Kay Gieseking, leader of our talented sewing department, came to McKinnon and Harris in 2015 after running her own highly acclaimed upholstery shop for 20 years in Richmond, VA. Ask anyone in town--they’ll tell you that Kay is the best upholsterer in the city and who everyone went to when they needed their furniture reupholstered. Her client list included our co-founder, Will Massie, and his wife Alice. Alice happened to walk in to see Kay on the very day she announced that she was closing the shop. Serendipitously, McKinnon and Harris had just begun the search for a talented individual to lead the sewing department. Alice told her to call the Richmond workshop right away – we’re certainly happy she did!
How did you learn to sew? I taught myself as a teenager by learning to make my own clothes. I began hand sewing, moved on to a pedal sewing machine, and only began doing upholstery work by accident!
How did your experience running your own upholstery shop prepare you to lead the sewing and cushion department at McKinnon and Harris? I was already very familiar with cushion cutting, sewing, and fabrication, but was used to interior furniture which is quite a different process. The sewing team at McKinnon and Harris was already very knowledgeable, and once we added the knowledge that I brought with me we quickly became a very good team—the transition from interior to exterior furniture was very smooth. One of the biggest challenges of running my own shop was finding trained employees, so the opportunity to lead a team with so much talent has been wonderful.
What is your favorite fabric to work with and why? I love working with fine fabrics. Finer fabrics are often more of a challenge to work with, but I love taking the flat pieces and pattern matching and doing the handwork to create a great piece. Pattern matching, tufting, and intricate handwork are truly my passions.
Are there any unusual tools that you use that you can’t sew without? Curved needles. When I first came to McKinnon and Harris, the team all used flat needles and I don’t know how they did it that way for so long. Curved needles are much easier to use, especially when sewing cushion corners and are the most crucial sewing tool in our workshop, if you ask me.
How do you express yourself creatively outside of the workshop? I still love doing my own upholstery work, but if I’m not inside sewing or taking on another crafty project, I enjoy being outside gardening and working in my yard.
What book is on your nightstand? I’m always reading mysteries. I love the suspense and thrill of a good mystery.