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February 04, 2024 6 min read

A lot of y'all probably met Robin at our denim tote bag customization station at Ft Worth this weekend, and wasn't he talented! We love getting to collaborate with artists who are just so invested in what they create and we loved seeing all your custom DDR denim totes. Before we let Robin head home, we had to ask him a bit more about his special craft, how he got into the business and who his biggest (and craziest) embroidery jobs have been for!

DDR: How long have you been running Fowl & Maker?
RS: I've been chain stitching as Fowl & Maker for four years. I've always had a knack for crafts and have been familiar with sewing machines, but Fowl & Maker was actually my first foray into embroidery.

DDR: What inspired you to start? Does the talent run in the family?
RS: I studied Graphic Design in school and loved it. I found myself inspired by early 1900s Western textiles and hand-made techniques, which led to many hours spent studying vintage chain stitched designs. In December 2019, I lost my "safe and sure" corporate job, and Covid arrived just a few months later. With the world on lockdown and work being hard to find, I bought a chain stitch machine on a whim and taught myself, hoping to earn some money on the side. It quickly became my full time pursuit.

My mom, Annie Smith, is a professional quilter who has been using sewing machines since she was 8 years old. Growing up, our home had at least two sewing machines set up on any given day and she taught me how to use them. She definitely instilled in me an appreciation for textiles and hand-made goods.

DDR: What makes traditional chain stitch embroidery so special?
RS:There are few things more alluring than traditional chain stitch embroidery these days, and I think that is due to three specific aspects. Excuse me while I wax romantic over my craft.
1.) The hand-made nature of each stitched item transforms it into a piece of art. Chain stitchers see every single stitch as it enters the garment, unlike the high-tech embroidery machines of today. Not to discredit computerized embroidery, but there is a genuine love and passion poured into each stitch that breathes life into every design and gives it an undeniable warmth.
2.) No two pieces are identical. It is impossible to replicate a design exactly the same way twice. These pieces are not mass-produced and readily available at your favorite retail store. There are subtle nuances and charming inconsistencies between each finished design, making them, truly, one of a kind.
3.) Timelessness. I could show you something stitched in the 1940s and something that was stitched last week and it would be challenging to tell when each was created. Traditional chain stitching is like holding an item from the past, present, and future at the same time. When I stitch something, I like to wonder where the pieces I stitch will be in 50+ years.

DDR: We hear you only use antique machinery. Why is that?
RS:Well, that's getting harder and harder to do with the rising cost of original machines. There are a few companies who make replica machines nowadays, but they just aren't built the way they used to be built back in the day by Singer and Cornely. The funny thing is, each machine has their own little quirks and personalities. It's all about finding the machine that speaks to you (and isn't totally rusted out)!

DDR: You've worked on some pretty cool brand collabs, can you tell us about ‘em?
RS:You bet! I feel so fortunate to have been connected to and worked with so many great brands and companies. I've worked with Auberge Resorts, Chef Tim Love, Dickies, Faherty, eBay, Magnolia and many many more! I think three "is this really happening" collaborations were giving Chicagoans the Cowtown treatment with Visit Fort Worth at Windy City Smokeout and stitching for future baseball Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw's incredible organization, Kershaw's Challenge.

DDR: What makes traditional chain stitch embroidery so special?
RS:There are few things more alluring than traditional chain stitch embroidery these days, and I think that is due to three specific aspects. Excuse me while I wax romantic over my craft.
1.) The hand-made nature of each stitched item transforms it into a piece of art. Chain stitchers see every single stitch as it enters the garment, unlike the high-tech embroidery machines of today. Not to discredit computerized embroidery, but there is a genuine love and passion poured into each stitch that breathes life into every design and gives it an undeniable warmth.
2.) No two pieces are identical. It is impossible to replicate a design exactly the same way twice. These pieces are not mass-produced and readily available at your favorite retail store. There are subtle nuances and charming inconsistencies between each finished design, making them, truly, one of a kind.
3.) Timelessness. I could show you something stitched in the 1940s and something that was stitched last week and it would be challenging to tell when each was created. Traditional chain stitching is like holding an item from the past, present, and future at the same time. When I stitch something, I like to wonder where the pieces I stitch will be in 50+ years.

DDR: We hear you only use antique machinery. Why is that?
RS:Well, that's getting harder and harder to do with the rising cost of original machines. There are a few companies who make replica machines nowadays, but they just aren't built the way they used to be built back in the day by Singer and Cornely. The funny thing is, each machine has their own little quirks and personalities. It's all about finding the machine that speaks to you (and isn't totally rusted out)!

DDR: You've worked on some pretty cool brand collabs, can you tell us about ‘em?
RS:You bet! I feel so fortunate to have been connected to and worked with so many great brands and companies. I've worked with Auberge Resorts, Chef Tim Love, Dickies, Faherty, eBay, Magnolia and many many more! I think three "is this really happening" collaborations were giving Chicagoans the Cowtown treatment with Visit Fort Worth at Windy City Smokeout and stitching for future baseball Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw's incredible organization, Kershaw's Challenge.

DDR: What’s the craziest custom embroidery request you’ve received?
RS: It was at Willie Nelson's music festival called Luck Reunion with TX Whiskey, another "is this really happening" collaboration for me, where a young lady, maybe 13 years old, asked me to stitch the entire alphabet around a bandana. It seemed excessive at the time but I had to applaud the creativity. I love thinking about where that bandana ends up in 50+ years.

DDR: Favorite piece you’ve ever embroidered?
RS:Oh wow, that's tough. I reckon it would probably have to be my very first piece I made for myself: a Dickies-brand Eisenhower jacket with a World War II bomber logo on it. I've always been a student of World War II and during the war, to boost morale, Disney artists designed a bunch of art for military use. The design I used was bomber plane nose art featuring Mickey Mouse riding a bomb with guns blazing. I made it as a tribute to the US Marine Corps as sort of a "what-if" piece. Typically, designs were hand painted on A2 leather jackets, but I stitched it on a red Dickies Eisenhour jacket and it turned out very nice.

DDR: What’s one thing you’d like to embroider that you haven’t yet?
RS: I would love to create a design and stitch it on an old wool baseball jersey. I love baseball and I love looking at the jersey variations across each team over the years. There is just something about deadstock wool that lends itself so well to traditional chain stitch.

 DDR: Who’s your dream celebrity customer and what would you design for them?
RS:My dream celebrity customer is... YOU! Yes, you reading this!! Although I've done some super fun collaborations, with some big names, the ones that really stick with me are the ones that come from everyday folks. Okay, okay, if I really had to pick one, I'd love to make a heirloom piece on a crisp raw denim jacket for photographer Ben Christensen (@_benchristensen).

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