Local Sewing Studio Focusing on Couture Clothing and Education
Story by Jennifer Fulford | Photos by Shonie Kuykendall
Susan Stowell feels most at home in her sewing studio. Actually, her workshop qualifies as a couture atelier, a working fashion studio for custom clothing design and education. She does both: designs and fits clothes for women and men and teaches design techniques to students.
“I love design. As long as I can make clothes, I will,” she says. “I’m obsessed now more than ever.”
Her north Asheville studio, or atelier, is the center point of much activity. Susan meets with clients for custom fittings, creates new patterns for collaborations with local fiber artists, and teaches patternmaking, fitting, and clothes design. Her life epitomizes that of a working couture seamstress and educator. Couture designates a level of skill that’s more sophisticated than simply mending and sewing. “I have an understanding of garment design, style, shapes, measurements, and all different kinds of sewing techniques for fine finishings,” she says. “I have a vast understanding of how fabrics work with specific designs.”
Susan picked up her love of making clothes in seventh grade while taking a required home economics class in upstate New York. She wasn’t as interested in cooking as she was in sewing. She made a pair of pants that fit her tall, lean physique better than any store-bought pair. After that, her father made her a deal: Mow the lawn for a summer and he’d buy her a sewing machine. Successful, she soon began altering his clothes with her new machine.
She was fortunate that her high school in New York offered courses in fashion design. Her perfectionist tendencies and aptitude for sewing helped her later in Palm Beach County, Florida, where she worked for many years as a high-end alteration seamstress and where she also studied fashion design in college. Her experiences and education opened doors to theater costuming. But her heart was in couture. After years of being crowded and hot in Florida, she consciously relocated to Asheville seeking change.
In the ten years since her move, she’s discovered that one of her strengths is patternmaking, and she teaches classes on the subject. A pattern starts with sketching an idea on paper, draping a mannequin, studying a fashion photo, or flipping through other patterns. She puts her collection of hundreds of favorite patterns to good use, often for experimentation. Occasionally, a client will bring her a picture, and she’ll create a pattern for someone else to sew.
Couture clothing is not an ordinary consumer good, and Susan’s clients and students all have different reasons for finding her. Some need an outfit for a special occasion or a trip or because cookie-cutter ready-to-wear commercial clothing doesn’t fit right. She relishes collaborating with her clients and sharing the process of creating an item. Another joy comes from seeing her students learn a new skill.
Statuesque and redheaded, Susan is the perfect model for her creations. Out from her closets (yes, more than one) may come a 1940s-inspired swing coat or a leopard print full-length fleece jacket from three yards she just couldn’t resist at a local fabric shop. (“I went back and bought the rest,” she admits.) When Susan slips on her designs, the quality is unsurpassed. The stitching is flawless, the lines clean. Her jackets fit to a T.
“I love vintage styles,” she says, twirling in maxi-coat. “I love to produce vintage styles with a modern edge.”
Susan also enjoys collaborating with local fiber artists to create new work for shows. One such piece will be shown in the Blue Ridge Fiber Show starting October 1 at The North Carolina Arboretum. Two others made the cut for Project Handmade’s Local Cloth show at the Folk Art Center in Asheville on September 22. She is currently serving as the head of the garment committee for Project Handmade. She is also actively involved in Design Divas. For Susan, clothes are the fiber of her life.
For more information, call 828.225.4218 or visit susanscouture.wix.com/susanstowell. Appointments are encouraged. Workshop details are posted online.