Rare Threads, Artisan Fashion & Decor at the Alton Mill Arts Centre

September 11, 2020   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

The Citizen has interviewed many artists at the Alton Mill Arts Centre, but the territory we have not covered in depth is the extraordinary gallery that occupies two ground floor rooms at the Mill and is called Rare Threads – Artisan Fashion and Decor. The name denotes a fabulous, ever changing collection – or several collections of apparel and accessories for the self or the home, all handmade and created by the designers and fabric artists, participating in this space.

At once, wearable or cozy or decorative, this visual art is also functional and, very often, beautiful examples of recycling. There are so many different approaches to how and why clothing and other fabric items are on display and for sale, naturally, but one thing they all have in common, regardless of their wide differences, is quality. In every case, good natural fabrics are used and a strong artistic bent is applied to every creation.

To tell the Citizen all about it, we had the opportunity to talk to Pamela D’Ettorre, the curator of the collections of Rare Threads. A life long professional in the fashion business, Ms. D’Ettorre, told the Citizen that her career has placed her in many roles: buyer, product importer, “fashion forecaster,” even a fashion journalist.

“One of my passions has always been sustainable and ethical fashion,” she declared, adding, “and the fashion industry’s impact on our planet.

“I was professor at Humber Collage in the Fashion Arts Program, for over 17 years,” she continued to say of her varied career. “I created the Ethics and Sustainability in the Fashion Industry course, which I also taught.

“I have also owned and operated my own company, designing and manufacturing in Guelph.”

The Rare Threads was originally conceived at the Alton Mill Arts Centre in 2018. Since then, it has enjoyed good times and less so. Ms D’Ettorre joined the company recently. 

As she tells it, “Rare Threads is a hybrid of a traditional retail shop and a typical marketplace experience. This means that our vendors rent their own space within Rare Threads [at a reasonable cost]. They provide their merchandise and visual displays, and Rare Threads supplies the staff to handle sales during regular business hours, which provides a permanent outlet for the vendors.”

It really works out well, saving the vendors the need to spend their time on site. In fact, early in July, there was a “re-opening of Rare Threads,” with new vendors and new products. The Mill looks forward to hosting a grand opening and fashion show, when such occasions are possible, when numbers of people can attend.

In the meantime, the Alton Mill is open, with the standard Covid-19 safety guidelines in place. So, a person may certainly visit, browse and buy, during the business hours, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. from Wednesday to Sunday and on holiday Mondays.

“Rare Threads is beautiful space to visit and shop,” Ms. D’Ettorre commented, “because the entire store has thoughtfully curated a variety of individual artisans offerings. Everything is hand-picked, all with an emphasis on Canadian, ethical, and /or sustainable fashion production and/or materials.”

She told the Citizen, “All the artisans’ products are handmade; they’re each unique and very inspiring. Each artist’s attention to detail, design, and construction make the items, things that our customers will love for a lifetime. These are fashions and accessories that anyone feels good about buying, wearing, and giving.”

Clearly very proud of the Rare Threads – Artisan Fashion and Decor and the way in which it has been re-thought, Pamela D’Ettorre wanted to be clear, “We are part of the Alton Mill Arts Centre, and, therefore, we’re a part of the arts community. We’re part of the bigger picture.” It means that, as curator and staff are bringing these products to the Rare Arts, they are “committed to the artists and their creative process, using textiles, and fibres.”

She said, “The products we carry are hand made; they’re very unique, and of the highest design and production.”

The artists and designers and their creative process are supported by allowing them to show and sell at Rare Threads, “while we only take a small margin on the sale of any item. This means that most of the proceeds from the sales remain with the artist, so they can continue to make and create,” she explained, “keeping Canadian fashion makers and designers alive. 

“The entire fashion collection has been curated,” she pointed out, “which makes Rare Threads highly unique. Each and every designer has been individually hand picked and invited to attend, because we believe that their specific design, style, and products helps to enrich the customers’ shopping experience.” 

Effectively, the only arts centre in the whole of the Headwaters area, the Alton Mill is host to as many as 25 artists, to which the Rare Threads adds it own joys and intrigues. Keeping an eye to freshness, the Rare Threads invites pop ups, temporary displays and sales within the perimeters. This month, Indigo artist, Carol Blakeman, with her Copper Fox designs, beautiful blues and stop stitch patterns, intensely hand crafted, are part of the “marketplace.”

Home to a broad spectrum of visual artists in the Headwaters Gallery and Noodle on the main floor, a drift up one of the two staircases, brings one to a number of studios wherein artists are often at work but happy to be interrupted. Some of them hold workshops in the variety of ways these days impose. There is lots of information about that there.

Waiting for the moment when, in a limited way, it is now acceptable to hold a concert, Jason Wilson and his band will be playing (behind a plexiglass) in the Annex outside and a cash bar and “delicious food” will be available from Chef Martin Kouprie. This is all scheduled for Sunday, September 20, from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm. 

Rare Threads is located at the east end of the Mill, next to Gemma Gallery, Anne Marie Warburton’s fine jewellery establishment. The – Artisan Fashion and Decor is primarily accessed through the passage, passing by Gallery Gemma, from the main entrance doors.

With a last word from Pamela D’Ettorre, proud as she rightly is about the philosophy, content and presentation of Rare Threads, she said, “Our vendors are given artistic freedom to merchandise, stage, and style their space, so that each vendor’s own unique design style shows through.” It is a pleasure and an experience to visit.

For more information, visit the website is

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