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Fort Lonesome

on bespoke threads, finding your calling, and the trust and vulnerability that come into play in our creative pursuits.

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Creativity is a paradoxical pursuit: The craft of making requires vulnerability and a certain kind of tenderness or openness to the world around us. At the same time, putting our work out in the world today can take a shit ton of courage and tenacity. This is a space to shine a light on the folks who are straddling these tensions and making us all a little better with their art. —Brené 

Kathie Sever’s career path has been a roundabout one: She went to art school to study oil painting, worked on a ranch in Montana, spent time as a bread baker and pastry chef, and even had her own line of kids’ clothing. But then, in 2006, she bought a chain stitch embroidery machine and began teaching herself how to use it, playing with some of the painting techniques she’d learned in art school, like layering different colors to obtain an ombre or blend that’s highly textured.

In 2013, Fort Lonesome — a Western-inspired custom-chain-stitching-and-embroidery shop — was born in her Austin, Texas, backyard, and in the 10 years since, it has grown far beyond what Kathie ever imagined: Diplo has worn Fort Lonesome’s bespoke creations (donning a white suit flanked with lightning bolts and frogs). So, too, have Miranda Lambert and Elle King (gracing a Billboard Music Awards stage in suits adorned with bluebonnets, rattlesnakes, and a sacred heart). And collaborations with brands like Wrangler, Madewell, Levi’s, and Billy Reid have become commonplace.

It isn’t any project in particular that stands out most to Kathie as she looks back on the past decade. It’s the creative collaboration of her team of eight. “One suit takes 200 hours and involves at least three people working on it. A lot of hands touch each garment. Our process takes an enormous amount of time, knowledge, and support,” she says. “Working in a creative environment requires a different kind of trust with your co-workers than you would have in a less-enigmatic job. It’s really vulnerable when you open yourself up to work with other creatives. You have to lay it all out, trust that the other person will hold your vulnerability with care, and share feedback with love.” 

 

Kathie Sever portrait

Fort Lonesome founder Kathie Sever, pictured in her studio, says: “There is a familial interconnectedness with my team. We have been through a lot of crap together and have come out on the other side.”

Denim pocket in the process of being embroidered by Fort Lonesome

A friend who thrifts recently found a bin of giant pockets for jeans, which gave the Fort Lonesome team a new canvas to explore.

Did you find this work or did it find you?

I’m unsure how to define the boundary where those two concepts part ways. I imagine this work and myself more akin to two frenemies attempting to row a canoe in the same direction but with wildly different stroke styles and bicep strengths. 

A bright embroidered piece featuring 2 horses and neon fringe.

Named after the Greek term for a breastplate, “aegis,” the bib is a way to offer people a chance to own a Fort Lonesome piece without springing for a suit. This one was designed and stitched by Kathie’s longtime collaborator and lead designer, Christina Hurt Smith.

Head Tailor Bekah DuBose works on a custom suit

Head Tailor Bekah DuBose works on a custom suit designed by Christina Hurt Smith.

What do you enjoy the most about creating? 

That the act in and of itself is a tiny existential arc, an opportunity to relish or ignore our patterns, quirks, strengths, and weaknesses. Also, bonus: Often we end up with something to show to our friends in order to get attention when we feel unworthy of taking up space in the world. 

A collection of work created by Fort Lonesome
From left: A suit custom-made for a private client; a series of suits made for Diplo displayed at Austin’s Preacher Gallery in February 2020; a Thelma & Louise–inspired jacket commissioned by a client in honor of her favorite scene in the movie.

Is there a part of the creative process that’s tougher for you than other parts?

I don’t think I’m ever satisfied with anything I make, which is both motivating and devastating. Also difficult is the maintenance of some version of a bubble within which to think one’s own thoughts and allow ideas to arise when you have a phone in your hand and a thirst for distraction. 

What are three words you would use to describe your creative process?

Listen, transcribe, connect

The colorful spool wall at Fort Lonesome.
The spool wall features a rainbow of color options. When it comes to picking colors for its designs, it starts with a sketch, and then it’s all intuition on picking what works best for the final design.

Putting your work out in the world can be hard. Do you ever wrestle with perfectionism and/or get sidelined by criticism?

Yes and yes. They say comparison is the thief of joy, and they, it turns out, are correct (don’t be fooled, however; “they” are often wrong). The intersection between self-marketing and joy-thievery threatened to undo me at one point, so I’ve become exceedingly careful about what I expose myself to and how I’m exposed. Exposure feels inherently dangerous and triggers deep imposter syndrome. My desire to shine a light on my amazing team drives me to get uncomfortable and get out there. 

The BrosFresh donning custom embroidered shirts by Fort Lonesome
The Bros Fresh, a music duo from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, wears custom Fort Lonesome in Marfa, Texas; photography by Hannah Koehler.

What’s one thing you’ve learned about leading a creative team? 

The most profound thing I’ve learned about leading a creative team is that if you can remain committed to the art of Not Taking Things Personally, there is a deep well of connection and growth and thrill and pride awaiting you on the flip side of ego-landscaping.

Favorite bumper sticker? It can exist or you can make it up!

If I told you, I’d for sure get canceled. But it’s hilarious.

Fort Lonesome patchwork flag
This patchwork quilt was used at Marfa’s Trans-Pecos Festival to show attendees options for designs they could have chain-stitched on-site. Fort Lonesome celebrated its 10th anniversary with a show at Austin’s Prizer Arts and Letters gallery in November 2023. Kathie explored themes for the show — like interconnection and collective integration — in a Substack she recently started, which people can subscribe to for free.
Lauren Smith Ford headshot

By Lauren Smith Ford

Lauren Smith Ford is the editor in chief of brenebrown.com and the senior creative director at the Brené Brown Education and Research Group. She has written for Texas Monthly, Elle, Southern Living, Teen Vogue, and Glamour, among others, and when she isn’t spending time with her three daughters, she can be found on the pickleball court.

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