When you grow up in St. Joseph, Louisiana, on the banks of Lake Bruin, the odds are good that you will have learned to sew, most likely in a home economics class at the local high school.
The odds are far less favorable that you will have parlayed those skills into a wildly successful pillow-making business that takes you around the world collecting materials and earns your creations a spot in every imaginable shelter publication.
Yet that is precisely what Rebecca Vizard has done.
The Newcomb art major has combined her designer’s eye and her keen interest in antique textiles into B. Viz, a design company that creates sumptuous pillows and other accessories from Fortuny fabrics, worn tapestries and raised metallic embroidery.
On Thursday, Vizard pays a visit to Hazelnut (5515 Magazine St.), where she will sign copies of her new book, “Once Upon a Pillow,” a dazzling tome that offers insights into the origins of her work and glimpses into her chic home. The book signing and reception begins at 4 p.m.
Vizard’s fascination with antique and ethnic fabrics stretches back to when she was a student in New Orleans in the late 1970s.
“I would ride my bike to the auction houses and just observe what things went for,” she said. “I would visit antique shops looking for textiles.”
While living here, she met and married Michael Vizard, one of six brothers and sisters in a sprawling New Orleans family.
“I had left St. Joe behind for the big city, but when my father asked Michael to come help him run the bank back home, we moved back to Lake Bruin. At first, I thought my life had ended because it’s such a small community — just 1,100 residents,” Vizard said. “But I started helping friends with their houses, then friends of friends, and before I knew it, I had a project in New York for an old Tulane friend.”
It was when she was working on the New York apartment that Vizard experienced the “pillow emergency” that catapulted her into her own business.
“I could find curtains and sofas but not interesting, one-of-a-kind pillows. All of the pillows made from antique textiles had fringe; there was nothing with clean lines,” she explained. “But then I found a curtain panel with gold filigree at the flea market on W. 26th Street and an ecclesiastical vestment with the same patina at a place nearby and I decided to make a pillow that would look modern and antique at the same time.”
That was 21 years ago and Vizard’s business has done nothing but grow since then, with the help of New Orleans designer Gerrie Bremermann. Today, Vizard has a garage studio at her St. Joseph home where she stores fabric and embroidery remnants and designs pillows. She never cuts museum quality textiles, she said, and instead seeks pieces of embroidery on fabrics that are beyond salvaging.
Three local women sew for Vizard, gently removing embroidery from tattered fabric and applying it to velvet or homespun linen pillows in square or rectangular shapes. All finishing is done by hand.
With one foot in the world of haute design and the other planted firmly in the modest delta community of “St. Joe,” Vizard said that she adores traveling to Italy, France, Turkey and Belgium “on the hunt” for antique textiles, but always craves coming home to Lake Bruin.
“I feel a real responsibility to my community to do what I can,” Vizard said, who said that a new enterprise (hiring local youth to collect and flatten beer caps to make cheeky chandeliers) is gaining momentum.
But don’t expect the “beer-de-liers” to eclipse Vizard’s ardor for antique textiles.
“Whenever I find a textile, I pick it up, hold it and look at the back to see the stitching. I think about the hands that made it — who were they? What was their life like? You just become one with the person who made it.”
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about homes and gardens. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.