A pattern for life: Kayla Kennington opens Silverton studio

November 2011 Posted in Business, People

By Brenna WiegandKayla Kennington creates designer clothing.

Colorful, ornate, intricate, original, theatrical, otherworldly… Kayla Kennington’s clothing tends to enthrall.

For more than 30 years, Kennington has been creating one-of-a-kind silk clothing and showpieces for galleries, individual clients, competitions and shows. In her 35-year career, she has hand-dyed the silk that has been used in more than 3,000 original outfits.

The Bay Area native has custom-created clothing for the likes of musician Stevie Nicks and author Amy Tan, given lectures, trunk shows, retreats and workshops, authored many articles and exhibited in galleries and appeared on television.

Now she has taken up residence in Silverton. “I’ve done a lot of traveling in the last 10 years, nationally and internationally, and I just want to return to my art,” she said. “Soon after getting here I felt – ah, this is home; I could live here forever.”

The First Street three-story brick building rented from Terry Caster, she said, provides the perfect set-up for focusing on her primary loves: her art and teaching it.

The first floor contains her showroom, sales area and teaching space. The second floor, she said, “is my messy art studio,” equipped with washer, dryer and restaurant sink.

“It’s private and I can just focus,” she said. She lives on the top floor.

Kayla Kennington Studio
106 S. First St., Silverton
An Open Studio is the first Saturday
of the month from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m,
with remnants and samples
offered at discount.

Flirt with Fashion Show
6:30 p.m. Nov. 17,
Creekside Grill,
242 S. Water St., Silverton

Creekside Grotto Martini Bar
hosts a fashion show featuring
seven local designers from the
Silverton area: Kayla Kennington,
Genie Stewart, Margaret Jones,
Pam Altree, Sue Bittler,
Nashaba Randall and
Kayrene Kelley.

Tickets, $20, are limited and
include a seat on the runway,
a glass of wine or Flirtini
cocktail and appetizers.

Lori Webb, 503-873-9700

She smiles at the reception Silverton has given her. She has made many friends, including a number of artists, and has given a trunk show at Howard Hinsdale Wine Cellars.

She is working with Ryan Kackley, whose company, CELT, specializes in social media, social capital, sales, marketing and training. Kackley has been assisting Kennington and other local artists in learning the ropes of Internet marketing. The show was merely a suggestion from Connie Hinsdale, she said, until Kackley had her set a date and start making plans.

Silverton resident Jan Jones was duly impressed.

“I think her clothes are beautiful; it just feels really special to wear her stuff,” Jones said. “I enjoy driving by and seeing the displays in her shop window. I don’t sew much anymore, but she makes me want to sew again.”

Kennington sells retail and wholesale worldwide through her Web site; she didn’t come looking for a Silverton clientele.

“But when I came, it was surprising – people want me to be a store, ” Kennington said, adding there’s been a stir about her classes too. “Because of Project Runway (TV show), more young people are wanting to learn how to sew.”

She teaches all levels – Sewing 101 all the way up to master classes.

“In August, I had a master class; a five-day intensive sewing workshop that people came to from all over the country and paid the big bucks for,” she said. “They stayed up at the Garden; I had a gourmet meal for them and it’s a real special treat.

“I want to do that more – and have people come to me,” she said. “For a while I had five 50-pound suitcases to deal with and I was only getting to do what I love maybe 5 percent of the time. I kind of want to hunker down in Silverton and get my creative chops back again.”

Forget about facings, zippers and buttonholes; they don’t exist in Kennington’s self-developed modular sewing method: the pieces consist of squares, rectangles or triangles. The garments lend themselves to unlimited creative potential, while patterns, sold wholesale around the world, are so straightforward, she says, an 11-year-old could follow them.

It all started with her grandma who taught her to sew when she was 4 years old.

“She would get out the black sewing machine and stand me up on a chair as she made me these little outfits,” Kennington said. “One day she asked me if I wanted to learn to sew – my eyes lit up. We went into grandpa’s top drawer and got out two bandana scarves – she called them shop hankies – and she put a Sears catalog on a chair and a couple of phone books on the floor for the foot pedal and showed me: ‘OK, this makes it go … sew from here-to- here.’

“We made seams at the shoulders and sides. I made my first top – and my first modular design.” As she improved, Kennington made Barbie clothes from grandma’s scraps.

“When I was about 11, I saved my babysitting money and bought a pattern. It had all these pieces that I had no idea what they were, like facings, and the instructions were like, ‘OK, put in a zipper – and it was all like this secret code and they don’t really tell you how to do,” Kennington said. “So I wadded up all the pieces I didn’t understand. I got all the big pieces and I just remembered what grandma did and so I kind of invented my own style of sewing. I put in elastic and sometimes ties, but that’s about it. Then when I got the serger, it made a real difference because I invented a new technique of sewing with it. I finish each edge and connect them together. The inside is just as clean as the outside without doing French seams and stuff.

Kennington started her business in 1976 while working as an integrated circuit designer in Silicon Valley, a unique training that has enabled her to engineer complex works of art. She quit the day job in 1985 and went full time.

“Something happens when you take the bold step; when you make that commitment,” she said. “Whatever you can do, just start doing it.” The “genius, power and magic” in boldness, part of her favorite Goethe quote, has produced runway shows, a decade of winning Bernina sewing machines and then promoting them, and best of all, the knowledge that her art makes a difference in people’s lives.

Her most prized possession is her fabric collection, the pieces harder to part with than her finished garments. Each holds such possibility. Using only four different colors of dyes, Kennington can create any color she wants, and the process is what most feeds her artistic soul. Some of her museum quality pieces take 400 hours to create.

When she jumped into the sewing world and started making patterns, writing and teaching, she started going to more practical, less expensive fabrics she could wear while teaching – thereby increasing her potential clientele. Her newest pattern is the “PDX Coat” of Pendleton wool.

The turning point in her career, she said, was designing an outfit for a psychologist who went to war-torn countries to help people with post-traumatic stress syndrome. The woman was concerned about the impression she would make when approaching various governments for permission to visit.

“When she came back she wrote me the nicest card, saying that she was perceived just the way she wanted to be and that she was able to communicate effectively in the various cultures. She said somebody told her, ‘I knew the minute you came in you were the perfect person to help us.’ It put me in a place where I acknowledged I have an important role in this world – even though it is fashion design,” she said.

“When you inspire people, it’s a big deal.”

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