Studio Visit: Tony Chestnut

lisa spiers

tony chestnut

For October, our studio visit is with Jill Sawatzky of Tony Chestnut. Jill primarily makes women's clothing, but she has been known to apply her talents to the odd baby sleeper and wallhanging. Jill's designs are full of textural fabrics, clean lines, and unexpected details. She exudes positivity, and has a confidence that she somehow manifests right into the clothes she makes. It's like magic. I hope you enjoy reading about her process and her work as much as I did. 



Name and business: Jill Sawatzky/tony chestnut

City: Winnipeg

Medium: Fabric/Textiles


Instagram: @tonychestnustdesign 

Tell me about a time in your career where you thought “This is it. It’s happening. I’m doing it"
After I had my first son, I went through a really low time. I was having a hard time connecting to the idea of motherhood, and I felt a horrible combination of sadness and isolation at the idea that my identity had made such a giant shift, and that I had no control over it. I couldn't wrap my brain around this new "me". It was a hard time.
After a particularly hard couple of days, I inexplicably felt led to spend some time in my sewing studio (I hadn't sewn anything in the couple of months since my son was born). I ended up staying awake all night, starting and finishing a sewing project, just reconnecting with my self and my passions. I truly felt as though my creativity and ability to make things, might have saved me a bit that night. At that moment, I knew that I would always have tony chestnut in my life-- in some capacity, whether as a job or a hobby that I had to carve out time for. It's a part of me. I need it to feel complete. 
What are the influences/inspirations for your latest work/collection?
My inspiration for my current collection of clothing is the strong people in my life. My grandparents and mom and dad, primarily-- I'm very inspired by the subconscious, innate influence that they have had on my creative life and how I see things. Many of the direct references for the garments in this collection, are gathered from memories that I have of my childhood... the shapes that my mom wore in the early 90's when she got dressed up for church, the fabric that my grandpa's coveralls were made of when we went to visit him at work, the coat that my dad wore when he carried us around. Good memories of strong people, living humble lives. I've been taking these inspirations and trying to manifest them into garments for the current day strong woman; I like to think that these points of reference, even though they are personal, will translate into making others feel strong and confident in the clothing.
What sort of ideas are you currently interested in?
I'm very interested in androgyny in clothing. I always have been. I feel like every collection I make, I get closer and closer to making the perfect unisex clothing... one day I will just go for it. Until then, I will keep trying to find the perfect marriage of dressing women in menswear inspired clothing/shapes/fabrics, while still keeping them sexy, powerful, and feminine.
What do you listen to most in the studio?
Working long hours alone in a studio, I've learned the music that keeps me going, and keeps me happy. I have a healthy mix of 90's jock jams, and 70's dad music going when I need to get things done. Nothing compliments an MC Hammer breakdown better than a James Taylor ballad :)
When you need a studio break, what do you do?
I'm lucky to work in a great part of the city, just on the edge of the exchange district. So when I need a break I often just go for a walk around the hood. I usually run into a couple of people that I know, and have a nice chat.
I also work right next door to the yellow dog, and I've been known to have a beer or two alone at the bar. I make sure not to bring my phone on these breaks... just a chance to breathe, and not think about responding to emails.
Jill is having a trunk sale along with Sara Clark, Margaret Jane Design, and Commonwealth MFG. It's all happening Oct. 21 from 6-10 pm at Forth (171 McDermot) Winnipeg. It will be GREAT! 
Happy Wednesday.
P.S. All photos in this blog post were taken by Shyle Zacharias. If these photos are looking somewhat familiar, Jill and Sara Clark share a studio space, and Sara's work was featured back in August.

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