A lifelong passion for needle and thread has led local entrepreneur Juliette Cowall in a new direction. Past endeavors have included 20 years as an editor, publishing Grand Gardens magazine in the 2000s, and certifications as a master composter and cannabis specialist. She continues to work as a marketing professional through her own firm, Guided Communications. Today, when not ensuring a client’s website places first in a Google search, her start-up, By Juliette, breathes new life into heirloom garments and textiles.
“My tag-line is ‘Stitching generations together.’ What I do, I take garments that have sentimental value, like wedding dresses or military uniforms, and create something new from them,” Cowall says. “I get them out of the closet and back into people’s lives.”
For example, three siblings had their grandfather’s century-old, Soo Woolen Mills’ red-plaid wool hunting clothes in storage. Last fall, they commissioned Cowall to transform the jacket and three pairs of pants into a messenger bag, knitting tote, two pillows, two Christmas stockings, a lap robe, and a cell phone tote to share among them.
Another customer brought Cowall her late grandmother’s chenille bedspread. As a child, she had spent summers at her grandmother’s home and took naps on the bedspread with her. Cowall turned it into a cozy bathrobe.
“It was sitting in a closet and she didn’t want to let it go. Now, she gets to have her grandma wrap her arms around her every day,” Cowall says. “Sometimes, the family knows what they want and sometimes, I get to be creative.”
As one of nine children, Cowall learned from a mother who spent a great deal of time mending and repurposing garments for the family. Cowall began sewing her own clothes as a teenager—and estimates that 60 percent of her current wardrobe is homemade. She sets Mondays aside for mending, guaranteeing customers that, no matter when they get a mending job to her during the week, she’ll have it back to them on Tuesday. Since launching By Juliette, she has sewn wedding dresses into satchels and ring-bearer cushions, t-shirts into quilts, and men’s shirts into bib aprons.
“The aprons are great for a family who has lost a grandfather or father. Most men have a collection of button front shirts. I cut the sleeves and back off and add ties. Everyone in the family can now have an apron,” she says. “Those same shirts, I use the sleeves for little totes.”
Cowall starts every new project off with a conversation about the garment. What is it? How old is it? What is the customer’s idea for its repurpose?
“Most of the time they have their own ideas,” Cowall says. “You just never know what people are going to hang onto—and what we can do with them.”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Juliette Cowall