In Stitches

By Veronique McAree | Photography Amanda Kowalski

Looking for a way to spice up your wardrobe or tablescape? Drop in at South Street Linen for a unique dose of style and pattern

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In an airy retail and studio space just west of the Old Port in Portland, Mary Ruth Hedstrom, Jane Ryan, and Lynn Krauss create scarves and tabletop accessories reminiscent of modernist paintings.

The three women, longtime friends and artists (all three are painters, and Krauss is also a printmaker), started South Street Linen about a year and a half ago. Why? “We’ve always had a fascination with textiles and thought it would be interesting to blend our collective ideas into a business venture,” says Ryan. One creative get-together led to another, and the trio found themselves designing, sewing, and printing on linen.

The scarves attracted attention every time one of the women wore them. “People stopped us on the street, wanting to know where we got our scarves,” says Ryan. “At which point we realized we might be on to something.”

Today, their collection includes a wonderful line of individually sewn, block-printed scarves. While the scarves might take center stage, South Street’s napkins, table runners, and aprons play a stunning supporting role, mirroring the mod patterns and color play of the scarves.

Another design signature: their exclusive use of linen, most of it Irish. “Linen is one of the oldest and most beloved textiles,” says Krauss. The designers are more than happy to discuss the fabric’s attributes with any customers who happen to ask. “It’s incredibly strong and naturally easy to care for,” adds Hedstrom. “Plus, it gets softer with age.”

“Many think linen is warm-weather fabric,” says Ryan. “It’s actually very insulating, making the scarves wearable year-round.” One can’t help but observe that these lively scarves would be a bright spot in any dreary day.

The three artists buy their linen from a New York importer, and the sourcing trips are a critical part of the design process. “We see these exquisite linens and begin to build and edit the line, imagining what a scarf, napkin, or table runner could look like,” says Hedstrom.

The collection is sold out at their South Street Linen store and on their website, but items are available in boutiques nationwide. “It’s been a ton of work to get to this point, but even racing to meet the challenges of large orders and learning what it takes to run a business, we wouldn’t want to be doing anything else,” says Ryan.

1. All of the products are block printed by hand, resulting in unique, colorful, organic prints.
2. Each piece is stitched and hand printed in small batches.
3. Rolling on color, just part of the process.
4. Even the labels reflect the minimalist aesthetic of the company’s collection.
5. A stack of finished scarves.
6. Hedstrom at the sewing machine.
7. Most of the scarves are one of a limited edition of about eight.  There is also a small collection of one-of-a-kind scarves. Getting married? The designers are open to special orders.