Art. Conservation. Love.
That, and dope jackets.
Dre McLeod gives you plenty of reasons to be down with her work at Too Legit to Quilt, the brand she fashioned in 2012 out of a want to create customized, wearable art for her new city—all without contributing to the waste fast fashion is becoming increasingly infamous for. She also donates 10 percent of all proceeds to local charity orgs—which is where the Love comes in. (We appreciate a good MC Hammer pun, too).
Dre does wall hangings and, of course, quilts, but it’s her big, bold patchwork that grabbed our eye, and made us eager to learn more about a brand being built—literally—on the backs of Columbus.
When did you start sewing? Who taught you?
I started sewing when I was 15. I inherited my great-grandmother’s sewing machine and my grandmother taught me how to use it! After creating my own projects as a teenager (including very crude handbags I used to sell to classmates and teachers in my high school), I honed my skills when I was studying Fashion Design at Savannah College of Art and Design.
Your work is unique! Tell us about how you started with applique.
I started making quilts in 2008. I had become enamored with textiles after working with them at SCAD and quilts were an accessible way to work with them. Quilts eventually evolved into layered textile-collage wall hangings, which eventually evolved into the applique patches
I make now.
Please describe your process, from acquiring materials, to designing and making, to selling.
It’s really important to me to use repurposed/upcycled textiles and clothing. All of the fabric I use is secondhand and vintage or from thrifted upholstery, clothing, tablecloths, curtains, you name it. Patches are sewn onto secondhand or vintage jackets only. I usually marinate on new designs for a while before putting them into production, sometimes for as long as six months to a year. Each symbol or design has its own time, and it usually speaks to me when it’s ready to be created. When it’s time to release a new patch or design, I usually only make a few to test the waters. Sometimes I’m not sure if it will resonate with people the way it does with me, and that’s a really important part of my relationship to my buyers. I’m not just trying to produce things that will sell to the masses… these are meaningful symbols that should be worn with intention and if they don’t speak to people, there’s no reason to keep making them!
What brought you to Columbus?
I grew up in West Virginia and I moved back there as a “pit stop” (after being gone for nine years) while I decided what my next move would be. I had considered grad school in Holland, or possibly New York, or maybe back to California where I lived for five years. My best friend, who I met at SCAD, was living in Columbus working for Abercrombie & Fitch and visiting her was such a quick and easy drive from West Virginia, so I was in Columbus nearly every month. I ended up making lots of friends and eventually vending at markets and pop-ups every now and then. I realized how supportive and encouraging the people of Columbus were and I was trying to build a career as a self-employed artist. It seemed so accessible and I felt so welcomed here, it just made sense to make it
How do you feel about Columbus compared to other cities where you’ve worked and lived?
I’ve lived in big cities and small ones, and I love the excitement and amenities of big cities, but they can sometimes feel daunting. You have to plan your entire day around just trying to commute or run errands. And as a creative, it’s easy to feel like you could get lost in the mix. Columbus is a city, but it’s not overwhelming or unattainable. It’s not so big that I feel like my talent gets lost, but instead feels like it’s part of a community. It’s more like my creative contributions are part of a collaboration with the city rather than a competition for attention.
What’s it like being a maker, and working for yourself?
Being a maker is so wonderful. I think anytime a person can fulfill their calling, or make a career out of what they love, it’s an absolutely wonderful, freeing, and indescribable feeling. But it just feels so right, you know? Working for myself is tough, and can be stressful, but it’s so different from the stress I’ve felt at any other job. I would feel stress at other jobs because I was doing something I hated, or wasn’t following what I thought were silly rules, or because I was bored, or because I would much rather have been making. It’s only stressful now because I have to work a lot—but i’m working for me! I’m not working to make someone else’s dreams come true, and I’m building something, which is such a beautiful thing. Any stress I feel now is far, far outweighed by the complete joy and freedom it brings me.
Why jackets, primarily?
Working with jackets just kind of happened organically, but I feel like jackets are a real staple piece of most peoples’ wardrobes and are usually pieces that we hold onto for a really long time. There’s a lot of waste with old clothing, of throwing out old stuff that we get tired of, but jackets are usually lifelong friends that stick around, and that promotes the ideas [of] conservation and sustainability, [which] I strive to promote with what I do.
Tell us about your designs! What is your inspiration?
I’m really inspired by symbolism and that’s where I get most of my ideas. There are many symbols that span cultures and I love researching the cross-cultural meanings of them. And ultimately, I choose which symbols to use based on where I am in my journey. It’s all therapy for me, really. Trying to navigate the human experience can sometimes feel weird and difficult. I choose symbols and ideas that remind me how to deal with life, how to thrive at being a human, and that help me to feel empowered. And I try to create things I know will resonate with and help empower other people too, because really, we’re all in the same boat. We all deal with the same emotions even if we express them differently and even when our experiences or perspectives might be different. So my work is therapy for me, but in the end my intention is to share it with other people who will love it and resonate with it, too.
For more information, visit toolegittoquilt.com or follow @toolegittoquilt on Instagram. Check out McLeod’s work at her booth at the Columbus Flea on October 7th.