Photos & Story by Debra Hasbrouck
It’s not often you find someone who creates an extensive variety of items that are unique, high-quality, attractive and useful…plus does it all with repurposed goods. Local artist Jennifer Guthrie of Pine Blossoms, uses up-cycled material to make pillows, purses, wallets, plush animals, scarves, pin cushions, coasters and much more. Purses are one of her most popular items and it’s easy to see why—they are beautiful, well-made, functional, light weight and very stylish.
Jennifer started sewing at a young age and worked at a fabric store in high school. She grew up wearing clothing that was handmade by her mom. “They were beautiful and I got to pick out my own fabric and patterns,” she said. “I appreciate it now, but as a kid, I hated wearing homemade clothes.” Thrift stores are where Jennifer finds most of her material and she gets very creative in bringing new life to second-hand stuff. Over the years she has made various items such as angels from embroidered linens and plush bears out of old fur coats.“I’ve always been crafty and enjoy making my own things. While my kids were young I could work part time, selling my creations in gift shops and doing craft shows.” A few years ago she decided that she wanted to make a hooked wool rug so she gathered “tons” of used wool clothing. “It didn’t work out,” Jennifer laughed. “In fact it was awful.”
That left her with the dilemma of how to utilize her collection of wool material. She started by making a few purses, adding handmade appliqué and machine embroidery for distinctive accents. Over time she came up with many new ideas for using her wool cache.
The repurposing process starts by cutting apart the clothing, so that she has flat pieces of fabric to work with. Jennifer looks for little details to make her creations unique. She saves buttons, pockets and labels to incorporate into the finished product. While I was there she was working on a suit jacket that had a label from Ireland. “It’s neat to see where the wool comes from,” Jennifer said. “Sometimes I even find vintage labels.”
Her next step is to wash the fabric pieces. Laundering not only cleans the material, but it “felts” the wool. Washing wool in warm or hot water and drying it with heat, tangles and compacts the fibers, making the fabric dense and soft. Jennifer explained that felted wool won’t fray and is easy to work with.
“It has the texture of felt, so it’s almost like doing kid’s crafts.” Jennifer then interfaces all the material, giving the fabric more body, strength and structure. Each handbag she creates is unique. Using the felted wool, she cuts out flowers, leaves, birds and other objects as appliqué pieces. “I love woodsy things…pine needles, bark, wildflowers, moss and pine cones,” she said. “The name Pine Blossoms represents where I live and find inspiration. I see my repurposed goods as what blooms for me as I live among the pines and oaks.”
Jennifer calls herself an “opportunistic” sewer, using details that are already there, such as suit pockets, labels, buttons or parts of a tie. I watched as she arranged the pieces for a purse. “As I lay it out I let it flow. I might put piping as a stem here with leaves or feel like it needs a flower there.”
The results are truly exceptional. One of her latest ventures was to make elegant pillows inspired by the flowers in Ireland and from coats that were wool, cashmere, camel’s wool and mohair. However her favorite project is to design new plush animals.
“I like to make animals that live here and have fun figuring out how to create them, especially the face.”
Jennifer thinks there are endless possibilities when people consider alternative sources. Even her sewing machine wasn’t purchased new. “People always ask if have an industrial sewing machine. But I use one that I got at a thrift store for forty dollars.” She smiled. “I make sure that I take care of it and get it serviced in Quincy once a year.”
Jennifer also does special orders using clothing that often has sentimental meaning. She recently made items for a family whose grandfather was an ornithologist. Using one of his suits, she made purses and cut out appliqué birds for accents.
She sells her creations locally at Crescent Country in Crescent Mills and on her website at www.pineblossoms.com. Occasionally she participates in craft shows. You can follow Jennifer on her Facebook page called Pine Blossoms Repurposed Goods, where you can see current projects and message her if you like something. Jennifer will also be part of the Eta Alpha Holiday Craft Fair on December 5, 2016 at the Plumas-Sierra Fairgrounds in Quincy. Check the Pine Blossom Facebook page for other craft shows Jennifer might be attending. Starting November 1, 2016 Jennifer will have items in the holiday pop-up store, Antiques and Artisans, at 503 Main Street in Quincy.