A Visit with Kate Mathews of Folkwear Patterns

If you were sewing in the late 1970s, then you were probably as emamoured with Folkwear as I was.  This small pattern company was founded by three women in 1976, and from the beginning did not produce your run-of-the-mill patterns.  No, Folkwear made patterns for the world traveler in all of us:  the Syrian Dress, the Nepali Blouse, the Tibetan Panel Coat, the Bolivian Milkmaid’s Blouse.  And as the company grew, the owners added historic styles gleaned from their collections of vintage clothing.

I was recently surprised to learn that the company is now located, literally in my backyard, in Barnardsville, NC.  And when I emailed the owner, Kate Mathews, last week, she graciously invited me up for a visit.  (Actually I invited myself, and she was nice enough to say yes!)

Kate came to own Folkwear by way of Lark books, which she and her ex-husband had founded in Asheville.  Lark bought Folkwear in 1998, and Kate managed it.  In 2002 she bought the company, and most likely saved it from disappearing , as Lark was sold to a major book distributing company which had no interest in the independent pattern business.

When Kate bought the company, she also got many of the original garments on which the Folkwear designs are based.  A good example is this dress:

The original 1940s dress is on the left, and a sample made from the Folkwear pattern is on the right.  Here is the catalog description for this design:

Above illustration copyright Folkwear

I really should have taken a back view photo, as the gathering around the dropped waistline is just beautiful in both dresses.  Note:  See all those books behind the dresses?  That just a part of Kate’s clothing history library.

I really don’t know a lot about ethnic clothing, but I do know quality work, and so seeing some of the originals on which the patterns were based was a real treat.  And then there are the sample room.  Racks and racks of great clothing made from the patterns.  It was interesting seeing how different sewers interpreted the designs in totally diffferent ways.

And that’s what sewing is all about really, isn’t it?

The newest release to the Folkwear line will be a 1917 hat, the Metropolitian.  The samples were out, getting ready to be photographed for the website.

If you sew, you really should visit the Folkwear site.  Be sure to browse the photo gallery and be inspired by garments sewn by Folkwear pattern users. You can order Folkwear patterns from the site, or check to see if they are sold in a store near you.


Posted by Joules:

I’m a Folkwear Patterns fan! I still have some around here someplace. Lizzie, what an adventure, to meet Kate, and to see all of this fabulosity. Good going!

Thursday, January 7th 2010 @ 6:57 PM

Posted by Anonymous:

I LOVE folkwear patterns, Thanks Lizzie for posting this fabulous interview. Can’t wait to see the hat pattern!

Thursday, January 7th 2010 @ 7:57 PM

Posted by Maggie:

I ADORE Folkwear patterns, and started buying and sewing with them in the 70s. I have made many and have always been thrilled with the results. My most recent creation was about a month ago, making the women’s hippari jacket for my aunt. It came out beautifully as ever!

Bravi Lizzie and Kate!

Thursday, January 7th 2010 @ 8:11 PM

Posted by Lizzie:

I’m glad to hear that so many of you are also Folkwear fans. I would have guessed as much!

In the small world department, as it turns out, Kate and I have a friend in common. This friend worked at Lark with Kate, and I taught her two sons. She was one of my all-time favorite parents in 28 years in the classroom.

Saturday, January 9th 2010 @ 4:37 PM

Posted by Miranda:

Thank you for bringing attention to Folkwear. I started selling their patterns in 1976 when I opened a fiber shop in Evanston, Illinois. I made each pattern as they came out. Even though I can no longer wear most of them – 30+ years does add a bit of weight to a woman, I still have them in my collection. Can’t wait to make the hat!

Monday, January 11th 2010 @ 6:43 AM

Posted by Carol:

I made the Kinsale Cloak for my roommate in college, 30 years ago. It is still one of my proudest accomplishments.

Monday, January 11th 2010 @ 5:56 PM

Posted by Jonathan:

I first thing I ever made using a pattern was the Folkwear Regency dress in about 1981.

Tuesday, January 12th 2010 @ 11:16 AM

Posted by Alyssa:

I’m still on the hunt for Folkwear patterns. We catalogued a bunch of them last year in the Commercial Pattern Archive.

Tuesday, January 12th 2010 @ 4:39 PM

Posted by Lizzie:

After looking at the new catalog, there are several of the designs that I’m definitely going to make.

And Kate loves for Folkwear users to email photos of their creations to her so she can add them to her gallery page.

Friday, January 15th 2010 @ 7:54 AM

Posted by Original Mischief:

I’ve never heard of them but it could be because I’m an Aussie. However, I’m off to have a looksee. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Saturday, February 6th 2010 @ 5:42 AM

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