DIY Style

Crafty Seattleites take their fashion destinies into their own hands.

Remember last fall when you donated all those outdated duds to Goodwill? This fall, they may be hanging in Jennifer Blessing's closet—but with a new twist.

"Most of my stuff is modified sweaters and ball gowns," says Blessing, 33, an administrative office manager whose hobby is reconstructing old clothes. She haunts thrift stores looking for vibrant colors and textures. "I'm kind of flamboyant, so I see something in a fashion magazine and I'll try to copy that design."

Many Seattleites seem to be following suit. Whether it's making a skirt out of a shirt or sewing appliqués onto a favorite sweater, customization is the easiest—and economically sane—way to revitalize a stale wardrobe.

"I see that a lot of people are feeling empowered to take [fashion reconstruction] on themselves," says Blessing, who gets much of her inspiration from classic 1930s fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. "I have a unique sense of style. I don't like most of what's on the rack, and what I do like, I can't afford."

"My grandmother said that during the Depression everyone did that," says Jodi Meadows, owner of the newly opened store Gypsy Palace. "They say that necessity is the mother of invention."

Meadows' modest Eastlake boutique carries ready-made reconstructed fashion designed by her and others. A fashion illustrator trained at Syracuse University, Meadows decided on a whim to take her craftiness to the retail level. She's banking on wider audiences taking a shine to the idea of reconstructed fashion.

"What I'm curious to find out is if anyone beyond the average Capitol Hill hipster is excited about it," says the New York–bred Meadows. "If you go to L.A., it will be the upper-crust, Beverly Hills women paying $450 for things you see people make themselves."

In Seattle, it may be a different story. Capitol Hill's Hipposchemes, which provided original designs and custom clothing reconstruction services to Seattle's hipsters, recently decided to close its doors after the owners learned the business was more than they'd bargained for.

"It's crazy when you're trying to survive off [your own designs]," says co-owner Javar Rabbitus-Calfcas, who plans to focus on his installation multimedia art. "I think people do like [reconstructed fashion], but it's not a big thing."

Hipposchemes isn't completely defunct, however. It will relaunch its line soon through a clothing distributor—without customizing each piece.

Reconstruction "may not be a lucrative retail endeavor, but my friends all do it and I do it," says Blessing. "I think it's always been in the underground. You saw it in the punk movement and the teen culture. Recently, it's starting to hit the professional scene and the thirtysomethings."

Amy Ellsworth, owner of fabric store Stitches, sees many of her customers going for an embellished look: adding patches to jeans, ribbons to shirts, or beading and appliqués to sweaters.

"Seattle is known as a crafty city," says Ellsworth, whose store also provides basic sewing classes. Pointing to her black capri pants with added ribbon trimming, she notes, "These pants are just pants, but adding a little ribbon makes it something more. I get compliments on it all the time."

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