Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Interview with ThreadWritten Textiles.

In an age of consumption, throw-away garments meant to last only a season, and thousands of products mass-produced on an immense scale, it's always a treat to find someone who acknowledges artistic heritage, and helps us to reconnect with the hands-on feeling of making something special.  If you don't know what it's about, I'd like to introduce you to the "Slow Fashion" movement, and along with that, to ThreadWritten Textiles, an accessories and home-decor company based in Oakland, California.

Owner, Designer and Creative Director Sarah Pedlow is putting emphasis not only on the handmade product, but the faces of the women artisans behind it. I caught up with Sarah in this interview, where we opened up a dialogue about fashion, heritage, and preservation in a discussion about her company's process and projects.

Q: I read on your blog that you were inspired to start ThreadWritten during your travels in eastern Europe.  What drew you to that area specifically?

A: When I studied abroad in college, Budapest, "the Paris of Central Europe", was on my list of travel destinations.  Unfortunately, I didn't make it there.  Years later, while thinking about applying for another artist residency, I stumbled upon the Hungarian Multicultural Center residency.  Through the residency, I was able to spend a month exploring and falling in love with the city.  I started photographing a series of street scenes with hand-stitched patterns.  My visit to the Ethnographic Museum changed the way I felt about textiles.  I couldn't stop thinking about the ornate costumes and the embroidery work.  I also love the mix of aesthetics in cities with a Communist history.

Q: Can you explain a little more about "slow fashion"?

A:  The Slow Fashion movement developed in 2007, based on the principles of the Slow Food movement. Its basic tenets are quality over quantity, preferring sustainable, eco-friendly materials and ethical practices, a high level of craftsmanship and experienced labor, with an emphasis on educating consumers.  Making a purchase is an investment in the product and the people making it.  Slow Fashion is about the hand-made piece that, while fashionable, is timeless.

Q: I think it's great that you put faces and names to the women behind the work.  How did they feel about that? 

A: Meeting the women and getting to know them is one of the best parts of what I do.  Many were happy to share their names and photos while a few preferred to remain anonymous.  I'm so glad the anonymous women agreed to be photographed, without being identified, and share a little about their lives and their sewing.  I love carrying my bag, remembering the woman who spent hours embroidering it with care.

Q: I was so impressed with the lace and embroidery work I saw on your blog.  About how long does it take to make one of these pieces?

A: Most pieces take several hours up to a few days broken up with time spent preparing meals, tending to family and home, and for some, their animals and gardens.

Q: Is there still a strong emphasis on teaching this craft today?

A: Fewer and fewer women practice the Kalotaszeg írásos style of embroidery.  Orsolya, a woman in her 30s, who translates for me, learned to embroider in grade school, but sewing is no longer part of the curriculum.  Women who used to teach their daughters and granddaughters no longer do.  I was surprised at how difficult it was to find this style of embroidery when I first traveled to Transylvania in 2012.  The churches hold beautiful tapestries that commemorate events or were made as gifts to the pastors, but otherwise it is hard to find them outside of museum collections.  Most women I met practice less labor-intensive forms of embroidery if they are doing any handiwork at all.

Q: You seem to join art, fashion, and travel seamlessly! (pun intended).  Do you have any tips or advice for a young, creative enterpreneur?

A: It's all about making connections and finding a thread between ideas, visual elements, patterns and places.  Don't be afraid to start putting out feelers.  Do your research, and take a leap (ideally in that order)!

Q: What's the most inspiring part of ThreadWritten?

A: As Sara Meaker, who has been coordinating work in the Kalotaszeg region, said to me last October, "Everything, all one's experience and knowledge, build upon each other, enriching each other." I've created a business where I combine my art, design, and travel experience, along with service.  Learning about culture and connecting with people to make something together is a joy and a blessing.  Getting to know the women and their traditions, and sharing that with others, is the heart of what I do.

Q: Where we can purchase your pieces?

A: A few of my first bags and phone cases are available here. For those in the San Francisco Bay Area, I'll have a booth at the Hungarian Heritage Festival in Belmont, CA, on May 10.

Q: What can we look forward to in the future?

A: With the help of Pastor Csilla in Damos, Sara Meaker in Huedin, and Reka Fogarasi, a filmmaker and the owner of Ide and Oda, I made a short documentary of two women demonstrating how to stitch írásos. They will keep the video as a record of the style, and are already using it as a teaching tool to help others learn the different stitches.  I hope that ThreadWritten will motivate more women to learn or re-learn the technique.

Two small, limited edition pillows will soon be available on my site.  I'm currently designing a more formal structured tote and clutch.  You can follow me here:, for details.  I'm also @ThreadWritten on Instagram, and at

(All images featured in this post, courtesy of Sarah Pedlow.  Also, check out this video!)

This post is the first part of a new series of interviews and commentaries on emerging artists, designers, and stylists.  If you would like to take part, or know someone who would, please leave me a comment below, and as always, thanks for reading.  Let's continue to grow this community and exchange our experiences and ideas :) x

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