Catbird Spotlight: By Liv Handmade
Leigh, Catbird's creative director, discovered her store a little over a year ago on a ritual stop for sweets at Fortunatos Bakery, which is right next door. By Liv Handmade is a tiny storefront on Manhattan Ave in Williamsburg, with tin walls and a tin ceiling - a tiny treasure trove filled with vintage dresses, lace collars, hand-knit balaclavas, hand-dyed silk pillow cases, and sooo much more (including kids clothes!).
Liv's shop dog Lexi will be the first to greet you, and trust us when we say - you will come for the clothes, and will stay much longer than intended because of Lexi.
Tell us about yourself and how you came to be a fashion designer
I actually have a pretty unconventional beginning story to how I ended up where I am as I never went to fashion school, or even took one single sewing lesson. Pre-pandemic I was an Early Childhood Educator, and had a very hard time finding clothing comfortable enough to teach in but still stylish enough to wear outside the classroom. I got a sewing machine on a whim and after much trial and error began making very simple “smock dresses” from recycled bedsheets, they were on trend, comfortable, and very low cost to make. My teacher friends and students parents encouraged me to pursue this in my free time, but I never really had the time to develop a whole collection or work on a real “brand” and was happy just making dresses for me. Once the pandemic hit and I was teaching remotely, I was suddenly able to nurture my sewing and by golly I was unstoppable! At a point I was making multiple dresses per day, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them but sewing gave me a purpose at such a confusing time in life and most importantly, it made me happy. I used to describe the feeling of finishing a dress as the same feeling I got when one of my students had the “ahha moment” where what I was teaching them finally clicked. I started stocking my creations at a few shops, made myself a website, and voi la! By Liv was born. She was a pandemic baby that blossomed into my dream career, though I do miss teaching every day, this is the path that I’m supposed to be on for now and I couldn’t be happier.
We love the idea of giving materials a second life – all of our brilliant cut diamonds and most of our gold is completely recycled! Can you tell us how you upcycle the fabrics you work with and where you source them from?
Everything I create is made from recycled material mostly consisting of table cloths, table runners, doilies, curtains, upholstery scraps etc. The pieces I use are almost always deemed unusable due to small imperfections such as stains and holes. My process consists of cutting around or repairing these imperfections, and giving these sage textiles new life by turning them into wearable art!
I source a lot of my material from antique stores and estate sales upstate, as well as prop houses for film and tv. A lot of the time, the textiles will kind of “create themselves” based off of the placement of the imperfections, which means that I never use patterns, my creative process is very “improv” since I have to work these repairs into the garment. I feel this process makes each piece so much more unique, and much like Catbird’s recycling process, leaves an entire “past life” in a brand new creation. This is something very special that you don’t get with most garments and jewels, you’re adding to an already existing story.
What was your first vintage purchase?
Coming from a family of creatives with a knack for thrifting, I was basically born in vintage clothing, but I do remember the first vintage purchase I made independently. It was a long white Victorian Lawn Dress, I had to hand sew it so it would fit me properly, a skill that my mother taught me as soon as my fine motor skills developed. I wore it for so many years, taking a few stitches out each time I grew. I actually still have the dress, it has been hand repaired so many times through the years, I wore it to death! Now it hangs on the wall in my bedroom, too fragile to wear but very pretty to look at.
Describe your style in three words.
Seasonless, Delicate, Layered
Who are your style icons?
My style icons have always and will always be Little New Yorkers. I used to get my best design feedback from my 5 year old students, and still take notes when I see stylish little ones out and about. I singlehandedly owe my layering skills to my 4 year old self, and thank her each and every time I get dressed.
Please tell us a little bit about Lexi, your faithful assistant. We can’t get enough of her!
I cant get enough of her either! We are literally glued at the hip, I bring her everywhere with me and she is the best shop dog a gal could ask for. She has even trained herself to sit on my excess fabric as I cut, acting as a fabric weight, she’s brilliant.
Lexi and I met in May of 2021, I was sitting at my sewing machine in my shop making a dress for myself to wear for the night of festivities planned ahead. I was actually in the midst of chatting with a customer when I glanced out the window and saw Lexi walking with her foster brother Porky, and her foster mother. She caught my eye and I caught hers as she jumped up on my window display, it was in that moment that I saw her bright yellow adopt me leash and it was game over. I politely pardoned myself from my conversation and rushed outside, literally wearing half of a dress over my existing outfit. (I try pieces on multiple times as I make them)
I basically ambushed the three of them, but Lexi and I hit it off instantly. I walked away from the interaction thinking that her foster mother must have thought I was a complete nut, but that was far from the case as we brought our little lady home the following week. Her adoption anniversary actually falls on my partner and I’s anniversary as well! This year we will be celebrating 5 years together and 1 year with our little lady Lexi.
What are your favorite places around Williamsburg?
My ideal Williamsburg day starts with a simple deli coffee, then I jet off to Stella Dallas, my go-to “treat yourself” shopping spot. My wardrobe still consists of mostly Victorian Lawn Dresses and they have racks and racks full! Then I make my way over to Catbird to ogle at all of the beautiful jewels and pick up a tin of Louis Sherry Chocolates, not only are they the best chocolates in the world, but the tins are a staple in every aspect of my life. I must have well over 15 of them at this point, they are perfect for storing little sewing notions like buttons and pins and zippers and things. Then I stroll over to Nitehawk Cinema to watch whatever my filmmaker friends tell me to see while scarfing down a burger and a spiked root beer float. Once the film is over I hop on the L and head back to Bushwick to snuggle with Lexi and eat a log of goat cheese on my couch.