Original Austin Monthly article here.
The Fort Lonesome studio in the Zilker neighborhood whirs with activity. As Paula Cole’s “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” plays on the stereo, four industrial vintage Singer sewing machines purr. One woman sews a silver jacket at a frenetic pace while her colleagues stitch patches and a tapestry. In the center of the studio is a petite woman, Kathie Sever, 43, who sketches designs at a large table. Sever founded this hand-cranked chain-stitching operation in 2013 after putting aside Ramonster, her Western wear line for children, after 13 years. Since then, she’s designed custom-made shirts for Bill Murray, Jimmy Kimmel and Richard Linklater in a style reminiscent of the famous rhinestone suits tailored by Nudie Cohn.
As timing would have it, the loose and loopy sewing technique of chain-stitching is having a moment, Sever says, thanks to the rise in popularity of Western wear and motorcycle culture. Now musicians such as Jenny Lewis and Nikki Lane go to Sever for their stage outfits. “It’s been funny to watch all of that happen after doing it for 15 years, and now all of a sudden it’s a thing people know about,” Sever says.
To make each one-of-a-kind item, the process begins with a conversation about the client’s aesthetic. In Lane’s case, the musician gives the designer “free rein.” “She’ll send me photos of things she loves, and I’ll use that as a vibeto play around with,” Sever says. A sketch and a palette is then shown to the client for feedback, and the design is stitched after a final drawing is laid out on the garment.
Having custom “flash” put on a ready-made item can take a few hours to a few days, but a custom garment, which requires taking measurements and selecting fabrics, can take up to a week and a half. (A bespoke garment starts at $600.) No matter what the work, it’s a labor of love, even if it took a while to catch on. “Nobody ever knew what chain stitching was,” Sever says. “People knew what Western wear was, but very few cared about it.” Now, everyone does.