One of the purposes of Portrait of a Seamstress was to stretch the definition of a sewer to the max. The tie between sewing and sewing garments is so tight that most people automatically make the association when they hear the word. Think about people’s first response when you tell them you sew; most respond with the question, “Can you make me….” But there are so many people involved in the hobby who don’t sew clothes, as evidenced by Sara, who manipulates and stretches silk over canvases, and Caitlin, who crochets skeleton. I’m carrying that purpose into this series by featuring domestic makers of all types of products. The only common thread is that it involves fabric and a sewing machine somewhere in between start to finish.
What makes this Homemade most interesting, at least in my opinion, is that Andrea Mihalik, owner of Wild Chairy, doesn’t know how to sew. That’s probably not the way Andrea would like me to introduce her, but I think this is inspiring. How many of you can bang out a Renfrew top or and Albion coat, but wish you could make shoes to go with it? Well, you can. Just because you don’t know how doesn’t mean you can’t.
Stick around to the end because Andrea is offering approximately 2 yards of awesome fabric.
Tell us your story: Hi, my name is Andrea, and before I started Wild Chairy, I was a photographer. I started photography when I was 5-years-old because my dad was in the trade, and I spent a lot of my childhood in the basement flipping images from the stop bath to the fixer and washer. Later I attended Tyler School of Art and became a photographer at the Philadelphia Daily News.
Twelve years later with three children and a husband who traveled for work, it became hard to maintain a work life balance. I love what I did, but when it was 3:00 p.m. and time to go home, I’d be called to go to an FBI stakeout. I eventually walked away from that life to take care of my family, but I was always searching for the next thing I could do. I ran marathons, taught photography, worked at a photo agency, but nothing felt right. When I was running, I would come across great chairs that were being thrown away, and I’d go back in my car and bring them home. Soon I had a garage full of chairs and I had no idea what to do with them. I enrolled in a 4 week class at The Furniture Joint in NYC. I fell in love with upholstery, but when the class ended, I knew I needed more training. So, I got an internship at BDDW, a high-end furniture company based in Port Richmond. I was the 40-year-old intern working with 20-year-olds for free, butI learned my craft. After four months, I left and got my own studio at 9th and Spring Garden.
Construction: Every chair starts as a frame that I either acquire from the side of the road, an auction, an estate sale, or from someone who has given it to me. I strip them bare, which is something a lot of companies don’t do; many reuse the old parts. I start assembling the seat by stretching webbing on the bottom. On top of that I eight-way hand-tie coil springs then cover them with burlap. Next, I hand sew the horsehair into the chair and add a few layers of thick cotton. Muslin is then added to shape the seat. Last, I cover everything with 100% wool and then the final fabric. The only thing left at that point is to sew the cushions, which I have sewn for me.
Still learning: The 4 week course and the internship at BDDW taught me the basics, like how to 8-way hand-tie coil springs (an old world technique), but I’m still learning my craft. Every chair is different, and every arm presents a new challenge. I learn every day.
Mentor: I met Michael at BDDW; he was hired to teach employees how to upholster. Although we no longer work together I still call him for help. “Michael, how do I do this?” is how the conversation starts, and he’ll say, “Okay, if you’re looking at the arm upside down, turn this, and then pull that really tight.” I’ll get off the phone and think, “Okaayyyy…”
Famous and favorite client: One of my favorite customers is Tea Leoni, the actress. She is fearless and bold in her designs. I was able to experiment with a lot of fabrics and techniques I wouldn’t normally have the chance to. We put oil paintings by Sandra Hoffman on her dining room chairs and had custom fabrics hand painted for her sofas.
Sourcing fabrics:Mood Fabrics! My designs are inspired by fashion; I try to “dress” my chairs and push the boundaries. On one chair, I used a chalkboard on the back and on another, an oil painting. My goal is to make customers want to reach out and touch my chairs. A lot of the fabrics I use have texture or interesting hand-cut velvets, burnouts, etc. I also buy fabric at the Marketplace Design Center in Philadelphia. They carry exquisite fabrics.
What do you still want to learn? I want to learn how to sew! When I’m in Mood and I see the silks, all I want to do is make a pair of silk pajamas. I’ve learned to make a double welt, and slowly but surely, I’ll learn how to sew.
What is the future of Wild Chairy? I don’t know. I come to work because I have a passion, and I trust that this will take me to the place where I want to go.
Now to the giveaway… for one reader, Andrea is offering approximately 2 yards of 100% organic cotton by Mod Green Pod. It’s a canvas weight, but could be used for a jacket, a Colette Cooper, or a Grainline Studio Portside. You’d be traveling in style if you made one of the last two. To enter, like both Madalynne and Wild Chairy’s Facebook page. For an additional/optional entry, follow Madalynne on Bloglovin. After, leave a comment with your method of entry and contact information included. A winner will be chosen at random on Monday, February 24th, when they’ll be contacted and featured on the blog. Good luck!