Before settling in Texas, in 1997, designer (and California native) Kathie Sever worked on a cattle ranch in Montana, where she was taken with the style of the local cowboys. “These rugged, macho guys cared about the crisp, starched edges on their jeans. I loved that dichotomy,” she says. “They would dandy it up a little.” That attitude influences Sever today as she produces Fort Lonesome, her line of custom-embroidered Western wear. Working out of a converted garage at her home in South Austin (which she shares with her husband, singer-songwriter Matt the Electrician, and their two kids), Sever creates tailor-made garments and adorns them with thread masterpieces based on clients’ memories and passions, like a map of someone’s hometown or a portrait of a beloved pet. Her shirts have shown up at film premieres, worn by Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater, and one even makes a brief cameo in the Oscar-nominated film Dallas Buyers Club, sported by Matthew McConaughey. This spring Sever will debut Camp, a limited-edition line of repurposed vintage shirts and jackets to be released in quarterly batches. The first batch features images designed in collaboration with local musician and artist Bob Schneider.
Q&A with Kathie Sever
What’s your family background?
My mother was decidedly un-artsy. She was a math teacher, but she studied home ec in college and was a skilled seamstress. She was really technical. My dad was more of the artistic one; he was super-creative and had a commercial photography studio.
How did you start your clothing line?
I had been a pastry chef, but the hours were weird. So I was trying to figure out how to craft a living with kids, and in 2000 I started Ramonster, a kids’ clothing line. I was trying to do it all—designing, dealing with manufacturing and production—and after a while it just started to fall apart. I was doing more managing than designing, and we had some epic errors in manufacturing. Finally I decided to dramatically downsize so I could just do custom work and get back to focusing on design and drawing and embroidery.
What equipment do you use?
There’s Loretta, an industrial standard straight-stitch sewing machine I’ve had about ten years. Then I have Patsy, Tanya, and Clementine, three vintage Singer chain-stitch embroidery machines. Those three machines allowed me to launch my custom business. I can just do way more with them. But directionally you’re working the embroidery by hand, so it maintains the hand of the maker. It’s completely non-digitized.
Do you listen to music while you work?
I listen to a lot of podcasts, usually baseball-related stuff and This American Life. If it’s music, I like a little bit of everything, especially old country.
Tell me about the Montana ranch you worked on.
I worked there a few years after graduating from art school. I would clean cabins, wash dishes, help with fences, and move horses. There was a strong cultural identity there, and everything was very grounding and pragmatic. Everyone was making things that someone needed, but with a very classic Western aesthetic.
What else inspired Fort Lonesome?
I’ve always been drawn to Americana-type stuff. I’m a fan of Nudie Cohn, a Russian immigrant in Los Angeles who made suits for Dale Evans and Elvis. He really worked this super-flashy movie star/musician thing. So my style is somewhere between that and homespun seventies throwback, like little strawberries and rainbows.
For more information, go to ftlonesome.com.