SWAMPSCOTT — When Lynne Rutkowski was tapped to sew a staggering 48 matching costumes for her daughter's school play, she didn't realize what it would set in motion.
Her success with the costumes, combined with her mother's plea to bring fashion to the kitchen, inspired Rutkowski to start crafting stylish aprons.
"I think people have the idea that aprons are a little frumpy," Rutkowski said, "so I'm doing prints to complement what you're wearing, instead of ruining it."
In the last 21âÑ2 years, it has slowly blossomed into a career.
"I started off just using fabric I would find places," she said. "Then I had to find a distributor because people would call and want 30 of one print."
Rutkowski's first big stroke of success came in July 2006 when she began selling her aprons at Pamplemousse, a home goods shop in downtown Salem. The aprons were a hit, and Pamplemousse owner Diane Manahan suggested that Rutkowski sew witch hats to match the apron patterns. Tourists visiting during Halloween season eagerly scooped them up.
"So people dress up as kitchen witches," Rutkowski said. "The fun thing for me is when I'm walking down there (in downtown Salem), I see people walking around with the hats on. I don't usually get to see the aprons on people because they wear them in their own home."
From pink polka dots to beautiful brocade, Rutkowski sold 1,500 aprons last year. This year, she has already sold 4,000, and her custom-pattern aprons are in 75 stores across the United States and Canada. She named her business Lynne's Whim.
"The way the business has been growing is perfect for me," she said, "because I've gone in little steps. Now I'm at a point where I'm very comfortable and I know I can produce a large quantity."