From Celtic stonework and animal ottomans to love potions and food dip, the stalls at last weekend’s Artisans at the Distillery were as diverse as the artists themselves.

The five-year-old show brought 80 artists from Ontario and Quebec to the Distillery District over the Victoria Day weekend to display and sell their wares. Amongst these many exhibitors, three designers, Linda Lavelle, Olga Saras, and Holly MacLean said they use their personal lives to inspire their clothing lines.

Lavelle moved to Canada for love. She has been a married nurse and a divorced designer. It is in clothing design, she said, that she found her passion.

“I was married and then I wasn’t,” Lavelle said. “In my previous life, I used to be a nurse and a midwife, but I always wanted to be creative.”

Lavelle said she became friends with some designers who encouraged her to use fabric scraps and old pieces of clothing to make new garments. Now, though she will occasionally buy fabric, the bulk of Lavelle’s line, ReVive, is made from repurposed materials.

Across the Distillery’s cobbled streets at her own stall is one of these women who helped Lavelle enter the business. Olga Saras, a former ballerina, designs casual chic knitwear.

Originally from Moscow, Saras said she struggled to make it as a dancer and finally realized she had to find something new.

“It was a time in my life when I was in Russia and I had no money and I basically had to start from scratch,” Saras said. “My mom knitted all her life and she taught me and I just realized there is so much potential in it.”

Saras is now successful designer in Toronto with her own studio, the Knit Gallery. Here she sells both her own work and the work of other artists, including Lavelle.

On the other side of the fashion spectrum and the Distillery District, Holly MacLean hosted her exhibit: an organic children’s wear line called Wee Urban.

“My focus was to do ‘less is more.’ Portray animals the artistic way rather than comic or cartoonish,” MacLean said of her inspiration. “I selected some colours based on, to be honest, which colours can hide stains well. The traditional pastels seem to highlight stains.”

MacLean said stains on baby clothes were a serious issue for her when her son Jacob had a condition causing severe vomiting in babies. This condition also inspired her to create a shopping cart cover for children to sit in, MacLean said, which she markets alongside her clothing.

Jacob has since recovered and his mom said she now takes the opportunity to go to exhibitions like Artisans at the Distillery and give herself some time away.

“It’s like a little break every time I do a show. It’s a break from my kids,” MacLean said.

Organizer Lory MacDonald, whose show brought these three women to the Distillery District, stood back to admire her work.

“There’s lots of different products and artists from all over the place,” MacDonald said. “The show looks beautiful. It’s got so many fantastic artists here.”

– Photo by Vera Schmalzriedt