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How Ft. Lonesome Is Reviving Chain Stitch Embroidery

Ft. Lonesome is in the business of creating one-of-a-kind denim the old-fashion way. The Austin, Texas-based chain stitch collective founded by Katie Sever has garnered a cult following for its original storytelling artwork, nostalgic designs and for shining a spotlight to domestic embroidery.

Signature designs include Western florals and landscapes, travel-inspired patches and portraits of dogs.

Ft. Lonesome sells chain stitched apparel, accessories and patches online, and takes on one-off commissioned pieces, offering a complete hand-made custom clothing experience from sketch to stitch. The collective has also been tapped by brands for on-site chain stitching for events, branding and signage and to develop designs for wholesale and bulk orders. The group has an ongoing relationship with Madewell that Sever says has been beneficial to both sides of the party.

“[Madewell] invested a lot in our growth, and have shown a rare understanding and willingness to work with our scale that is not often seen in the more corporate side of this business,” she explained.

Rivet spoke to Sever about the boom in chain stitch embroidery and what’s next for customized denim.

RIVET: How did you learn chain stitch embroidery?
Sever: I started chain-stitching around 10 or so years ago, after a friend of mine sold me her machine. I’d been making western wear for quite a while, and she knew the role chain stitch embroidery played in the evolution of western design. She was unfamiliar with how to work the machine, however, and so I inherited a machine—with no training to go along with it—which slowed my ability to incorporate its usage into my work for a while.

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RIVET: Is chain-stitching a lost art?
Sever: I feel as though it absolutely was a lost art. However, in the last few years I’ve watched dozens of new artisans pop up. There has been a trendiness around western wear, motorcycle culture and other embroidery-heavy fashion aesthetics.

RIVET: What are some of the sources of inspiration for your designs?
Sever: Nudie Cohn—for obvious reasons—but I trained as an oil painter in college and my team is full of talented artists with a wide range of aesthetic interests, so we’re also inspired by West Texas, by Georgia O’Keefe, by the Sierra Nevada mountain range, by contemporary pop culture.

RIVET: Is the bulk of your business brand work or from individuals who want to customize their denim?
Sever: It’s about half and half, I’d say. We love doing custom work for clients, but we also love developing relationships with other companies and brands who are looking to us to act as technicians. I feel that working on both platforms creates a more diverse and sustainable business plan.

: What are the most frequent design requests?
Sever: I think people come to us now primarily for nature-themed work. We get a lot of requests for psychedelic stuff, too, 70s inspired designs.

RIVET: Where do you see custom denim going? Do you think designs are becoming more elaborate or personal?
Sever: Both more elaborate and more personal. We’re still working with denim quite a bit, but we’re really interested in pursuing paradigms out of the embroidered denim realm.