Janice Hagey-Schmidt: From a young age I was going to the library checking out craft techniques. I used to paint metal shapes and glass bottles as a kid. Later I progressed to throwing pots and bowls on a wheel. I was thrilled with the use of underglazes on porcelain. And then… one day I took a metalsmithing class at a community college. I have been working mainly with metal ever since. But… I make my living as a graphic designer. Metalsmithing is my art.
There was a time when I would think of the big city, and certain words would automatically come to mind: fast-paced, progressive, industrial, crowds, anonymity, grit, grime. But now, having visited Sister Arts Studio in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, other words come to mind as well: community, families, connections, creativity. This is because I found a place in the big city where all those things take place, and from what I can tell, the big city loves it.
Sister Arts Studio is the brainchild of Donna Palicka and her fifteen year old daughter, Ona Gleichman. A true “labor of love” in every sense of the phrase, Sister Arts, or SASI as it is also known, is more than just a craft shop. It has become the place where families congregate to meet other families, step out of anonymity, and develop bonds as they explore their creativity.
It was while she was busy successfully climbing the corporate ladder that Donna had an epiphany, and decided to make a change in her life. “I worked as and interior designer for a prestigious Chicago architectural firm for 21 years,” Donna told me. “The profession was tough, not very family-friendly. I was working 60-hour weeks, traveling. When really what I wanted was to raise my own child. I wanted it all. A career and to be an active parent.”
As it turned out, her daughter, along with critical world events, are what caused Donna to come to the decision to leave her corporate career behind and start anew. “I’m a designer, my husband’s an architect, and I saw that my daughter from a very young age showed a great amount of creativity. She was drawing pictures at 18 months. So I always tried to expose her to creative pursuits.
“But then 9/11 happened, and I realized that my child was going to grow up in a world filled with war, when I didn’t. I came full circle. You climb the ladder, and get to the top and . . .” She pauses, “something’s lacking. It’s not worth it.”
The shop is in its fifth year of business and going strong. Donna and her “sisters” offer classes in knitting, crochet, wet felting, needle felting, shibori, needle-point, weaving, jewelry-making, beading, hairpin lace, and machine sewing. The sisters include an impressive list of craft experts, all of whom Donna met through the shop, who proved to have the knowledge and personality to work with children and adults using Donna’s philosophy of teaching love. “I grew up with four brothers and no sisters, so these talented women are like sisters to me.”
“Teaching love is my calling. I was a busy parent. The city is full of busy parents. And I saw that what was lacking in the community was a place where a parent and child, or a group of kids could come to do something to help create a bond. I’m now working in the school systems, doing after school programs for the public, private and parochial schools.”
The shop offers a wide variety of classes for adults and children. Donna even does birthday parties. “I’m set up to entertain! I do parties for children as young as two and on up. We do a craft project, and I do all the clean up. It’s everything a parent could want. I make craft kits, so parents can come in with their kids and buy a kit and use the studio space. I provide all the additional tools or materials you might need.”
SASI also hosts creative camps, the most popular of which include machine sewing and the “ugly dolls” workshops which have as many boy fans as girls. Donna tries to offer projects that kids might not necessarily get in a school art class. Ugly doll making, mask-making, and painting on canvas are just to name a few.
“We also expanded our adult class list. We’ve had a Thursday night knitting circle since the beginning, and it has really become an event where life-long friendships are being formed. We offer many knitting classes for adults from novice to advanced. Jewelry-making classes, weaving, felting. And we are also a crochet-friendly yarn shop.”
“I love seeing moms come in with their kids, and meet other moms, and form those relationships that we as women really need. I love working with adults and doing knit-a-longs too. It’s kind of hard to find a knit-a-long pattern that will appeal to a wide variety of people, but we’ve definitely had some success in those. But my focus remains on kids and families, to teach parents how to create a bond with their child through creativity. I teach love.”
The other sisters of Sisters Arts Studio are:
Sister Arts Studio, 721 W. Wrightwood, Chicago, Illinois, USA
On the web: http://sisterartsstudio.com
I have met many creative people in the Washington DC area who own and operate a handcrafted business, but Katie Wagner is unique among them. She is the owner and creative soul behind Moonlight Bindery, where she makes hand bound books for all occasions. Her educational and employment background is in…believe it or not, bookbinding and book conservation! This is unlike the typical DC area crafter, who might be an accountant who likes to make jewelry, or a lawyer who bakes cupcakes for birthday parties on the side.
Katie has been interested in bookbinding since college. She took classes in book conservation at the Smithsonian Institute, and has studied under Tom Albro, former Chief of Conservation at the Library of Congress. Suffice to say she knows a thing or two about making books, making them beautiful, and making them last.
While working in the conservation field, Katie occasionally made decorative books for friends and family, but didn’t start Moonlight Bindery until August of 2007, when she opened her Etsy shop on a whim. After enjoying brisk holiday sales, she began applying to area craft shows, including the Crafty Bastards show hosted by the Washington DC City Paper. Her experiences with Etsy and shows like Crafty Bastards showed her that people in the DC area and in general were hungry for unique, handmade items, and she knew she was on to something.
Katie’s product line has evolved over the years, and now she offers two basic types of book: coptic bound and case-bound. The coptic bound journals, like the Build Your Own Cover books made from LEGO base plates, are sewn together by hand. Katie folds the paper to into sections, and then cuts them to size. She punches holes in the sections and then sews each section together by hand. For case-bound books, Katie uses pre-printed text blocks (e.g. the printed innards of an address book or agenda/planner), and creates a decorative cover using boards, bookcloth, and anything else that strikes her fancy from her collection of lovely materials. After the case-bound books are assembled using archival, acid-free glue, they spend a while in Katie’s cast-iron nipping press to ensure a lasting bond.
Using these two processes and a variety of materials, Katie can make an essentially endless array of books. She is inspired by the materials she uses, and not just traditional bookbinding supplies. In addition to LEGO base plates, she has used handmade papers, paste paper, fabric, chalkboard oil cloth, felt, maps, custom-printed bookcloth, and even Hershey’s kisses wrappers to make books!
Katie is also inspired by her customers, and loves to work with clients on special projects. She can even add foil lettering to the final book using her hot stamp machine, for personalized items like wedding or baby photo albums. She always purchases her special materials – felts, fabrics, and fancy papers – in small quantities, so her books are always unique. Looking at some of her custom creations, I can’t help but covet the idea of a travel journal made from a map of the place I’m going to visit!
Although sometimes people don’t think of books as possibly handcrafted items, Katie has found that people respond very well to her products. “The DC area is full of libraries, and as a result, people who value books,” she says. Those people really treasure the idea of a handmade journal or photo album. Most of the time at craft shows, she is the only bookbinder, and people really do appreciate the effort that goes into each item. Katie has found that even people who have taken bookbinding classes would rather buy from her than make their own!
Bookbinding may be an unusual craft, but it is in Katie’s blood, and she didn’t even know it back when she took her first conservation class. Her great-great-grandfather was a bookbinder who emigrated to the US from Denmark. His picture sits in her studio as inspiration, and as proof that Moonlight Bindery was meant to be!
You can find Katie’s handcrafted books in her shop and at local craft shows.
Here in eastern Pennsylvania, many of the top indie crafters are busy preparing for the epic Art Star Craft Bazaar on May 30 & 31 in Philadelphia. Art Star is both a juried craft market featuring over 100 amazing vendors and a fab indie boutique in the Northern Liberties neighborhood. Although vendors come in from all across the country, many of my favorite Philly crafters will be there.
Linda Johnson, from Little Flower Designs, holds a BFA in sculpture from Tyler School of Art and a certificate in interior design from Philadelphia University. She has also pursued her ceramics education in various art centers in the Philadelphia area. Linda’s style combines clean lines, bold color, and folk art images to create functional home decor and kitchenware.
Leah Mackin is a book artist, punctuation enthusiast, and serious scrapple lover! The journal above is one of her new designs – writing paper, maps, printed paper, colored copy paper, and lined paper are bound together to inspire the journalist to create in the space between the covers.
I’ve mentioned before that I have a thing for ceramic jewelry – organic, bold, beautiful. Yasha Butler Ceramics takes ceramic jewelry to a new level: fine art. Her pieces are unglazed porcelain, elegant shapes that are delicately etched with simple designs. These earrings are as surprising as they are versatile.
Finally, the ever-fabulous Sara Selepouchin, from girlscantell, is a screen-printer extraordinaire, craft evangelist, and Etsy specialist. Fitting for her background in architecture, Sara designs diagrams of everyday objects – and body parts! – and prints them onto hand towels, placemats, coasters, and notebooks.
I’ll be attending Art Star early on Sunday. If you’ll be around, please let me know! I’d love to meet up with you!
I’m a total sucker for cute and kitschy accessories and Cute Creations certainly fits the bill. Kate, the woman behind Cute Creations, is a graphic designer from the south coast of England and creates acrylic jewelry and accessories that she sells online and through local craft fairs.
Kate has been into arts and crafts since school, where art was her favorite subject. She’s been creating since she was a child, making anything and everything from Christmas decorations to papyrus paper for a school project on the Egyptians! As an adult, Kate became fascinated with “cute” things and started by experimenting with charms made from clay and acrylic paints. These turned out so well that in February 2007, after some detailed research, she decided to sell online via Etsy.
Kate squeezes crafting into her life, quite literally! She is currently living with her boyfriend and her family and has only a small desk to work on. However, she doesn’t let this stop her and finds working in front of the TV or while listening to music relaxing. Kate also crafts part-time and fits it around her full-time job as a graphic designer. Like many designer-makers, at the moment it doesn’t make financial sense for her to craft full-time.
Like me, Kate’s least favorite part of the crafting process is getting the products ready to put up for sale online. I find it so difficult to get good photos and always, always need to do extensive Photoshopping! I’m trying to take comfort in Kate’s view that all the hard work is definitely worth it. Also like me, Kate loves getting customer feedback, especially with repeat business.
Kate’s inspiration for Cute Creations comes from Japanese characters, like those created by Sanrio and San-X. Already enjoying success in accessories, Kate is also planning on branching out into other areas such as plushies and homewares, eventually aiming to craft full-time. I don’t know about you but I’m brimming over with Christmas present ideas!