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Conversations with Huckleberry Starnes

Today we’d like to introduce you to Huckleberry Starnes.

Hi Huckleberry, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Yes, Huckleberry. It’s my real name, my mother was an English teacher. That’s always the first question I get when people meet me, and it’s a whole other story.

Since arriving in Atlanta in 1994 as a recent graduate from Rhode Island School of Design as a classically trained sculptor I’ve been hustling.

Starting out in a loft on what is now the Beltline, next to the Telephone Factory, my first jobs building tabletop props for high end catering events, then photoshoots, TV ads, movies and eventually designing and building retail and restaurant environments. Simultaneously, I begun working with Ryan Gainey, an internationally acclaimed garden designer, and built anything he could dream of, which became a wonderful partnership spanning 20 years. With all of these various types of clients, I became the “person that can build anything” and spent the first 5 years in Atlanta designing and building a truly bizarre array of items, from large scale sets that were used inside the High Museum for the Olympics to reproducing someone’s residence as a perfect replica dollhouse.

In 1999, I took a 6 month job working in Japan on a US Naval base doing renovation and design work, which sparked my interest in commercial and industrial environmental design. Later working in Taiwan, and various sites around the US I ended up going back to school and obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Design and a Master’s in Industrial Design from Auburn. From there I became lead designer and national sales manager for a company in Duluth, GA. that designs and builds control rooms for secure and technical locations, such as drone flight centers, power plants and the FBI. Ultimately, I designed, and with my team, built and installed 50% of the US nuclear power plant control rooms and every Smithsonian Institution security center in the world.. I know, at this point you are thinking, “Huckleberry, what does all this have to do with this cute embroidery in the pictures?”

So, in 2010 my wife, who is also a designer, became pregnant with our son. At that point, I decided to walk away from my design career and focus entirely on being a stay at home dad, and with addition of our daughter a few years later, it’s been the most rewarding career choice I’ve made. For 10 years I was able to explore the world with these crazy kids, building soapbox derby cars, dangerous tree forts and winning citywide Halloween decoration contests with homemade decorations and animated zombie cages.

However, as my kids were getting older I was feeling the call to get back in to the studio, and with being stuck at home in 2020, it was the perfect time to explore my options. I began by setting up a home printing studio to make homegoods and apparel, soon after I obtained the exclusive rights to the City of Decatur logo, and was hired as a consultant by Decatur to design and implement their mask awareness campaign. Since the lockdown started I have sold over 3,000 customer masks, appeared on local and national news, and now have 5 retail locations that carry my handmade items in the Atlanta area.

In January of 2021 I stumbled across a video online of someone using a hand controlled 100 year old embroidery machine to make custom western wear shirts, this technique is called “Chainstitch Embroidery”. I was hooked immediately, and after a month of searching, I found a machine in Ohio, made the 1,000 mile round trip drive to pick it up and started my embroidery business the following month. Currently I have 4 vintage machines that perform various embroidery and sewing operations, and my primary business is custom embroidery on garments, and custom homegoods, while still supplying printed homegoods and a small amount of custom printed apparel to my wholesale customers.

Working as a chainstitch artist has put me back in that role of the person that can make anything, working with clients doing varsity jackets for hip hop artist, bridal party hats, motorcycle vests, large scale banners, stage wear for musicians, reproducing clothes that people had as kids and even a vintage inspired work shirt for a candidate running for Atlanta City Council. Additionally, I am able to travel with me machines and set up at in-store events and pop-ups to do live stitching, which is always fascinating when I see people’s reactions to these machines for the first time.

Currently, I am still working out of my home studio in Decatur, maintaining my online store (Huckmade.com), working with the City of Decatur and local retailers, as well as making custom garments by commission. As a side project, my kids and I are plotting a roof mounted trebuchet with a 3-block “Watermelon” radius, but once again, that’s another story.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
I have a habit in my carrier of seeing something that I find interesting, obtaining the skills to make it and then cataloging that skill and moving on the next thing. In some ways, this is a great, in that it lets me be very flexible in the type of work I can do, but sometimes I think it would be nice to pull the blinders down and spend time mastering just one skill.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
Now that I’m focusing on the hand controlled embroidery on these vintage machines, it’s really rewarding to see my hand so evident in the work.

Everything that is produced with this process shows the artisans thoughts and choices as they are embroidering, and no two people make the same choices, so the end result is something very personal. I like returning to my sculpture roots where you could really see that a person, and not a computer, made these objects.

Do you any memories from childhood that you can share with us?
As a kid growing up on a farm in Ohio I was always fascinated by all the machines, and how they showed their ware from the fact that they were not precious, but just another tool to be used and repaired. In my garments, I think about the importance of using existing items, and giving them new life, while trying not to contribute to fast fashion.

Pricing:

  • Custom Denim Jackets: $150-$450
  • Custom Patches: $25-$85
  • Custom Jacket Back Patches: $85-$225
  • Custom Hats: $35-$85
  • Custom Banners: $65-$225

Contact Info:


Image Credits

Huckmade.com

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