Makers in the Raw: Maple and Oak Designs

Funky, retro, and undoubtedly fun, Leonie Vatter’s Maple and Oak Designs are the perfect accessories to brighten up any outfit. From her trademark triangle scarf to her cute rockabilly headbands, to her suave beau-ties for the gentleman in your life, there’s something for everyone.

Given our many collaborations in recent years, it wasn’t hard to select Leonie as the local maker to kick off this series. Born in the small German town of Bad Oldesloe, she moved with her family and grew up in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Lübeck, famous for its gothic architecture. It was there she learned to sew in school, inspired by her mother, her grandmother, great aunt, and great grandmother.

Leonie is a lot like her great grandmother – resourceful & unwilling to let good fabric go to waste. After World War II, Leonie’s great grandmother harvested fabric from uniform coats and transformed them into dresses, a luxury in a time of rations and post-war life.

Maple and Oak Designs began when Leonie inherited her great aunt’s sewing machine, made in the 1970’s. It unfortunately went out with a bang after Leonie spent a marathon 7-hour sewing session in 2011.

“It exploded, or rather imploded? There was a loud bang and smoke. It was completely dead after that,” says Leonie.

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Though she enjoyed her life in Germany, Leonie was bit by the travel bug and along the way met Guillaume, a French Canadian citizen, while travelling in Australia. For the next couple of years, they followed each other to England, Latin America, and Germany finally settling in Canada.

Though Guillaume’s job prospects are what brought them to Calgary, Leonie stays for the nature and community inherent to living in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

“It’s close to the mountains, but it’s also the prairies. There are Chinook days in January, and a small, but tight-knit and supportive artisan community.”

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Looking around her bright studio, the room is awash with every colour of the rainbow. A bookshelf lining one wall is neatly overflowing with fabric, each echoing a different vintage period.

“I love cottons because they’re so easy to sew with. They’re not slippery like other fabrics,” says Leonie of her favourite fabrics, “In general, I prefer natural fabrics, and of course, any fabric with a bold print!”

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The vintage treasures don’t stop with the fabrics. Looking around the room, there are tiny nods to Leonie’s heritage & inspiration. A board hung on one wall overflows with postcards, patches, and handmade magnets – including one Leonie made herself.

“We found these instant tea bags when we emptied my great aunt’s house, and I thought it was so awesome they had expired in 1981,” says Leonie, “So, Guillaume had the idea of turning them into magnets.”

It’s this enthusiasm for repurposing the expired and out-dated that keeps Leonie working hard at her business, but also seeing her customers happy and excited about her products is a huge push, too.

Leonie says, “It’s not just because it means the the product will sell well, or because it’s a nice pat on the back, but because it means there are other people out there like me – people who believe in recycling or up-cycling, living as eco-conscious as possible while being colourful and optimistic.”

Beyond enjoying the discovery of like-minded people and a strong sense of community, Leonie just plain likes having control over her own life through her handmade business. Though it’s not all sunshine and roses all the time!

“It’s quite funny,” says Leonie, “The things I like best about working for myself are also the things I like least. I have the final say and responsibility for everything, so no one tells me what to do, but there’s also no one to tell me what to do when there’s a difficult decision to be made.”

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As her business continues to grow and thrive in Calgary’s ever-burgeoning handmade community, Leonie keeps her sights set on the future with big plans and ideas.

“I always have so many ideas. I hope someday to be able to hire a seamstress so I can focus more on the actual designing and marketing,” says Leonie, “This year, I’m also focusing on more wholesale, so small boutiques can carry my lines, too.”

But don’t worry if you’re used to finding Leonie at festivals and markets – she’ll still be there.

“I love selling my creations at markets, festivals, and shows, but it’s always a good idea not to put all your eggs into one basket!”

For more about Leonie’s creations, life, and event schedule, you can follow her via her website, or through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

You can check out the rest of the photos I took at Leonie’s studio below!

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