Merchant spotlight: Sew Down Goods

Sew Down is the collaborative project of twin sisters Jessalyn Bernhofer and Sarah Pottle to promote sustainable, creative design of functional objects. All of the products in the sisters’ shop are meant to showcase the beauty and unpredictability of our environment.

No sibling rivalry here: both Jessalyn and Sarah sew and upholster, though they organically fell into their specific roles within the collaboration. Sarah is the weaver and Jessalyn is the dyer.

“It’s really great working both together and apart,” says Jessalyn. “We are constantly learning from each other. It makes the collaboration really special.”

“Sew Down” is a nod to both sewing/textiles, as well as “sow,” as in sowing seeds.Because Jessalyn and Sarah forage or grow many of their own botanicals used in the dyeing process, they wanted their shop name to be connected to that natural environment. Jessalyn and Sarah are “so down” for even the most challenging process, enjoying all of the steps, not just the end result.

Though the twins are both full-time English teachers, they were searching for a tangible creative outlet. Working with their hands seems to be in their genes, from a grandfather who was a carpenter and furniture-making hobbyist to a father who owned a concrete company and built houses. Even their respective partners are in the trades.

About three years ago when Jessalyn ripped apart her first chair, she and Sarah had their Eureka! moment.

Sarah and I decided that this is where our creative element could be found: upholstery! I remember, almost every person we told about our new venture was like, ‘so, you want to reupholster furniture… I don’t get it.’ It did sound out-of-the-blue. But it was so fun having a product that we could use after all of our hard work, and it felt good knowing that we saved another chair from a landfill.

Jessalyn and Sarah realized that the sustainable measures they take in their personal lives should also be adopted into their company policy. They began to make their own textiles, trying their best to use locally sourced or made-in-the-USA undyed, organic fabrics that they could then hand-dye with foraged or grown botanicals.

We are just as much in love with the process of making any of our items as we are with the end result. Each piece has its own unique story to tell.

Jessalyn and Sarah’s inspiration comes from natural elements. Some of their favorite dyes have been red cabbage, which makes a pretty, steely light blue, and osage orange heartwood, a really awesome mustard yellow color.  

If you go outside and look at all of the colors—I mean REALLY look—you’ll see shades you’ve never noticed before. The coolest part is that all of the colors in nature complement each other!

Sew Down has also found inspiration in people like Maura Ambrose from Folk Fibers in Austin and Leland Duck from Revive Designs in Portland.

Of all the pieces Sew Down currently has in Redeux, Jessalyn counts two among her favorites: the logwood bench and the indigo chair.

The logwood bench was dyed a deep purple with bark of a logwood tree. We rebuilt the frame, reused some mid-century modern legs and button-tufted the top. On the other hand, the indigo chair is SO COMFY. We hand-dyed each panel in a different indigo bath and used a marbling effect to create dimension. We button-tufted the inside back, and also embroidered a subtle design on the back of the chair. We also sanded the frame to create a more natural look.

All of the fabric used in these projects is organic—grown and woven in the USA. In addition to the furniture, I also think all of Sarah’s weavings are stellar. She’s modest, though.

Jessalyn thinks a store like Reduex is exactly what York needs.

Redeux kind of functions as an incubator for small businesses who don’t necessarily have the inventory or the start-up funds to open their own brick-and-mortar. It’s also a way to connect people; I’m already so inspired by the other unique vendors at Redeux!

For Sew Down, Jessalyn and Sarah are always looking for old chairs and furniture that have good bones but damaged upholstery. They’d also love to partner with local farms as a source for wool and dye matter.  

Jessalyn and Sarah believe in the slow process over the quick and cheap. To learn more about that process, visit their website. You can also Like them on Facebook and follow them on Instagram: @sewdown.