By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Jun 09, 2005 at 5:21 AM

{image1}If you listen closely you just might hear the soft buzz of sewing machines everywhere working overtime to get things done in time for the Arts vs. Craft Fair, Milwaukee's mecca for all things crafty-cool and seriously stylin' in a way that the local mall is not.

With the fair less than two weeks away, we thought we'd give you a sneak preview of what one veteran vendor is bringing to Brew City on June 18.

Meet Melissa Dettloff, an earth-friendly designer from Detroit, Michigan who creates and recycles clothing under the label Lekkner.

If your dresser doubles as a graveyard for XL band T-shirts from the '80s and '90s too saturated with memories to discard but too ridiculously large to wear in public, Lekkner is here to help. The crafty Dettloff is determined to show the world that there are many lives to any given shirt. Basically, she says, if it's made of fabric, it's fair ground; it just might require a quick facelift.

She's got a knack for T-shirt salvation but it goes beyond your basic passion for fashion. Though very conscious of current trends, her sewing style seeks to provide an alternative to the monotony of overdone designs while never losing sight of her priorities.

"When I started Lekkner I knew that I wanted to donate some of the proceeds to charities because I saw it as extra money that I could share. I thought it would be cool to take the money I made from something fun, like sewing, and put it to good use."

{image2}Dettloff, a vegan and animal lover, donates 10 percent of her proceeds to charities, primarily animal rescue organizations. "I'm really involved in greyhound rescue. Helping animals is something I really care about and it's a really important part of my life."

Her compassion for animals comes through in her designs. She's got a stronghold on catchy phrases like "steak is wack" and "veggies are dope," which she has screen printed onto tees and made into little buttons. They were a huge hit at last year's Fair.

This year keep an eye out for her accessories table featuring her new fabric brooches, which "are made from my massive collection of striped T-shirt scrap," and her fully-lined little pocket pouches made from T-shirts, with a front pocket.

If you like what you see at her booth, you can also buy via her Web site,, which not only acts as a store, but also as a forum for sharing ideas and inspiration. For ambitious DIYers, she provides a how-to section for a handful of her designs.

For the sewing machine-challenged, she offers custom reconstruction services for those of you sitting on piles of cute clothes that just don't fit right. Just send her your shirts and in about four weeks, she's recycled your item into something uniquely hip enough to wear other places than to bed.

"I really enjoy that aspect of what I do. I like the interaction it allows with customer, and I appreciate their trust."

Like any artist, she finds inspiration in her medium, her endless bounty of recycled and vintage fabrics, of which she uses to the last thread. In the "many lives of one T-shirt" section of her site, she demonstrates how the collar of an old shirt can be used as a pocket edge on a hoodie, short sleeves can be used to make pillows, and even scraps can be woven together to make scarves.

What she doesn't use, she donates to Arts & Scraps, a Detroit non-profit that uses recycled scraps in educational programming for children.

She and her designs have been featured in magazines such as Time, Bust, Elle Girl, Herbivore and Venus, to name a few. Though she's getting well-deserved national recognition for her work, she's got a soft spot for the Midwest and seems sure she'll stick around.

"I think the art and creative things that come from the Midwest have a really different feel that I like. It's not super edgy, [but] it seems to have more heart. There's less pretentiousness, but it's not mushy either."

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”