Artist Lizzy Tilley laughingly admits there is no short answer to describe her range of creations all of which combine her passion for art, textiles, fashion and sustainability. A “rabid collector” of vintage clothing and fabric, Tilley creates original garments and re-purposes vintage finds. She calls this creative tweaking “sweetened vintage.” Under the moniker of Sugar Coat Couture, she also makes custom art quilts and handbags. Oh, and she sculpts and paints, too.
Tilley is on a roll. She and three other artists are sharing retail space in a new shop in Owego called Serendipity. Visitors can enjoy a cup of tea and a dessert on the shop’s back porch, which features a pleasant view of the Susquehanna River. Inside, an impressive array of handmade items and whimsy beckons. Not bad for a woman who fully embraced her inner artist a mere six years ago.
Her artistic inclinations lay dormant for years. The youngest of three, Tilley was born in 1961 in the Binghamton suburb of Vestal to an IBM quality engineer and a high school secretary. Her mother taught her to sew and although she always drew and painted, Tilley also loved to read. Her high school art class was intimidating (a classmate went on to design album covers for Michael Jackson!) so when it came time to choose a major at SUNY Binghamton, Tilley chose English Literature.
Upon graduating in 1983, Tilley worked for an academic publisher. She married and then freelanced while raising two children in Hillcrest (also a Binghamton suburb). Later, she worked at the local public television and radio station where she enjoyed painting studio sets and meeting artists who donated to the auctions.
In 2006, Tilley and her husband divorced and she spread her wings artistically. Tilley fashioned a life sized Lady Godiva figure of papier-mâché astride a white fiberglass horse she had acquired and entered it in Binghamton’s provocative “Rude and Bold Women Art Show.” It was the centerpiece of the exhibition and her confidence soared.
Tilley opened The Kitschen Sink in Ithaca in 2008. She sold eclectic treasures, including vintage clothing, handbags, jewelry, quilts, pillows and tableware. Many items were created or re-purposed by Tilley, but she carried work by others, too, such as found object artist Mary Reynolds. “I have known Liz for several years,” said Reynolds. “I am in awe of her artistic vision and energy.”
After a customer approached Tilley to help her with a vintage-themed wedding, Tilley added “Wedding Stylist” to her credentials. A subsequent client, Allison Weiner, a Cornell professor, is collaborating with Tilley on her nuptials. Weiner says ideas like using an antique typewriter as a guest book, old books and mason jars for centerpieces, and mismatched china place settings are very much in vogue right now. “Lizzy is perfect when it comes to executing such a vision – She has the ‘props,’ and she has the artistry to make it happen,” Weiner enthused.
Reynolds views Tilley as a fearless entrepreneur who appears to have no limits. But Tilley did reach her limit when it came to the commute between Hillcrest and Ithaca. After a thrilling three-year run, she closed her shop in 2011. She is glad that Serendipity is much closer to home and has big plans to roll out a “new” girl’s clothing line at the shop. As always, some designs will be created using vintage fabrics while others will be “sweetened” by Tilley. Regardless, she promises that every garment will be one-of-a-kind.
Learn more and see examples of her work at www.sugarcoatcouture.com.
by Nancy E. McCarthy