26 September 2011

A Portrait of The Artist: Sister and Me



Sister and Me has its beginnings in a simple birthday wish, a secret whispered in a mother's ear: "Mama, Katie really wants this bag for her birthday." Not wanting to disappoint their sister Suzanne worked with them designing the unique bag. The first Sister and Me bag thus emerged, and the birthday wish came true. Each subsequent purse, bag, apron or throw has its beginnings with a similar wish and story.

While preparing for A Portrait of The Artist interview I went through Suzanne's etsy shop and I could feel the love and devotion in each carefully designed bag. As she points out: Each design starts as a wish and dream, which results in beautiful, high-quality goods ready to hold a lifetime of memories.


Tell us a bit about your background. How did you come up with the idea of using excess upholstery fabric from furniture factories for your wonderful bags and purses?
I’m a mama with four girls and my oldest was getting ready to celebrate a birthday. You know how sisters will really look out for each other, that’s what happened here. My birthday daughter had been admiring a stylish messenger bag in a little boutique near her school and after we discovered this, her sisters and I decided to up the ante. We decided to design and create a singularly unique bag for her. 

I had been leading a group of ladies who had fashioned quilts for our local hospice house using fabric acquired from a local factory. The quilts were complete and the extra fabric stored with me. The sisters pulled their favorite pieces of fabric while I drew the pattern for the bag. There you have it, my first messenger bag, named after my daughter, Katie’s Messenger. Oh how she loved that bag! Once my oldest had the bag her sisters soon followed with requests of their own, then friends. Sister and Me was born.

Katie Messenger Bag
When did you first feel the need to be eco-friendly and how does this affect your daily life, apart from your creativity?
I remember becoming consciously eco-friendly when my children were born. It was then that I started acting in an eco-friendly way on my own, not just listening to and following the trends by recycling at the curb. I buy local fruits, make my own jams and jellies. We have a garden in the back and we can many tomatoes peppers and squash for the winter base of chili, spaghetti and soups. 

Although we live a pretty good distance from schools and stores I combine trips as much as possible to conserve energy. My girls are constantly coming up with new and creative ways to conserve, recycle and upcycle. Everything from milk cartons to Altoid containers gets a second life in our home.
Do you reuse and upcycle in everyday too?
I do upcycle in everyday “real” life too! And I believe this an inherited trait. I must share with you a story about my grandmother, “Ginny”. My Grandparents were blessed with three girls who were teenagers during the slim years of the depression and WWII. 

My Ginny would sew dresses out of what material was to be had. Two of these dresses were beautiful party dresses with wonderfully full skirts on them. You can only imagine the surprise of the girls when they came home to discover their dresses were taken apart and now provided the skirt to a magnificent Christmas table cloth! 

So yes, upcycling, recycling and reusing anything and everything comes easily to me. I can honestly say that I have sheets which have become tablecloths, a tablecloth which became bathroom curtain, men’s ties to clutches and t-shirts to scarves.

Sara Traveler Bag

Can you take us through the steps of your creative process? It must be exciting to get different fabrics with the changes of season.
Getting the new fabric is my absolute favorite! Walking into the warehouse and seeing the fabrics for the first time is always exciting. I love to pull the fabrics which catch my eye and stack them to put in my workshop. And, incidentally, that is how I choose the fabrics. If they catch my eye they come with me. If they can be overlooked I will leave them there. While I am in the factories I get a charge out of talking with the workers, seeing the colors they are working with and the new things they are doing. It just doesn’t get any better! 

Once I bring the fabrics home I’ll separate them into stacks based on the color, weight and the size of the piece. I like to have the pieces I love the most close as inspiration for my work. In the end I match the pieces by putting together what looks pleasing to my eye. Each piece of work is then completed with a hand stitched rendition of two sisters in honor of my girls and sisters the world over.


Suzanne's childhood dollhouse
Have you always been creative?
Oh yes, I have always loved to create. My Dad built me a dollhouse when I was just 4 or 5 and it was filled with plastic furniture. By the time I was 13 I had built “new” furniture for the house, using shoe boxes and scraps of fabric from my Mother’s sewing basket and Elmore’s glue. I still have that furniture. 

I also still have a crazy quilt top I sewed when I was a girl. That quilt top has pieces from summer skirts and a velvet Christmas dress among others. I keep it folded away so the colors are still as bright as the day I wore them. Later I used what I learned to make a simple quilt for my bed. If I hadn’t done these things I don’t think I would be making my own patterns and pieces purses together today.



You seem to be very prone to making wishes and dreams come true. What did you dream about when you were a child?
I dreamt about having a sister. That’s some of the inspiration for the name, Sister and Me. I have three brothers, all boys! We would all play much like you would expect, board games, football, hide and seek. Although my brother, John, used his train set to light my dollhouse it is kind of hard to play dolls with boys! I never did get that sister, instead I collect sisters as I go through life.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
The most challenging aspect of my work today isn’t in the creating, it’s marketing! It is getting the word out about these creations of mine and finding the people who will love them and get joy from the beauty I try to put into each one. I am working to find every avenue I can to get these bags into the hands of the ladies who will treasure them.



Where do you see yourself creatively in 5 years?
I hope to be still creating beautiful things for sisters the world over. This all started when we were sewing to cover and comfort those who were dying or loved the dying. I created the bags out of necessity and love for my girls. I’ve created aprons, lap covers, placemats, napkin and throws, all at the request of those I love. That is where I want to be: running a successful business by creating beautiful objects for people, sharing my talents with others. That would be a great place to be.

What is your current favorite item by another etsy seller?
I love everything by Mosey handmade.

Follow along with Suzanne from Sister and Me:
Etsy shop: http://www.etsy.com/shop/sisterandme
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Sister-and-Me/106895512684030?ref=ts

You can read more editions of A Portrait of The Artist here.