In the age of manufactured T-shirts and heavily stocked department stores, many people don’t think about how their clothing is made.
Fashion moves so quickly that most of the time our garment choices are made for us, and the thought of handmade clothes seems like a thing of the past.
But local maker Cynthia McGuire Thiel is aiming to change that mindset by sewing custom clothing from scratch.
“Clothing can be transformative, but covering ourselves is such a basic need that many don’t think beyond what’s easily available,” Thiel says. “Wearing something comfortable, well fitted and aesthetically pleasing is a form of self-care. Seeing the delight and excitement on a client’s face due to something I create is my way of making someone’s world a bit better by relieving the worry of what to wear.”
The Jamestown native learned to sew from her mother, a professional seamstress, at 3 years old, and it has been her creative outlet since.
But Thiel is not a seamstress, nor a clothing designer. Instead, she describes herself as a “sewist” — a combination of “sew” and “artist.”
In her home studio — neatly organized by pattern, fabric and thread color — Thiel works on her most recent project: a classic plaid dress with a vibrant floral lace overlay to wear for special occasions.
While the dress is on the mannequin, Thiel calmly hand stitches the lace to the bodice with care, as if each embroidered petal possesses the velvety delicacy of an actual flower.
“People think sewing is easy. They think it’s fast and cheap. It’s none of those things,” Thiel says. “I want to make things that are going to last and that people are going to cherish, and if you cherish it, it’s not going to be fast, cheap or easy.”
One of her favorite things is refabricating secondhand finds into something new, but she also finds inspiration from online sewing communities and patterns in any color — except black.
“I love to wear bright colors. There are so many beautiful colors. Why would you only wear black?” she says with a smile.
When she does find a fun pattern, however, Thiel is adamant about only making garments that fit into her wardrobe, as her closets are already bursting at the seams.
She enjoys making custom clothes for other people and is working on expanding her services to the community.
Last fall, Thiel received a grant from The Arts Partnership to purchase a male mannequin so she can make more custom men’s clothing. She also purchased arms for her female form so she can make more garments with sleeves.
Clothing is three-dimensional and is rarely best shown on a hanger or lying flat, so owning mannequins “is extremely helpful,” she explains.
Before moving to Fargo five years ago from Jamestown — a small town where many community members know how to sew — Thiel didn’t realize having the skill was considered “cool.”
“All of the sudden I was the one that knew what to do and no one else did, and I had never had that experience before with sewing,” she says.
Because of her expertise, Thiel lends her sewing talents to the area in several ways.
She is a member of the F-M Modern Sewing Guild, a club that meets once a month at Modern Textiles downtown and has taught sewing classes there in the past.
Thiel also makes costumes for theater productions at Liberty Middle School, where she works full time in technology education.
For now, Thiel is experimenting with her new equipment and spreading the word about her services. Her goal is to help people realize they don’t need to settle for T-shirts and hoodies, and that well fitted, custom clothing can be worth the wait.
To learn more about Cynthia McGuire Thiel and her rates for custom sewn clothing, visit cmtsews.com.
This article is part of a content partnership with the Fargo Forum and originally appeared in print on Monday, January 8, 2018.