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2 April, 2024

A Day in the Life of an Artist: Tuesday

2024-04-02T17:38:27-05:00An Artist's Life, Everything Else|Comments Off on A Day in the Life of an Artist: Tuesday

In March there is a month-long Instagram event called “March Meet the Maker”, started by Joanne Hawker. Each day there is a prompt like “brand” or “product story” or “tasks” and you post something about your small creative business that fits that prompt and tell your story. I have participated for a number of years, but this year I just couldn’t get very excited about it. Maybe the prompts were just too much the same as things I feel like I’ve said before. Maybe it was a little too product focused for me this year and I feel like my maker story is more than products. I’m not sure. So I decided that I would follow that up by doing a series here on my blog of “A Day in the Life” and talk about what my week is like.

One of my goals this year was to write more blog posts and it always seems to fall to the bottom of the priority list, so for the next week I am carving out a little time to check that goal off my list. People ask me very often “how do you do it all?” so here’s a little peek at how that happens.


I got up and drank a very large cup of tea. Breakfast Assam is my favorite. Then I say “Good Morning” to Stanley, my yellow lab. This is a funny game he invented where he grabs a toy and marches round and round gurgle-growling his happy song while you say “Good Morning Stanley!” and scritch his ears. It’s part of his morning routine.

I then had breakfast and worked out. I never in a million years would have thought that working out would be a regular thing I did, but I have realized that I have hit the age where if I don’t do something with this beautiful body of mine it stages an all-out mutiny. And if I don’t do it right away in the morning, I will procrastinate all day and never get around to it.

Organization & communication

My art day starts by cleaning off my desk. I am messy when I work and I like to work that way. But I have discovered that it helps to start the day with a little less chaos. I do a round of checking and answering quick emails. Today was a solicitation to move my online classes to a new platform (no thanks), an email trying to get me to pay for some kind of marketing program (no thanks), the Zoom link for my class this afternoon and a notice that UPS will be delivering something when I am in the middle of teaching that class live on Zoom (arghh). I also popped in to all of my social media to see if there were comments to respond to or messages.

Class prep

I am teaching a Modern Blackwork embroidery class for Dakota County Libraries this afternoon. We do a virtual class program where I put together materials kits which they mail out and then we all get together on Zoom for the class. I love teaching online classes because people really have so much more flexibility to be able to take it from anywhere and make it work for them. And embroidery is so much better when you can see my hands close up on that overhead camera. I spent about an hour rounding up some photos, video and some other resources for class. I don’t usually do that the day of class, but I had a crazy week last week.

I stitched up the samples for this class a couple of weeks ago while I was listening to another meeting. I love when I can get a couple of things done at once because making samples takes up a lot of my days. When I made class kits, I also make one for myself and so I have a basket I will pull out with my class kit and I’ll be all ready to go.

Making some content

Once I had all of the class prepped, then I started to write this blog post. I also ran some updates on my website. I do all of my website work myself. I’ve taught myself how to do all of it, because I wanted to be able to update it whenever I want or need to. I know so many artists who haven’t updated their websites in literally years because they have to rely on someone “techhie” to do it for them.

Class setup & lunch

I teach many of my classes from my studio on Zoom. I have an articulated arm that is attached to my desk that holds my webcam and my overhead camera. (I wrote a whole blog post about my setup) I have a vinyl mat I put down on my desk surface because it is a bright red and white vintage formica table and it’s distracting on camera. Today is pretty overcast so I will pull out my extra light to make sure my desk surface is brightly lit. I’ll take a few minutes and make some brief class notes about things I don’t want to forget to mention and sketch out a rough timeline so I can make sure we are staying on schedule. I also have a whole checklist of devices to silence, shut down extra apps running on my computer and so on. Today I will put a post-it note on the door to let the UPS guy know that I am in class on camera because there is something I have to sign for.

Teaching class

I love teaching for Dakota County Library because my students are always so awesome. This was a two hour class and I think we had a lot of fun. When I first started teaching virtual classes I was really thrown off by everyone turning their cameras off. It’s really challenging to teach to an entire panel of black rectangles with no feedback. But I have gotten so used to it now that I don’t even really notice anymore. Today’s class was an unusual bit of chaos. My husband and I both work at home usually, but he had a meeting to go to today, so the labrador decided he was lonely and pushed into my studio just before class started. He was a very good boy but he kept scratching and wiggling the table and my whole camera setup. He has allergies and this time of year with spring mold is terrible. I kept poking him under the table with my toe while I was trying to carry on teaching. Then out of nowhere my camera crashed and my video froze. In 4 years of teaching with Dakota County, this is the first time that’s happened! I got it back up and running in about 3 minutes, but it was unexpected. After class I usually take a half an hour to just zone out. I make a cup of tea and read a book. It takes a lot of work to keep up the engagement and energy of a class when you have blank screens on the other side. No complaints! I don’t need anyone to have their video on, but I just know I need a few minutes to recharge after a class. Then I take a few minutes to put away the class pieces; I’m teaching this one again in a couple of weeks so I’ll need the samples and materials again. Then I post a photo and a thank you to my students on Instagram and check any emails that came up while I was teaching.


While I was teaching I got two samples of Spoonflower’s new metallic wallpaper delivered; that was the UPS package. I seriously want to drop everything and make a couple of books covered with this new paper. It’s seriously gorgeous. I can’t wait to try it, but I have other things that have deadlines.

Etsy Orders

Next is a check-in on the Etsy shop. I usually make a post office run everyday about 4:00 if I have orders to ship out. Today I was skunked. Nothing to mail.

Class launch

I didn’t have time to get to it earlier today, but the rest of my work day will be spent launching my new Strawberry Needlebooks class on my website. The live Zoom version of the class starts next week, but I also offer an on-demand version on my website that’s pre-recorded. I have it all put together except turning on the registration page, so that’s what I’ll do next. I collected emails from people who wanted to be notified when the class launched so I’ll send that out too.

Sadly, my newsletter got absolutely trashed last week by blacklisting. I use a shared server to send the newsletter email and someone sent a whole bunch of spam from it at some point, which meant that it is blacklisted everywhere and probably more than half of my emails went into spam filters or never made it to inboxes. You should see all of the spam reports and block notifications I got. And there’s absolutely nothing I can do to fix that. I’ll be honest and say it’s pretty devastating when that happens and I am beginning to realize that it’s going to keep happening with this particular email service. I was counting on the newsletter for more class registrations and hardly anyone got the email. So I’ll also make some social media posts and take photos for some more to post later in the week promoting the launch of the on-demand class. Researching a new email provider is on my agenda for later in the week.

16 February, 2024

Wooly Whales: A sparkling review of Joe’s Toes Slipper Kit

2024-02-16T17:57:34-06:00Embroidery, Weaving, Felting & FIbers|2 Comments

Sometimes the random things that pop up in your Instagram feed turn out to be something awesome. I spotted this slipper kit from Joe’s Toes while I was randomly scrolling a few evenings ago. I had been looking for a new pair of slippers after some sheepskin ones I ordered last fall turned out to be really uncomfortable. A kit sounded like fun!

I picked out the turquoise and teal kit and the description said I could customize it, so I requested the dark teal color for the uppers and green thread instead of rainbow. I knew I wanted to embroider or add something to the tops of them, but I didn’t have a plan when I picked out the kit.

The kit comes with pre-punched wool felt pieces for the upper, three layers for the soles, and the thread for stitching them together. You can choose from several options for the bottom layer or outsole. I picked the felt with latex, which is great on my hardwood floors and so far it’s not slippery at all.

I decided that I needed to stitch something fun on the uppers and after a little brainstorm my mom suggested humpback whales, which sounded really fun! So I dug through my stash of wool/rayon felt scraps and picked out a turquoise and blue-grey (peacock and pewter from Benzie Design) and some size 8 perle cotton. Even though the felt slipper pieces are about 3/16th inch thick, they are super easy to stitch into. I drew the whales onto some freezer paper so I could cut out all the little details easily. I basted them onto the uppers with a little glue stick. Once I had stitched around the whales, I added a few transparent sequins to add some sparkly bubbles.

I read through all of the instructions to assemble the slipper pieces and they offer a video, but I didn’t feel like I needed it. They have a couple of clever little notches that help you line up everything. Although they suggest using a backstitch to put everything together, which I’m sure works great, I decided to go with a double running stitch because I thought it would be a little neater on both the top and bottom.

These were so much fun to stitch! The pre-punched holes make it really easy even though you are stitching through four thick layers. I couldn’t wait to try them on.

Overall, the kit was packaged nicely, the instructions are great, the materials are super nice, and it shipped fast. I loved that I could customize it to the colors I wanted. I am just delighted with the results!

4 January, 2024

A quiet leap: Transitioning to new media in my art practice

2024-01-04T14:44:51-06:00An Artist's Life, Gallery Exhibitions|1 Comment

At a dinner party with friends a few nights ago, someone suggested that we go around the table and share something we did in the past year that the group might not know about or might be surprised to learn.  One friend had joined a new musical group and another started teaching Spanish to elementary school kids. For a moment, I blanked on what to talk about because I really feel like I didn’t do anything new this year. I’ve been teaching, keeping up with my Etsy shop, doing shows. The same things I do every day.

But then I remembered that the thing that has been quietly changing this year is the kind of art that I make. For more than I decade I have been designing fabric, and I still love doing that a lot. But I really took a break from that this past year because fabric projects were not really calling to me. I didn’t feel motivated to tackle a big sewing project. I didn’t have the need to create those pieces.

Many years ago now, I stepped away from the fabric art center that was my entire life. There were lots of factors that came in to play there, but when I called it quits, I not only stepped away from my job, but I removed myself from that community as well. I needed a break; not just a rest, but a separation.

In August, after 3+ years of taking classes, I finished my Book Arts Certificate from the MN Center for Book Arts. It’s a program that they administer to “certify” artists in a study of book arts techniques. I think of it like a mini Masters Degree. I took classes which I loved (boxmaking, marbling) and ones that I did not love (letterpress).

I found that I wasn’t as interested in making art as I was in the experience of being a beginner again. I needed to ask questions and make things that were ugly and didn’t work and just to try new things.

I gradually learned enough skills in book arts that I could start to incorporate some of the fabric techniques that I love. I marbled paper and carved stamps to hand print in repeating patterns like the sea turtles (left).

My weekly embroidery class students got me thinking about what kinds of embroidery stitches I could do on paper instead of fabric. I explored and sampled all kinds of stitches to see how the thickness of the threads in each stitch and the threads traveling across the back of the paper would influence the stitched pattern on the front.

I learned to make my own bookcloth. I’d used bookcloth in several classes to cover both books and boxes, but being a person with a love of fabrics, I was immediately discouraged by the lack of fabric options. I could only find a handful of solid colors. So I printed my own Spoonflower designs on cotton lawn and peel and stick wallpaper and used that to cover books and boxes. Then I tried embroidery on bookcloth made from some batik fabrics to make small journals that were really a fusion of fabric and paper techniques.

And finally I put some of this new work out in the world. It’s one thing to share photos of all of these experiments on social media, but it’s another leap to take the photos and enter something new in a juried exhibition at a gallery. That’s what I did. And that felt brave.

When I tried to describe to my friends how it felt, I said to imagine that you have played the clarinet all of your life and then decided that you wanted to learn the trombone and you just played your very first trombone solo at a concert. (There were a lot of musicians in the room.) To someone looking from the outside, it might just look like art is art. But to me it felt very new and unsure.

The three pieces at the top of this post are all ones I exhibited this year. I did so a little bit quietly. I talked about them a little in my newsletter and I posted a little on social media, but I didn’t really talk about the intention of taking my work in a completely different direction: a fusion of fabric and paper techniques. Saying that goal out loud seemed a little too much of an “announcement”. So I just sat back and waited to see how people reacted and how it felt to watch people interact with these pieces.

One of them won an award. Another was dismissed as being “too fine art”.

It’s January and my business task for today is to work on setting goals for the upcoming year. I am procrastinating a little bit by writing this post, but reflecting is an important part of setting goals and I basically gave myself a year off from design challenges, fabric designs and garment making to try something else. I think the experiment is a success. I have another embroidered paper piece that has been accepted into an exhibition in January. I’m teaching a class making coptic bound sketchbooks in February. A college student reached out to me over the holiday break wanting to connect with other paper embroidery artists. And I am thinking about more classes combining hand embroidery with paper components. That sounds like the start of something interesting.

29 November, 2023

The unpredictability of running a small business

2023-11-29T18:58:50-06:00An Artist's Life|2 Comments

I was planning an afternoon of sewing up some special orders, but due to a package of materials being delayed, I found myself with an unscheduled afternoon.  So I filled it with a whole lot of admin odds and ends: ordering supplies for some end-of-the-year classes, sending some invoices, delivering class kits for another class. I was looking at a pile of to-be-sewn zipper bag fabric on my table and feeling like I am unusually low on stock this year. I feel like my making “rhythm” is a little off. So in the spirit of procrastinating doing anything about that, I decided to do a little research. :)

It’s really hard as a small business to predict what’s going to happen with sales. As you grow, I am sure that gets easier in some ways. I certainly can predict big general things like November is going to be busier in the online shops and I always have a bunch of different in-person events in May. But this year, my Etsy stats say that overall my sales are down 42% this year. It’s been hovering around 38% for most of the year, so it’s even more discouraging to see it taking a dip right now for sure. I’m not sharing this as a sob story to get you to buy something, but I really think that its helpful for other small businesses to see that maybe they aren’t alone if they feel like this year has been a rough one in more ways than one. (And I know that you are out there reading this.)

You get a gut feeling when you have made things as long as I have for what are the “trends” in your items. I always order extra when I print anything in this waterlily fabric because it is always a bestseller. I keep only one or two of some zipper bag designs in stock, but others I always order 6 when I do a restock because I know they will sell.

Some years throw a wrench in your gut feelings for things and this year felt like one of them. I design fabric whenever the mood strikes me throughout the year, often participating in Spoonflower’s weekly design challenges. I usually make a plan to do 3-4 new designs leading into the fall because that’s when I do some of my biggest in-person shows of the year and I like to have new things to show people. But this year, my big fall show got cancelled somewhat unexpectedly (and too late to apply for another event). So I found myself with time blocked off to design and sew in preparation and nothing to prepare for. I made some new designs anyway but with a different audience and product in mind than I usually do.

Today I started to wonder, how much different things were this year. Even though my Etsy shop sales are down, there’s not much else different there. The things that usually sell well are still selling well, the entire volume is just lower. There are lots of reasons that could be contributing to this, but I don’t actually think there’s much useful to be gained by trying to deep dive into that because it’s been consistent all year. (I’m not interested in talking Etsy conspiracy theories.) So instead I decided to look at my in-person sales, which was completely fascinating.

I decided to just look at my four kind of big selling item categories and the ones that I have been selling consistently for a long time. I looked back at my records just to see the number of items sold in these four categories: clutch bags, loop scarves, large project bags, and small zip notions bags. I didn’t even bother to include 2020, because all of my in-person events were cancelled. I only did one show at the very end of 2021.

The most interesting to me was to look at the blue and red bars on these charts. These represent this year 2023 and last year 2022. It’s no wonder that I feel a little like I don’t know what’s going on! The large project bags are almost exactly the same but in all of the other categories the bars are completely flip-flopped from one year to the next.

I have a few clues as to what’s happened. The loop scarves, like the one in the photo at the very top of this post are my absolute bestseller at the show that was cancelled. That design was one of my new fabrics for 2022. So it’s not surprising that the bar for loop scarves this year is so low. I did three new-to-me, in-person shows in 2023, where the zip bags were the stars. I kind of thought they would be, given the audience that would be at these events so it’s nice to know I guessed right on that. I tend to curate what I bring to different shows because I really try to pay attention to the kind of audience that will be there and what I think will be the right fit. I don’t bring scarves, for example, to the vendor market at the knitting conference.

My in-person sales total are up about 10% over last year with about the same number of show days. I don’t do a lot of in-person things but tend to do them very consistently, so people know to look for me there.

I’m not sure if I’ve learned anything that I can move ahead with, but it did feel very validating to know that I wasn’t crazy. This was an unpredictable year!

20 November, 2023

Fabric Design Spotlight: Security Detail

2023-11-20T17:38:19-06:00Spoonflower & Fabric Design|2 Comments

One of my favorite materials to make fabric designs from is the humble security envelope. They are the ones with black and white patterns on the inside that your bank statements or rebate checks come in. They come in multitudes of patterns and I collect them every chance I get. I wanted to do a set of new patterns for the holiday season this year, so I decided to illustrate two dozen dogs and cats on security envelopes.

I drew them with a black pen, cut them out and used some scraps of magazine photos to make their colorful collars. Here are some of the dogs.

After I drew them, I temporarily attached them to a piece of cardstock so I could scan them all at once. Then I pulled them in to Photoshop and made a repeating tiles, so you had a continuous pattern of dogs. There’s not a lot a magic to doing a seamless repeat like this, it just takes a lot of patience to get everything lined up perfectly to match from one tile to the next.

Once I had finished a seamless pattern of both cats and dogs, I decided to reuse the same art and make a calendar tea towel. I love when I can use art multiple ways to make different designs. For the tea towel, I already had made the months for a different design three or four years ago using ransom note style letters and numbers cut out from magazine pages. I rearranged the numbers to match 2024 and created a new calendar design with a cat and a dog sitting next to each month. Here’s a screenshot of the calendar in progress.

Then, I decided to reuse the cats and dogs once again, but to make holiday ornaments! Once I have the original paper art scanned, I can do anything I want to with the originals. Sometimes I remake them into other things.

To make ornaments, I wrapped some scraps of bookboard with marbled paper that I made in a class. I covered the front side with handmade lokta paper in a solid color and then added one of the cats or dogs on top. I punched a hole in the top with an awl and threaded through some sparkly ribbon to make a hanger. Each one got a tiny initialed signature in the corner.

The rest of the ornaments went off to holiday shows at the Northrup King Building and North Suburban Center for the Arts, but I decided that I needed to keep this Stanley for myself. I love this particular security envelope design so much. If you look closely it says “PLEASE RECYCLE THIS ENVELOPE.”

I’m sold out of calendar tea towels but you can get them from my Spoonflower shop! 

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