Conversations: Lyle McGraw
Lyle on his sartorial journey, the communicative powers of design, and the future projects he’s dreaming up.
We’re continually inspired by the diversely talented individuals that comprise the Gjelina Group – it’s this layering of perspectives that infuses each of our spaces with distinct soul and character… and we’re honored to have the opportunity to share their stories.
Lyle McGraw — part of our Gjusta Goods team — is a wildly talented self-taught clothing designer and tailor, following his intuition and curiosity to make entirely one-of-a-kind garments. With high attention to craft and detail, Lyle’s garments consider clothing as a form of art, allowing both utilitarian shapes and experimental techniques to inform his process… all while making use of repurposed and often unconventional materials.
We caught up with Lyle to discuss more about his sartorial journey; the communicative powers of design; and the future projects he’s dreaming up.
Can you share a bit about your background and upbringing?
I was born in Carmel, CA, where I lived until I was about eight years old. Growing up, my parents were into art and design, and kept really considerate, well-made objects around us. They were guided by their own taste, bringing things into our home that felt significant and reminded us of our past or what we found beautiful in life. They were very supportive of me trying new things, encouraging me to work with my hands, whether it was painting, woodworking, or just experimenting.
When did you start sewing?
I always liked clothing — it’s so powerful to have a form of expression you carry with you into the world, a wearable form of art in real time. I have always been very deliberate about what I wear, and I think through that interest and attention to detail I started to imagine what clothing I might design myself. Making clothing started just from being curious about it. I think I wanted to see if I could make the types of garments that I personally wanted to wear.
When I was around 19 I bought a bolt of fabric and I borrowed my mom's sewing machine where it remained unused for a year and a half before I attempted anything. One day I sat down and tried to make a pair of pants — which resulted in accidentally sewing the legs together and making a giant skirt. Yet I was intrigued…and usually when I set my mind to something, I will obsess over it and continue until I reach a place of satisfaction.
I am self-taught and have never formally studied fashion, though I did take design courses at SMC that have helped me with the mathematics of drafting. But mostly, my education has come from experimentation; purchasing pattern making and sewing textbooks; and scouring the Internet for resources on how to make garments with home sewing machines.
The split leg trouser, the leather puffer – loving these idiosyncratic, one-of-a-kind approaches to detail. Where do these ideas come from?
I love going out into the world and observing what other people are wearing: What did they choose to put on? Do they think it's fun? Do they like how it makes them feel? Looking for details that stand out. There's so many different ways you can interpret the experience of clothing. For me, I like wondering how someone might react to or interpret something I made. I wondered what a design might communicate to someone if they were willing to look for it; maybe it reminds them of something from their past, maybe a small detail brings them joy.
I try to speak through little details. For example, creating a multifunctional fused pant pocket that acts like a pleat when you're moving, but also stores a lot of things; something useful, subtle, that also makes the pants more comfortable.
I love clothes that move with the wearer and that change depending on the body that's wearing them. Sometimes this looks like having a fixed measurement — like the waist — that will be the foundation of the fit, which allows space to experiment with the rest of the form, whether that means making the knee really large or giving a lot of room in the hip and adding darts or pleats for a specific, swooping silhouette. Envisioning these moments while I'm making something is very exciting for me. I’ll start with a few fixed measurements and see where the process takes me. At this point, I can imagine how a two-dimensional design will look in three dimensions; it's kind of like I peeled enough oranges so that now, when I lay the orange peel flat I can see the sphere shape in abstraction.
Being out in the world sparks these thoughts. Seeking out little details, remembering them, and finding ways to incorporate or reinterpret them into my work as I sew.
What's something specific you've been inspired by lately?
I'm very inspired by utilitarianism: I love hiking and outdoors magazines, workwear and uniform catalogs. Starting from minimal classic silhouettes and putting my own spin on them. Ultimately I want to make clothes that people will wear for a really long time, so I think I’m most inspired by finding playfulness within designs that have longevity and attention to detail.
Can you talk a little bit about your materials and sourcing and sort of where that piece comes from and where you find new fabrics?
I seek out a lot of used materials and deadstock excess fabrics on eBay, Etsy, and thrift stores. Friends know what I'm doing and they will send me fabric, whether that's old tablecloths from their family, linens, or painter’s drop cloths. I will work with almost anything. I find that sometimes if you have less options it can inform the design process in its own unique way, pushing me to be creative.
I might start from a green 10-ounce faded canvas that I found on eBay, but with the right silhouette and details, it can go from fabric that's collecting dust to a garment that will be worn for life. I have so much fabric: scraps, old blankets, denim. Upholstery scraps from a former job at a furniture store. Leather, boucle, linen.
It’s a wild assortment that will sometimes sit for years, waiting for the right application. I might draw a sketch in my journal. A year will go by and I won't do anything with it. But then the right fabric will come along, and suddenly a sketch that seemed like it wasn't going anywhere takes shape.
What keeps you sharp creatively?
My friend and roommate Armand Carraway, who also happens to make clothing. A lot of his perspective comes from the same place as me, with a shared eagerness to learn and grow and put his voice out there in a lasting way. He keeps me on my toes. We don't work on things together (yet) but we share techniques, ask each other questions, and have long conversations on what we’re trying to communicate through designs and what we want to see in the world. Those conversations are such a source of self-awareness and clarity for me, and it’s been meaningful to have such a positive constant in my life to bounce things off of, and who pushes me to do the best I can.
What’s a dream project or something that’s coming up for you that you’re excited about?
I'm very intrigued by furniture. I think one of my big goals down the line is to do a collection of clothing and furniture that is one cohesive body of work.
When I was younger I was very interested in woodworking and used to make everything from coffee tables to step stools, jewelry boxes to cutting boards… making and selling skateboards when I was 14 at my school lunch break. I'm very inspired by my younger self and the eagerness I had to pursue and attempt anything from a place of curiosity. I’d love to revisit those woodworking beginnings and incorporate what I've learned with sewing, with a refined approach to design that considers furniture and clothing as pieces of the same perspective.