Shauna Thomas: I studied surface design at Bloomsburg University. In 2006 I attended a Surface Design Conference in Kansas City with my professor, which is when I truly realized my love for the medium. I began working on wearable art with the intent of just making beautiful fabrics. All of my fabrics are designed by hand. April 2007 I won Best In Show at a local wearable art extravaganza. I now work from home, where I live with my husband and our beautiful son.
Sweetgum Handbags is Kim, a twenty-something grad student who works on her PhD in ecology by day, and runs her sewing machine at all hours of the night. She learned to sew from her talented mother Chris, and from the tried and true method of trial and error.
Favorite materials include denim, corduroy, canvas, woven suede, and repurposed upholstery samples. Custom orders are more than welcome. The business is based in the lovely town of Durham in the fabulous state of North Carolina, USA. All Sweetgum bags are designed to be functional, pleasant to look at, and to last you a very long time.
Upon one of my many trips to Craftland I discovered this cute as pie zippered pouch. I fell in love with the fun fabric (designed by the artist) and made a note to find out more about the artist and her work.
Allison Cole is an artist who lives and works in Providence. She is a graduate of our very own Rhode Island School of Design where she received a BFA in Printmaking. She is currently focusing on making work for gallery shows, her fun little Bang Bang You’re Thread shop and freelance illustration. Not too shabby!
After poking around her shop for a bit I realized that I own some buttons of Allison’s design. Well, not the bag of rocks collection but the veggie button set. I love that they are in sets of three and you can spread the love around on your coats, bags or hats. I think this jeweler needs to add these rock buttons to her collection.
Allison makes it easy for us to collect her work. Her designs litter so many functional items. I always keep a hefty stash of cards around so I have the perfect greeting on hand for any occasion. These are so cute and playful with great color combinations. The part of me that is dead set on learning french loves the Bonjour Elephant the best.
I know I compulsively collect blank books. You never know when you are going to need to sketch an idea or jot down a note. This is the perfect size to keep with you at all times. And I am smitten with the bright yellow frame and cute flowers the artist lovingly placed on the cover.
Soon enough this print will find a home on my walls. This print is just darling. It looks like a doodle, a thought from a lover, decorated with swirls and flowers. Playful and powerful, really a perfect piece for this married couple.
Sandra is the designer-maker behind Tea and Ceremony, selling unique paper goods, pins and tote bags inspired by her love of stationery. “I have always had a penchant for paper and as a child I was very fond of the stationery sets that contained an exercise book, ruler, pencil and rubber,” says Sandra. “I had a Mr T set, Streethawk and my favourite, Knight Rider!”
Sandra continues, “I have been crafting ever since I can remember. I had always enjoyed drawing as a child and I distinctly remember my mum showing me how to draw a three-dimensional roof and house when I about six or seven. I taught this to my class mates in school and they were amazed by it.”
“I studied art and design throughout school, college and university. My technical background is quite varied and I have experienced everything from textiles and bookbinding to oil painting and screen printing. I do have days where I decide that I want to print tote bags or sew needle cases and then others where I just want to sit at my computer all day and design a set of greetings cards.”
Applying her training and expertise to crafting, Sandra stumbled across the ideal venue for selling her products in 2008. “I came across Etsy and had never seen anything like it. It was really exciting to see all the amazing things that people can make with their own two hands. Seeing that so many other people were trying their hand at selling gave me the confidence to try and sell my own designs.”
As Sandra has a day job away from crafting, selling online offers her a convenient and manageable way of maintaining her ‘shopfront’. “Once you sell your first item, you realise that there is a market for your ideas and you are actually okay at what you do. And when you start getting positive feedback, that spurs you on to create more. The only downside of Etsy is that is American based and I feel that US buyers are a little put off by shipping costs.”
“Google Analytics is a fantastic tool to help you understand your market. Looking at visitor statistics for my shop, UK residents spend the longest time browsing my store so you cannot rely on catering to countries such as the US for high volumes of sales. I have just started selling on notonthehighstreet.com, which I am quite excited about so I am hoping that I will be able to generate more online sales through that particular marketplace. I am also just beginning to receive requests for wholesale.”
Sandra gathers inspiration from a wide range of sources. “I am quite changeable and my inspiration changes daily although I generally like bold design, for example Scandinavian, Forties wartime and folk design are probably my favourites at the moment. I also currently like the work of Swedish graphic designer Olle Eksell as there are some lovely illustrations in his work.”
Like many handmade sellers, Sandra is spurred on by the global reach that selling online offers her, as well as the support given to the handmade community. “It’s a nice feeling to know that somebody is Japan, Sweden or anywhere else in the world has something you have created in their home or passed it onto someone they care about. I think that people who buy handmade items are genuinely appreciative of the time and effort that has gone into making an item.”
“I think that the handmade scene is definitely growing in the UK and it does provide a wonderful alternative for consumers who are tired of the same stale mass produced items. There is a lot of support within the crafting community and there are schemes and grants available for business start-ups although I find that these tend to be for those crafts deemed to be more ‘traditional’, such as ceramics and jewellery making. Turning your craft into a profession is a risky business so I think that there is still some reluctance to financially support a designer-maker.”
Sandra’s items are varied but she ensures that each reflects her personal tastes and styles. “I’m a bit of a scatter brain and jump from one thing to another and I dislike the idea of creating things in one style. This can be a problem if people struggle to recognise your work but I think that versatility is an asset. You need to adapt and evolve to keep you on your toes. I can’t imagine churning out the same things over and over again. It may work for some people, but not me.”