October 2009


As the mother of three young girls and a designer of clothing for girls, I spend a huge part of my day immersed in the childhood world of girls. So when my customers started complaining a few years back that they were having trouble finding great clothes for boys and wanted me to design some, I first told them to check out the great stuff for boys designed by my friend Carol at Kid Brother, and then I started thinking about creating some clothing for boys. I knew that flowers and pink would be out of the question, of course, but I didn’t realize how strongly social constraints affect parents of boys when shopping for clothing. Now, one year after designing my first small collection of boys’ tees and pants (see images below), I remain fascinated by the fact that parents are quite adventurous when dressing their girls, and often conservative when dressing their boys.

Boys Clothing by Red Thread Fall 2008

The thing that stumps me the most is bias against colours, which I perceive as mostly gender-neutral. Why is blue a more masculine colour than red or purple? Why are bright colours considered more appropriate for girls than boys? Why are dots less masculine than stripes? I know it’s not always an individual choice; social norms strongly influence our decisions about what’s appropriate. But why, at a time of life (let’s say age 0-2) when boys and girls are indistinguishable with their pants on, show no gender preferences for colours or toys, and are completely unaffected by peer pressure, do we care so much about making them look masculine or feminine?

Freelance writer Wendy Norris wrote in a recent article “One would hope after decades of social progress in the workplace, at school and home that the gender stratification of toy stores, clothing racks and extra-curricular activities would be relegated to the dustbin of history. Not so. And according to some experts in cultural studies and biology the influences that perpetuate gender stereotypes are as pervasive as ever.”

I don’t mean to sound confrontational – I’m asking these questions because I’m genuinely curious about these things. Nor do I claim to be a more enlightened parent than most; I didn’t plan it this way, but my house contains far more dolls than trucks (we tried trucks, but they were rarely pulled out of the toy bin, squished under the crushing weight of the barbies and glittery dress-up clothes).  And when I do the laundry, I separate the loads into whites, darks, and pinks. I wish I could say that wasn’t true, but the ubiquity of pink is hard to avoid if you have girls.

To my customers, I have this to say: I promise to create beautiful clothing for your children that celebrates many different colours. My prints and colours are exuberant because I love the joy that vibrant colour conveys and because children have exuberant spirits that should be celebrated. And to my customers with young boys, I want you to know that I love and appreciate boys too. I’m working on some new designs just for you, which you’ll be able to see in about a week. And I love feedback, so please don’t keep your opinions to yourself.

Even though I mostly design clothing, many of the fabrics I use are meant for quilting. Quilting cottons are very high quality textiles, very washable, and they come in a vast array of prints, some fabulous, many not so fabulous. Sometimes searching for great prints is a frustrating endeavor – I’m very picky. But when I find something I love, it’s exciting. So when the opportunity came up for me to attend Quilt Market last weekend, a huge trade show in the U.S. devoted to quilting fabrics, I jumped at the chance. I flew to Houston and went straight to the show, where I spent two days in blissful surrender to the largest amount of fabric I’ve ever seen in one place in my entire life.

I ordered wild linen prints from Japan, gorgeous buttons made in Germany, French trims, and a lot of great cotton prints for next year’s designs. But the most exciting part of the show was something I didn’t expect at all – I got to meet some of my favourite fabric designers, and to tell them how much I love working with their designs.  Here’s a picture of me with Amy Butler (you can also see a bit of her gorgeous booth):

Amy Butler and me

I’m also a huge fan of Anna Maria Horner – I love almost everything she designs. Here’s a glimpse inside her booth at her newest fabrics:

Anna Maria Horner Booth detail

It doesn’t get much more gorgeous than that… with fabrics like these to work with, I’m looking forward to a great year ahead.

to the busiest month of my year. With the One of a Kind Show only a month away and fall/winter production in full swing, this probably is not the best time for me to start a new blog.  But the creative flurry of this time of year is both stressful and stimulating – what better time to start sharing with my customers and friends some of the pressures, joys, and inspiring moments in the life of Red Thread.

My very first retail show was the Spring One of a Kind Show in Toronto, in March 2005. I made 100 dresses with the help of my very good friend Mel, cutting them on my kitchen table and sewing in a tiny back bedroom.  Every dress was a labour of love, and as the show opened on the first day I was overcome by insecurity – would anyone like my work? Had the past several months of toil been for nothing? Within the first 2 minutes of the show I had my very first customer, who later became a good friend (what a nice coincidence!). Soon there were others, and as I continued to do the show, my customers grew exponentially, as did interest from boutiques and the press. Nearly five years later, my dresses are sold across Canada and in some shops in the U.S., and many of my earliest customers are still with me. Their loyalty and support drives me to constantly search for fabulous new fabrics and design more functional and beautiful clothing for the children in their lives.  It’s a demanding, creative job, and I love it.