We’re happy to share the third installment in the Alumni Profile Series, which features profiles of the Handwork Studio graduates (and some current members) and gives you an inside look into their lives!
For a shorter biography of Emilie Patton, check out the alumni page of our website!
Who is Emilie Patton?
Emilie Patton (Emilie, not Emily, a mistake I made the first time we emailed) has a bright, bubbly personality and a friendliness about her that makes me look forward to speaking with her even more. Before we get into the meat of the interview, I realize that both Emilie and Julia Haines, a Handwork Studio alumnus I interviewed a few weeks before, both attend the Tyler School of Art at Temple University and are both majoring in Fibers and Material Studies. When I ask Emilie about it (without specifying Julia by name), she guesses who I’m talking about immediately, and tells me that in addition to being in the same, relatively small class at Tyler, they also danced together in high school. Small world!
Here’s Emilie Patton in a flash: The last thing she watched before our interview was a series on Netflix called Haven, which she describes as a police show, but also a milder version of Supernatural. She laughs as she tells me she’s on season three and only started it two weeks ago. If Emilie could be an animal, she would be a rabbit, because “they have such nice eyes, eat grass all day, and hop around.” I ask what she wants to be when she grows up, and Emilie tells me that she plans to be “a working artist.” She pauses. “Well, a successful working artist,” she adds with a laugh.
Early Involvement in Handwork and The Handwork Studio
Emilie first truly got involved in the handwork world when she started taking classes at the Handwork Studio in 6th grade. She took a sewing class with her friends and made pajama bottoms, and from then on she just “really liked going there.” Emilie attended a Handwork Studio class every summer, and sometimes she would attend classes at night during the school year as well. I wonder if she expressed any interest in handwork before she started going to the Handwork Studio classes, or if her parents just decided to enroll her, and she makes it clear that she “was really interested in it. My great grandmother was a seamstress, and I’ve always wanted to learn how to sew because I learned hand sewing from a family friend when I was around 6. My mom doesn’t know how to sew, and my grandmother who lived an hour and a half away couldn’t teach me because I wasn’t there, so going to this was the best option that I had to learn to do this skill that I really wanted to learn.”
Emilie fondly remembers when she took the Fashion Bootcamp at the Handwork Studio when she entered high school. She tells me that it was a nice environment, a really fun class to take and that she and her friends had a good time making garments together. “It was a good highlight of my childhood.”
Unlike Julia, who decided to apply to Tyler very shortly before the deadline, Emilie was aware that she wanted to go to art school earlier, but she also struggled with choosing between art and another path. Emilie was originally going to attend school for pharmacy (her dad’s a pharmacist, and her mom’s an ICU nurse), but then she took art classes in high school and realized that she could apply the skills she loved, like sewing, to 3D art, amongst other things, and “it kind of took off from there.” At the end of her sophomore year of high school she told her parents that she didn’t want to go to school for anything related to health care, but art instead.
Emilie is from Havertown, PA, a place she describes as a “small town,” so everyone knew her parents and knew that Emilie originally wanted to go into a medical field. When she decided to embark on her art school journey, not everyone was thrilled. “Some of my high school teachers told me that I wouldn’t find a job,” she admits, but a beloved high school art teacher helped her get to where she is now. “You’ve got to find those people who believe in you and stay with them.” Emilie pushed through the confusion and criticism and took AP art her junior year of high school, an experience that solidified her love for art and convinced her that she was making the right decision by planning to go to art school. “Junior year is when I was like, no I want to do this. I do not want to be a pharmacist for the rest of my life; I want to be an artist. I think taking an art class and seeing I could apply those skills, helped.”
When I ask Emilie if she has had any job or internship experience related to handwork, she hesitates. “This is not like a ‘true job,’” she says, “But I used to teach kids in my neighborhood how to sew. Like on my own, with my friends. I would make bags and bring them to class, and a lot of people asked me where I got them, and I told them I made them by sewing. And in middle school a lot of people wanted me to teach them. I did that freshman year too, in my dorm.” I tell her that even if she doesn’t consider that a “true job,” it’s still really cool. I would love to learn handwork, and if I had a peer who could teach me how to do it, that would be so much easier. Rather than try to teach myself, or go to a class. “I taught myself how to knit,” Emilie laughs, "And it’s a lot easier to learn from someone else.”
We cycle back around to talk about the Tyler School of Art, and what Emilie’s life has been like attending school there. What kinds of classes does she take; does she concentrate on something specific in her major; does she mostly take studio classes?
“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. A lot of the classes I take are - I took a garment construction class last year and a weaving class, and that’s kind of where it started - but 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 typically takes three studio classes a semester, and one non-studio, so much of her time is focused on actually making art.
In my experience, artists go through a period when they come into their style and discover their artistic voice, and this period can last anywhere from a few months to a few decades because style is always evolving. I ask Emilie to tell me about her artistic passion, how and when she developed her style, and whether her interest in building structures from the ground up was something she always wanted to do, or whether it came into play later. “It came into play later,” she responds. “Way, way later. I’ve always liked the idea of the processes of things, but more recently, last semester, it took hold. I was in Rome for four months for a semester abroad, and there were no fibers classes over there, so I was taking whatever I could that was craft centered. I took bookbinding, paper making, and a sketchbook class. I really struggled. I had the worst block ever, it was awful. It wasn’t until the very end until one of my professors told me ‘Just don’t think’ and it clicked. So I started making things, not as a concept, but that the way of doing things is in itself an art.”
Emilie told me at the beginning of the interview that she wants to be a working artist. I wonder if she has any idea what she wants that to look like.
“My goal in life is to own my own brand in a sense. I’m really interested in functionality. I want to do work based on making something functional in someone’s life, not just extremely contemporary, which I don’t have an exact knack for. I’m jealous of people who have that knack. 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. That’s always been something I’ve wanted to do.”
Trials and Successes
When I get to the part of the interview where I typically ask what the interviewee is the proudest of, or for an accomplishment of theirs they’d like to share, I’m pleasantly surprised when Emilie wants to give me two. Both pertain to garments she’s made, at two different times in her life.
“Senior year I made my prom dress, and it was one of my favorite dresses I’ve ever made. It doesn’t fit me anymore, but it was just something I didn’t think I’d be able to make structurally. I made the pattern myself, and I never did that before, and it was something I was really proud of.” She had to sew herself into it, she laughs, but it was worth it. “The second one was designing a three-piece collection of 11 pieces total for a class I took last year. I made a killer pair of pants that were completely pleated around the bottom that took me five days to make. I worked on them for like 12 hours a day, and when I was done I was so happy, and they looked so good on my model, and I was like ‘Yes! Finally!’”
When I ask Emilie the opposite - to tell me something she wishes she could change about the past few years - I’m surprised by how similar her answer is to the one Julia Haines gave me. “I wish I had a better sense of my artwork a couple of years ago. Going through that struggle of finding your own style is really hard. Because you doubt yourself a lot.”
Close to the end of the interview, Emilie tells me another story about her time at the Handwork Studio. “This is my second year working at the Handwork Studio, and I had the opportunity to help teach the Fashion Bootcamp last year, and I’ll be doing it this year as well if there are enough campers. And 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.”
I want to end with some advice Emilie offered for any kids at the Handwork Studio who may be inspired to follow the same path as her, or just to pursue their passions: “Stick with it, because there’s going to be times when you wanna give up, and you think your work isn’t good enough or it’s too hard or stressful. People will try to tell you that you’re in school for something you don’t need but stick with it, because you want to do something you’re going to enjoy for the rest of your life. If it’s something you’re passionate about, keep it.”
Photo 1: Portrait of Emilie Patton
Photo 2: Emilie's designs
Photo 3: Emilie wearing her designs, front
Photo 4: Emilie wearing her designs, back