All over the world, people carry Jane Barron’s Maine-made backpacks. Australia, Sweden, Norway, Romania, Germany, Japan — the list goes on and on.
And through it all Jane keeps on sewing, riveting and snipping in her living room-turned-studio for Alder Stream Canvas; often with the same patterns she’s used for 25 years. Surrounded by tables, fabric and tools, Jane wisps between work stations, hammering holes in leather and snipping fabric, whizzing canvas pieces through her sewing machine. The comfort of these motions reverberates with each step: every cut, every press is completely confident. Watching her work is like watching a dance unfold.
Jane’s living room dance on a sunny, unseasonably warm winter afternoon last week all began with a canoe trip in the 80s; long before I was lugging around camera gear, or even alive at all. Jane and her cousin were planning to take a ride down Alaska’s Yukon River, and also wanted to hike the Chilkoot Trail. They needed a pack that was big and waterproof for the canoe, but also comfortable for the hike. A little research lead Jane to canvas and leather, and it’s a medium she’s prevailed in ever since.
HEAR JANE TELL HER OWN STORY IN THIS VIDEO:
“A lot of my first customers were canoeists, because I was guiding canoe trips,” she said. “People that were going on the canoe trip would see the pack and say, ‘Oh, I want one of those!’ And I’d make one, you know. It was really thrilling to be like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to make him a pack!’”
From that point forward, friends and family were constantly asking Jane for packs. She’d mostly buy what she needed in bits and pieces, sewing as a hobby. But one day she got stuck ordering 20 yards of canvas to make a single pack for a friend’s husband.
“And I thought, ‘What am I going to do with 20 yards of canvas?’” she said, shaking her head and eyeballing the piles of the fabric scattered on tables throughout her home. “But then another friend wanted a pack, and another friend. And that’s how I started. Just friends and family at first.”
The work was appealing to her: Jane had always been interested in sewing, spending much of her youth deconstructing and reconstructing products to figure out how to make them herself. Making packs was a challenge: one she accepted happily.
“I always liked figuring out how to piece things together,” she said.
And she had always been drawn to the flexibility of part time work, spending her life as a registered Maine Guide and a cross-country ski instructor, substituting kindergarten and fourth grade, working in a canoe shop and even sewing pants for LL Bean around Christmastime — where she used to watch the maintenance guys fixing the sewing machines so she could bring those skills home.
“It was a good fit for a lot of years,” she said. “I’d try to sort of piecemeal my existence together.” (Canoeing, skiing and sewing? Sign me up!)
Her decision to go full time wasn’t really a decision — the business just grew and grew until that’s just what she was doing all the time. She never really stopped to say: This is it. No more piecemeal. But for the last ten years, you will more often than not find Jane at home sewing 50 different products for “different types of people,” with her main focus being backpacks.
Unless the snow outside is perfect for cross country. Then you’ll find her skiing.