Steph McCourt loves to create. Since elementary school, she’s knitted, sewed or crafted different types of fiber art. But when she happened upon her first chainstitch machine, she fell in love with the process and hasn’t looked back since.
“The beauty of chainstitch embroidery is that it combines both tactile and two-dimensional media, so there is always room for improvement in both disciplines,” Steph says.
Chainstitch, in general, is going through a revival throughout the country, especially in cities like Austin and Nashville.
“The secret is out that celebrities of all stripes embrace chainstitched outfits for the red carpet, and I think that has only added to the growth of the industry,” Steph says. “As of right now, I think chainstitch is here to stay, as it shifts from being more of a novelty to a bonafide art form just like any other traditional fiber art.”
She feels fortunate to add to the western-wear culture of Denver. Born and raised in the city, Steph never felt the need to move elsewhere. There are always new communities to tap into, a breadth of restaurants, museums and events, plus the mountains nearby to explore. In the summer of 2019, she founded Contrarium Chainstitch, which fulfilled her dream of opening a business selling handmade goods. The shop specializes in hand-cranked, vintage chainstitch embroidery services, where you can customize your own chainstitch project, or pick up limited-edition patches or jewelry. You can even book Steph to pop up with her machine at your next event to watch chainstitch magic happen right before your very eyes.
“Because my chainstitch embroidery machine is manually hand-cranked and not computerized, there is a world of potential for the garments and accessories I can customize. I currently release a limited-edition handmade patch design each week,” Steph says.
She also works one-on-one with others to personalize any items they’d like, such as jackets, linens, bandanas and more.
Contrarium is Latin for “the opposite” and its goal is to bring unexpected design and handcrafted techniques to this modern world. She wanted a name that captured what she says is her tendency as a person to go against the grain and explore different options than what falls within the obvious norm.
Steph urges others not to be intimidated to work with a chainstitch artist to bring a bespoke idea to life and thinks it’s well worth it to incorporate pieces into our lives that are one-of-a-kind. Her favorite projects are those that are most meaningful to clients, even if it’s a simple freehand lettering project.
“There has to be a level of integrity within everything I make,” Steph says. “I love being included within weddings, graduations and other milestone events! This summer, I customized a set of bandanas for bachelorette party gifts, and I currently have pet portraits for gifts in the works as well.”