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TFD Student Story: Aaron Kellerhuis turns cloth into fashion


Aaron Thomas Kellerhuis is a senior in the Textiles and Fashion Design (TFD) program with a textile concentration. He came to UW-Madison with an Associate’s in Arts from Madison College, formerly MATC, and graduated in December 2017 with Distinctive Honors. TFD student Aaron KellerhuisWe interviewed him just before his graduation.

SoHE: How did you find out about the TFD major?

AK: I didn’t start at a traditional four-year college because I wasn’t sure if that’s what I wanted to do. My original thinking, always, was that I would transfer from MATC to the UW-Madison School of Business because I could get a successful job. Make a livable wage. That sort of thing. Then I started thinking, ‘what would I want to pursue regardless of salary? What would make me feel most satisfied?’ One day, I was shopping at Context Clothing on King Street in Madison and met a student who was in the program. When I learned that I could actually get my education at the University of Wisconsin in Textile and Apparel Design, it made me designate my major. I already had an interest in fashion and sewing, so I was fascinated.

SoHE: Did you have a background in fashion?

AK: Not extensively, but one of the things that stood out when I attended East High School was when my Geometry teacher, Mary Paulson, had us pattern and sew quilts to send to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. That was an academic project where I got to realize, pattern, and machine-sew something together. We used a computer program to create the pattern pieces and geometric quilt design, and then we had to sew it.

That’s what stood out most, the instructors’ dedication to their students. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience.

SoHE: What are some highlights you had at UW-Madison?

AK: One of the greatest experiences would be when artist Rowland Ricketts came. He is a professor from Indiana University who did a really nice indigo workshop with us. We also had Dr. Hans Otto Von Busch as a visiting artist. Mary Hark (Design Program Coordinator and Professor) tasked me with his entire stay, so I coordinated his lectures and meetings and assisted with his reservations. It was a great opportunity entrusted to me and great to affiliate with the university as a student and an academic through a visiting artist. More recently, I was able to write a letter supporting Dr. Majid Sarmadi‘s nomination for the Van Hise Distinguished Teaching Award. It was a fulfilling way to be able to give back to an educator whom has supported me academically and professionally. He won the award and will be acknowledged in April.

Another was when I received a scholarship to attend a one-week course at the Arrowmont’s School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The semester prior I worked for Marianne (Fairbanks, assistant professor), my weaving teacher, setting up the TC2 Jacquard loom. There were all these different opportunities I was given from different instructors to excel and to do better. That’s what stood out most, the instructors’ dedication to their students. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience.

In addition to these experiences, I am also a member of Phi Upsilon Omicron. Phi U is the Honor Society of the School of Human Ecology. I keep searching for ways to become involved within the University.

SoHE: Which of your TFD classes stood out?

AK: The clothing construction classes with Maria Kurutz enabled me to produce garments, but weaving with Marianne Fairbanks was particularly grabbing, as I did my thesis on it.

SoHE: You have a great story about how you got into weaving. Tell us about that.

AK: Before I transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I decided to get work that would align myself with the TFD major. So I got a retail job at Pendleton Woolen Mills where I met the president of the company, at the time, Mort Bishop III. After winning the Design 2016 award for Best Technique, at the Ruth Davis Design Gallery, for my Plaid Shirt Project I reached out to Mort. Two summers ago, I was able to go out to Portland, visit their headquarters, and go through both of the Woolen Mills and production facilities. I actually stayed at the president’s house, which was surreal. Pendleton Woolen Mills has a deep woven heritage and experience producing goods from their own cloth. I identify with the idea of weaving cloth and making the end use product from it. The woolen yarns that I’ve been weaving with at SoHE I received as an academic donation from Pendleton Woolen Mills. So all of those wool pieces are actually made of Pendleton wool.

SoHE: Do you still keep in touch with them?

AK: Yeah, definitely. And that’s what I’m working on right now, which is weaving goods to send out for them.

SoHE: How does that work?

AK: I know them all personally, like the different designers and people within the corporate, so I’m going to hand-weave and finish a bunch of scarves and other goods and send them all as gifts of gratitude for the opportunity. They created a position specifically for me when I was reaching out looking for internship experience. I was assisting the Mill Designers in Washougal, Washington. I would review all the cloths as they come off the loom and make sure they were weaving correctly and that the colors, yarns and everything else met technical specifications.

SoHE: So you met the president through the retail position? Did he just happen to come by?

AK: I did. He was going to all the different retail stores, acquainting himself with the business and employees not in the Pacific North West. I just made certain to be there and I was able to meet him and talk with him. It was great and he’s a very humble person. He’s no longer the president; he retired as of last year, but still is a member of the board. Pendleton Woolen Mills is a family owned business.

SoHE: Have you had any other work experience while here at SoHE?

Last summer I interned at Lands’ End in Dodgeville, WI with the Men’s design team within sweaters, swim, and sleepwear. Immediately after, I went to Pendleton Woolen Mills to intern in the production facilities. Upon my return and during my last semester, I was employed with Lands’ End supporting as a Production Assistant for Men’s and Women’s active/swimwear. Simultaneously, I am still with Pendleton Woolen Mills as a Retail Associate.

SoHE: What’s next?

AK: From March until May, I will be Amara Hark-Weber’s Instructor’s Assistant at the Penland School of Craft in North Carolina. She just received the American Craft Council’s Rare Craft Fellowship and is (SoHE) professor Mary Hark’s daughter. So I’m going to continue at Lands’ End and Pendleton at a part-time capacity instead of assuming a full-time role immediately because of that two-month span. I also have over a hundred pounds of yarn to turn into cloth and over two hundred yards of fabric to turn into garments. So I have a lot of stuff to create, build a portfolio and work at my own business.

SoHE: And, the future job that you’re building towards?

AK: I have ideas, but I don’t know where I’ll end up because of all the different avenues I can go down. I’ve been collecting antique industrial sewing machines so I create garments and have the same finishes you would expect from a store-bought garment. Additionally, I have my own looms to weave with. Whether I work for a corporate brand or I’m working for myself I want to keep busy and continue to make something, that’s what I’m mostly drawn to.

You will always be able to find an income or a job somewhere, but if you’re doing what you love then that’s what matters.

SoHE: What advise can you give new students?

AK: A lot of people have this unilateral idea that being successful is making a bunch of money or working for a large company, and that isn’t necessarily true because everybody’s definition of success and what’s going to ultimately make them happy and fulfilled is completely different.

Do what you really feel you want to do, regardless of how it may be perceived by others. Search for a major that will fulfill who you are as a person instead of just giving you an income. You will always be able to find an income or a job somewhere, but if you’re doing what you love then that’s what matters.