Chelle Summer

Telling Stories

Michelle Rusk

I started Chelle Summer mostly to fill a gap for myself– to create items that I really liked. I didn’t expect that along the way I also would create a brand that is about telling stories.

While this idea has sat in the back of my mind for some time, it came to fruition in many ways over the weekend when I was selling at the New Mexico Prickly Pear Festival.

I knew it wouldn’t be enough for everyone to want to stop at my booth– despite the bright colors and prints– some people would need to know that there is a message behind the items I create. While most of the first items I made were created from new fabrics, much of my recent work (with the exception of clothes, however, much of it comes from end rolls or leftovers from manufacturers) is made from either upcycling a vintage item like a dress or fabric that I found at an estate sale.

For me, turning embroidered dishtowels into a tote bag is a way to give those dish towels new life. When I see an item at an estate sale that resonates with me, I realize that the woman who lived in that house kept that item because she either made it or it told a story about her life. And while I will never know what her story was, I know that I can at least give that item new life.

As I pointed out items and told stories about the various fabrics behind the items at my booth to people, many of them told me about the items they have at home that they haven’t figured out what to do with (I do custom work) and others were happy to see items not end up in the landfill (a huge trend in the fashion industry although I had been doing it before it hit “trendy” status).

Ultimately, it goes much deeper than that for me. There are items that belonged to my mom that are long gone, mostly because she and I weren’t sure what to do with them. I think of the shift dress she wore to my first birthday (among other events) and a small piece of fabric that she had made a shirt from and how I hope to recreate one day.

With the cars packed up at the end of the event, I turned mine on and immediately “Hot Hot Hot” by Buster Poindexter began to play on Sirius radio. My mom loved that song and each time I hear it, I know she is with me, doing what my sister Karen calls her “hip shake.”

In that moment, after being present with people all day and sharing the stories of my Chelle Summer collection, I realized Mom was with me, cheering me on. All those items of hers that I mourn in some way gave me Chelle Summer and many more stories to tell.