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Portrait of A Seamstress + Illustrator: Chelsey

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I commend women who not just know exactly what they want to do, but are doing it. Living and breathing their vision, whatever it may be. Too many wander, wondering what the hell they’re going to do with their lives. Some are brave to seek their future while others think their future will capture them. Chelsey Totten is a dear friend of mine. We work together, and started our careers around the same time. I began just 6 months before her. When it comes to travel, she for sure is a wanderer. Flying out west to Cali or jetting off to Asia to visit factories for work, she’s all over the place. For as free spirited as she is, she has been on a straight, set path since she was very young. Using her own words, she has always known what she wanted to do and there is has never been anything else she’s wanted to be.

Chelsey drew the fashion sketches for Sierra and Nina/Noelle/Nicole. If you’re in need of an illustrator, she is currently taking on clients. Email her here!

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TELL US YOUR STORY

Hi, my name is Chelsey Totten and I was born in South Korea, but was adopted and grew up in Arizona. My biological mother was a factory worker. I learned how to sew from my grandmother. She was a stay at home mom and a seamstress by hobby. She had a Brother, a Singer and a treadle machine. I vividly remember her getting her finger stuck in the treadle machine once. A sewing horror story many of us have experienced.

My mother was an artist and that’s where I learned how to draw. We would look at paper dolls in pattern books and magazines and create our own illustration. I liked the fact that what I drew, I could make. My mom still has some of those drawings back home.

I lived in a very town in the woods and attended a small grade school. With a population of about 1500, I was the only Asian person and was bullied for looking different. It was an awful experience, but it made me realize that I wanted to do more with my life – draw and design. I’ve always known that this is what I was meant to do. There has never been anything else I’ve wanted to be.

I attended an arts high school in the valley, which is the desert portion of Phoenix, and my classes included fashion design, drawing, painting and ceramic. After graduating, I moved to New York City to attend the only school I applied to, FIT. I was only 17-years-old. It was extremely competitive. I learned a lot and knew that the opportunities after would be great. Five years ago, I moved to Philadelphia to work for Anthropologie. I began as an intern and didn’t know if I would become permanent. Luckily, I did and I am now the designer for casual wash wovens – outwear, jackets, pants, shorts, skirts and denim.

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MENTORS

My parents. During high school, my parents owned an art gallery, which sold all different types of art. What you found there, you couldn’t find anywhere else. Seeing their appreciation for different mediums, aesthetics, and artists taught be to find pretty in the unconventional. To figure out what I like, not just follow what the masses like. Also, my parents don’t have a normal relationship. They have always lived separately, yet despite the distance, they love each other unconditionally. That’s inspiring considering they’re not on social media.

MY EXPERIENCE WORKING AS A DESIGNER

It’s been an organic experience. I’ve learned so much and am still learning. The biggest learning curve has been balancing creativity with organization. Working in a corporate setting, it’s all about the team. The more organized and thought out your design, the easier it is for your team to see the vision and succeed.

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IS THERE ANYTHING YOU’VE HAVEN’T BEEN CERTAIN ABOUT?

Love. Because my parents don’t have a traditional relationship and because my life has been unconventional, I wonder what love is. I haven’t found that person who is on my same level, who has an equally wild lifestyle as I do.

DESIGNING FOR YOURSELF VERSUS DESIGNING FOR HER

When I’m designing, I don’t think about myself. I think about her – the customer. This might seem odd because most home sewers make things for themselves, so they think about how clothes will flatter them. For me, I want to make the customer feel special and beautiful.

FAVORITE THING YOU’VE DESIGNED

My favorite piece is actually in stores right now. It’s the Shimmer Sleeve Anorak. It’s an unusual take on a classic shape. I own it.

WHAT SEWING MACHINES DO YOU HAVE?

I sew mostly at work and for work, but personally, I have two basic Singer machines – a straight stitch and an overlock. Nothing special, nothing fancy. I believe you don’t need a super fancy, high-end, expensive machine. Good thread, the right needle, and balanced tension – that’s what you need.

I also have an industrial overlock machine that was given to me by a former mentor. She used it as décor and I use it the same.

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WHAT IS YOUR AESTHETIC?

In both my clothing and in my lifestyle, I’m bohemian femme. I’m eclectic, organic and love to travel. I attribute the last to my dad, a world traveler who always wondered the next place he was going to visit.

FAVORITE ILLUSTRATOR

Steven Stipelman. He was the fashion illustrator for Women’s Wear Daily and my teacher in college. I helped him on the third edition of his book, Illustrating Fashion: Concept to Creation. I made his fabric mood boards! He taught me how to draw a moving figure; creating a drawing that moves is so much different than drawing a 9 head figure.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR APARTMENT

When I’m bored or have a lot of energy at night, I paint the walls. This is why I keep my floors bare. I use all mediums – brushes, scrubs for cleaning dishes, and my hands. There is no science to the type of paint I use or how I paint. I just paint. I also have drawings from artist friends and a lot of rare odds and ends I’ve collected from different people and places.

WHAT’S NEXT?

It’s definitely a new chapter for my life. I recently resigned with no set plan. I will be moving soon. Don’t know where yet, but I know I need to be closer to my family. It’s the bohemian in me.

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4 Comments

  1. Reply

    Carol in Denver

    Wow, what a gal! Courage, creativity, independent thinker. I wish her well.

  2. Reply

    nicki

    She’s the kind of person anyone would just love to hang out with! Thank you so much for sharing this story. Very inspirational. Hope we hear more about you in the future.

  3. Reply

    lisa

    Does Chelsey have a blog?

    • Reply

      maddie

      She does not 🙁

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