This week in my shop Mag-Big we've been stocking up on Spring/Summer dresses. This is a time of year when we're all looking for versatile dresses that transition from day to evening, warm weather to slightly chilly, professional to casual. Everyone is excited to shed a few layers and see their figure again. For many of us, a perfect knit dress will give us the most options for layering pieces, adding styling elements, and achieving a comfortable, flattering look. With this in mind, we were so excited by the arrival of dresses by Varnish Clothing, a Portland-based clothing company focused on beautifully structured knit dresses and separates. After designer Kelcey Blanton brought us a new batch of clothes, I just had to write about her company.

While knits may seem like an easy choice for most wardrobe accents, they present some distinctive challenges for designers to work with. That desired easy to fit, stretchy, soft, and luscious element is accompanied with a host of careful attentions to detail such as varying fabric weight, hems, and employing proper equipment to accomplish a polished look. Portland has an incredible class of ready-to-wear designers who focus on knit textiles and Varnish Clothing is among the strongest representations of this aesthetic. Varnish Clothing designer, Kelcey Blanton, is known for her exquisite choice of beautiful fabric, creating dresses and separates that function interchangeably (and are often reversible). In the last few years I have watched Varnish produce stunningly elegant silhouettes time and time again. Blanton's eye for drape in fabric, color blocking, and over-all ease is characteristic of every collection she has produced. Her apparel is meant for women from every size range, personal style, and setting. It is multi-seasonal, extremely versatile, and let's be clear: there is nothing better for traveling than a reversible dress.

I asked Kelcey Blanton to tell us about her company, her techniques, and what's in store for her in the coming months.

The reversible Harlow Dress by Varnish
  • varnishclothing.com
  • The reversible Harlow Dress by Varnish

How did you learn to sew? What types of equipment do you typically operate? 
My mom taught me to see when I was little. She always made me clothes and I learned the basics from her. I also went to the art institute of Portland and took sewing classes there. I also interned at a custom clothing shop called Opal Collaborative Clothing with Meg Okies and she taught me a lot about perfecting my sewing skills. 
Right now I use home machines to do almost everything. Basic cover stitch, basic straight stitch and basic overlock. Nothing too fancy ;)

Blantons work space
  • Kelcey Blanton
  • Blanton's work space

How long has Varnish been in business? How did Varnish begin?
I started varnish right out of college so it has been about 7 years. I began by wanting to put some of my senior collection dresses in a friends shop and the I decided that I could make some more things too. It just kind of took off from there. 

Blantons work space
  • Kelcey Blanton
  • Blanton's work space

Where do you sell your clothing?
Right now I am just in a few local stores. Mag-big, Radish Underground, and Velouria (Seattle) keeping it small right now so I can focus on new designs and so I keep the passion for my line alive by not overwhelming myself;) it's kind of hard with a 3 year old at home.

Fairview Shirt by Varnish
  • varnishclothing.com
  • Fairview Shirt by Varnish


What makes your clothing unique?

I like to make things for women that are easy going and comfortable but still make them feel like they have style. Being a mom I really strive to provide my customer with practically stylish clothing that makes sense for everyday life. 

What do you look for in textiles?
Comfort, color, and ease. 

What is in store for your next collection?
I am trying to bump up the fashion aspect and make things that are a bit more edgy and fashion forward.

The reversible Astoria Dress
  • varnishclothing.com
  • The reversible Astoria Dress