TEXT BY SARAH STEBBINS
PHOTOGRAPHED BY MARISSA ELISE & MEREDITH PERDUE
Like stir-crazy people everywhere, Kels Haley began getting more steps in close to home when the pandemic struck last spring. Looping past the Italianates, Second Empires, Queen Annes, and Colonial Revivals in Portland’s West End neighborhood with her fluffy mixed breed, Juno, she snapped photos of architectural details that caught her eye: brick patterns, diamond cutouts on a cement wall, teardrop shapes on a wooden porch railing. Back at home, she translated the imagery into ink sketches that, along with abstract gingham and scallop-edged S-shape designs she dreamed up and chains of lacy ovals inspired by a newspaper photo of a flapper in a jeweled headdress, became the basis for her first pillow and fabric line, launched last fall.
ABOVE In her studio at Portland’s Mayo Street Arts, Kels Haley experiments with fresh designs for fabrics and clothing. Her current pillow line incorporates motifs drawn from architecture and fashion.
After graduating from Portland’s Maine College of Art with a degree in textile and fashion design in 2015, Haley started hand painting pillows to sell at crafts fairs, just as her maternal grandmother, “Ahma,” had. But she longed to make her creations more affordable, and accessible to homeowners and designers seeking yardage for upholstery or draperies. So she enlisted a digital printer that transfers her drawings, refined with “brushes” in an app called Procreate, to fabric. Counterintuitively, digital printing “allows you to really capture the hand-drawn aspects, each of the brushstrokes, and the lightness and darkness of color,” says Haley, a project manager and fabric buyer for Portland’s Home Remedies.
Rendered in Belgian linen in a simple black, navy, and terracotta palette, her whimsical, graphic motifs “make friends with other patterns easily” — a congenial trait Haley shares. In her small studio on Mayo Street are pillows made from material by textile designer Rachel Adams and templates for creating pattern repeats given to her by designer/ printmaker Chandlyr Jackson, both of Portland. “We’re all trying to do the same thing,” Haley says, “so why not help each other?”