Artist Profile: Ali Dryer

Everyday denim dresses up in Ali Dryer’s “Denim/Rusty Leaves Clutch.” Credit: Brion McCarthy/Apparition Studio.

Ali Dryer transformed herself into a handbag designer through a series of “happy accidents,” she says. The results of her labor are vibrant, playful mixes of color sewn into neat patterns that appear to be as complicated—and precise—as origami. Custom wood handles beg to be touched, and vintage buttons add a one-of-a-kind feel.

“My work is a way for me to combine a lifetime of artistic urges with the hands-on building of things,” says Dryer, who learned to sew from her mother. It’s a generational tradition—Dryer can’t recall how many women in her family have passed on the skills of pressing and sewing straight seams, and measuring accurately for a perfect fit.

Although Dryer graduated from William Smith College in Geneva, N.Y., in 1994 with a degree in English literature, it wasn’t until she took two courses in fashion design at Baltimore City Community College three years later that she found her calling. There, she studied flat patterns and draping, and perfected her construction skills.

From there, she started selling her work at local retail shows, exploring her interests in vintage fabrics and buttons along the way. In 2005, Dryer started to work in earnest on a full collection, and has grown “slowly and organically” through her Baltimore, Md.-based studio Pistol Designs. “I believe in having a plan, but also in being flexible within that plan,” she notes.

Dryer isn’t much of a sketcher—“I wish I was,” she says. Instead, she plots out a new idea directly onto brown paper and starts drafting the pattern. Sometimes it works; sometimes it takes a few cycles. “It’s a fluid thing,” she explains. Once she develops the final pattern, she pairs it with a custom handle, which begins as a pencil drawing and is later cut by a Maryland-based company.

She’s interjected more color into her recent work by buying entire bolts of American designers’ fabrics. What’s next? “Designing my own textiles would be a fun challenge,” she says.

Preview more of Dryer’s work at

1 Comment

  1. I love Ali’s work. She has a great attention to detail and she uses colors and patterns in a wonderful way.

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