Get Stitched: Needlewoman and Entrepreneur Katrina Lynn Upcycles and Creates One-of-a-Kind Fashions
Milwaukee needlewoman and fiber artist Katrina Lynn creates original fashions out of upcycled materials, including quilts. After returning to a practice of sewing from her childhood, in the last several years Lynn has gone from some-time maker to fulltime creative entrepreneur. I spoke with her about her brand Get Stitched, the satisfaction she feels from doing her part to keep materials out of landfills and working in community, her dreams for the future, and her advice to aspiring creative entrepreneurs.
Tell me about your creative trajectory and how you came to launch Get Stitched.
Katrina: Career-wise, I kind of belly flopped into this a couple of years ago. I've been sewing all of my life—my grandma taught me how to sew when I was really little. I made my first quilt when I was eight years old, sewing on the oldest sewing machine in history. But I stopped sewing for a while when I worked in the service industry, and kind of got caught up in all of that; I partied a lot. And then in 2018, I got really sick. And when you stare mortality in the face, you make some serious decisions. And I thought, if I don't start making again now, I never will. I was the GM at Boone and Crockett for almost eight years, and then when I was laid off during the pandemic, I was like, “All right, well, it's now or never.” I was doing commissioned quilts and I used to make my own clothes back in high school. I started making clothes again, and everybody was like, “Oh, my God, like, that coat is amazing,” or, you know, “Those pants, where did you get those?” People were really excited about it. And that's when I started to realize that people really, really love clothes. And I love making them and have so many vintage textiles. I use a lot of different things like bed sheets and pillowcases and quilts with rips and stains. I fix them up and breathe new life into them. Today, I still do a lot of custom work. When they're like “I love this!” that's definitely the best part about my job.
When someone asks about Get Stitched, how do you describe your brand?
K: I call it my fiber art brand, if I have to put a name to it. But I often say I'm a “needle woman.” I kind of do all sorts of different things. Quilting was my original passion and then, I came to make clothes. Sometimes if I'm feeling fancy, I'll call myself a “clothier.” But I generally go by the term “needle woman,” which is a really old-fashioned term, because I think it matches what I do really well, because I use so many vintage materials. But not a lot of people know what that is. So usually, I'll just tell people that I make clothes and upcycle materials.
Tell me more about what working with vintage garments and textiles means to you.
K: I've always loved vintage clothes. We didn't have a lot of money growing up, so we would always go to thrift stores. Back in the day, it wasn't cool to get secondhand clothes, but that's how I grew up. I went to school for environmental science, and I learned a lot about the amount of materials and clothing and textiles that end up in landfills. There's a lot of waste in the fashion industry, you know, with fast fashion and all of that. I'm able to take an old pair of pillowcases that have a couple of stains on them and somebody was gonna throw away. I'll take those and I'll work around the stains and I'll breathe new life into these things that otherwise would be garbage. To be able to save those pieces means a lot to me, the recycling aspect. The only real things that I buy that are new are needles for my sewing machine. All of the buttons that I use are all vintage—everything is repurposed. To be able to keep clothes out of landfills, that's what's most important to me.
Do you accept donations of textiles and clothes from folks?
K: Yeah absolutely—I'll totally look through it. I can make you something out of something! I can always do trade, and I buy things from people. And I think that's a really good way to collect materials. Because a lot of people don't know what to do with their stuff. And they'll dump it at Goodwill or something, and I'm like, “No, give it to me—I'll use that!”
You've spoken about the significance of materials, upcycling, and sewing, but what does fashion itself mean to you?
K: Comfort. I'm all about comfy/cozy. I love pajamas and loungewear, and so to give people the ability to be able to wear bedding is kind of perfect for me. My slogan is “dress like you never got out of bed.” With my clothes, you're wearing your grandma's quilt around and I just think that's really cool to be able to be comfy and cozy wherever you go … but it's also cute.
You're now a few years into officially working for yourself within your own small business—what are some of your entrepreneurial goals?
K: I have this vision of me having this tiny little storefront. Having an open studio where people can come and shop, while I'm just working. Right now, I do a lot of stuff through social media, which is not my best friend. There's a love-hate relationship there. But it's been really successful. So, I keep on keeping on. But I definitely would love to have that tiny little storefront and live above it. That's my ultimate goal.
I want to progress a bit more in my abilities as well; I want to learn some new techniques. I'm kind of still figuring out what I enjoy making, because the whole point of this is to enjoy it, to be happy, to do what I love doing. I'm still trying to figure out what my niche is and what my brand is: who am I and what do I stand for? And I'm coming up with a business statement but am still working it out. I love to make everything and I feel like I gotta find that one thing that defines my business and my brand.
What advice would you give to someone who's a few steps behind you? Someone who is thinking “I think I want to be a creative entrepreneur. I live in Milwaukee; it feels accessible, and I can see other people doing it. But can I do it?” What specific advice would you give to those folks?
K: It is accessible, if you really, really want it. I think that's the most important thing is you is you really have to want to do what you are going to do.
You know, being a business owner is terrifying. Some days really suck. There are some months that really suck, but it's so incredibly rewarding to be able to be your own boss, make your own schedule, to do whatever you want. It's really freeing. And to be able to just do it, I think, is really brave, and I think everybody who wants to do it should just do it.
That's how I was as a manager in the service industry. That was my way of teaching—tossing you in the fire. Just go do it and figure it out! If financially you can't do it at first, you know, just do a lot of it in your spare time. And if it becomes something that you just really, really want to do all the time, then just do it. It'll work itself out. Going into this, that was my biggest fear. But it just happened one thing at a time, and it just naturally all came together.
Is there anyone who really inspired you to take the leap?
K: My grandma. She's my best friend. She was essentially the woman who raised me. She's been a quilter all her life. She taught me how to sew; she is my number one fan and my hugest support. She actually does a lot of collaborations with me. She's got a giant long-arm quilting machine. So she can do these beautiful patterns on quilts and stuff. And I'll send her materials and she'll sew her little heart out and she'll send them back to me and I make coats out of them. Then I go and see her twice a year, and she'll come out here and we just sew all the time. And we send each other pictures of what we're working on. And then my partner as well—Andrew—he is just the most supportive most nonjudgmental partner. He's always like, “Babe, you got this!” and “You're amazing and badass." And he'll share comments he's gotten on clothes he wears that I've made. He knows how to cheer me up during those down days. So he and my grandma are my rocks.
At Imagine, we have the (imaginary) power to make you the leader of Milwaukee's Arts and Culture—but only for a few minutes. If you became the leader of Milwaukee's arts and culture, what would be your first order of business?
K: Being an artist who is also a part of the community is really important. There's somebody who's really inspiring to me. Her name's Vanessa Devaki Andrew. She goes by Madam Chino and does sewing lessons and holds open sewing classes. I think that being a part of the community and being creative with people that you might not know is really, really rewarding. The most rewarding part of my job is working with other people. So I think I'd make that mandatory: that you would have to do some sort of art within your community. Not community service, per se, but some sort of art for the community—whether you do something visual in a park, or you do some sort of installation or you even open up your studio to a class or something. I would make that mandatory—a public art arm of whatever your creative endeavor is.
Is there anything else you'd like to convey to readers about Get Stitched?
K: It took me a really long time to get here, and I never ever thought that this is where I would end up. But I just love it. I finally found who I am … it's my purpose in life. I've never been this happy.
If you have a passion, be brave and just do it. Starting Get Stitched was the best decision I ever made.
Contact Katrina to learn more about her custom work, or inquire about donating materials at email@example.com, or follow her on Instagram @getstitchedmke.
All images courtesy of Get Stitched.