Julie Steller’s beautiful up-cycled mittens, bags, and denim jackets will be at Ingebretsen’s, along with the textile artist herself, this Saturday, October 27 from 1 to 4. The very best way to appreciate the beauty and warmth of Julie’s work is to try on a mitten, examine a wool bag, and look at each unique denim jacket with Swedish braid trim. Join us Saturday to see a variety of Julie’s offerings. Be sure to make time to watch Jock Holmen, the Norwegian Termite, create his exceptional acanthus wood carvings at the main store.
“I do redemptive work,” Julie Steller laughs. And redeem she does – wool sweaters that have become too snug or have a snag that the owner just doesn’t want to repair, underappreciated wool scarves, blouses with big, eye-catching buttons – all find a new home and new life with Julie. The sweaters become handbags and mittens, the buttons adorn both, and Swedish braid give fresh color and dimension to denim jackets. For Julie, one of the joys of her business is that she is working with beauty every day. “These materials deserve to be repurposed,” she says.
Julie started her business, Steller Handcrafted Goods, ten years ago in her Elliott Park home. She bought a pair of mittens made from recycled sweaters. Julie was captivated by them and decided to learn to make that kind of mitten herself. “The first tries were a bit “iffy”, but I kept making and tweaking and getting input from sewing friends. Over time I came up with the pattern we now use,” she says.
The “we” to which Julie refers are the 15 craftswomen who now work with her to individually produce the mittens, purses, jackets, cowls, vests, and other clothing she sells. “Our lives have become woven together,” Julie says of her team. “It began with a friend with whom I sewed costumes with when our children were in a homeschool Shakespeare group together, then grew through word of mouth,” she says. The common denominator among the women is their love of skilled work. “We love the art and beauty of our products, not just their usefulness,” says Julie.
Making a pair of up-cycled mittens is a multi-step process. It begins with foraging for the sweaters. This part is handled by the owner of a vintage clothing store with a keen eye for quality. She finds the top-quality sweaters needed.
The sweater is deconstructed, cleaned, sanitized, and hung to dry. Julie then begins looking at the sweater components and groups the pieces of woolen fabric that will go into each pair of mittens. Next, the cutting, sewing, and lining is completed. After that, Julie finds the buttons and hang tabs that will go with each pair.
The button process alone is time-consuming but engaging. Julie’s studio contains a kaleidoscopic selection of button trays sorted by color. She sets the sewn mittens in a row, then selects the buttons that will decorate the cuff. Watching Julie, it is clear that she thoroughly enjoys trying contrasting buttons vs. matching ones, the big and bold vs. the small discreet accents, smooth vs. textured. Once she makes a decision, the mittens and buttons are bagged, along with a hang tab (another selection process) and sent to the finisher.
Julie’s family isn’t directly involved in the business that takes up a portion of their home, but they do have thoughts about it. “The Swedish-trim dog collars was the suggestion of one of my daughters and they have just taken off,” says Julie. She says her children, all adults now, are “good sports” and will always help in a pinch, as does her husband. “He’s my biggest cheerleader,” she says.
Steller Handcrafted Goods is growing and Julie now sells to retailers in 16 different states. “Ingebretsen’s is a big part of the story,” she says, “When Julie Ingebretsen bought my mittens, it really felt like a milestone. It was exciting to see that she believed in the product.”
It is easy to believe in quality, beauty, and repurposing.