A jack-of-all-trades is how we would describe Emily Burtner of Thousand Island We're happy to welcome Emily back into the shop for the entire month of August. Her collection includes prints, pearl beaded bracelets, and her one-of-a-kind handmade clothing. In addition, we're super excited to have an exclusive Moon + Arrow x Thousand Island scrunchie crop-top that we think you'll love. Learn more about Emily, Thousand Island, and her creative process in our most recent blog post. Long live Summer! Shop Thousand Island all month long.
Q: Can you tell us about your background? Are you originally from Philadelphia?
I'm a life-long maker, I can't remember a time when I wasn't beading or making clay treasures or altering my clothing. I have a background in graphic design and photography and I'm a self-taught sewist and clothing designer (with lots of help and guidance from YouTube and the sewing communities on Instagram). I’ve been working under the name “Thousand Island” since 2015, when I co-released a 7” by my band, Marge, and another Philly-based band, Gunk. From there, Thousand Island has come to encompass all of the seemingly disparate projects I have a hand in. Beyond releasing my band's music, I've published numerous photo zines, designed jewelry, accessories and HomeGoods, attempted to draft sewing patterns, and worked as a freelance print designer and photographer for several musicians.
Most recently, Thousand Island has, somewhat unintentionally, become a “clothing brand” (and I use that term loosely), after I started embellishing vintage denim with hand embroidery back in 2016. From there, I began dyeing and bleaching and cutting up thrifted t-shirts to re-assemble into new clothing, making pants out of discarded curtains, and tie dyeing bedsheets to become dresses. I still primarily make one-of-a-kind pieces, but as my sewing skills have improved, I’ve begun developing signature styles in a range of sizes. I still have a lot to learn, but this new version of my brand has felt so exciting and rewarding to experience!
I grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, but ended up in Philadelphia after five years in Baltimore, Maryland- where I attended college. I've been Philly-based for almost nine years now.
Q: You work with so many different mediums - what is your favorite and why?
My favorite medium is whatever is keeping me up at night and pushing me out of bed every morning. Photography has always felt the most natural and fun and is the medium I've worked with the longest. But print design, and type design in particular, has been the most challenging and ultimately rewarding to me. Presently, I'm most excited about pushing around the limits of understood shapes of both letterforms and clothing- how elaborate or simple can the shape of a pair of pants or the letter R be while still functioning as either of those things?
Q: Who/what/where do you turn for inspiration?
My friends and peers are my greatest source of inspiration! I’m surrounded by so many wild freaky minds, so if I’m feeling stuck, I’ll go for a walk with my sister or my partner and talk about what they’re each working on. Getting a glimpse into how others understand the world and approach their work allows me to refocus and see my blocks from different perspectives. Or I'll switch gears and work on a different, very low stakes project as I work through whatever creative block is holding me back. Making tiny paper collages has always been a soothing practice when I'm stuck (it's like a jigsaw puzzle, but with a few correct answers!). But when all else fails, I'll just make myself a crunchwrap- making a perfectly crafted snack can be transcendental and centering.
Q: How would you like to see Thousand Island grow - what’s your long-term vision?
Thousand Island became a full time effort last year and I'm still coming to grips with what that means. It's been a lot of insecurities and growing pains, so growing currently means building a solid foundation for myself and my business. I can't see myself ever honing in on one craft or practice, so finding a way to be a professional jack-of-all-crafts is my ultimate dream. I'd love to develop a working typeface and publish sewing patterns! I dream of taking my shop on the road and doing a traveling trunk show! Maybe my band will play another show again?!
Q: What is next for you? Any dates, news, events?
My partner and I are about to release a capsule collection together! He's a musician and writer and we’ve been exploring ways to bring our practices together for years. This collection is loosely based on and inspired by lyrics from his most recent release and consists of a few shirt designs, a bucket hat, and maybe a few other items. Beyond that, I'm just excited to get back into my sewing studio to continue developing future Thousand Island collections!