Chain Stitching Stories with Fort Lonesome

Austin never ceases to amaze me with its talented residents. I feel so fortunate to live in a city so full of creativity and innovation, and for the opportunity to get to meet many of them. I had heard of Fort Lonesome through several friends and a couple of weeks ago had the chance to visit the studio where they make their one-of-a-kind garments featuring custom chain stitch embroidery. It was late afternoon, and the rain had stopped but the moisture hung heavily in the warm air. The scent of palo santo and the sounds of Leon Bridges welcomed me into the studio behind a bright red house in South Austin. Here, Kathie and the Fort Lonesome crew were busy working away within the brightly painted orange and grass green walls. I snapped away while they worked, my eyes jumping around faster than my shutter could click, taking in all of the colorful details – spools of thread in a rainbow of colors, patches piled up, denim shirts waiting to be folded.

Founded in 2000 by Kathie Sever, Fort Lonesome represents a return to specialized craftsmanship and attention to detail. Each piece they work on is a labor of love and a collaboration with the individual who will wear it and treasure it forever. The beauty and detail of their designs are truly breathtaking – Kathie and her team can take a regular item like a denim jacket and turn it into a unique heirloom to be passed down across generations for years to come. Read on for an interview with Kathie and to see more photos from the Fort Lonesome studio in Austin!

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How long have you been doing chain stitch embroidery, and how did you first get into it?

I’ve worked with several iterations of embroidery — hand and machine — but I’ve been experimenting with chain-stitching machines for around ten or eleven years. I bought my first machine from Jenny Hart of Sublime Stitching, who offered to sell me one that she had bought and hoped to learn to use, but never found the time. After I moved the machine to my studio, it took me many years of self-teaching to figure out the machine, as there were no readily available resources at the time for learning how to use it.

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For someone who isn’t familiar, can you explain what chain stitching is?

Chain-stitching, the way we do it, is done by vintage machines that are directed by hand as you stitch using a steering-wheel like gear that is located under the machine — it’s very much like drawing, if you can imagine drawing upside-down and backwards.

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Where did the name Ft. Lonesome come from?

Lonesome is a word that I feel holds a special energetic magic. Most of us recognize it as representational of the feeling of being alone — possibly even lonely — but also free. Lonesome acknowledges universal longing, while simultaneously celebrating one’s autonomy.  I most powerfully felt this while living in Montana, where I worked on a ranch for several seasons. It was a lonesome time, but I was so fed by the space and sky and distance between myself and what at the time felt like the rest of the world.

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I love that you collaborate with customers to create special one of a kind pieces. Do you have any particular favorite projects you’ve worked on lately?

We whipped up a little short-shorts and shirt duo for Nikki Lane recently that we were all pretty smitten with.

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(Photo via Ft. Lonesome on Instagram)

Is there anyone in particular who you’d love to design a piece for or work with?

Rufus Wainwright is a shop Idol, and we think he’d look smashing in a Ft. Lonesome suit.

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What are some of your favorite albums to listen to while you’re working?

The machines are loud, and there are often three or four running at a time, so it gets loud in here and drowns out background noise. But we love ’90s country, Rufus, Sufjan Stevens, Beck, Gram Parsons, Lyle Lovett, Anais Mitchell… and Beyonce.

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Who are some of your personal favorite artists?

I love Mel Kadel and Susan Rothenberg — they’re the first to pop into my head for visual stuff. I’m a big fan of my husband, Matt the Electrician and we’ve got the phenomenally talented Dana Falconberry on team Ft Lonesome… there’s really just too many to list!

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What do you love most about living in Austin?

Sometimes it takes leaving Austin for me to appreciate how uniquely collaborative this town is. People here really are more likely to want to connect than compete.

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Any exciting projects coming up that you can tell us about?

We’re excited to be giving our website a fairly massive overhaul and making our process more understandable and accessible to people. Our goal is to inspire folks to collaboratively create something with us that becomes a treasured heirloom.

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Check out Fort Lonesome online and follow them on Instagram! 

Follow Julia on Instagram.

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6 years ago

Beautiful designs! I love this look on denim – it looks like something Jenny Lewis would wear for sure. The roses are my favorite!

Warm Regards,

6 years ago

Great passion :) I love the results of it!

6 years ago

Love your story and pictures. I have 3 Singer 114W103 machines. Use to use them a lot. Gave it up for a bit now I’m trying to get back into it. I use to be a part of a very active Yahoo chain stitching group where Jerry Lee was the moderator. Just found out the group is dead now. Trying to find another outlet for networking. Any ideas?

5 years ago

Great story! I’m working with a chain stitch machine myself and find it rather difficult to get any information about this topic. So thank you very much.
Best wishes from Europe,

Vicki Brodrick
4 years ago

Hi, I have recently purchased a consew 104-1T chainstitch and i am having difficulty getting any info on it. So may I ask how do you stitch on fabric without it puckering? Needle? Backing? Thanks, Vicki