Have you or your kids ever wondered what alumni of the Handwork Studio camps and classes are doing now, and where their love for handwork took them in life? Well, we wondered the same thing. That’s why created the “Alumni: Where are they Now?” project! This page will feature biographies of graduates (and some current members) of the Handwork Studio and give you an inside look into how they maintain their passion for the craft and whether they are currently working in a handwork related field or doing something else they love! We hope that learning about the alumni will inspire your kids to follow in their footsteps and help them see that no matter who they are, what their background in handwork is, and what they hope to be when they grow up, they can do anything they put their minds to!
Starting soon, you will be able to read longer, more in-depth profiles of our alumni on our blog. Stay tuned!
Name: Julia Claire Haines
Julia Haines is a rising 5th-year student in the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, majoring in Fiber and Material Studies, with a certificate in Art Education. Julia has been a part of The Handwork Studio (THS) family since she was in elementary school when her mom won a week’s worth of classes for her in a raffle at the Alex’s Lemonade Stand annual fundraiser. Julia had tried to teach herself to knit and was interested in sewing and embroidery, and The Handwork Studio provided a loving, structured setting for her to learn these skills. Julia was also a CIT at The Handwork Studio while in high school, working at the Narberth studio. She took a break from The Handwork Studio when she started art school, but after a run-in with owner and founder Laura Kelly this spring, she returned as a counselor at the Narberth studio for the summer. The Handwork Studio has been a part of Julia’s life for years, and she remembers “feeling so comfortable and safe” there. Attending THS classes helped teach Julia “what this really nice, gentle comfort was,” and she thinks that her experiences there were “definitely formative.”
Julia thinks it’s amazing that the skills she learned how to do as a student at The Handwork Studio “pretty much transferred to [her] university education...it’s pretty cool to learn something when you’re like ten years old, eleven years old, and that actually comes into your college experience.” Even though Julia was always interested in handwork, she wasn’t always sure that she wanted to go to art school. She was accepted to Temple University as a senior in high school, but then impulsively decided to apply to the Tyler School of Art and put her portfolio together in a month. “It was the smartest and the dumbest thing I’ve ever done,” she laughs.
Julia’s art is inspired by “the impact that genetics play in our lives, both biologically, geographically, and politically.” She draws a lot of inspiration from her “mom’s side of the family who immigrated to the US at the turn of the century to a coal town and exploring how each generation changes but these initial industrial towns that were hubs of immigration have gone into a decline and how that is often politicized by all sides of the political spectrum.” Julia tends to work with screen prints (done on fabric) based on photographs she’s taken of the town her great-grandparents and grandparents grew up in. She chooses the color depending on the mood of the piece and is fascinated with small architectural details. Julias says it is difficult to “be introspective and not oversimplify yourself” when speaking about your own art, but that over the years she’s focused more on making art for herself and not for others.
Julia wouldn’t change too much about the last few years, saying that “things happened the way they were supposed to,” but if she had to pick something, she does wish that she was “more honest with [her] art practice and that she focused more on herself first and other people second. In regards to The Handwork Studio, however, Julia only has good things to say. “[The Handwork Studio] definitely changed a lot of things about my life, and I know it will change things about other people’s lives too.”
Read more about Julia Haines on our blog soon!
Selections from "In This Last of Meeting Places," 2018
Name: Emilie Marie Patton
Major: Fiber and Material Studies
Emilie Patton is a rising senior in the Tyler School of Art at Temple University majoring in Fiber and Material Studies, just like alumnus Julia Haines. She wasn’t always sure that she wanted to go to art school, and at one point thought she was going to go to medical school and become a pharmacologist like her dad, but ultimately she decided to follow her passion and set herself on the path to do art full time. Emilie wants to be a “successful working artist,” a vision that wouldn’t have been possible without The Handwork Studio (THS).
Emilie was always interested in sewing because her great-grandmother was a seamstress, and a family friend taught her to hand sew when she was six years old. THS provided a fun, social space for Emilie to learn a skill in which she’d always had an interest. She proceeded to attend a Handwork Studio class every summer, and sometimes she would attend night classes during the school year as well. Emilie cites her experience at the Fashion Bootcamp as a “highlight of [her] childhood,” and always had a great time making garments with her good friends. Emilie even used to teach kids in her neighborhood how to sew. She would bring bags she’d made to class, and when her peers asked her where she got them, she was able to tell them that she made the bags herself! She also taught her classmates how to sew her freshman year of college, because some of them struggled with the skills. Even if Emilie doesn’t consider that a “true job,” it is telling of her skill and passion for handwork that her peers looked to her for help with improving their abilities.
Emilie’s desire to go to art school was truly solidified when she took an AP art class in high school and was able to see how her passion for sewing and handwork could apply to the projects she created in the class. Although it was difficult deciding not to pursue a medical degree and even though some of her high school teachers told Emilie she wouldn’t find a job if she went to art school, Emilie followed her heart and is now almost done with her time at Tyler. She takes more studio classes than not and spends a lot of her time creating art. “I focus more on garment construction,” she tells me, “And on the ideas of processes. I really like to weave my own fabric. The idea of making something completely from scratch really intrigues me, and I usually focus my work on garments and exploring the body through clothing...I like taking classes that are more hands-on in physical processes. Silk screening, natural dyes, everything’s kind of from the ground up. That just really intrigues me.” Emilie came into her own style at the end of a semester abroad in Rome after a professor advised her to not think so much about what she was creating and to just make art. “So I started making things,” Emilie says, “Not as a concept, but that the way of doing things is in itself an art.”
Emilie’s ultimate goal is to be her own brand. “I’m really interested in functionality. I want to do work based on making something functional in someone’s life...I would love to own a store where I could transform my work into things people can use every day in their lives, and become almost a household name, in a way.”
This is Emilie’s second year working at THS, and she animatedly recounts an experience she had with some of her campers last year. “It’s really inspiring to see these girls who are like 13 and 14 make a two-piece collection from scratch, from fabric they get to choose, and they get to design everything, and they find patterns and alter patterns. It’s so inspiring seeing that as someone who does this almost as their career. Seeing it start so young kind of reignites the fire and makes me think “Yes, this is what I want to do! This is great!” It’s so great having these kids get this environment that, a lot of times, they don’t get at school or anywhere else, and people saying, “You can do this, we believe in you.” And then they do amazing things. It’s crazy. A girl made a dress based on the night sky, and I helped her dye it, and she put all these stars on it, and it was beautiful. Like that came out of your mind. You made that. It’s such a nice feeling that you can help these girls get there.”
Read more about Emilie Patton on our blog soon!
Name: Elizabeth Marie Gee
Education: 2018 graduate of the Pratt Institute
Majors: Fashion Design BFA
Elizabeth Marie Gee, also known as Lizzy Gee, is a 22-year-old recent graduate from the Pratt Institute in New York. Lizzy got her BFA in Fashion Design from Pratt and is in the process of advancing her career as a fashion designer in New York City.
Lizzy knew at an early age that she wanted to learn handwork and remembers that even as a child, she was interested in bringing her ideas and creations to life. Her journey at The Handwork Studio (THS) began when she was eight years old when she started taking knitting classes at the Narberth Studio. From there Lizzy did machine sewing, Fashion Bootcamp, and worked as an assistant instructor at THS, all before heading off to Pratt for college. Now Lizzy works as a head teacher at THS while she searches for jobs in the fashion industry, and credits THS for helping her develop the skill set she needed to go to university for fashion. Because no one else in her family can sew, Lizzy is officially “the seamstress of the house,” and is thrilled that she got the opportunity to be a part of THS family. Lizzy warmly remembers how kind and accommodating Ms. Alisha and Ms. Julia were when she enlisted their help in figuring out how to thread a serger, and even though none of them knew how it worked, the instructors dedicated their time and energy to sit with Lizzy for several hours and help her figure it out.
Lizzy’s professional fashion experience began when she was just 16 when she interned in the costume department at Villanova University, and it only grew from there. Lizzy interned with designer Julia Mollo her first year at Pratt, then Mara Hoffman, and finally, her idol, Christian Siriano. “When I got an internship with him,” she says, “I was like ‘I think this is the pinnacle. I don’t know how I can get any better than this.’ I just love that he does plus size too, and I’ve only ever made designs for myself, and I’ve been plus size since middle school. So it was really nice to meet someone who doesn’t care what size you are, and is going to make something nice no matter what.” Lizzy loves New York and the fact that Pratt has a campus, despite being in the city, making the move from outside of Philadelphia to NYC for school much less overwhelming. She plans to stay in the city for at least a year after graduation.
Lizzy’s describes her art as “feminine and edge,” and she wants to create a brand that “is not really defined by gender or a demographic; it’s a personality.” She is also focused on sustainability, and extremely conscious of the pollution that comes from fashion. Many people in Lizzy’s life were initially concerned about her decision to get involved in the New York fashion industry as a designer, claiming that she’s “too nice to be in fashion” or that she’s “too sweet and won’t make it.” Lizzy is too busy proving them wrong to listen. “My main thing is to run my own brand, and the only way to do that is if I work for a brand...Why not try to go in there and make a change?” Although she has met people who act like Miranda Priestly from the movie “The Devil Wears Prada,” Lizzy says that it all depends on the environment. “There’s definitely brands out there that can take advantage and make you feel like you can’t do it, but there’s also brands that want you to succeed.”
Lizzy has a lot of good advice for those who wish to follow in her footsteps and take their fashion dreams to college, and the big city. “Don’t listen to anybody who says what you’re doing is weird or out of the ordinary or that it can’t happen,” she says, “Because you can make it happen. That’s literally what being a designer is. You design clothes you’ve never seen before. What makes you different is what makes you succeed. That’s not pushed in the classroom enough. There's multiple ways to get to where you wanna be...Having patience with yourself and learning the skills to create is the hardest at the beginning...Once you learn all those mistakes are learning experiences you can build upon, fashion will come so naturally to you, and you can go and have a career in it.”
Read more about Lizzy Gee on our blog soon!
Selections From "A Vibrant End," 2018
Name: Anna Welsh
Education: 8th grader, Welsh Valley Middle School
At the young age of thirteen, rising eighth grader Anna Welsh already runs her own economically and socially conscious business, right out of her house outside of Philadelphia. The business, which is called little bags.BIG IMPACT, sells clutches, totes, sunglass cases, and more, all made of recycled fabric. Anna even donates 15% of the proceeds from each littlebag sold to Tree House Books, a literacy center and giving library in Northern Philadelphia. Anna is already pretty amazing, and she doesn’t plan to stop here. Anna wants to be an English or History teacher for elementary school students when she grows up, and continue her business on the side, of course. Even if none of that pans, out, Anna knows she’ll still find a way to keep art in her life. Whether that be through baking or cooking, two of her other passions, or something else, Anna Welsh is artistic at heart, and never wants to stop being creative.
Anna first started handwork when her mother signed her up for classes at The Handwork Studio (THS) when she was six, and she’s been going ever since. When Anna came back home from THS camp for the first time, she told her family that “This is the only camp I ever want to do,” and she meant it. Anna has made her way through the Handwork Day Camp, machine sewing, and now Fashion Bootcamp, and she takes classes at the Narberth Studio during the school year. Once Anna finishes camps, she wants to be a counselor. She’s had fantastic relationships with her counselors over the years, and she wants to help other campers have those same experiences, and create lasting relationships like she did.
The story of little bags.BIG IMPACT all began the day that one of Anna’s counselors at THS, Meredith, gave her some patterns and “really funky fabric” so she could make clutch bags. Anna gave some to her mom, and on a trip to Michigan, people started complimenting her mom’s bag “When they heard I had made the bag they were completely blown away,” Anna says. The same thing happened again on the same trip, and although Anna realized how amazing it was that strangers were complimenting her bags, she didn’t seriously think about creating a business out of them until she started the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, a program for middle and high school students that helps them brand their businesses. “It just kinda kept going from there...It’s always fun thinking back to that because I can always picture how it all started.”
Fun, colorful prints and fabrics are part of the littlebag brand now, as well as sustainable and conscious development and paying considerable attention to the desires of her customers. Anna plans to release two new products in the next few months, one of which is inspired by customer feedback she received. One new product will be a skinny bag with a wipeable lining so that customers who expressed their desire to use Anna’s products for makeup bags won’t ruin the lining, and the other is a drawstring bag that she will call the “everyday pouch.” Anna pays close attention to fashion bloggers and current trends to both give inspiration for her work and give her a hint at what she can make that will be different from the trends.
Anna hopes to continue to grow little bags.BIG IMPACT, and keep her passion for education and sustainability as essential parts of the business. She has already been able to donate $1500 to Tree House Books, an incredible accomplishment, and there’s no limit to what Anna Welsh or little bags.BIG IMPACT will accomplish next. For now, alongside her entrepreneurial life, Anna will continue to live the life of a typical eighth grader: go to school, explore her passions for baking, cooking, and embroidery, and have fun.
Read more about Anna Welsh on our blog soon!
Name: Maddy Kaplan
Maddy Kaplan, the last of the summer Handwork Studio alumni interviewees, has a bit of a different story than some of the others. Maddy graduated from Drexel University with a degree in Fashion Design and spent a few years after college working in the fashion industry before deciding to go back to school in her new home of Norwalk, CT to get her degree in Early Childhood Education. In the next few years, Maddy hopes to graduate, find a teaching job, expand her Etsy, and make more clothes, fulfilling her dream to open a business similar to the Handwork Studio someday, or maybe even create her own children’s clothing line.
Maddy has been interested in handwork since she was a child when she used to staple fabric together to make accessories and clothes, and attending classes at the Handwork Studio (THS) taught her the skills she would later need in her Fashion Design major in college. Maddy, in fact, was one of the earliest attendees of THS classes, because she joined THS family back when classes were taught out of founder Laura Kelly’s house. Maddy also attended Fashion Bootcamp when she was younger and worked as an assistant teacher at the studio for several summers. She is “still in touch with a lot of people from the Handwork Studio” and feels like “it was a formative point in [her] life.”
Maddy’s experience in the fashion program at Drexel isn’t something she would trade away, but it wasn’t easy either. “It was extremely stressful - long hours in the studio, all-nighters - the long haul for sure. And I was there for five years so, yeah, it was a lot. I decided to do five years because I wanted to spread it out more because it was stressing me out so much. I can’t imagine if I had done four years, to be honest.” Now, Maddy is in school for something entirely different. “I completely switched gears,” she says. “I was in the fashion industry for a while, and I decided it wasn’t really fulfilling, and I decided that I wanted to work with kids. So I’m back in school for Early Childhood Education, and I’m babysitting, and I’m working at a Children’s Museum as a Playmaker.”
Although Maddy loves fashion and plans to continue creating her whimsical, colorful, sophisticated children’s clothing designs on her own, the two jobs she had after finishing college at Drexel were not what she imagined her career in the fashion industry to be. Maddy was hardly allowed to do any designing, was made to do work that others didn’t want to do, and generally felt that she had a bad experience. So she made the enormous and courageous leap back into school to follow a path that she knows she loves, no matter how much it may differ from what she was doing before. “I don’t think I can say I like one over the other,” Maddy says, referring to her two college experiences, “Because I do like being very hands on, but I do find the material for teaching very interesting, and I do want to work with kids, so I find it very interesting to listen to.”
In spite of the challenges she’s faced, Maddy wouldn’t change anything about the last few years. “Everything that I have done has lead me to all this,” she says, “So there’s nothing I can complain about.” Maddy firmly believes that you should “follow what you’re passionate about, and if you’re really determined to do something, then you probably can do it.” Even if the fashion industry is a lot of work, Maddy thinks that “if it’s what you love and it makes you happy, then go for it.” She feels that way about teaching. “I find working with kids really fulfills me at the end of the day. I come home, and I feel good about what I’m doing. If someone feels that way, they should go with what makes them feel like they’re doing something that makes the world better.”
Read more about Maddy Kaplan on our blog soon!
Photos from Maddy's Senior Collection Show