Creating has always been the driving force in Leila Edwards' life.
“I was also making something when I was growing up,” says Edwards who grew up in an artistic family in the South Shore area of Chicago. “I made my first piece of jewelry, a friendship bracelet for my Godmother, at the age of 8. At around the same age I created my first garment.”
By high school Edwards was designing and producing a line of formal wear as well as studying pottery, photography, sewing and oil painting. Later she would add fused glass, stained glass and metal art clay to her artistic achievement repertoire. But when it came to college, Edwards decided to pursue a more sensible career, enrolling at DePaul University where she majored in psychology.
But before long, she had yielded to her need to create and transferred to the Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago, Illinois where she earned a B.F.A. in fashion design.
“Because I enjoyed designing clothes, after college I started working in the fashion industry in Chicago,” says Edwards who started her own fashion line. “People liked my clothes and I did a lot of custom designed wedding dresses, formals and men’s wear. But as a small designer it was hard providing clothing in all different sizes which is the only way you can be successful in that business.”
Edwards also found teaching fashion design rewarding and for nine years taught at the International Academy of Design and Technology.
“My students inspired me,” she says.
But teaching, particularly after Edwards, her husband and young son moved to Miller to be closer to her mother, was also difficult as she was commuting to Chicago four days a week. And so it seemed like a good idea to start her own business making and selling jewelry, stained glass, clothing, handmade beads and her hand-dyed materials including those she uses for her scarves. She then, sometimes with the help of her young son who picks out the colors, hand paints the material.
“I just like making things,” says Edwards as she demonstrates how she crafts the beads she uses in her jewelry by using a torch to melt colored glass rods, constantly twirling the molten glass while transferring it to a heated steel rod. Edwards then spins the colors into a variety of shapes such as rondels (ovals) and circles. While the shapes are still hot, she rolls them into tiny pieces of different colored glass or other materials such as finely ground stones adding layers of color and patterns. It’s a time consuming process but Edwards is a purist when it comes to her creations. She also does copper pieces such as bracelets where takes a flat piece of the metal and begins to cut it with saw to the right shape for her design. The next step is to etch in designs with acid, creating a raised design.
“Lastly I’ll paint it or use a patina which is a like a stain to color it,” says Edwards.
Colors are what most fascinate Edwards who likes using deep, saturated, bold colors such as jewel tones though sometimes she lets herself indulge in a pastel or two.
But while creating is easy for Edwards, marketing and selling is not.
“If I never sold one thing, I’s still keep making things,” says Edwards who sells her creations through her Website http://www.leiladesigns.com as well as it shows such as the Miller Beach Pop Up Art on Lake Street, a partnership between artists and property owners where temporary space is available at no cost to the artist, allowing them to showcase their wares as well as boutiques like Labels Matter in Cary, Illinois.
“I’m someone who has to touch everything. I want to feel the texture of an object,” says Edwards. “And I’m always thinking of new ideas.”
All this intensity means little rest.
“I don’t sleep a lot,” says Edwards noting that travel and nature are the basis for her work. “I work all times of the day and the night. I don’t think I could exist without creating something.”