by Marina Rybak
There is a unique design resource thriving in Long Island City not far from Queensboro Bridge. This tucked away creative paradise is Penn & Fletcher. “Painting with stitches” custom-made embroidery atelier is in the realm of its own, fusing precious heritage and traditions of the past with the state-of-the-art pioneering ingenuity of the present.
Its founder Ernie Smith completed his first hand embroidery sampler when he was 9-years-old and simply followed his passion and his heart when in 1986 he established Penn & Fletcher, shifting from the design career in theater.
The time when US Embroidery Industry was sliding into a painful, neglectful decline and continued to implode, Ernie was guided but completely different set of principles. He formed an enterprise with a conscience, a collaborative oasis where in the atmosphere of team spirit exquisite craftsmanship, fine quality and talented artisans reigned supreme. And it was made in New York City!
The needs of the stage costume designers were addressed first, followed by natural expansion into a field of television and film. The specialty and the ability of the company to focus on one of kind, individual projects attracted top interior and fashion world, museums and cultural institutions worldwide.
The breadth of Penn & Fletcher visual contribution to Cinema, TV, Opera, Ballet and Theater is astounding – Memoirs of a Geisha, The Aviator, Tim Burton’s Alice, Boardwalk Empire, The Will Rogers Follies, Dangerous Liaisons on Broadway, Hairspray, Phantom of The Opera, Trip to Bountiful is only just naming a few.
Two quick subway stops from Manhattan, a visit to a spacious Workshop borders on experiencing magic first hand. The historical archives of pattern references and various examples of embellishment and fabric manipulation are an inspirational play-land. The wide scope of machinery on view, ranging from the late 1800 hundreds to computer generated multiheads allows the richness of hand, hand-guided and high-tech embroidery possibilities, only “limited by one’s imagination”.
Museum quality antique machines are an absolute wonder. Rescued by savvy expert Ernie Smith, they are capable of performing operations and techniques, not available anywhere else. Penn & Fletcher professional family (inclusive of a few feline gate keepers on premises) is enthusiastic and gracious to share their knowledge and love for their art.
The alchemy of the creative process lives on at Penn & Fletcher. Authentic and enticing, this place invites you in to create something beautiful. It is a designer’s dream come true.