January 30, 2017
Repurposing Cashmere Sweaters into Touques
Growing up in a very small town in northern Canada, a majority of our clothes came from the Sears catalogue. If you wanted something other than Sears couture, you had to make it yourself or drive four hours to the closest city. Fortunately, I came from long line of extremely talented knitters, sewers, and crafters. Aside from hockey and curling, you need hobbies to pass the time when living on the tundra. Unfortunately, most of the clothing were acrylic or polyester based. That was beginning of my obsession with only wearing natural fibers. When I moved to Vancouver for college, instead of a used car or apartment furniture, my parents bought me Kenmore sewing machine. Before thrift shopping came about, I would raid my Dad’s closet, gladly acquire roommate’s third generation hand downs, hit up Army & Navy stores, and transform those items to build my eclectic wardrobe. After getting my first professional job, I swore never to make my own clothes ever again. Famous last words.
Fast forward to 2007, when I was lured into a Thursday night sewing group with fellow female computer nerds. The re-entry started cautiously but eventually I was back in the sewing pool feet first. I fully admit to being an A type personality that is constantly dreaming up new projects. One such idea came about while my mom was visiting from Canada. Let’s make mittens and touques (which is Canadian lingo for a winter hat) from old wool sweaters for holiday gifts! This continued for years and would experiment with the various woolens found from local thrift stores like Arc. Mohair and angora – dryer clogging fluff nightmare, merino – warm but still a bit itchy, cashmere – ahhhhh caaaashmere, this is like a cloud of heavenly goodness. Who wouldn’t want a cashmere touque to keep them warm? Even the postman Randy and Brian the drain guy were gifted with cashmere touques. Then one magical day two years ago while shopping with my daughter at a local woman-owned boutique, the cashmere touques became Punchy Magnolia.
The first few months were an insane flurry of cashmere. Sewing machine propped in the dining room amongst piles of felt sweaters to either be cut, sewn, or waiting for the fur adornment. Hiding within the cashmere was a five year old and a German shepherd. By day, I was a UX consultant in New York City and crafting cashmere by night. There were plenty of conference calls and flights that provided the perfect opportunity to get more fur pom-poms made. This past fall, fate presented the opportune timing to step away from consulting and focus primarily on Punchy Magnolia.
Just like many Minnesotans itching for the various hunting and fishing openers, I feel the same about thrift store sales. It’s open season on cashmere. The hunting gear is streamlined – old lady readers and wallet in pocket. No time for idle chitchatting, or the casual browsers, I am on a mission to capture the best and interesting cashmere sweaters. To date the best find was at the Richfield Arc’s Value Village, a gorgeous Italian cream alpine sweater still with tags and in the store bag originally $980 that was marked at $15.99. Not sure who would get rid of a sweater like this, but sure glad they did, and it now has found a new home where it’s lovingly worn.
Punchy Magnolia finds a new sustainable purpose in the most loved and worn cashmere sweaters. The outcome is timelessly beautiful, functionally cozy with a sophisticated playfulness in the creation of luxury outdoor wear and accessories. Every sweater is personally selected, sorted, felt(ed), before the creative process even begins. Since each sweater is unique and due to the felting process, there is no room for automation in the creation of a toque. Likewise, in the making of the fur pom-poms, each piece is carefully selected and hand stitched. This past year, I began working with Minnesota farmers to utilize the coyotes that prey upon their livestock. Making the coyote touques truly 100% Minnesota made. Since the Punchy Magnolia main philosophy is about upcycling, I incorporate upcycling throughout, from using recycled paper for branding to using discarded skis in the product displays.
Terralee is a guest blogger and can often be found hunting for creative craft materials at Arc’s Value Village. Follow her on Instagram @PunchyMagnolia