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Thirty years ago, the East Village in New York City was a decidedly grittier and more industrial place. With the combination of living there, hanging out with artists, and working in a nightclub, Wendy Stevens had an artistic inspiration: Create handbags made out of sheet metal.
With no experience in metal-working, Wendy set out learning the craft—acquiring equipment and even asking plumbers in her building for tips. Over time she refined her handmade bags into, quite literally, works of art featured in museums and Vogue magazine.
After leaving New York City in 1997, Wendy moved to rural Pennsylvania, setting up her business and studio in a converted barn. She stayed “low-tech” until a devastating fire 12 years ago. It wiped out her entire workshop and all of the metal templates she had hammered and created over the years; she had never done any drawings. As she looked to rebuild her business, she met with a man who owns and operates a photo chemical machining company that etches sheet metal (and now etches her metal today). He gave her a big reality check.
“He took one look at my work and said, ‘I know for a fact you're going to have to do your own drawings. I'm not doing them for you.’ He was super clear about that,” Wendy says. “It felt like a slap in the face at first, but my husband said, ‘He's totally right. Your designs are so particular. You've got to do the drawings.’”
It became readily apparent that it was time to embrace technology. Wendy enrolled in an AutoCAD LT online training class and went on to find other resources and help at a local university to learn the software. Within a year, she went from destroyed templates to completely digitized resources—and an entirely new approach to her business.
Wendy continues to form every bag by hand with the help of a press brake, a series of slip rolls, a hand brake, and an assortment of small hand tools. But AutoCAD LT freed her to explore new design opportunities she simply couldn’t do before. The photo-etching possibilities with metal have completely transformed how she works. Today she has more than 140 handbag designs in AutoCAD LT.
“I was hand cutting the profiles of all these bags, and then punching every single hole for rivets,” Wendy says. “I work in millimeters to get everything so precise. Before, the amount of time it took to cut and punch every rivet and hole was immense. Now, once the design is created in AutoCAD LT and the photo tooling is made from the drawing, I can order the material from the etcher and receive the parts ready for fabrication. It is an incredibly efficient process to have the parts etched. Really and truly, the way I was doing things before was like the Dark Ages. Everything is figured out beforehand now.
“It's hard to incorporate something new, especially for a small business and the fact that I'm basically my business,” she continues. “To have AutoCAD LT help me do this precise etching process through a drawing of mine, it's just a beautiful thing.”