Thursday, January 15, 2015

A New Business Name to Start 2015

I've been making and selling things my whole life and I've given myself lots of business names over the years. In 2006 I took out a yellow sheet of paper and wrote down every idea I could think of to explain the essence of what my business was about. I ended up calling my business Made. I printed some cards on my HP and sold earrings in a friend's retail space in downtown Lowell.

I discovered Etsy in December of that year. I excitedly went to claim Made as a shop name and of course, it was already taken. So on the spur of the moment I went with Made in Lowell. I was excited to be in the historical mill town where so many women made so many textiles in the 1900s before the industry moved overseas. I wanted to highlight that, indeed, things were still being Made in Lowell.

At that time there were plenty of artists in town, but Western Avenue Studios was just a floor or two and I wasn't even sure where it was. I hadn't yet connected to the brilliant, burgeoning, maker scene that was starting to happen.

Over the years I settled into the name Made in Lowell, I started to feel that it WAS me. That impression was helped along by my using it in every social media outlet available as they appeared over the ensuing 8 years. When people address you by your business name daily online, when it's your handle, it becomes personal. But I'll be honest, I never felt like the meaning of Made in Lowell really belonged to me entirely. And as the community of artists grew in the city, as this newest wave of handmade swept though, I felt less and less like I should be the only one using the descriptor.

I like using the new year as a chance to make a fresh start. I had already hoped to start sewing things to sell. I cleared out some items from my existing product line to streamline it. I plan to make a renewed effort to destash my studio and sell off the vintage goods I'd bought years ago with the intention of selling them "someday". I started to think of other business names. I wasted tens of dollars registering domains that I soon felt were not quite right. I'd love to use my own name but at least two other famous people have secured that territory so it's off the the table.

And then I got a phone call out of the blue. A non-profit in Lowell had the idea to make an effort to promote locally made goods. They want to make a sticker, or some sort of universal tag that denotes items made right here in the city. They looked up Made in Lowell dot com and there I was, sitting on the name all by myself.

Because that idea is excellent and I like what I've seen of what this group has already done in the city, and because I no longer want to shoulder the responsibility of representing all that is Made in Lowell, I told them the timing was good, that I would be rebranding in the new year, and I would give up the exclusive rights to be labeled Made in Lowell so we can collectively celebrate ALL the incredible local makers and their incredible work.

And pretty much as fast as I had originally chosen Made in Lowell, I claimed Smith Dry Goods and started to make the switch. It's only been a few days and it's been disorienting so far but I know I'll grow into it. I was Made in Lowell for 8 years, I need to give the new name some time to settle in.

But I love my new name. Because to me it evokes an old fashioned shop with linens and housewares and people shopping for necessities but back when even necessities were beautiful and beautifully made. It will also allow me to sell more than just my handmade items all in one shop.

I'm working on a new website for and I'll be moving my blog over there eventually too. (For now that URL goes to my renamed Etsy shop.) Right now I need to go rename myself all over the world wide web, start using a new email, and remake all my product tags, my business cards, my show banner, stickers, OMG EVERYTHING.

In the mean time, my things are still proudly Made in Lowell. Now I am excited to share that distinction with all the makers in town.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Stash Busting for Fun and Profit

I've been clutter busting this year and as I go through my studio I find supplies I had hoped to use someday but haven't yet, or used some of but then stopped.

Some of these things I've moved on to new creative homes. Some of them I'm still interested in. Like the way a writing teacher might use a prompt to get her students thinking in new creative ways, I'm finding enjoyment in the challenge of developing new items that fit with my current line of products from the supplies I already own.

This is one idea I started developing, It's a bud vase I made by covering a tall slender spice jar with a felted crochet sweater. I added vintage buttons too. From my existing stash this used: yarn, buttons, and clean spice jars I had collected because I loved the shape and could never bear to recycle them. 

And I think it fits thematically with my current collection of coffee cuffs and felted bowls

I'll keep working on the bud vases, make a bunch in different colors and see if my customers are interested! 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Vintage Made Modern giveaway winners!

Last week I reviewed a lovely book, Vintage Made Modern by Jennifer Casa published by Roost Books and ran a giveaway for two copies, winners to be chosen at random from comments on the post. I numbered the comments 1-9 and used to pick winners. Here they are!

The winners are commenters 3 and 7! Congratulations Melissa Kagan and Kerry @ effiehandmade! I'll contact your for your mailing addresses shortly :)

To all the other participants, thanks so much for playing and I hope you do take a look at this lovely book. Keep getting inspired by vintage textiles and have fun with the free project I posted as well! 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Craft book review and giveaway: Vintage Made Modern by Jennifer Casa

Yay a free book!
Roost Books contacted me recently about reviewing a new craft project book they were publishing, Vintage Made Modern - Transforming Timeworn Textiles into Treasured Heirlooms by Jennifer Casa. I don't normally do book reviews but I had to say yes to this opportunity because making new things out of vintage textiles is my current passion!

Wait, this is scary!
OK I'll be honest, my very first thought when I heard about this book was "Oh no! I haven't even started selling the things I'm making from reclaimed textiles and now a book is coming out that will show everyone how to make everything and no-one will buy my new stuff!" Which is totally self-centered but, I think, a kind of common worry that makers might have in this age of copious tutorials, Pinterest, and thousands of up-and-coming makers getting online every year. 

But, like most narcissistic worries, this one was unfounded and easy to cast aside as soon as I opened the book and read the introduction. I realized I'm not in competition with Jennifer Casa, we just happen to be on the same wavelength. And that's a great thing to discover and rediscover and remember and re-remember. There is room for ALL of us makers and even if we use similar materials and/or techniques as someone else. We bring our own unique eye and hand to each piece we make and that is the key. Being inspired alongside someone else who really gets why you are so excited about something like say, a tattered quilt, is really fun! And it feels good, not scary. So I settled into a comfy chair with a hot cup of tea and devoured the book in an afternoon.

I loved her words about finding that first vintage unfinished hand-sewn quilt top. I had experienced the very same heart thumping joy at realizing I was holding the careful hand work of a woman from a long time ago. Like Jennifer, I appreciated the beautiful result of an unknown person's sewing. I wondered who that person was and wanted to honor her efforts today, to take her forgotten work out of drawers and storage boxes and make something new for people to appreciate now. I wanted to collaborate with strangers from the past. 

"Making pretty things from vintage treasures is a way to write yet another chapter in stories composed long ago, with you becoming part of the narrative." -Jennifer Casa, Vintage Made Modern

Eye candy!
This book is very pretty with gorgeous, evocative photographs on almost every page. The pictures in this book give me the same feeling of contented joy as my own vintage textile collection does. The projects are sorted by which type of vintage textile you will be using such as quilt blocks, vintage pillowcases, kitchen linens, etc. The projects are mostly small and accessible to every skill level including some that kids can do. They cover the gamut from housegoods to wearables to accessories. The book includes some no-sew items as well. 

Free project!
The project instructions are carefully described in detailed lists. I only wish the sweet instructional illustrations were more detailed and more numerous. The publisher provided me with a PDF of a free project from the book for you to try out. I was going to make this circle scarf myself before real life intruded and I ran out of time, but I do still intend to try it soon. It's just the kind of thing I would enjoy making and wearing.

Book giveaway!
I also have free copies of the book to send to two interested readers! Leave me a comment below and tell me if you have a love affair with vintage textiles and how that manifests itself in your life. I'll choose two winners at random by 5 PM eastern time on Friday, October 24th, 2014. Please be sure your comment links to contact information so I can get a hold of you if you are a winner!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Vintage feed sack quilt top

In July Dell and I went to Martha's Vineyard to stay with my folks and have a nice vacation, which we totally did! I'm so grateful we were able to do that. I used to vend at the Chilmark flea and though it is in a different location these days, I wanted to go through and see how it looked, maybe see an old friend. 

As my current interest is in vintage hand-sewn textiles, I stopped at the booth of my favorite lace vendor to see her wares. I was so excited to see she had this gorgeous, hand-sewn, vintage, feedsack, patchwork quilt top! It fits beautifully on our double sized bed and only had a few tiny holes. 

I bought it! When I got it home I soaked it in Retro Clean then in Soak. After I press it, I'll figure out how best to finish it so we can use it. Here are details of some of the patterns:




Have you ever finished a vintage quilt top from this era? How did you decide to do it? I've read lots of blog posts but I'm interested in your solutions too. Did you back it with quilting cotton? Flannel? Modern fabric or vintage? Did you use batting or were you too concerned with bearding? Did you quilt it? By machine or by hand? Or did you tie it? Let me know in the comments! 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Creating the Cover Art for Dream of the Antique Dealer's Daughter by Robin Smith-Johnson

A few years ago we got the good news that my poet sister-in-law, Robin Smith-Johnson, was going to have a book published! It would be a collection of her poems. Everyone in my husband’s family is a writer so being published is a goal for all of them. We were very excited and happy that Robin would have her hard work compensated and a dream fulfilled!

I was humbled and honored when Robin approached me to produce the cover art for her book. I am trained in the fine arts of painting, drawing, and printmaking but I make my living now producing mostly small 3-dimensional works. I have done some invitations, brochures, and other graphic design projects over the years but never something like a book jacket. Still, I wanted very much to be a part of this exciting event.

Robin didn't specify what kind of cover she envisioned. She told me the title of her book, Dream of the Antique Dealer’s Daughter, and I instantly pictured a pencil drawing.  It was Wendell and Moo, Robin’s parents, sitting in front of the antique shop the Smiths ran for years, The Incredible Barn. I imagined myself drawing the scene depicted in an old black and white photo we had in our collection, it depicts the last day of the shop being open and evokes a melancholy feeling. I knew I could produce this drawing and do a good job. I said yes to Robin.

She asked if I wanted to read the title poem. I admit, sheepishly, I was distracted at the time and I said it wasn't necessary, I thought I had all I needed just from the title! Later, I reflected further on the question and realized it was foolish not to read the poem so I emailed her and said of course, yes, please send me the poem.

Well. The title poem is not about the kind of dream I had assumed. It was not “dreamy” and nostalgic. It was powerful, intense, and dark. The dream was more like a nightmare. My heart skidded to a lurching stop. I immediately realized I was completely wrong about the art I had planned to produce. I realized I should read the whole book and start from scratch.

Robin sent me her manuscript. I stayed home, I put soft Brazilian jazz from the 60s on repeat and read all the poems. The collection Robin assembled is a journey through her life. Observations about emotions, life situations, are met with a clear and steady eye. She does not shy from the dark things, she appreciates beauty as well. The two extremes play off each other in many of the poems.

As I read, a new image slowly formed in my mind. And to my dismay, I realized it was emerging in a medium I was not expert in. I knew the cover had to be mixed media collage, I could already see it! I read the poems again and this time I wrote down all the keywords that represented the essence of the book to me. I wanted the artwork to be specific with imagery but also abstract, like the poems, to represent a dream state anchored by real objects.

The next thing I did was research mixed media collage techniques. I looked at tutorials online and downloaded e-books. I talked with textile and mixed media artists in the building where I have my studio. I bought books, I borrowed magazines. I studied.

Then I started collecting materials and images. I borrowed a photo my husband snapped of a mannequin and made that the focus. I printed her on fabric. I had an old atlas with a map of Moldova which I copied and painted a wash over. I scanned a pastel that Wendell had made of the seashore. I used fabrics from my vast stash, including some vintage calicoes from my mother’s collection. I used real sand and shells I had collected on Cape Cod beaches. I added magazine clippings, a drawing of books my mom had made, lace, and more. I assembled the whole collage with acrylic medium on vellum and canvas paper then I drew on it and sewed and embroidered right through the whole thing by hand.

didn't get it right the first time, it took several tries. But I knew when the last shell was glued on that I had echoed, at least for myself, the feeling I had when reading Robin’s powerful poems. I wanted a person picking up Robin’s book to get a feeling from the cover about what was inside, I wanted the cover to evoke an overall feeling that accurately represented the contents. A close reading would reveal the correlation between certain poems, individual lines of poetry, to the various symbols used in the cover image, like a little treasure hunt, a puzzle solved.

Now that it’s published and out in the world I feel nervous and excited. It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience. I hope I was successful. I want to be worthy of the trust Robin placed in me to create the face with which her book would greet the world. And I hope you pick up a copy of the book, it’s an amazing collection that won’t fail to leave you moved and thinking about life, about both the darkness and the light. 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I started a Tumblr

If you enjoyed the last blog post, I wanted to let you know I started a Tumblr where I will continue posting the odd/silly/sweet things I find as I go through all the things I own.

This kind of thing:

Nooo!! Take it back, 1991, take it back!!

Journal my mom published in the Vineyard Gazette some years back about wrens nesting in her clothespin bag on Martha’s Vineyard