Tiffany Downs

Jan 9th, 2024

What does being an artist mean to you?

Ever since I was little, creating art was kind of a coping strategy for me. I learned early on that creating things using your hands was an escape. Also, I’m a twin. When I was growing up, I was used to being constantly compared to my twin and everything I had was shared. When I made something, it was mine. So that was a valuable thing for me. When I made art, even if someone tried to copy it, it was still something that was only mine.

When did you start sewing?

When I was little, my mom taught me to sew on her sewing machine. But I had an adoptive grandmother, a friend of the family, who taught me how to hand sew. She showed me how you could cut two pieces of cloth and then put them together to create a new shape. I started cutting out the shape of teddy bears and sewing them together. I was so obsessed with the idea that I could make anything I could visualize and for a while I was just giving people these funny little teddy bears. They were literally just stuffed with toilet paper but it was just so amazing to me that I could create something like that. By the time I was a teenager I was very into drawing. I really had a long break from sewing until about 2013 or 2014 when a friend of mine in Japan gave me a gift of fabric. It wasn’t very big, just a small piece of fabric. I wanted to treasure this piece of fabric from her, so I made a skirt by hand. And that just got me going. Ever since then I’ve been obsessed. I just think it’s such a special gift that we have, to be able to respond to what we hear and see and feel, in a creative way.

You have a phenomenal collection of vintage and antique clothing. When did you start collecting?

I’ve been collecting vintage ever since I was a kid, probably since I was about seven. But it wasn’t until about 2018 that I realized I could actually own things from the 1800s and early 1900s. I worked at an art museum and I worked with the permanent collection. And I remember the museum’s textile archive that was never out. I always assumed that those pieces were so precious that they only exist in a museum. Then I bought a laced petticoat. It was just so gorgeous. I started searching and realized there’s stuff out there that I can actually have. That I can start my own permanent collection. I loved learning simple conservation techniques at the Speed Art Museum. Its was such a joy to work in cleaning and repairing art. From tapestries to antique frames. I really enjoyed the slow and careful work of looking after the old and precious. My collection of antique garments allows me to continue learning conservation by cleaning and repairing these precious pieces of history. 

What’s your favorite piece that you have right now?

So many times I’ve found a piece and thought ‘oh my goodness, this is it!’ Right now at the top of my collection is this beautiful, baby blue linen shirt. It has tons of embroidery and a very unique lace inlay. And I like it because it’s different. It’s really easy to find antiques that are white. It’s much harder to find an Edwardian shirt that has color. I also have a velvet piece that I was wearing a couple of years ago that is so incredibly soft. It’s so beautiful and when you wear it you really feel like you’re time traveling with the way it holds you, with the way you feel inside of it. So those are probably my two favorite pieces.

I also love that you wear them. I think so many of us are afraid to keep these pieces in circulation. You think about all the pieces of clothing that exist in the world and they simply cannot all go to museums.

I agree. Working in an art museum, at least my local art museum, we had a huge collection of antique clothing but it was never brought out. Unless it’s a textile museum or a fashion museum, those pieces just stay hidden. So that makes me feel less badly about giving them a new life. You also learn so much about them by putting them on. There’s a certain feel to the cut and everything that really transports you to the time the garment was created. You just need to take care of them. I mean, they’re clothes. They were meant to be worn.

Is there anything specific to the hand sewing class that you want your students to know?

I think it’s an exciting privilege to be able to teach sewing (and hand sewing in particular) because teaching a group shows us and reminds us that there’s a community out there – a group of people who want to adopt that type of slow creating. I’m really excited to be part of that, and help to build that. I have also realized that with hand sewing, everybody approaches it a little bit differently.  I want to share what I know, so that each of us can find our own way. That’s what I hope, that my students will feel like ‘hey, this. It may be slower, but it’s just so enjoyable. This is something I can hold onto.’

Tiffany is teaching Beginner Hand Sewing on Thursdays, January 25th, February 1st, February 8th, and February 15th at 12-2:30 pm.


Tiffany Downs is a history nerd with needles and thread who has been sewing since she was seven. She is an avid collector of antique and vintage garments who is passionate about slow living and the art of using our hands. She has spent the past several years sewing clothing, creating recipes, gardening and drawing portraits.