Lewiston’s Julie Pierce is exploring the idea of “from wilderness to wearable.”A hunter can kill an animal, bring her the tanned hide and commission a custom-made piece of clothing, “to commemorate the hunt and honor the animal completely,” she explains.
Pierce’s work won top prizes in the clothing category at the 24th annual Rocky Mountain Leather Trade Show last spring in Sheridan, Wyo. A bison coat she made for Mark Swanson of Clarkston won first place. Second place went to a goat skin moto-style jacket she made for her daughter. She’s since been invited to teach this fall at the European Leatherworkers and Artists Trade Show in Firminy, France and the Austrian Saddler Museum in Hofkirchen, Austria.
For several years Pierce has made custom leather accoutrements for Lewiston Roundup Royalty. Pierce learned to sew in home economics class in 1970. She doesn’t think there are many people doing what she does.
“Why not honor the whole animal, that’s the way I like to think of it,” Pierce said
about creating with hides.
Inland 360: What inspired you to make your first leather jacket?
Pierce: When I was on the Roundup board I went to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. I put together a cowgirl costume. I walked into the Thomas and Mack Center and here was my cool fringy jacket on somebody else walking towards me. I said, that’s why I sew, because I want stuff that is different. The next year, in 2009 when I went back, I made an elk hide jacket for myself. All my work is one-of-a-kind, custom; “bespoke” is the word in the industry. It’s designed for a person and made just for that person.
360: What kind of equipment does it take to create these items?
Pierce: It takes multiple machines. I used my home machine on the lining and an industrial straight stitch machine I use for everything else. … I have a heavy duty walking foot machine that can sew through leather three-quarters of an inch thick.
360: You’ve made clothing items for the Roundup including parade
vests and chaps. This year the Lewiston Roundup queen and princesses are wearing your cuffs. What are the purpose of those?
Pierce: Historically, old cowboys wore leather around their cuffs to protect their wrists and preserve their shirts from wearing out from abrasion. Go back farther and (medieval knights wore) gauntlets. They’re eye catching and fun to wear. That’s where their super power hides (laughing).
360: What’s the story behind the bison coat that won first prize at the Rocky Mountain Leather Trade Show?
Pierce: Mark Swanson wanted it full length to wear to Washington State University football games. The hide was long enough to get just above his knees. He had a big leap of faith in me, in giving me the hide of the critter he shot. Once you start cutting you can’t really go back and get another quite that easily. The bison hide coat has no side seams. It wraps around Mark just like it wraps around the animal. The underbelly is on the center front and the ridgeline is on the back. The coat weighs 12 pounds. The next bison hide coat I would charge $4,000 for labor, someone would need to provide the hide.
360: You’ve been invited to show your work in Europe. Europeans seem to have a fascination with the American West. Have you found that to be true?
Pierce: They are nuts, they are ga-ga. … Whenever I travel internationally they want to know about cowboys and Route 66 and usually they want to know about Yellowstone National Park. … There really is a fascination with the American West. I think it’s this attitude of exploration and freedom and survival. You really had to make a go of it and make something out of nothing. There’s a lot of admiration in that.