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The Art of Patchwork With Workhouse Fabric Artist Jen Athanas

Need to wear something special? Don't throw away that old tablecloth!

Workhouse Arts Center fabric artist Jen Athanas makes order from chaos, and her work is a sign of the times. These are lean days for many, and you can't just throw away those old jeans anymore. Reuse them, cut them up, make them into something new. If you want inspiration, take a look at Athanas' studio in building 9, and you'll see tubs full of all sorts of fabric stacked to the ceiling, and nearly of more variety than possible to count. 

"I think my personality and my business comes from my upbringing, which was frugal," Athanas recently told Patch. "I want to be able to educate people with my work so that they understand that there are functional, beautiful things that they can have in their lives that are one-of-a-kind, that are hand-crafted and sustainable." 

Athanas, a native of Poughkeepsie, New York, started sewing when she was eight-years-old. "My mom said that I was not going to waste any new fabric. She told me, 'Here, cut up these jeans. No one uses them anymore. And here, use this old table cloth,'" she said. "I think that today, people want to return to simpler times. People want to be in touch with what they're using, and using what's in the house." 

Athanas credits her talent with the sewing machine to her grandmother (a longtime seamstress at Macy's in the 1930s), and received her degree in fashion design from Marymount University in 2004. She's lived in Del Ray, Alexandria, since 2005, and began her career selling pieces of jewelry at Eastern Market that same year. But she realized after six months that her passion was not in jewelry making - it was in combining multiple fabrics to make functional accessories. Her most popular items are handbags, coin purses, fingerless gloves, scarfs and hats. 

"Some of life is trying something and realizing that it's not going to work. But you do it anyway, and that's how you find out," said Athanas, who's goal is to make a variety of patchwork outfits this year. "My challenge for myself is to use what I have, but I actually don't buy any of my fabric. People just come in and drop it off in my studio."   

Athanas joined the Workhouse community in 2011, and averages 50 hours a week in her studio. "It took me a long time to figure out that if I don't make something on a regular basis that I get antsy," she said. "Part of coming here was so that I could have a place where people could meet me, and business is good. Last year I ended up having a very strong year." 

You can find Jen Athanas' work at "A Show of Hands" in Del Ray and in building 9 of the Workhouse Arts Center. 

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