December Featured MCA Member: Patti Dowse

Patti Dowse, the maker behind the popular repurposed clothing line Rags 2 Riches has been an entrepreneur at heart since childhood- always accidentally, but also always successfully, this avid maker “with a disposal problem” has a knack for taking the materials in front of her and making something new and exciting that her customers love. As a child, Patti was given an electric nail file by a family member, and instead of using it for its intended purpose, she repurposed the gift to play with found materials like soapstone and shells to create little trinkets. Seeing her interest, her mother took her to a supply store and purchased her a proper Dremel that could do the job right. When she had created a large collection, Patti brought her pieces to a local gift shop, where she was invited to sell them in batches as she created them.

Patti attended Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design, and when she moved with her husband to New York, Patti worked as a scientific textbook illustrator for Harcourt, Brace  & Company. After leaving the city, she became an entrepreneur,  yet again accidentally – and wildly successfully- creating the well-known handbag brand Erda. What started as Patti just making a handbag or two for herself and some friends grew over time to a small business with 1200 wholesale accounts, which she maintained until her sale of the business.

Now the maker behind Rags 2 Riches, Patti creates one of a kind pieces of apparel at her home studio in Cambridge, Maine from repurposed clothes with her own unique combinations of found fabrics incorporated into the designs. Her clothes are sold at the Center for Maine Craft, as well as a gallery in Bar Harbor and W. Newton, Massachusetts, each with their own following of customers who come in looking for new, one-of-a-kind creations.


How did you (learn about / become involved with) the MCA?

It was in the formative years, when dinosaurs still walked, so I don’t remember exactly.

What are the most important elements you consider when designing your forms?

Those of us with hips (I.e. women) mostly don’t want to emphasize our midsection- so I alter existing clothing to flare at the waist and drape nicely.

What materials are your favorite to work with currently, and why? 

I am addicted to yard sales and thrift stores- so doing what I do gives me an outlet for my hunting and hoarding instincts. I look for thermals and cottons and any drapey soft fabrics. I use a lot of solids to start, and then enliven them with a bit of color and pattern.

What type of projects do you want to be working on in the future?

I am developing some hats using sweaters and socks as a source of cozy.

What do you do in your spare time? What brings you joy?

Those of us that make things, feel a compulsive need to make stuff- so doing anything like this feels great! Being able to sell the results is a happy solution to making room for more!

What is the best compliment you’ve ever received about your work?

It’s more a visual- people look so happy when they put them on!

What advice would you give to emerging artists in your media?

I am finding a ready market because people want something with a little taste of arty at a reasonable price, rather than something over the top that costs a fortune and “looks it.”

Patti’s Rags 2 Riches line of one-of-a-kind tops, jackets, dresses, and more can be found at the Center for Maine Craft in West Gardiner.

Interested in being featured as one of MCA’s Featured Members for 2021? Reach out to Membership Coordinator Suzzanne at suzzanne@mainecrafts.org for more information!

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