West Vancouver textile artist bags award

Designs defined by clean lines and bold geometry

Koti is the Finnish word for home. It's also the very fitting name of Kaarina Talvila's handbag line.

Talvila's parents were both born in Finland and her mother taught her to sew while she was growing up in Toronto. Today, she designs and handcrafts all her bags out of her West Vancouver home studio.

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"I wanted to do something to honour my mother and to honour my heritage," Talvila says of choosing a business name, "because it's my mother who taught me how to sew and she's an incredibly accomplished needlewoman and a knitter and I owe a lot to her."

Koti seemed appropriate not only because of its translation, but because it wouldn't tongue-tie native English speakers like some lengthier Finnish words might.

"This was a nice, short, easily pronounced word - and suitable."

Talvila launched Koti Designs about seven years ago. Her distinct line of silk evening bags is defined by clean lines, colour-blocking and simple embellishments such as vintage buttons and tassels.

"So there's a little bit of detail on them, but mostly they're pretty bold, geometric shapes," she explains.

Textile art isn't Talvila's first career. She earned a bachelor of science in geology from the University of Toronto and worked as a computer programmer for a decade. During that time, she took a two-year hiatus to study weaving and surface design at Capilano University (then college). Later, she was a stay-at-home mom, engaging her children in plenty of art projects. When her kids got older, she decided to try to make a living from her creative work. She dabbled first in 2-D screen-printing and gradually transitioned into handbags.

Textile art may seem like a big departure from her original career, but Talvila says the precision and exactness of her work is very much a product of her formative education and training.

"I have a science background and a computer programming background so clean, well-defined geometric shapes just appeal to me," she says, adding, "I'm a minimalist, I like things to be really neat and tidy."

Meanwhile, she also draws inspiration from Japanese handicrafts and the Art Deco style, known for its symmetry and bold geometry.

One of Talvila's creations, the Half-Moon Shoulder Bag, recently earned her a 2015 Niche Award in the Fashion Accessories - Handbags category. Sponsored by Niche Magazine, the annual awards recognize the best in fine craft in the U.S. and Canada. The awards were handed out in Washington, D.C. in January and although Talvila did not attend the ceremony, she was thrilled to learn she had come out on top.

"There's no monetary value to the award, but what you get is exposure and recognition and it's a stamp of approval of the quality of work and the quality of design."

The majority of entrants and finalists are American, she says. "So to be a Canadian, to win, is really a big deal. There's never more than two or three every year that win an award from Canada."

The win has encouraged Talvila to expand her business. This year, she's focusing on selling her work back east. A veteran of the B.C. craft show circuit, she participated in her first Toronto craft show last fall and was buoyed by her own success.

"My sales were so much better than even major shows I've done back here, because it's a different market. It's bigger and it's just a totally different lifestyle."

Further down the road, she hopes to get into the wholesale business with her Koti bags.

"There's a pretty small market for this sort of thing. I'm pretty sure I'd be able to keep up with it," she says.

Koti Designs handbags are currently available at the Craft Council of B.C.'s Crafthouse locations on Granville Island and at Vancouver International Airport, and through Talvila's website kotidesigns.ca. Bags retail for approximately $150 each.

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