6 June, 2024

Who does your sewing?

2024-06-24T09:04:16-05:00An Artist's Life|3 Comments

When I am selling my work out in the world or showing gallery photos while I’m teaching, a question I get asked pretty often is “Who does your sewing?” The answer is always “me”.

That question always surprises me. And maybe my answer surprises you too.

I don’t hear my pottery friends get asked “who does your glazing?” or the jewelry makers “who does your polishing?” but somehow the design and the sewing parts of what I do seem like they should be disconnected. I’ve heard other makers say that they hire out sewing or get things manufactured overseas because they want to spend their time on “more important” parts of what they do. Or that their time is too valuable to be used on sewing.

I am a pretty skilled seamstress because I have put in many hours of practice and I have an interest in being skilled at it. I have been asked many many times if I would “production sew” pieces for other people or if I would share where I get my pieces sewn, so I know it’s a skill that is much in demand. So I am always puzzled by the idea that it is a less valuable or integral part of what I make.

This week has been a week of what I call a “sewing days”. I was working on a wholesale order for a collaboration I am doing with the Guthrie Shop and another for a shop in Seattle that sells my work. Today, I hemmed and pressed tea towels, I hand stitched the finishing on scarves, I serged tiny rolled hems on the edges of chiffon wraps.

I love sewing days. I get to binge watch something on my laptop (today was NCIS) or listen to an audiobook and shut down the creative designing part of my brain to work with my hands. Being an artist requires a lot of thinking. I am constantly thinking about new designs to make, new classes to teach, statements I want to make with my work, creative ways to market it and a million administrative tasks like sending invoices or following up on contracts. It is refreshing (and necessary) to have days where I can turn all of that off. This is just as valuable to me as all of those thinking days. It’s a balance.

One of the reasons that I was drawn to being an artist is that I love to work with my hands. It’s more than just thinking “it’s fun”. It’s something I have to do. I just got back from a week-long vacation and I joked with several friends about being bad at going on vacation. After I few days, I am tired of seeing and listening and absorbing all the new things and I need to DO something. It’s like an itch. My brain craves that activity. (I can’t imagine going without at least one knitting project to work on. The horror!)

To be perfectly honest and practical, I am picky. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t afford to hire someone that paid as much attention to detail as I do. I don’t want my work to be sewn in factories overseas where workers are paid pennies for having the same skills I have. I don’t want half of that piece of art to be made with someone else’s hands.

So the answer to the question “Who does your sewing?” is enthusiastically “ME!” Because sewing is a skilled hand craft just as much as illustration and surface design. It is one component of what I make, just like glazing and polishing and sanding are in other art forms. I want my art to be something I do from start to finish and not something I do only for the “fun parts”. It’s a reason that I have always focused my fabric design process and business way more toward making vs licensing.

So when I think about that sewing question, I wonder what those “more important” things are that those other makers talk about. I can’t think of any.

5 April, 2024

A Day in the Life of an Artist: Friday

2024-04-05T17:43:24-05:00An Artist's Life, Everything Else|Comments Off on A Day in the Life of an Artist: Friday


The absolute best part of quitting my job and deciding to work for myself is being able to listen to my brain. Creative work can be exhausting and sometimes I just don’t have it in me. This week has been a lot of brain work: teaching, planning, designing and when I sat down today to figure out what my plan for the day was, I realized that I don’t have the bandwidth for more of that work. So I am going to finish up a little of the website design I was working on yesterday and then spend the day sewing. My boss (aka me) gets to make sure I can do my best work every day by listening to what I need to do that day. That never happened at my previous job.

My Etsy shop is pretty low stock on a number of things so I am going to see how many zipper bags I can make today. I have a stack that I cut out weeks ago, so that step is done, which means I can put on a season of something to watch and binge it while I sew. I get asked a lot who does my sewing and people are always very surprised when I say I do it myself. But sewing days are a much needed mental break from the intensive work of designing and planning. I’ve got a couple of brand new zipper bag designs and so I will probably post to Instagram throughout the day as I get those done. A long time ago I sat down with a stopwatch and timed myself and it took me 7 minutes to make a zipper bag start to finish and I think I’m even a little faster when I do a big batch assembly line style. Why time it? Because that’s the way I work out my prices. I have an hourly rate that I pay myself for sewing (it varies on how complex the item is) and that way I can make a realistic price that covers my time, the materials and a profit to pay for the overhead on my business, like that darn new email provider I have to budget for.

Lunch & art drop off

I grabbed a quick lunch and then I needed to jump in the car to drop off art for an upcoming exhibition. I have a piece that was accepted into an exhibit with a game theme, called “The Art of the Game” and I created a box inspired by the game Chutes & Ladders. You can see a little more about the piece “Likes & Follows” here.


And back to the sewing machine and watching some episodes of Star Trek Discovery. I took a walk and mailed a couple of small things. I didn’t get a lot of things *finished* today but I did get a lot of things in progress. And that’s progress!

4 April, 2024

A Day in the Life of an Artist: Thursday

2024-04-05T10:45:18-05:00An Artist's Life|Comments Off on A Day in the Life of an Artist: Thursday


Today was another round of tea, dog games and answering emails. This morning was a bit of a computer day. I spent a while taking the class outline I made yesterday and fluffing it out into lessons with bullet points. I’ve got it broken up now into the lessons and the main goals for each one and lots of notes for things I want to mention. I don’t ever script out my lessons, but I always work from bullet points. I’ve learned I don’t teach well from a script; it becomes too stilted and unnatural. (I tried using a teleprompter once and it was remarkably awful.) I’m probably ready to start filming some of the lessons next week.

Class prep

This evening I am teaching an in-person class, which is unusual for me these days. The class starts at 5:30 which means I would be trying to get there in the absolute peak of rush hour, so I am actually planning to go several hours early and work from the library where the class will be held. I hate to be rushed and under pressure. And working from somewhere different is a nice change. I have a website to work on for a client, so that will be the perfect project to work on there since I don’t need anything from my studio to do that.

I did a little class prep by rounding up some extra photos to have for examples. This is a class about photographing your small artwork and we’ll be doing hands-on examples and then I am going to demonstrate editing them. I taught this same class a few weeks ago and I felt like I needed a few more good examples to demonstrate with, so I went digging and got those ready. I double checked my slides and all of the materials I have to bring to this class. It’s kind of a complex class because I am setting up 3 white box variations so students can try shooting some of their own photos. So I have a lot of equipment to bring with me. I’ll do a check of my tech bag and make sure I have all of my adapters, cords, and various bits of technology. I’ve got to dig my computer power cable out from behind the studio bookcase because I don’t travel and teach as much any more and I only have one for this laptop. (I used to have two so I didn’t need to go digging for cords, but I haven’t gotten around to getting another one for this laptop.)


Stanley came and told me it was time for lunch. His stomach is a very reliable clock. I also got my Amazon order (yay!) of an adapter for my computer to hook into the library’s LCD projector. At the last class, I didn’t have the right one and used my own projector instead. It’s been my experience that no venue ever has the adapter you need (so I always bring my own) and they all are set up assuming you have a PC, which I don’t. So I pack a bag full of my own equipment (cables, adapters, projector) every time because I know I can always make that work.

Proof of concept

After lunch, I made a quick “proof of concept” sample for the class I am working on. When I am putting together Skillshare classes, they put a big emphasis on the class project that students can make and share. For this class, I decided to do something that I hope will be a little fun. I am going to have a “simple” project which is to just create a digital file, but I am also going to have a “challenge” project lesson to take your surface design and actually make a thing with it. I get so tired of seeing mockups of everything that look so obviously computer generated. So I am going to challenge this class to make something with their design and I am going to walk them through making a simple stitched notebook with paper you might have just laying around. My sample is made from a sheet of cardstock printed with my new design, some kids construction paper, and a piece of perle cotton thread.

Sometimes I make several samples for this proof of concept step to make sure it’s something that’s teachable. I really like to encourage students to be creative and use what they have, so I am always trying to design interesting projects that don’t require you to go buy special tools or materials. I used my bookbinding awl for this sample, but I’ll also show how to do that step with a push-pin in class.

I’m also planning to make a couple more samples that are more complex pieces based on the same idea, showing how you can take the basic ideas and go farther with them. I ordered some printed wallpaper samples yesterday to make those pieces which I think will be a small coptic bound book and a covered pencil box.

Packing & hitting the road

Next I need to pack the car to get ready for class. This class has a lot of equipment to haul with me so I usually make a packing list. Since I taught this one already just a few weeks ago, when I put everything away, I put it all together in one place so it will be easy to grab and go. I’m also going to pack dinner, since class is at 5:30.


I spent a few hours working in the very quiet library. I was starting the design for a new site for a printmaker and doing the fun part of setting up the colors, styles and little design elements before I start building the pages and menus. I ran into a big snag with her old website provider that had a super small limit on the image storage on her site so we decided to switch platforms altogether. I’ll probably work on that some more tomorrow so I can send her a rough draft to look at over the weekend. Then I grabbed my dinner as a picnic in the car, and headed in to teach class. It was a little bit of a mixed group with ages from about 10 to adults. It wasn’t supposed to be a kids class, so I am pretty sure the younger ones were pretty bored. (Sorry young friends!) It was really designed to be for people with Etsy shops or Ebay accounts looking to improve their photos. We got some pretty great photos with my very basic setups and I think several students walked away with some great ideas for their future photo shoots. I left everything in the car to unpack in the morning. I’m beat!

3 April, 2024

A Day in the Life of an Artist: Wednesday

2024-04-03T16:44:06-05:00An Artist's Life|Comments Off on A Day in the Life of an Artist: Wednesday


Today also started with tea and puppy snuggles. Then I ran a few errands to the post office and Michaels. I signed up to participate in a quilt block swap and I mailed off my pieces this morning. I signed up because I wanted a reason to sew something just for fun and not for work. But it turned out to land right in a couple of busy weeks and it stressed me out a little bit. So I am really glad they are done and out the door. I’m not normally a quilter but I am going to use my swap blocks to make some storage “baskets” for my studio and these thread spool blocks will be really cute in photos of my workspace.

I also had to fetch some adhesive because my mini skein winder that I use to make craft kits for my Etsy shop broke a piece last week. I ordered a new laser cut part that got here yesterday but I needed some acrylic adhesive to put it back together. Hopefully that will be a quick fix and the glue will cure so I can get some kits made at the end of this week.


Being a full time artist means wearing many hats and doing many jobs. I have a few website and graphic design clients that I do freelance work for periodically. I update websites, design newsletters, and do graphic design for a local non-profit. Today I’ve got two meetings to talk about some projects; a quick website update and a bigger annual report project. So I spent a little time this morning reviewing some of the copy for that design job so I have a list of questions ready for that meeting.

In the minutes before and after meetings I have been researching a new email service for sending my newsletters. I was using SendGrid but I have realized that when you are on their free tier plan that you are on the same mail servers as eleventy-one spammers who sign up for free accounts and send buckets of spam. So that server is constantly being blacklisted and that means I get blacklisted along with everyone else. So my last newsletter actually arrived in like half of the inboxes it was supposed to. My mom couldn’t even get it!  I reached out to their customer support, but they basically shrugged and said there was nothing they could do. Using the free plan was one of the ways I was trying to keep my business expenses low, but I think this has become a necessary expense. So I’m looking now to upgrade it to a paid plan which hopefully means a better server reputation and my emails actually getting to the people who asked to be subscribed.

Class planning.

One of my goals for this year was to add a new online class to my website or Skillshare every month. So I started writing notes for April’s class today while I was between meetings. This one is for Skillshare and it’s going to be about one of my favorite fabric design tools. I am still learning who my Skillshare audience is because I have only posted 3 classes there so far. At this point, my bookbinding with embroidery class seems to be the most popular. So I am going to make sure that this new class is focused on surface design techniques that you can use for fabric, but also for paper crafts like book covers and endpapers. That will be a fun new twist for me when I am planning this one. I start planning by first figuring out what the skill/technique is that I want you to have learned by the end of class and then I brainstorm a list of lessons to get you there. This class is based on a project I have taught in my in-person classes for years, so it’s pretty easy to plan. I’m adding a couple of things that were hard to do in an in-person class but should work really well as an on-demand one.

I want to have some “what can you do with this technique” samples to show at the end of the class, so I took a few minutes to design something, upload to Spoonflower, and order a swatch of metallic wallpaper. I know it will take a week or so to get here so I need to plan ahead so I can make a book out of it before I film that lesson for the class. There’s a tiny sneak peek.

Post Office run

My local post office is just a block from my house and I have a class kit to mail off today, so I made another run over there. It’s a nice day for a walk.

Start dinner & clean up

A fabulous part of working from home is that when I want to make things like wild rice that needs to simmer for an hour, I can do that and then go back to work. I sent off a few more emails answering some class questions and asking a email platform I am considering about migrating from my current service and how to make that as simple as possible.

My studio is looking like something exploded in it, so it’s time to put on some music and do a deep clean. I just finished up a couple of big projects (launching a new online class, quilt blocks) so there are samples and bits and pieces everywhere because I was working to some deadlines. Time to put that away!

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.

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.

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