Credit: Kaarin Vembar

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Indie in D.C. is a new monthly feature on independent makers and retailers throughout the District. Here we talk with owner and maker Katie Stack about her business, Stitch & Rivet, and the creation of her Crossbody Zipper Tote. Readers voted Stack Best Local Crafter in City Paper in 2011, 2015, 2016, and 2017. 

Crossbody Zipper Tote, designed and handmade by Katie Stack, comes in 2 sizes, 14” for $189 and 16” for $199. Stitch & Rivet, 716 Monroe St. NE, Studio #24.

Where do you make the bags? 

We make all of our bags here in Washington, D.C. in the Brookland neighborhood. We have a 600-square-foot studio.  Right now there are four of us who work here. We make all of our pieces here in the shop. 

What materials did you use for your Crossbody Zipper Tote? 

It’s made out of waxed canvas on the exterior. It’s a number 10 waxed canvas. Canvas is graded by a number system, and the lower the number the heavier the canvas. A number 10 waxed canvas is 18 ounces. The interior is cotton twill. 

Why did you make the bag out of waxed canvas? 

So it is water resistant in case there is snow, slush, or rain.

Where do you source the waxed canvas? 

It comes from a finishing house in New Jersey that has been in business since during the Civil War. They import greige goods from Asia, which means the fabric is woven in Asia and then they do the dyeing and finishing in the United States. 

How do you make the Crossbody Tote? 

I design them, so I start with a sketch on paper. I figure out what we are going to make and the dimensions of the product. Then I convert it into a flat pattern on something that is called oak board or oak tag. (It’s the material that a manila folder is made out of.) It makes a fairly durable pattern. I convert that into a flat pattern, which is what my background is in—converting flat drawings into patterns. We lay it out on the fabric and it’s cut with either scissors or a rotating razor blade called a rotary cutter. Then it’s stitched in the shop on one of our industrial sewing machines. Once it is all stitched together we rivet in the handles and make the crossbody strap and get it ready for its new home. 

You rivet in the handles, as in “Stitch and Rivet?” 

Yes! The handles are riveted, as in Stitch and Rivet. 

Why did you decide to design this type of product? 

It is the newest version of a bag we’ve been making for about five years. Originally we called it the Commuter Tote. We made a version of it last year, 2016, and it had a leather bottom. We had a hard time sourcing that leather continuously. It has been a product that has changed over the years and this is the latest iteration and, in my opinion, the best iteration. 

Why was sourcing the leather difficult in 2016? 

That was part of the leather that, when we initially ordered, the company told us that it was American made, American tanned, American leather. Then when we got the hides the backside was stamped “Made in Brazil.” It was actually not American made. The leather was in and out of stock, and I didn’t love buying something from a company that lied to me about their product. 

Why did you want to make a commuter bag? 

We wanted a commuter bag because D.C. is a commuter city. We wanted it to have a zipper. It needed to have easy pockets for your coffee container or water bottle. People wanted to stash a phone or a Metro pass that they could get to quickly. That’s how the pocket orientation was designed. These pockets are big enough to hold a big bottle of water or a to-go coffee cup. We wanted short handles so if you’re getting on or off public transit and you didn’t have time to throw the cross body strap around you, you could just grab it and go. 

How long does it take you to make a bag? 

We batch-make our bags. We usually batch make them either four or six at a time. A batch of four bags will take one person two days to make. A batch of six will take two people usually one day to make. It depends on how much other work we have going on in the shop. We will try to do all of our cutting one day and all of our sewing the next day and we will cut multiple things at the same time. You have to clear off the tables to lay out your space. 

Can you explain how your studio is the place you work and a retail space? 

Our workshop is split into two thirds workspace, where we produce our pieces, and one third retail space where we sell our items and the work of about a dozen other local artisans. 

It’s very much like an old fashioned business where the purchase space is in the front and the workspace is in the back. That’s how dresses, clothes, and accessories were made for centuries. Now it’s totally separate in most places. Here there is no “in the back.” We are the “in the back.” It’s funny because people will ask, “Do you have any more of this in the back?” And I’m like, “Here’s the back. We have all the raw materials. We can make you one. It will take two weeks.”