Several years ago my Mom, Pat Lopp, gave me the coolest black and crème skirt with a patch-work of panels in different fabrics sewn together….one corduroy, one polka dot, one toile, one swirls. When I looked at the tag it said Uncommon Threads. I thought, “What a creative designer!” Fast forward a few years and Uncommon Threads becomes a common connection—Chapel Hill, in fact. I’m researching a story for Chapel Hill Magazine and selecting items for their 2007 Holiday Gift Guide. I fall in love with a funky black corduroy skirt with color block panels at the clothing boutique Wink inside Cameron’s at University Mall. Its label says Uncommon Threads. I think back to my closet and say, “Hey, I own one of these creations!” I finally learn the line was created by Chapel Hill native Donna McMillan, sister of Cameron’s own Bridget McMillan Pemberton-Smith and Wendy McMillan Smith.
I asked Bridget and Wendy what it was like growing up with an aspiring fashion designer. “Donna was always making something creative with her sewing machine. She often made us really cool clothes. Also, I think her creativity really helped me to tap into my own creativity,” says Bridget.
The name alone helps explain what sets Uncommon Threads apart from other lines available at Wink. “Donna’s skirts are really unique,” explains Bridget. “People like the idea that they can buy one and be one of a very few persons with that same skirt. Our customers love that they are made by a Chapel Hill native. Several of our customers know Donna personally and the love that they can support a friend’s business.”
Follow me from the cozy college town of Chapel Hill where Donna got her start to the quaint coastal village of Georgetown, SC where she now resides and creates. Here is a peak into Donna’s design world via a recent Q&A with The Fashion Plate.
Give Chapelboro readers a history of Uncommon Thread’s evolution.
I’ve been sewing pretty much all my life; mostly for fun but also for profit. My decision to start Uncommon Threads came about from a combination of things: burn-out from a 20 year restaurant stint, mid-life crisis/awareness and encouragement from family, especially, Bridget and Wendy (sisters who run local favorite Cameron’s at University Mall). The internet has also been a huge inspiration. Living in this area made it difficult to buy fabric and supplies locally. The internet made finding what I wanted possible and fun. The business started by making skirts to sell at Wink, Cameron’s clothing boutique. There has been a lot of trial and error but the styles that seem to sell best are the original appliquéd designs, the panel skirts which incorporate recycled denim and simple basic skirts using fun fabric.
Describe your design space and inspirations for new creations.
I work at home where space once designated for dining or entertaining has been taken over by fabric, pins, measuring devices, patterns, etc. I have a room where most of my fabric is stored and where all the sewing and pressing is done. Most of the cutting is done on my dining room table. Regarding inspiration, sometimes it’s a piece of fabric that leads to envisioning a finished garment. Handbags and other accessories often have details that can be translated into an article of clothing. Current events and social trends have had great influence on some things. Recycling denim and men’s shirts has been done fairly frequently.
Color blocking is a big trend this fall. A lot of your skirts already incorporate this theme. How much do current trends influence your designs?
I have been a fan of color block designs for a long time. My dog appliqué skirts have done pretty well at Cameron’s. The most popular ones are probably those with a black silhouette of a particular dog breed on a bright background with a contrasting band at the hem. I’ve also added collars which provide an additional color to the mix. I’d like to come up with a new theme for fall! As far as design trends are concerned, I stay pretty basic. There are so many fun things out there and I love to see how people coordinate scarves, leggings and jewelry with my skirts. Women are so busy these days and my main goal is simply to have something that’s cute, comfortable, durable and easy to take care of.
Besides visiting your sisters at Wink inside Cameron’s where can fashionistas find your line?
Taylor’s in Pawleys Island, SC
Harbor Specialties in Beaufort, NC
www.donnaskirts.com This web address now takes you directly to my Facebook page where you can see all the latest things that are going on.
My all-time favorite skirt is one you designed for me when I was writing for Chapel Hill Magazine. It oozes my personality with a patchwork of colorful polka dots on a chocolate brown corduroy background. (And you had never met or seen me!) Do clients have pieces commissioned?
A large chunk of my business lately has been custom sewing. The best way to contact me is probably through my Facebook page. People can look through the photo albums and see past projects to get ideas of the kind of things I’ve done.
Can you give us a glimpse into the future of Uncommon Threads?
Although I plan to concentrate on skirts, I’d like to try some casual dresses. There are so many nice knits available now. Many are eco-friendly such as rayon made from bamboo. I’ve been intimidated by knits but I think I’d like to give it a try.
Thanks to Donna for sharing her story and to Bridget and Wendy for helping to promote her unique design line in Chapel Hill!
Feel free to share your comments on local designers below and let us know if you own a favorite Uncommon Threads piece.