Penni Olive’s cotton aprons and napkins add a retro, colorful feel to place settings (and they’re eco-friendly, too)
Do you like colors and patterns? Do you like to cook and eat at home? And do you like to help out the environment? Then Penni Olive is for you. The 11-year-old company, founded and run by Denverite Ericka Pardo, specializes in handmade cotton aprons and napkins in a variety of vivid, often retro, patterns and colors. And, people, these pieces are meant to be used—and reused. You don’t have to be formal; you just need to like pretty tables and being a bit green, to boot.
You have a degree in international business. How did you get into sewing?
- “I come from a long line of women who sew, but I had never wanted anything to do with it. Then, after I got pregnant with my first son, I quit my job and became enthralled with quilting. My mom gave me her old sewing machine, and I took quilting lessons. I realized I was not a quilt person, but I loved picking out fabrics, matching different prints and colors, and cutting. Fast-forward a year, to 2007; friends were opening Happy Bakeshop in the Highlands, and I made my first items—some appliqué aprons—for them to sell.”
Where did the business go from there?
- “It grew organically. By the next summer, I had a booth in my first market, Sweet William in Stapleton, where I live. I work out of a studio in my house, and there is fabric everywhere. I have a cutting table and an ironing table. It’s a great corner room with windows on two sides. It truly is my happy space.”
Do you still hand-make everything?
- “I work with a micro-manufacturer in north Denver to do some sewing, but I do all of the cutting myself. I like to prewash my fabrics before I cut them so that when a customer washes it again, it keeps its shape. And by cutting the fabric myself, every piece of scrap is usable afterwards.”
So how important is sustainability to you?
- “It’s very important. I use 100 percent cotton fabrics, and in the last year linen and cotton blends. Synthetic fabrics release these tiny microfibers into water streams, and I love cotton. It washes great and has great absorbency so it’s functional as well.”
Your fabrics are so pretty. How do you select them?
- “It’s all about having an eye for what will look great together. My mismatched sets of napkins—say, flowers with geometrics—are the most popular. It’s like wabi-sabi, the art of imperfection. Some customers assign one print to each person in the family. I like that.”
And these are meant to be used, right?
- “Yes. When people say, ‘Oh, they’re too pretty to use,’ I say, the whole point is to use them! It’s an easy way to spruce up your dining table. They are just something fun that brightens the day.”
Handmade cloth napkins, aprons and custom orders