Crafter of the month: Sandie DeCoste

One-on-one with the country's finest crafters


Sandie DeCoste, owner of Toronto’s Pitch Patch Ella, makes a living being crafty. Always on the lookout for fresh designs and unique materials, DeCoste is known for her creativity, as well as her precision and process. She can turn a pile of neckties into a fabulous skirt, your great-granny’s vintage fur into a modern frock, and the kilt from your high school uniform into a custom handbag. Seriously, she is that good. We caught up with her at her studio to talk about her crafty past, her favourite projects and own sense of style. Your creations are amazing — were you always a crafty kid? Or did you grow into this as an adult? Who taught you to sew?

Sandie DeCoste: I have always been interested in creating things, even as a child. I remember waiting at the end of the street for my father to come home from work, to greet him with my latest creation. One day in particular I’d made a pillow stuffed with newspapers and trimmed with pom-poms. I was so thrilled to tell him all about it. I also remember attempting to make a pair of Dr. Scholl’s sandals. They were so popular in the 70s. My dad cut the wood and showed me how to use the planer, but I was not to be the next Jimmy Choo, so I went back to the textiles and my Barbie Sew Magic machine. You use a lot of found objects. Where do you look for materials?

SD: For my poor boy hats, I use vintage neckties and yogurt containers. The plastic is the perfect weight for the visor, because it is already curved, and you can’t beat the price! A lot of my materials come from thrift shops, yard sales, church bazaars and donations from clients. My necktie collection is a sight to be seen, though. I started the collection five days after having a brain tumor removed. My mother took me to Goodwill, and I sat there while she held up the neckties; I said either yes or no to each one, and in the end I bought 75 of them. I wanted something to do while I was recovering from the surgery. The word spread of my collection and soon the neckties came pouring in; here I am, a little over 6 years and 10,000 neckties later, and I am happy to say that I have only minor complications as a result of the surgery. Where did you get the name for your company, Pitch Patch Ella?

SD: The name Pitch Patch Ella was an obvious choice for me. Pitch Patch Ella was my great-grandmother’s nickname. She was the local dressmaker in the small rural community of Nova Scotia where my family comes from. She made the most incredible things from old clothes. Do you wear a lot of your own creations?

SD: I don’t like to look like anyone else, so of course I wear my own work. I wear the necktie sashes a lot. They are so versatile and funk up any outfit. They can be worn four different ways and one size fits all. I recently made sashes for a pair of sisters. They had picked out the neckties from their dad’s collection, with his help, before he passed away several weeks later. I was thrilled to hear that they wore them to his funeral. It was a wonderful way for them to keep him close. When someone comes to you with a garment with sentimental value, hoping to make something out of it, how do you help them to decide on the project?

SD: I usually discuss what memories they have of the garment. I try to keep in mind the person’s lifestyle and age and the type of garment it is, and then we decide together what is most appropriate. I am currently making a leather shrug for a woman who approached me about making something from her leather chaps. The chaps still have dirt on them from her last motorcycle ride. I will not clean the dirt off out of respect for the memory. I will use the legs for the sleeves and the zipper will go down the centre of each sleeve. And I’ll use the belt and waistband for the collar of the shrug, while the body of it will come from the remainder of the leather. I’m always very excited to do projects like this—I feel like I’m helping someone to hold on to a piece of their family or history.