Journey with design

Long winding road (and boat ride) from creating jewelry for Tinseltown luminaries to making fuzzy socks and cosy coats for comfort-loving Gabriola Islanders

Katherine Gordon
Special to Times Colonist

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Gabriola Island designer Cherryl Reed once made a necklace that was featured in an episode of 1980s television blockbuster show Dynasty. "It was a big piece with mastodon ivory set in fine cord-work and inlaid gold-dust." Another time, she sold one of her necklaces to Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin.

From designing jewelry for celebrities, Reed has achieved a degree of fame herself, on a Gulf Island scale, for her funky fleece socks.

People on Gabriola buy Reed's socks by the dozen as Christmas gifts. At any social occasion, it's a given that at least one person will be wearing them, and at parties, fleecy feet are the fashion norm.

Islander Terri La Scala speaks on behalf of many when she says "the fleece socks are addictive!"

Reed didn't come to the Coast with plans to become an Island sock mogul. The small-town Saskatchewan girl moved west in 1972, studying art at Malaspina College and eventually establishing herself in Vancouver. Her first designer efforts in the early 1970s were macrame plant hangers, which sold like hot cakes. "No-one else was doing it in Vancouver when I first started, but that changed really fast," she says with a laugh. Reed then put her imagination into high gear and started creating one-off intricate cord-work jewelry, using macrame techniques. Before long, her necklaces and earrings were for sale in galleries from Vancouver to Montreal.

It all came to a halt when she and husband Ken Capon started a charter boat business in 1981. "We were living on the boat, and there wasn't much room for anything. Then things got so busy there wasn't time for the jewelry anymore. Everything had to be put away for a little while."

That "little while" turned out to be a lot longer than she had anticipated. It wasn't until 1997, when Reed and Capon moved to Gabriola Island and cut back on the charter business, that Reed finally had time to think about designing again. When the boat business was sold in 2004, she threw herself back into her work with a vengeance.

But rather than refocus on jewelry, she turned her attention to fabric -- especially fleece, one of her favourite materials.

"I just love fleece because it's so cosy. I feel like I have a warm blanket around me when I'm wearing it and it's so comfortable and stretchy."

Reed started out simply, buying bulk quantities of fleece and turning them into hats, purses and the soon-to-be-famous socks. Then she moved into clothing, and things took off. "The first season I did the vests and coats and opened my studio for the [Gabriola] Thanksgiving gallery tour, I sold 30 coats in three days."

This is not fleece as we West Coasters typically think of it, covered in Goretex and studded with zippers and pockets for water bottles and snack bars. Reed makes elegant coats, ponchos and vests trimmed with faux-fur, fringes and beads in free-flowing styles. Customers say they're frequently asked where they got their beautiful coats. La Scala, an import to Gabriola from Hollywood, Calif., says she likes the coats and matching hats because they let her be "a little bit glamorous but not too overdressed."

When West Kootenay author Rita Moir visited the island in spring 2006, she spent a fruitless day in Nanaimo looking for an outfit to wear to a wedding in Victoria. Moir subsequently dropped in at Reed's studio and left with an elegant peach-coloured poncho-style jacket. The fringes on the arms had been a little too long for the petite Moir, but with fleece, that's not a problem. Reed simply produced her cutting shears, and voila! fringes instantly trimmed to suit.

"I'm working on a fleece skirt now I call a 'fajita skirt.' I love it -- it's nice and firm at the top and flairs out at the bottom, so it's very elegant but so comfortable!"

Reed still has a fondness for glamour. She recently started a line of silk jackets, and for the first time in years is designing and making necklaces and earrings for visitors to the island.

That's fine with the comfort-loving folk on Gabriola -- just so long as she keeps making those fuzzy socks.

Online: www.cherrylreed.com.

Katherine Gordon is a freelance writer and author living on Gabriola Island. Her fourth book, The Garden That You Are, is scheduled for release by Sono Nis Press in 2007. She has four pairs of fleece socks.

Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007