Martha McQuade

An architect finds joy in smaller objects.

  • Photo by Stephanie Colgan
    McQuade’s airy hand-dyed cotton scarves work year-round. $30,
  • Photo by Stephanie Colgan
    McQuade’s airy hand-dyed cotton scarves work year-round. $30,
  • Photo by Stephanie Colgan
    McQuade’s airy hand-dyed cotton scarves work year-round. $30,

STYLE ARCHITECT | Martha McQuade has designed almost everything within eyesight of her table at Urban Bean. The trained architect worked closely with owner Greg Martin on his Lyndale Avenue coffee shop—a spare modern space furnished in Douglas fir and lit with an army of exposed Edison bulb pendants. McQuade herself wears her own pieces: a hand-beaded necklace and a slate-grey knit tunic.

She made the top from a piece of wool she found at SR Harris fabric outlet in Brooklyn Park. McQuade hand-dyed the material, draped it until it fell into a soft, interesting shape, and then knit its alpaca trim edges. When asked how she keeps her hands in so many artsy pots, she says: “Design is just design, whatever it is that I’m making.”

FASHIONABLE APPROACH | From the time she was a little girl, McQuade has loved making things. The Wisconsin native received an architecture degree from the University of Minnesota, where she teaches as an adjunct professor. She went on to work for local architects before striking out on her own.

“I realized while working at larger firms that buildings are slow to make, and I liked the immediacy of making clothes,” she says. She launched her clothing line, Uniform Natural, in 2008. That fall, she was asked to be part of the American Craft Council’s spotlight on emerging designers at its annual Baltimore show. Her first collection was inspired by the landscape of Iceland with its subtle colors and undulating textures.

McQuade’s pieces are sold at Gallery 360, the Weisman Art Museum, and on her website The designer doesn’t work from patterns. “I’m not interested in them,” she says. “I like to form the clothing in my own hands to see what’s possible with shape and texture.” What McQuade is interested in is sustainability, and her pieces are constructed from off-cuts—leftover pieces of fabric that would normally be discarded.

IT’S A WRAP | McQuade opened Scarf Shop online in 2010. It took off right away. Her original crinkly cotton open-weave scarf comes in 24 colors and five sizes. The scarves are soaked in small batches in buckets of cold water with water-based dyes. Once dry, McQuade cuts them to size and distributes them to customers around the world.

Her most recent collection, Aqueus, is made with a process similar to watercolor painting. When she applies the dye, the colors bleed across the cotton-silk fabric, creating a striated look. “The collection came to me when I saw the swirls of residual dye left in the buckets,” says McQuade, as she pulls one of her scarves from her bag.

She then wraps it around her neck a few times and heads out into the autumn chill.,

—Megan Kaplan