I’ve taken an American icon, the T-shirt, and re-envisioned it. I seek to elevate them to wearable art status without losing qualities I admire, namely accessibility and comfort. I work with them as a form, much like a clay artist works with teapots as a form. My aim is to keep the tops pure, which for me means without superfluous design. I offer texture and visual tension through the seaming itself, which I call squiggly embroidery. The seaming is created using a “merrow” machine. The raised seams signal design that’s unconventional, informal and honest. The thread color or, more accurately, the mix of colored threads in each seam balances the texture and introduces grace notes into the composition, making my version of wearable art into the apparel version of hand-made stoneware; casual, inventive, and strikingly designed, but without the formality of porcelain. The designs integrate function and beauty, and I think of the tops as abbreviated and pure because the embellishment is integral to the construction.
Kirké clothing is made in my Northeast Minneapolis studio. I design the tops, draft all of the patterns and change them into the sizes that I offer. Debbie, my assistant, works with me 12 hours per week to help with sewing. I work full time. If you are visiting Minneapolis and would like to visit the studio, please call. If I am there I welcome your visit.
My bio (which my husband wrote for me) follows.
From a first home near Elvis’s Graceland mansion to an adult life spent in places as far-flung as Greece and Japan, Karen Bernthal has always had a talent for the subtly exotic, for creative clothing that offers quirkiness with a heart. What can’t be doubted is her passion for her wearable art. Her latest twist is hip, casual yet stylish, inside out tops that take normally hidden seaming and transforms it into a showcase element.
Her label name, Kirké, comes from Greek mythology and refers to the goddess Circe, who famously turned Odyssey’s men into pigs. Karen’s clothes don’t turn men into wild animals but they do turn the women who wear them into figures with perhaps just a little more divinity to them! Also an avid gardener, Karen takes pleasure in introducing beauty into everyone’s life. Original, independent, shy and honest, Karen exudes offbeat integrity and her clothes do, too.