I first met Christine Haynes, a Los Angeles-based fashion designer, when I took a sewing class from her. Haynes regularly teaches garment construction here in Santa Monica, and she’s an amazing teacher with an infectious laugh. Her philosophy about sewing is that if it’s not fun, why do it?
Haynes grew up in the small town of Saugatuck, Mich. Located on Lake Michigan, Saugatuck’s scenery includes orchards, farmland, and sand dunes. Cool breezes blow in summer, and winter brings snow to this town with just over a thousand residents.
During the arts and crafts movement of the late 19th century, Saugatuck became an art colony. Proponents of the arts and crafts movement, a reaction to the industrial revolution, believed that soulless machines, while having the ability to mass produce items with efficiency and affordability, threatened individuality and creativity. The movement influenced art, architecture, and woodworking, and placed the craftsperson in high esteem. Today, Saugatuck is filled with galleries and artists, and is a destination for tourists.
“I wouldn’t be who I am if I didn’t grow up in Saugatuck. Plain and simple,” said Haynes. “It is an open and creative place where we could thrive and think for ourselves.”
As a little girl, Haynes ran and played in the acres of land behind her house, swam in Lake Michigan and sunbathed on its shore, and took lessons in piano, ballet, and painting. “It was an idyllic place to be a kid,” said Haynes.
Looking at Haynes’s designs, online or in boutiques around the world, you’ll notice a beautiful simplicity, innocence, and optimism — gingham check, small polka dots, Peter Pan collars, a bow here, a ruffle there, a dress for a picnic, a dress for the garden, vintage-inspired fabric, circle skirts, seersucker. A Saugatuck childhood.
“According to my mom, I apparently loved those plastic sewing cards with the big needles and yarn when I was very little. Perhaps that was my first entrance into sewing!” jokes Haynes, who first learned to sew from her mother.
At 13, Haynes asked for help making a long, white, cotton skirt. “It was a horrible choice that looked ridiculous once assembled and so I never finished it,” said Haynes. “After that, I don’t really remember sewing for myself until my senior year in high school, when I bought my first overlock serger and fell in love with it.”
(Today’s craftsperson understands that an overlock serger is not a soulless machine, but a magnificent tool that simultaneously cuts and stitches, preventing woven fabric from unraveling. And who could resist falling in love with that?)
Haynes spent her 20s in Michigan and Colorado, learning what she wanted from life. She made her own clothes, she says “as a means to an end, as I wanted fun, stylish outfits, and no money to buy them. So, I had to learn to make them myself!”
At 28, she decided to study at School of the Art Institute in Chicago. “I inquired about the fashion program, but I decided not to pursue it as it was the only program that was regimented and I wanted to be free to take any studio classes I wanted,” said Haynes. “You do not have to choose a major at SAIC, which was half the reason I selected that school in the first place and couldn’t fathom being tied down to a scheduled education.”
Haynes learned to work with fibers, film, photography, sculpture and video. After graduation, she collaborated with her then husband, a metalsmith who also worked with plastic, wood, rubber, and leather, to create “wearable art.”
“Somehow with all that, we made things for people to buy and wear, but it wasn’t exactly practical or mainstream,” said Haynes. “At some point along the way it became a business, and more specifically, my business, and my designs became more and more classic.”
Earlier this year, Haynes’s first book “Chic & Simple Sewing” was published. The book comes with pattern pieces that can be mixed and matched to construct 23 projects, and, I can tell you from experience, the projects are absolutely doable for a beginner seamstress … or, should I say, a craftswoman-in-training?
Mariel Howsepian digs black coffee, fairy tales and a man in coveralls. She lives in Santa Monica and can be reached at Mariel_Rodriguez@antiochla.edu.