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Portraits In Creativity

September 11, 2020

From time to time we will be writing about people around the store and around our area and beyond who love to craft. I decided to start off the series by writing a bit about my own background, but I will also introduce you to our endlessly talented staff, but I also want to introduce you to some of our endlessly talented customers, and will post these portraits in the upcoming months. I always love to learn about how people came to their craft, whether its quilting, garment sewing, embroidery, weaving, knitting, … I hope you enjoy these portraits and getting to know each other a little better.

Susan Carlson Skalak

I am a Southerner. I grew up in small towns across the Deep South as we moved with my father’s job changes. He was a forester who worked in private industry and had a deep love of the woods and all things nature. My earliest memories are going with him to the woods as a small child cutting a Christmas tree. As I grew older we hunted and fished together and traveled to find wild flowers that grew all over the mountains of North Carolina (I treasure the book where we marked the locations of the flowers we discovered). My mother was born in Virginia. She says one of her earliest memories was standing on a chair in the kitchen rolling out biscuits for breakfast, helping cook breakfast before her mother left for work. My mother sewed many of my clothes that I wore growing up (except for the jeans that I lived in) and knitted most all of my sweaters. Everywhere we lived we had vegetable gardens in the back yard filled with strawberries, tomatoes, okra, green beans, and squash. I learned to can, make jam, but no, I did not learn to sew or knit from my mother. I spent most of my childhood outdoors with my dad gardening, hunting, fishing and building things, from a garden walkway to a log cabin. My dad always told me that the best thing I could learn was to be self sufficient, meaning knowing how to grow my own food, and support myself. Both my parents were children of the depression and lived through World War II, defining events for both of them that shaped their views on life. This philosophy of self sufficiency and their self sacrifice for the country during WW II has really been in my thoughts these past few months.

My first introduction to sewing was through home ec classes in high school, which at the time, girls were required to take. As a kid who spent most of her time playing sports, riding horses, hunting and fishing, I was unhappy about this class, and would have much preferred the shop class for the boys. I came out of home ec vowing never to sew again, having sewn an ill fitting gathered skirt with an elastic waistband out of some hideous aqua blue poplin that could never have looked flattering on anyone.

I finally learned to sew the summer after earning a degree in Engineering Science. Graduating in the midst of a recession and unable to find a job, I had to move back in with my parents. I did however make the most of the time at home by working on many projects. I built a kitchen table with my dad which we still use in our house, refinished furniture, and learned to sew. There was a beautiful fabric store just down the street from my parents owned my a woman just returning from living in Europe with her retired husband. She brought beautiful European wools and cottons to our small city, and taught sewing classes. That summer and fall inspired by the gorgeous fabrics she carried, I took classes from her and learned to sew blouses, blazers and coats. I still wear the wool blazer with bound buttonholes that I made that fall.

As I went onto earn a graduate degree, work in manufacturing, then returning again to school to earn a doctorate in Mechanical Engineering, sewing was put aside. I didn’t return to it until after my children were born. I began sewing for my children and then for myself. I was lucky enough to live near a fine fabric store that had lovely fashion fabrics. The first few things I sewed were pretty simple and not well done, but my kids thought they were great, since they got to choose the fabrics: shorts for my 3 year old son of bright orange with blue turtles on it, and a flower filled dress for my daughter. From there, I continued to sew for my children but started to sew for myself again.

I didn’t start quilting until my mother passed away. The final year of her life she spend cutting 6 inch squares from piles of worn out jeans from various family members. With these squares I was able to make my first quilt which was for my son. He still sleeps under that quilt today. Although many of my clothes have been passed on, many more still grace my closet and those of my children. And, our beds hold the quilts I have made, and the walls contain the embroideries, weavings and art quilts I have sewn. I love creating, and feel incomplete unless I have a project, or 4 or 5 under construction.

One of my many epicycle projects in which I took a men's coat and other garments and cycled it into a new jacket.

Another upcycled coat made from one of my raincoats and one of my dad's suits.

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  • Esther's Fabrics
    181 Winslow Way E Suite D
    Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
    Call us now: 206-842-2261