The Underfashion Club held a members get-together on Thursday, May 9th at Slattery’s Midtown Pub featuring “Weaving a Career Path,” a presentation by Whitney Crutchfield. She shared the story of her career and journey towards creating her own business, We Gather, an educational textile studio! We Gather “shares the magic of textiles” in three ways: Hands-on workshops (weaving, dying, stitching), DIY kits that bring the textile learning to you, and commission art and public installations.
Whitney’s professional history has connections to the intimates industry. She’s always had a passion for textiles, beginning as a kid sewing quilts and Barbie™ clothes. Her father was a small business owner in golf and her mother was a teacher; both had some influence on her work today. Whitney learned how to weave and dye at the Art University of Michigan as an undergrad, then moved on to get an MFA with a concentration in textile studio art at Colorado State University. Her focus was on screen printing and repeat designs.
After school, Whitney moved to NYC and dabbled in different practices, taking on many jobs that she never imagined herself doing. She worked in designer projects for editorials and books, designed an apron for Stitch Magazine, did needle point projects for a book, interned for the Martha Stewart editorial crafts department, did paper crafting for QBC and HSN, and more. One of her strangest projects (for a photo shoot,) involved stitching a napkin for 14 hours that ended up under a salad.
Whitney spent a year in residence at the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn where she continued to focus on designing and screen printing fabrics meant for interiors. She had a studio at the center where she taught workshops in her areas of expertise, getting her first introduction to the professional world. During one of her classes, she met someone who happened to be the head of the print and pattern department at Aerie. They kept in touch and that contact let her know when there was a department opening. It was a fantastic opportunity and she joined their small but mighty team.
At Aerie, Whitney cherished the opportunity to be around like-minded professionals. She learned so much, coming from the arts into fashion and apparel. She worked across many categories and products — anywhere from designing a print repeat in digital format to learning how to create a pattern and knit stitches for socks, scarves, accessories, and more. She also made prints and patterns for cotton undies and designed laces.
The technical knowledge she gained during her three years at Aerie gave her a new approach to integrate into her passion for hand-made works, which she would make into her very own business. Aerie gave her enormous support in this decision, helping her move forward. Through her entire career, Whitney continued to teach workshops and fervently desired to teach more hands-on techniques like weaving and dying.
Whitney wanted to start a business in a compassionate, sustainable way regarding scaling and growth. She started in her apartment as a product-based business, where she dyed yarns and would weave them into pieces that were ready to buy. She made rugs, blankets, pillows, and her own inventions with a goal to make products that lasted. She practiced techniques that have been used for thousands of years, wanting the pieces to be memorable. Soon, the practice moved into studios in Brooklyn as she steadily and sustainably upgraded her workspace. Eventually, she went into craft fairs and other markets to share her work.
Research and dye techniques were important to her as she attempted to scale up from hands-on work responsibly. Weaving and dying has been done for tens of thousands of years, so there’s a plethora of information and alternative techniques to take into consideration. Her practice honors traditions while also making space for new approaches.
One of the main branches of We Gather provides workshops that promote creativity. Being informed through research strengthens her ability to provide expert instruction. Whitney teaches these workshops in studios, even traveling for them. It amazes her what people learn and reveal about themselves while being around others in a creative environment. It’s an enriching experience to get people out of their usual context to do something new.
Flexibility is key to the evolution of products and the way they are presented to customers. We Gather offers mail-in kits with materials and instructions, ready to make anywhere. These flexible approaches helped the business grow and got Whitney some press, which was especially exciting as a one-woman business.
Balance is needed in making good, responsible business decisions. Whitney makes an effort to support social good when choosing where to purchase from. The pros and cons of recycled packaging and natural vs. fiber reactive dyes are considerations she takes into account for what she offers her students and customers.
Whitney also makes commissioned home goods, like baby blankets, woven wall hangings for custom spaces, and public installations. One of We Gather’s public installations features looms and woven textiles hanging on the wall of a 63-foot long hallway. This interactive piece has decals that give instructions on how to weave, which gave people in nearby offices the option to take a break to go observe the art, learn to weave, and add their own bit of artwork to the piece. The public installation loom was brought up to the Bronx and left in an art space where other people could add to it.
We Gather tries to create the least amount of waste in the world as possible. For example, Whitney takes leftover flowers and weaves them into sculptures with yarn, which are both compostable. Her wildflower workshop has been very popular. Recently, she did one with a group of Aerie women, where she felt like her career came full circle. It was a delight to bring her passion back to those supportive people from her professional past.
Community is an essential part of We Gather’s mission. Whitney gives free workshops, never ceasing to be amazed by how demeanor changes when people realize they can make things with their own hands. The group art made in We Gather workshops are auctioned or donated to organizations of mutual choosing. These community events are ongoing! The magic of new learners discovering their creative ability and the stories shared bring the community together and keep We Gather going.
See photos from the event on Facebook!