As you enter Bernadette Korver’s home her energy envelopes you. She quickly shows me a brilliant embellished piece of material, which she is turning into a wall hanging. A friend, who recently visited Thailand, brought it back for her.
“I’m the queen of embellishing so I’m sure that’s why she brought it for me,” she said.
Korver’s been making her living with her hands and sewing machines for more than 30 years. She currently works on a wide variety of projects, from slipcovers to drapes.
One of her projects right now is finishing up upholstering a 150-year-old wingback chair.
“I stripped it to its bones and built it back up,” she said. “That’s where the money is and it frees me up to do the fun stuff. That’s my real passion.”
Korver creates exquisite bags from scraps of her most exotic materials and then adorns them with beads and all manner of sparkly things. She doesn’t sell them at stores or galleries because she finds the markup is just too much.
“My friends tell their friends and when my clients are happy they tell their friends,” she said. “That’s always worked for me.”
She also finds her Facebook page is the best place for her to do commerce for her business, Korver Kreations.
Korver started sewing in San Francisco where she worked at several high-end showrooms whose clients included Mike Tyson and style-icon Jackie Onassis. She also made samples and sold top-of-the-line fabrics. In San Francisco is also where she honed her skills in drape making and upholstery.
“I apprenticed for two years and then I did freelance work,” she said. “I had lots of fabric sources and I knew what to do with them. If clients were looking for something specific sometimes other designers would say, ‘Go talk to Bernie.’”
When the physicality of living on the top of Knob Hill on the top floor of her building got too much and the economy began to dip, Karver decided it was time to move back home to New Orleans in 2008.
“I got rid of most of my belongings except for my sewing machines and my father’s paintings.
Her father was a painter and his work fills the wall of her Gentilly home/studio. She sees her work as her paintings.
Korver is still building up her clientele and finding new projects. For instance, what started as a job for an LSU event — making simple voodoo dolls — has turned into a fun source of income.
“I’ve done them for the Chewbacca parade and I make custom dolls,” she said. “ I’ve done one in military gear and one surfer girl.”
She loves fabrics, taking things apart to see how they were put together and figuring out how to make things out of nothing. She also loves her sewing machines. She has four of them: two industrial machines — one dated 1947 she completely rebuilt — and two domestic machines.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said. “I love repairing, restoring, creating. I’ve been fortunate because what I do with my hands has always helped me make my living.”
She suggests you mention this story as she screens all of her correspondence.