WILLIAMSTOWN -- Nikki Butler has combined her skills as a graphic artist with her love of sewing to launch a new career as a fashion designer.
But she's not quitting her day job at Stonewall, a marketing and advertising agency in Marietta, Ohio. Instead, she's designing and sewing in the evenings and on weekends, mailing packages and handling other duties in the mornings and on lunch breaks.
"I sat in my car at lunch one day and made sales calls until I ran the battery dead," laughed Butler, who was interviewed this week by phone -- on her lunch hour.
Butler was one of nine West Virginia artists and craftsmen who were selected by the Tamarack Foundation to attend the Buyers Market of American Craft show in Philadelphia two weeks ago.
At the show, about 800 exhibitors showed their products to 4,000 to 6,000 buyers for 2,000 companies, mostly from galleries and boutiques across the United States and Canada.
Butler took samples of purses, pillows, belts, napkins, scarves, shirts and skirts for which she hand-designed the fabric and created on her sewing machine on the dining room table in her Williamstown home.
For her, a fashion business is doable because of technology, specifically digital textile printing.
She explained that she is able to create designs with Illustrator software on her home computer. With digital printing, she is able to use multiple colors whereas with the standard printing process she would be limited to four or five colors. Plus, she said, the design has a more photographic quality.
The fabric she has selected is run through a huge printer at a company in North Carolina. The inks are permanent and fabric is washable.
But best of all, she can order only the amount of fabric she wants, even as little as a yard.
"Through their website, I get exactly what I upload," said Butler.
Butler majored in graphic design at Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio. During college, she worked making alterations for a local bridal shop and sewed for the college's costume department.
"I have sewn since I was 5 years old. My mother is a quilter," said Butler, 35. Although she has made quilts, she said it's along process and she always preferred making dresses.
No, she didn't sew her own prom dresses -- her mother did -- but she did make her wedding dress for her marriage to Buddy Butler four and a half years ago. "It was from a 1952 cocktail dress pattern in silk dupioni."
They bought a house in Williamstown, just across the Ohio River from Marietta. She has two daughters, ages 12 and 10 from a previous marriage, and a 15-year-old stepdaughter and an 18-year-old stepson.
"West Virginia has been good to me," said Butler, who was familiar with Tamarack because the Stonewall group does work for the West Virginia Division of Tourism.
In the summer of 2011, she submitted her scarves and napkins to a Tamarack jury that reviews merchandise that the state's arts and crafts showcase will carry. They were accepted.
"Tamarack was a real launching point; it's where I got started," she said. Then in late November, the Tamarack Foundation asked her to go to the Philadelphia show when another artisan suddenly dropped out. The state commerce department sponsors the trip.
She took samples of her fabric-covered clutch purses, infinity scarves made of cotton voile, floral print skirts of organic cotton sateen, shirts, reversible belts and napkins. "The napkins are unique in how they're folded," she said. "You fold them one way and show one set of colors, fold another way for another set of colors. There are no seams, it's like two napkins in one."
At the show, Butler said she expanded into more states with some new orders. She also attracted the attention of a buyer for a company that represents a group of college fraternities and sororities. She saw potential for custom work," which could result in much larger orders.
She said she has put her mother on call if her help is needed to meet the March 15 shipping deadline.
"It is pretty crazy right now. I'll drop my kids off at school, run home and package an order, send out an email before work," before making the five-minute commute to her Marietta office, where she lays out brochures and catalogs for clients.
Butler's products may be purchased online and at several retail outlets, including Tamarack, Mountain Made in Thomas, The Twisted Sisters in Marietta and WV Market in Morgantown and Snowshoe.
To view her products, visit her website at nikkibutlerdesign.com.
Reach Rosalie Ea...@ea...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.