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The Biography: Kate

By Lotuff Leather

Kate is one of our stitchers, making sure every bag that passes through her hands is impeccably pieced together and sewed. Here, Liz speaks with her about how she found her way to the Ocean State and why she feels this job suits her so well. 

You’re originally from Chicago. What initially brought you to Providence, and eventually Lotuff? 

Well, it was pretty directly the community that brought me here. I had been in a band in college, and when we toured around the New England area, I found that Providence was welcoming, accepting, and enthusiastic. It had the most eccentric show spaces, like old warehouses- it was really the art scene and the openness of the people that drew me in. After I graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago with my printmaking degree, I did a residency in Michigan where I met a student from RISD, so I made a connection with Rhode Island there, too. Before coming out here I knew that one person, but everyone else I just met through the community because of the art and music scene. 

I moved here that first time in February of 2006, and when I was looking for a job, I heard there was a printmaking shop in the area. I worked in that offset shop for six years before deciding I wanted to do something completely different, so I left Providence to work on a farm back in Michigan before moving to New Mexico for five months to work with wolves at a sanctuary, taking care of them. Then I realized I really liked Rhode Island and wanted to come back, so I did, and I did gardening work for a few years before coming to Lotuff. When I started working at the studio, it was totally temporary- I was basically just helping with a project. Once I had been here for a couple of weeks, Lindy asked if I wanted to be trained on stitching. I don’t think she really had any idea if I had any capacity to do that, but we tried it, and a year later I’m still here.

How does working in the leather goods industry compare to working in the printing industry, which is where you were before?

With both, you're working with industrial machinery and you have to have a really specific eye… they’re each very visual things. It feels similar when you’re actually working with and concentrating on those big heavy machines, whether it’s an offset press or sewing machines, so there’s definitely a likeness between them, but the end result is so different. Printing felt much more commercial- I enjoyed printing, but I wasn’t producing art books or anything, just doing newspapers and flyers, whereas the leather goods that I make now are an object. There’s something more lasting about a bag, so it’s nice in that respect to be doing work like this. 

In the year and a half you've been with Lotuff, what have you learned to do, and why do you feel best suited to stitching? 

Pretty much everything. I had no leather experience before this, so I’ve learned to use the sewing machine, and I’ve also just learned techniques in terms of manipulating leather, doing finishing work, turning and burning, and making sure it’s all clean and nice. Those are the two big things; I’ve learned a bit of assembly and cutting, but overall it’s mostly stitching for me. I do have a sewing machine at home, and I used to make clothes and bags, but they were very simply constructed- I had no training at that point. A sewing machine is similar to an offset press and how it functions, but still so different- I feel like I used [my sewing machine] for years without really understanding how it worked, and now I do.

I really like machinery, and stitching feels like the most fully mechanical thing that we do here. I like cars, and I like machines, and I feel like that is all in the same realm of interest for me. I like the industrial design of machinery, and I think I just enjoy that kind of thing, the rhythm of it. I feel very comfortable with stitching, but at the same time it can be intimidating. With the sewing machine, it feels like you’re actually seeing how it all works because there’s visible movement, so it’s more like a printing press. 

Outside of the studio, you occupy your time with things like like painting and landscaping- how have those tactile interests contributed to your work here? 

I think they have everything to do with my work. It’s all visual and physical manipulation, and movement- I don’t do a lot of things that don’t involve that sort of physical activity in that way. Making gardens, and painting, and making leather goods are all totally the same thing for me, except the things I do on my own are my own creative outlets, whereas when I’m working with leather, I’m expressing someone’s else vision as part of a creative team. They relate in the same way in that they’re all enjoyable things for me to do. 

I spent most of my time as a kid making paintings and clay sculptures, but I also built things with my dad. He built me a clubhouse and I remember watching how it was done, and how he measured everything… I’ve always enjoyed creating things and the action of doing.

Finally, since you love to be outdoors — usually with your dogs — where are your favorite places around Rhode Island to spend a sunny day? 

I live in Roger Williams Park, right in Providence, so I spend a lot of time there with my dogs- there’s a lot of wooded areas and paths that you can spend a whole day wandering through. I also like to go to Ell Pond in the southwestern part of the state: it’s a natural rhododendron forest, and if you visit right around this time of year, everything is in full bloom. My absolute favorite place to bring my dogs, though, is Beavertail State Park. It’s at the very tip of Jamestown, with apple trees growing all around, and it used to be a WWII fort. One side [of the park] is more rocky and usually crowded with fishermen, so I take them on the other side. It has four different coves, so you can choose if you want to head for the sandy, pebbled beach on one or just jump off the rocks and go swimming in another. There’s always a lot of good birdwatching there, too.