Patch Work

ARTFUL APPAREL: Bright colors and whimiscal pattern pairings define Georgia Van Ryzin’s handcrafted clothing and accessories for children and adults.

Madison resident Georgia Van Ryzin would never discourage her three children from leaving the house in mismatched outfits—after all, she’s probably the one who made them.

Mom to Bowen, 17, Clarissa, 14, and Ginger, 12, Van Ryzin has been sewing and selling hats, scarves, dresses, blankets, purses and other handmade items for more than a decade. Her unique clothing and accessories for children and adults are patchwork creations fashioned from mismatched fabrics in a variety of textures and colors.

The seamstress and artist launched her business, Van Ryzin Designs, in 2001, with a collection of basic accessories—hats and scarves. Her market research consisted of studying the clothing her children and their friends were wearing. “I started small,” she says. “I just began sewing, and one thing led to another.”

After making pieces in a variety of bold colors, Van Ryzin began experimenting with combining diverse fabrics and patterns, from plaids to florals. “I realized how unusual and quirky the pieces were starting to look, but yet they still seemed to work,” she says.

Today, she sells her mismatched collections—including her popular Kookamunga line of fleece dolls, named by then 5-year-old Ginger—at local craft fairs and markets. (On occasion, Van Ryzin will travel to larger venues, such as the Jersey Shore, especially when the location can double as an impromptu getaway for her family.)

Van Ryzin attended Skidmore College in upstate New York, where an art major enabled her to concentrate in painting and dabble in sculpture, woodworking and other mediums. After graduating, she set up studio space in Hoboken, and worked as an artist selling and showing her work—mostly sculpture—wherever she could. Her focus shifted to family when she married, became pregnant with her first child and moved back to Madison.

Years later, Van Ryzin stumbled on a new outlet for her artistic talents, when a friend approached for help with a fund-raiser to benefit those affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“She asked me what I could donate, and I told her that I’d been making silly hats and scarves for years,” she says. After the experience of selling for the first time, Van Ryzin realized she could turn her handcrafts into a business.

As a fine artist, Van Ryzin struggled to sell her work, and often had a difficult time explaining the inspiration behind her pieces. “Now when I tell people about my creations, it’s as simple as, ‘my daughter was cold and needed a hat,’” she says. “My mom is just happy that I’m actually using my college education.” Her mother, a retired physician, often stops by to lend a hand labeling clothing and other tasks.

Many of her greatest creations were born of necessity, inspired by day-to-day items she needed for herself or her children—such as when she had to attend an event for her son and, with nothing to wear, opted to transform a thrift shop curtain into a skirt.

“I got so many compliments, I starting making scrap skirts out of vintage fabrics,” she says. She also recycles pillowcases to make brightly colored children’s dresses.

Likewise, when she needed a hands-free shoulder bag to wear while chasing her kids on the playground, she simply stitched one together. Van Ryzin’s bags often feature contrasting patterns and fabrics inside and out.

The handcrafted nature of Van Ryzin’s designs allows her to be sensitive to the needs of fellow moms. For instance, when one mother needed a poncho to fit over her handicapped child’s wheelchair, Van Ryzin could happily customize a design. She also anticipates the needs of her customers based on her own experiences as a busy mom. “I know how much moms appreciate something that’s reasonably priced.  I believe in clothing that’s sized generously and lasts a long time so kids can get a few years’ wear out of it before handing it down to their siblings,” she says.

What Van Ryzin enjoys most about her business is the flexibility it allows her to create her own schedule and be present for sports games and dinners and vacations with her family.

“I have to be aware of how many events I can manage and still have a family life,” she says, noting that she organizes her show schedule around soccer season. “But it’s also about fulfilling the need to make myself happy and be passionate about what I do.”

These days, Van Ryzin has all but mastered the art of balancing her business with her responsibilities as a mom. “Juggling work and motherhood has been very interesting…but exciting,” she says.  “In the beginning, I’d wake up in the middle of the night to nurse the baby, and then stay up to sew clothing for an hour or two.”

Since then, she has upgraded from a makeshift workspace in the dining room—which she’d have to scramble to clean up in time for dinner each day—to her own studio space in a spare room of the house, courtesy of a Mother’s Day surprise from her children and husband, Bill, 50, an architect and fellow Madison native.

She stays on top of the demands of her business and family by planning ahead. “I look to see where I can squeeze in a few hours of sewing…and then it’s 3 o’clock before I know it,” she says. Van Ryzin also sews and fills orders in the evening, after dinner and helping the kids with their homework. Her family often pitches in when she sells her clothing at street fairs.

“I do this because, while being a mom is wonderful, women still have to do things that satisfy themselves,” she says. “Your kids benefit from seeing their mom doing something she loves.”

Van Ryzin plans to continue finding inspiration in the wacky patterns that kids love and the practical items parents need. “I never could have imagined where I am today, and it’s exciting to take on new challenges. I’m looking forward to the next 10 years,” she says.

Show time

Van Ryzin Designs can be found at Hopscotch (174 Maplewood Avenue, Maplewood), and at the following upcoming craft events:
November 3–5: Royal Boutique, Oak Knoll School, 44 Blackburn Road, Summit
November 6: Rumson Bulldog Boutique, Forrestdale Middle School, Rumson
November 11 and 12: Bazar de Noel, Thursday Morning Club, Madison Community House, 25 Cook Avenue, Madison
November 17: Weintal Pre-School Shopping Night, 40 Whitenack Road, Basking Ridge
December 3: Junior League of Morristown Gift Expo, Xavier Center, College of St Elizabeth, 2 Convent Road, Morristown.

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