Dziewit was just seven years old when she sat down at her first sewing machine. Now, at 47, her clothing is a hot seller at art fairs throughout the Midwest.
“I was always redesigning things,“ she says of her early start. “If I didn‘t like the bow on a dress, I‘d cut it off.“ And instead of hitting the books at Central Michigan University (a high school counselor urged her to become a teacher, “because that‘s what girls did“), Dziewit worked late into the night in her dorm room, crafting blue jeans into skirts adorned with flower appliques for her classmates.
No, life as a teacher was not meant to be. Instead, she held an assortment of jobs in the clothing industry, from alterations to custom-painted clothes. Eight years ago, she began turning China-imported silk into unique jackets, tops and skirts. Now she buys 50-yard reams of off-white crinkle and bubble silks and dyes it with overlays of color. She also works with silk organza, cutting the gossamer-sheer fabric into tiny leaves and flowers and stitching it into collars and cuffs.
“Silk allows me to do some really unusual clothing,“ she says. “It‘s really unlimited what you can do with it.“
But silk isn‘t the only fabric she works with. There are wool Army jacket and pant liners, circa 1950s, that she buys from a Texas auction-goer. The jackets are dyed and embellished with vintage buttons, while the pants are cut up and crafted into patchwork coats.
“The only reason these still exist is because the Army allots only a certain amount for auction each year,“ she explains. “I just bought the last of the pants that I know of, but that doesn‘t mean I won‘t find more. That‘s part of the challenge!“
The wools come to her in a natural color with a green silk lining, which takes on the tint of the dye color. Although you might think of wool as a heavy fabric, it actually has a chenille-like, terry cloth texture. “The jackets breathe well because of the fabric content and the pile of the wool,“ she notes. “They‘d probably feel too warm in the summer, but for the other three seasons, they‘re perfect.“
You‘ll find Dziewit‘s custom clothing -- which sells for $90 to $400 -- at Hepburn Holt Designs in Glen Arbor, as well as art fairs throughout the Midwest this summer, including Suttons Bay, Petoskey, Midland, East Lansing, and Birmingham.
“I love art fairs,“ she says. “I love being part of the energy of the customers. When they‘re really high on the work, that fuels me.“
Photo leah sewing: Leah Dziewit has a gorgeous view of the Leelanau County countryside from her sewing design studio near Maple City.
Wanna Start Your Own Business? Five Tips from Leah:
1. Take time to dream. Dziewit uses the winters to mull over designs, then kicks her production into high gear once spring approaches. “I get it all figured out in my mind before I start taking the steps to make it happen,“ she says. “I used to be afraid of that, but now I understand how important it is and I‘ve come to accept it. You have to understand that it‘s all part of what you‘re going to produce.“
2. Feed the fire. Dziewit just returned from a blues festival in Florida and says she seeks out things that fuel her spirit. “Being around all that energy helps me in my work,“ she says. “I‘ve learned you have to fill yourself up with good food, good music, all the things you need to be creative. I‘ve learned the hard way by not filling the well, and it makes a big difference.“
3.Thwart procrastination. It‘s tough owning a business, but one thing that keeps her going is the memory of all the jobs she‘s held doing alterations and waiting tables. “I need to have the joy of creating and doing my own work,“ she says. “If I‘m not being productive, I start having weird dreams that I‘m doing something else. This is a self-motivated business and what you put in, you
4. Create a great workspace. Dziewit‘s basement studio is filled with light from three large windows facing the woods on her 5-acre Maple City spread. Four sewing machines occupy one area, and she also has a dye area, cutting area, and unbelievable amounts of colored wool stacked on shelves on the walls. “It‘s not a glamorous studio like some people have,“ she laughs. “It‘s a very user-friendly, practical studio.“
5. Follow your dreams, but keep an eye on the trends. On a plane ride recently, she sat next to a designer who suggested that intense, bright colors will be hot this year. “I think it‘s just another distraction from everything going on in the world,“ says Dziewit. “We‘ve got enough things to feel bleak about, and people can really feel the energy from color.“
To learn more, call (231) 228-6683. Look for Leah Artware at the upcoming “From Women‘s Hands“ show at the Heritage Center in Traverse City.