorson might offer a peek into her new line of children’s clothing. Sheila Heil of Tulip Design explains the character costumes, period pieces and cosplay apparel she’s designed for private clients and theater companies around the world. Also part of Collective Spaces is Judy Hornbacher, whose high fashion, functional garments are as distinctive as the distinguished women who wear her couture.

Amy Kaufman, who designs and sews costumes for theater and film, founded Collective Spaces in 2012 after realizing “I don’t like sewing at 2:00 a.m. by myself,” she says. “I wanted to build a community of support, where people can hang out, create and learn. We come from different backgrounds. We bring to the collective an array of ideas, styles and techniques. Together, we possess a wealth of knowledge, as well as wisdom and insight: We can help each other make a design more efficient, sew a particular style of collar or draft a business plan.”

Students from Dunwoody College of Technology’s new industrial-sewing program attend classes Kaufman teaches in Collective Spaces. “The studio gives them a place to practice, develop and refine their skills,” she says. Kaufman also teaches sewing to the general public. “My philosophy is you learn sewing by doing,” she explains. “I take away the pressure. It’s not about making something, but about learning the techniques and then learning to sew—whether someone wants to learn to alter their own clothes or create an entire costume.”

The “We Make It Here” mixer, held in the studios of the participating enterprises, will elevate the profile of the Twin Cities sewing and textile community and its hub in the Creative Enterprise Zone. The mixer, and the well-lit display on the building’s exterior, will “recognize the Midway Commercial Building as a creative place with a mix of artists and businesses,” Kaufman says.

“People on the light rail will see the display in January,” she adds, “and realize this is a place for textile artists, fashion designers, costume creators and the sewing community as a whole—a great mix of people.”

Camille LeFevre is a writer, editor, curator and communications strategist living in the Creative Enterprise Zone. She’s also the editor The Line, an online publication about the creative economy of the Twin Cities. 

Julie James