New fashion exhibit in NYC has Folkwear connection

By Molly Hamilton
on March 12, 2017

New fashion exhibit in NYC has Folkwear connection

It seems like the 1960s and 70s are “in” right now.  There has been a renewed interest in the era of free love, peace movements, and the creativity that sprang from youth of the time, especially around fashion. The 1960s and 1970s were known for the renewed and creative use of traditional textile craft such as embroidery, applique, dying, and crochet in clothing to create unique and colorful garments.  There is a great article in this month's Vanity Fair about the summer of 1967 and its impact on fashion and culture in America - the era from which Folkwear sprang (note: link only show pictures from article, you must be a subscriber to read the article).

This month a new exhibit called “Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion in American Counterculture” opened at the Museum of Art and Design in New York City.  This exhibition was organized by Bellevue Arts Museum, Bellevue, Washington, and curated by Guest Curator Michael Cepress.  And, Folkwear has a connection to it!

One of the original Folkwear dresses is in the collection on display.  Alexandra Jacopetti Hart, one of the founders of Folkwear designed and created the dress when creating the Afghan Nomad Dress (#107) pattern when they founded the company in the mid 1970s. 

#107 Afghan Nomad Dress

Folkwear's #107 Afghan Nomad Dress on exhibit at the NY MAD Counter-Couture exhibit.  Made by Alexandra Hart.

If you want to check out the exhibit, click on any of the links below and you will see great photos of the garments on display - and learn quite a bit more about the period and fashion.  See if you can spot Folkwear’s Afghan Nomad Dress!  Bonus if you can find a version of the Gaza Dress (#101) in there too!

Exhibit is open until August 10, 2017

Links to view exhibit (if you can't make it to NYC):

Exhibition Link Online with photos of the installation:

New York Times Video:

Womenswear Daily:

Arts Summary - A Visual Tour:


Accessories Magazine:

The History of Folkwear

By Molly Hamilton
on March 10, 2017

Founders of Folkwear - from Fiber Arts Magazine

The History of Folkwear
In the mid-1970s, three California women, Barbara Garvey, Alexandra (Jacopetti) Hart, and Ann Wainwright, founded Folkwear to share their passion for finely crafted ethnic clothing with other lovers of fiber and fabric. The garments they collected during travels to other countries served as models for the earliest Folkwear patterns, including #101 Gaza Dress and #106 Turkish Coat. As the three began collecting vintage garments in addition to ethnic, the pattern line expanded to include all types of historic styles from all around the world.

 Photo from Fiber Arts Magazine

The three founders were a perfect team to create a line of innovative patterns that was revolutionary for its time—this was the mid 1970s when women's wear in America was bland and conservative. Ann was trained in the fashion trade and was the company's pattern maker, Alexandra was an embroidery aficionado and researched all the embellishment techniques featured in the patterns, and Barbara was particularly interested in preserving traditional and vintage garments as a basis for contemporary creative inspiration.

During the recession of the mid-1980s, Folkwear's business health suffered along with so many other small businesses. The company was sold to The Taunton Press, publisher of Threads magazine, and by the early 1990s most of the original patterns were back in print and new patterns were under development.

In 1998, Taunton decided to focus on its core book/magazine publishing business and sold the Folkwear division to Lark Books, publisher of Fiberarts magazine and assorted craft books, located in Asheville, North Carolina. Kate Mathews, former Fiberarts editor and author of several Lark sewing titles, was hired to manage Folkwear. She was familiar with Folkwear, having sewn with the patterns since their beginning and having sold them in her weaving and fiber supply store in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the 1970s.

 Kate Mathews in an article for the Asheville Citizen Times in 2009.


So many different types of people use Folkwear patterns. There are historic re-enactors, Renaissance Faire participants, theater costume designers, and lovers of creative art-to-wear. Residents of historic neighborhoods and members of antique auto clubs use the patterns to dress to the appropriate historic period for their annual events. Folks who adopt children from other countries use the patterns to teach the little ones about their native cultures. Swing, tango, and ballroom dancers love to use the patterns for their passion. Living history museums and Universal Studios dress their staff in Folkwear patterns. The The male actors in the first television episode of The Lonesome Dove all wore a Folkwear pattern (#204 Missouri River Boatman's Shirt). Different patterns have been used in monasteries, Buddhist ashrams, and in children's hospitals (worn by traditionally-costumed Santas). There has even been a custom seamstress who made Folkwear's Victorian patterns in sheer and transparent fabrics for the adult entertainment industry. From theme weddings (Scottish, 1920s, and Japanese) to everyday wear that is more interesting than jeans and tee-shirts, Folkwear offers the perfect pattern.

In 2002, Mathews purchased the Folkwear pattern division. Folkwear became, yet again, an independent, woman-owned firm, just like it was in its earliest days. Mathews ran Folkwear for 14 years, adding many new patterns to the collection.  Folkwear was sold in late 2016 to Molly Hamilton, a young woman and fellow sewer, in Asheville who currently owns and runs the company.  Through it all, the company has retained a loyal group of fans who keep the passion for vintage and ethnic garments alive!  And, Gretchen Schields has continued to illustrate nearly all of the patterns since the inception of the company until 2017, contributing to the iconic images associated with Folkwear patterns.


 -- written by Kate Mathews - fiber artist, sewer, weaver, and former owner of Folkwear