Designer Elizabeth Garver

Wearable, Fashionable Art

Designer Elizabeth Garver
Designer Elizabeth Garver

Even as a young girl, Elizabeth Garver knew that she was an artist. She began to sew at an early age and created a variety of art throughout her school years in her hometown of Buffalo New York.

Her love of fabrics, design, patterns and color led her to Buffalo State College, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree, and from there she went on to earn her Master of Fine Arts from the School for American Craftsmen in 1982.

“I could have taken the academic route, but I was a more hands-on person,” Garver said.

She developed her own line of clothing, Artwear, creating the patterns, hand-dying silk fabrics and constructing garments with her own unique designs. She started selling the line of clothing at juried art fairs in the ’80s.

Elizabeth Garver“The whole craft fair trend was really taking off, so I had opportunities to sell my work in that kind of venue,” she said.

Garver works in luxurious silks, which she hand-dyes in the colors that she said speak to her. With a variety of weights and textures, she finds that silks have a bit of mystery and a sense of luxury — and elegance.

She also designs wool coats, and said that she chooses neutral tones for them so they’re more likely to enhance as many different styles and colors of outfits as possible. From the buttons to the stitching, the details not only matter, they are the underlying idea of what she does — as is the simple, yet elegant construction. And that’s why she makes her own buttons, usually by covering them with a fabric that she has hand-dyed and either contrasts or blends with the garment, depending on the style and design.

“The coats are definitely all one-of-a-kind and they are a great weight for this area, actually,” Garver said. “I have a certain style, and the materials I combine in different ways. The wool coats are a little understated compared to the silk pieces, and are more grab and go.”

Elizabeth GarverInspiration comes from everyday life and current trends, from fashion to color, she said. Over the 40 years that she has been designing and constructing wearable art, the shapes and colors that appear in fashion have influenced what Garver chooses as her next design.

“I think they speak to me, and I think it’s just trying to have a broad range of appeal and see what kind of range of people I can market to,” she said. “People respond to color and I have my color palette, but the coats tend to be more neutral because people wear them on a more regular basis. Over the course of years, the client base is shifting a little bit, too.”

Her husband, Richard Gray, is a photographer. When he was offered a position at Notre Dame as a professor of photography, the couple moved to Indiana, where they lived for 39 years. Garver continued to market her Artwear clothing line through the juried craft and art fairs on the East Coast, including New York, Baltimore and Atlanta.

One of the mainstays of her career, she said, were shows sponsored by the American Craft Council, and she used to do four shows a year that catered to professional artists. Her pieces have been offered in galleries and boutiques when owners would attend those shows to buy.

Elizabeth GarverBut she also began to sell her one-of-a-kind pieces wholesale to as many as 15 stores. Rewarding, but challenging, Garver said that her enterprise has always been a one-person show. She felt that working long hours in her studio was the only option if she wanted to continue to stay true to her art.

“I’ve always just focused on clothing, so weaving and silk screening and dying, and fashion,” she said. “I didn’t do a fashion degree; I just tried to be independent, so it’s been a good way to be creative and make some unique clothing and pieces that end up in a lot of people’s wardrobes.”

She had to shut down her business when the COVID-19 virus began to spread in the United States in 2020 and shows were canceled.

“The shows came to a grinding halt. Everything came to a standstill for my profession for two years,” Garver explained. “I still enjoy making things, but on a smaller scale and on my terms — what I want to make. I’m figuring out the market here and where I can find people who want to buy my work.”

Elizabeth GarverIn 2021, Garver traded the East Coast for the West when she and her husband relocated to Gig Harbor. He retired from his position as the chair of the art department at Notre Dame, and she said it was a good time to make the decision to be closer to their grown children, who both live in the region. Their two children are also working in creative career fields. Her daughter, Avery Gray, is a designer for Eddie Bauer, and her son, Peter Gray, is founder and principal at Untitled Architects in Seattle.

“I have two creative kids who were raised in my studio, and my husband is a photographer, and it’s been fun to see them develop their own sense of art, and both have been very successful,” Garver said.

Now that she is living in the Pacific Northwest, Garver has begun to incorporate a more casual element into her designs to market to the needs of customers in this climate and culture. She said that the client base dictates the elements that she incorporates into her clothing line. In those early designs, she used what was hot in the fashion world, which was large shoulder pads. Those are long gone now, and she has developed a more casual design.

“My earlier work was on a dressier scale, and the work has changed throughout the course of the years,” she said. “The work tended to be more elegant things for special occasions, and I still work in silk, a lot of silk scarves, but the shirts and coats that I do are more casual attire, and I’m exploring a denim line.”

Elizabeth GarverShe’s testing the waters at juried shows in the Pacific Northwest and establishing a new client base. As a professional artist, Garver submits applications to juried shows and has to wait for word to see if she has been selected.

She said that being on the West Coast is a whole new experience, with uncertainty, and sometimes the wait time is more than a couple of months — so planning her year has now become a new challenge. She was selected for the Best of the Northwest in Seattle in November and the Bainbridge Studio Tour the first weekend of December last year. She is also participating in the RAGS Wearable Art show in Tacoma this March and plans to apply for shows in Bellevue and on Bainbridge Island in the fall.

“Moving out here, I have to get to know the market and try to figure out what people might enjoy in this area,” she said. “I apply to high-end shows, and it’s always up to somebody. A show can make or break your year, and being an artist has many challenges, and that’s only one of them.”

Her clothing price point begins at $130 and goes up from there. While online sales have become the norm for most clothing companies, Garver refuses to offer her clothing online. And for a very good reason.

“Sizing is so critical,” she said. “So, since my things are limited editions, people need to come see me in person and try things on. I usually have something that works for everybody.”

About Artwear

For more information about Artwear, visit
To schedule a time to try on pieces, contact Elizabeth Garver at