Designer Edith Kressy offers clothes in custom kits

When Edith Kressy wears one of her own designs, she might be curled up on her couch, gazing out of her window at the White Mountains just beyond. Or she might be dashing through the fashion district of Manhattan, dickering with fabric wholesalers and keeping tabs on what the rag trade is up to this year.

In other words, she designs the kind of clothes that suit her own life style: classic, easy-fitting "country" clothes that she can wear while working in her farmhouse kitchen or when on business in New York.

The women who buy her versatile designs don't find them in department stores or boutiques. In fact, most customers, those who buy her inexpensive kits, have a hand in creating the clothes themselves.

These days Mrs. Kressy finds herself quite busy supplying orders for her sew-it-yourself kits. That entails cutting fabric according to each customer's measurements and sending the pieces out with a set of step-by-step, illustrated directions for putting them together.

"They really are very simple to do," says Mrs. Kressy. "Even beginning sewers can complete a project in a few hours. The secret is just to take each direction as it comes and not try to do everything at once. The result, because everything is custom cut, is that they have something that hangs and fits perfectly."

None of the free-flowing garments are made with zippers or have the kind of intricate details that cause novice sewers to shove a project into a bag and up on a closet shelf, where it is never taken down. Still, a few customers order the designs ready-made at a price about double that of the kits, which mostly range from $15 to $30.

Most of Mrs. Kressy's designs can be mixed and matched in a variety of ways. For instance, her quilted vest that is an obvious mate for her quilted wrap-around skirt can also be paired with her A-line dress or dirndl skirt.

This versatility carries over into changes of climate and season. While most of the designs and fabrics have a definite springlike look, they can also go into fall and winter. Worn alone, her blouses are light enough for summer weather, but also look good with a turtleneck jersey or sweater underneath.

All of the garments are made from 100 percent cotton fabrics that Mrs. KRessy carefully selects during her twice-yearly forays into Manhattan. With each brochure (available by sending $1 to Designer Kits, Beech Hill Rd., Plymouth, N.H. 03264), she includes swatches of the available colors and prints for customers to select.

The quilted calico fabric used in a group of designs that include the wrap-around skirt, the vest, a short jacket, and a coat is completely reversible. Other blouse, and a shirt dress, are available in flanella, a soft brushed cotton most offen used as a high quality men's shirting.

Just as her designs reflect what she herself likes to wear, so does her fabric. Holding up one of the kit shirt dresses, this one made from a soft blue Guatemalan cotton, she says, "This has been washed at least a dozen times and hasn't lost a bit of its color or shape. A synthetic fabric will discolor quickly. Besides that, I love the feel of wearing a natural, breathing fabric."

If Edith Kressy is conscious of such homey practicalities as what washes well , it's because most of her designing career has been in tandem with caring for a growing family. In the early 1960s, following her graduation from the Rhode Island School of Design, she worked as an assistant to Anne Klein, designing minidresses and other "mod" styles.

Her active career then took a detour when she married and moved to Germany, where her husband was stationed in the military. "Then I mostly designed maternity clothes for the other women on the base," she laughs. "But I did get to Paris every now and then to take in the wonderful fashion shows."

Two years later the couple moved back to the US. Mrs. Kressy briefly resumed her New York career before settling in to a long stretch as a country housewife and mother. But then, in the early '70s, when the family moved to England for a yeaR, she went to work designing sportswear for a London- based manufacturer.

After returning to New Hampshire in 1974, she plunged into a retail business with a friend, custommaking the kind of clothes that she now sells in kit form. A year and a half ago she launched her kit business after a few that she created for a local charity event met with great success.

Since then she has slowly but steadily added to her collection, keeping one eye on what comes into fashion and the other on the traditional peasant designs she has always loved. "If I'm ever stumped for a new design, I go back to studying folk art or antique quilts," she says. "On the other hand, I'm fascinated by what is new. What I like about fashion is that it is never standing still."

Neither, it turns out, is Edith Kressy.

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