Jan Donaldson is a self-proclaimed gypsy.
After discovering her love for quilt-making, she quickly began selling her wares to magazines, dignitaries and musicians all over North America.
For three years, she had a TV series called Jan Donaldson’s Quilted World, and she has since travelled all over Canada selling her wares at festivals and farmers markets.
Her appliquéd clothing has been worn by CBC’s Holger Petersen, blues musician David Gogo and Latin guitarist Oscar Lopez (to name a few).
For 35 years, Donaldson has been living off of her one-of-a-kind creations. This month, she has opened her first showroom and studio on Willow Street in Chemainus. Donaldson tells Island Style about her creative process, her new shop and how her creations have even saved marriages.
What is your business and what inspired you to create what you do?
I’m a clothing designer, quilter and hand-stitch fibre artist. Jan Donaldson Designs is the name that I go by.
I was inspired to do this when I was getting out of a marriage and living on a farm in Quebec. I looked at what I loved to do and I decided I would become a professional quilter. Within a year, I did my first show in Montreal called Salon des Metiers D’Art. It is the biggest show in North America!
After the show, I sold some designs to Better Home and Gardens, and from there, I sold designs to the Canadian government as official gifts for visiting dignitaries. I was then offered my own TV series called Jan Donaldson’s Quilted World. It was shown all over the country for three years.
What kind of training do you have or are you self-taught?
I’m 100 per cent self-taught. I actually flunked Home Ec. in high school!
I’ve taught myself all about clothing design by just doing a lot of it. It’s wonderful not to be influenced by anybody. I write my own rules! In the early days, I would stare at a blank piece of paper until something came to me. Now designing is just second nature.
What kinds of materials do you use and where do you make your pieces?
I sew with all kinds of fabrics, but for clothing, I use mostly cottons. For hand-stitching and appliquéd wall hangings or jackets, I use a lot of silks, velvet and glitzes. I have thousands of metres of fabric in my new studio and I use whatever speaks to me in the moment.
Tell us about your new showroom in Chemainus
I just moved into my new studio and showroom, which is on Willow Street in Chemainus. It’s a sewer’s dream studio! I moved in here four months ago after being home-based for the past 20 years. It’s great to be in a retail space again.
What are some of your favourite designs and styles right now?
Right now musicians’ stage wear is my favourite. I’ve always loved and supported live music and now I can combine that love with my business. I create one-of-a-kind shirts and jackets for musicians around the world. Many of them are people I meet at various music festivals across B.C. and Alberta. It feels so good to be able to create a unique look for each performer.
When looking for new ideas, what do you do?
Ideas just come to me. My brain is in on creative overdrive all of the time. My musicians’ stage wear was inspired by a line of music-inspired fabrics that one of my fabric reps had available. My new wool capes were inspired by a musician friend who I saw wearing fleece capes. I don’t like fleece so I started making capes using some wool plaids that had been given to me. They are beautiful, classic and elegant!
Who are your customers mostly?
Because of the stage wear line, many are musicians. I also have a huge following of women due to the ladies’ and kids’ lines that I have made for many years. Women come and buy something for themselves, their children and their grandchildren. It’s cool to think that I’ve created for three generations of families!
I also do a lot of custom wall hangings. One couple loved their wall hanging so much that when they split up, it was the only thing they fought over. They shared it for a while and eventually, it got them back together!
Where are your products sold?
I sell my pieces at different venues, music festivals, and farmers markets in B.C. and Alberta and also in my new studio in Chemainus. I also wholesale my hats to some wonderful stores around Canada. This year is my 35th anniversary of my business,and I’m hoping to drive across the country to different music festivals and reconnect with some of my customers and fans from my old TV series.
What is the price range?
The price range is very broad. Anywhere from $9 for a neck cooler to $9,000 for a 14-foot-wide stitched wall hanging. The musicians’ stage wear ranges from $75 to $250, and hats are $14 to $20.
To learn more about Jan Donaldson Designs, click here
— Contributed by Eliza Faulkner