Featured Maker: Jill Maldonado

Featured Maker interview with Jill Maldonado Today we are excited to talk to Jill Maldonado of Material Rebellion! Jill specializes in using reclaimed textiles to make bags, pouches, journals, blanket fort kits and more all with the goal of encouraging kids to discover the power of their own creativity. She is also passionate about fighting the problem of textile waste in the fashion industry and has built a sustainable product line and business using all reclaimed textiles. We are so excited to learn more about her creative path and how she has grown her own creative business.

Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? What is your background?

I grew up on an island in the lakes region of Maine. After going to, then dropping out of college, I moved all over the country studying dance and choreography. Inspired by the moments contained within the dance, I picked up photography. That led to an interest in film, so I went back to school and got my BFA from NYU (and also met my husband). After graduating, I jumped into web development because there were practical matters to attend to and it was the beginning of the dot.com boom, so it was easy to enter the tech world and build a career there.

Most of my creative impulses were set aside until many years later when my children attended a Waldorf school. With an emphasis on educating children through their “head, heart and hands” the school had a wonderful handwork program. In each grade, the children mastered a new way of creating with their hands – from finger knitting in kindergarten to stained glass in their senior year. It was my great joy to help teach first graders how to knit (I learned right along side the kids since it was new to me.) Teaching and learning with the kids reawakened my creativity. That’s putting it mildly…it’s more like my creativity woke up like a hungry bear that had been in hibernation. It needed to be fed! Around the same time, someone gifted me with a used sewing machine. After spending three days (and many hours on YouTube) learning how to thread the machine, I taught myself how to sew. It didn’t take long before my creative drive outstripped my budget for fabric and I turned to my children’s outgrown clothes as a source of material for my projects. From there, I spent several years refining my techniques for repurposing materials from clothing.


What do you make and sell?

I make thoughtful playthings that encourage kids to discover the power of their own creativity. My favorites are rainbow pencil rolls, blanket forts and covered journals.

What made you decide to take the leap and start your own creative business?

I was unhappy with my job and giving a great deal of thought to making a change when I met an amazing artist (she later became a good friend) who inspired me to get serious about my creative work. I really wanted to be a living example to my children of how we can forge our own destinies if we have the courage to step away from the path of least resistance.

How did you get started and when did you launch your business?

When the stars aligned in such a way that I was able to leave my job in January of 2013, I got serious about creating a product line. As I got deeper into that process and began developing production techniques, it became obvious that my old hand-me-down sewing machine wasn’t going to be able to keep up. I was hesitant to spend money on a new machine since I wasn’t entirely sure this was going to be a viable business. My dear, sweet, supportive husband secretly organized dozens of friends and family members to chip in and purchase me a new sewing machine for my birthday. It was an incredibly poignant moment for me…the show of support, the care and effort involved…it encouraged me even more so to make a go of it.

My first workspace was my dining room table. It wasn’t long before I moved downstairs and took over our basement. Three years later, with a name change and rebranding along the way, I have just moved into my own studio space. It’s a big step, but the business needs room to grow. Once again, my family is right there with me in making this important move. The support of my family has been a consistent theme in the growth of my business. They are always cheering me on from the sidelines and step in to provide important feedback every time I come to a cross roads about what I should do next.

Do you have any philosophies or ideals you try to represent with your work?

Yes! There are two philosophies that form the WHY of what I do. One relates to the materials I use and the other to the products I design.

I initially started using reclaimed textiles to serve my own need for inexpensive materials, but the more I learned about the textile waste crisis, the more committed I became to being part of the solution. The environmental impact of the fashion industry is immense. For example, it requires 2,900 gallons of water to produce one pair of jeans. That same pair of jeans, at the other end of its lifecycle, will produce as many as 3 pounds of CO2 as it breaks down in a landfill.


I am very fortunate to work in partnership with Goodwill Industries. They sort, bag and deliver t-shirts and jeans for me to use as my raw materials. The price that I pay per pound supports the Goodwill job training program and I use almost a thousand pounds of materials a year that aren’t fit for Goodwill retail outlets.

The philosophy that drives my designs is the value of open-ended play for children. I love creating things that inspire the imagination and encourage creativity. When I create new designs, I’m thinking about making something beautiful, durable and flexible in its use. I want everything I make to open a world of possibility for the child (or adult!) receiving it.


Where do you look for inspiration?

My inspiration is drawn from the two philosophical elements that drive my business. First, I find inspiration in the materials I use. Denim is a wonderful fabric to work with. I’m always awed by the variety of washes, the different textures and the way each pair of jeans wears differently. I also love playing with all the bright colors and soft knits of the t-shirts.

I am also inspired by my experience with Waldorf education. Sometimes we forget that the most powerful element in a child’s play is their own creative force. I want everything I make to be an instrument of the child’s creativity rather than supplant their creativity.

Waterfront view from Jill's studio.

Waterfront view from Jill’s studio.

What does your workspace/studio look like?

After three years of working in my 120 year old, unfinished, windowless basement, I’m so excited to finally be in my own space! My new studio occupies a very unique place on Main Street in Great Barrington, MA and opens out onto a nature trail alongside the Housatonic River. It was important to be close to home, since I make it a priority to be available for my kids, and my view of the river refreshes my senses every day. I can’t wait to grow into this new space and do things I never could have done before, like teach workshops!


What are some of your favorite tools or techniques?

I absolutely LOVE my Accuquilt Studio Fabric Cutter. It’s essentially a die cut machine. I have some of their “off the rack” dies and have had some custom made for my designs. The cutter allows me to cut pattern pieces quickly, accurately and efficiently, plus it saves my wrist from the repetitive strain of cutting everything by hand. My OTHER favorite tool is a power rotary cutter that my husband gave me. It’s not something I would have thought I needed, or spent the money on myself, but it truth, it makes quick business of breaking down a pair of jeans into usable pieces.

Is your business your full time job? Or do you have a day job?

Yes and yes. My business is my full time job AND I have a day job. In order to grow my business, most of my profits get rolled right back into things like equipment, show fees and marketing, so I have a part time job at the Berkshire Market Co-Op. I chose to work there because in many ways, it’s a center of the community and aligns with my values of supporting local producers. I truly enjoy my co-workers and find that it balances the long hours of quiet that go into my creative work.


What does a day in the life of Jill Maldonado look like?

I get up super early in the morning. It’s a great time to get a couple hours of “computer work” done – checking orders, emails, web traffic and social media stats or planning out what I’m working on in the studio that day. After my husband and kids head out, I take the dogs over to my studio (we have three rescued Pomeranians) and get busy making. At 2:30, it’s time to walk the dogs and meet the kids when they get home from school. If no one needs homework help, I have another couple of hours to get administrative tasks done (more computer work) and make a plan for the next day before I start dinner.

Visit Jill’s website, Material Rebellion, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Thank you so much Jill for sharing your story with us! Do you want to be our next Featured Maker? Visit our Contribute Page for more info!


Please welcome our newest Featured Maker: Kristy Jane! Kirsty is a freelance graphic designer and jewelry maker from Byron, New York. She fell in love with sea glass while living in South Florida where she learned metal smithing, pottery and began making jewelry. We are so excited to learn more about Kristy’s life and work today and we hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as we have!


Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? What is your background?

I am a small town girl at heart. I grew up in Byron, NY (pop. 2,500) which sits just south of beautiful Lake Ontario. I am also a creative at heart. As a kid, my favorite thing was putting pencil (and crayons) to paper. This love of creating stuck with me through college where I studied graphic design. Fast forward 22 years of jobs, loves, and life lessons. Being freshly divorced, it was time to spread my wings and head to South Florida (West Palm Beach) where a grade school girlfriend lived at the time.

How did you get started and when did you launch your business?

Well it didn’t take long to completely fall in love with the sand and the sea and the inspiration it offered (not to mention great soul-searching). I began sea glass hunting as a daily hobby (one that I am still addicted to) and my collection grew so much that I knew I had to create something with it.


What made you decide to take the leap and start your own creative business?

Working as a freelance graphic designer has always offered me the freedom to create and dream up new ideas. As fellow creatives know, this can work against us at times! I decided to take some metalsmithing and pottery classes at the local art center. I was just kind of searching and wanted to broaden my skill set. I really wanted to create something unique and sea-inspired and I knew I wanted it to be jewelry. I soon made my little garden shed into a workshop where I spent countless hours being creative (and drilling sea glass). I bought my own kiln after the pottery class I had taken and that’s when I discovered my design. You see, I had so much sea glass that wasn’t jewelry grade and I wanted to do something with it. With the help of my teachers at the art center, I came up with my kiln-fired sea glass on porcelain line (Coastal Chic Collection). This was it…I had my idea and so I launched Kristy Jane in 2012. I built my website and created business cards, etc. and entered some retail art shows (some successful and others not so much). I was getting lots of positive feedback from people about my jewelry but they just weren’t willing to pay for it. I knew my ideal client was out there but I just wasn’t in front of them. That’s when I dove into the wholesale world and did my first show in Boston.


Do you have any philosophies or ideals you try to represent with your work?

We all love to go on vacation. We daydream about being at our happy place. My customers will wear a piece of my jewelry and when they look at it, they’ll be reminded of that place. Sometimes a tiny soothing thought like that can help us through our every-ordinary-day.

What’s your process for coming up with ideas for new products?

Oh my gosh, I never know when or where I’ll be when a new idea pops into my head. Sometimes it’s even in my sleep! I will wake up with a new design idea in my head so I jump up and sketch it out on paper so I don’t forget it. I also absolutely love perusing [Robert Redford’s] Sundance catalog for inspiration.


Where do you look for inspiration?

I moved back to Western New York to be close to family (life by the ocean couldn’t hide my home sickness) in 2014. I looked to the beautiful shores of Lake Ontario to remind me of my love for the sea. The first day back I went edge walking near my parents cottage in Fair Haven (Little Sodus Bay). Much to my surprise, I found the most perfectly worn heart shaped piece of beach glass! I think it was a sign…I found it because I was back where I’m supposed to be. Being happy and surrounded by the ones you love brings clarity in all other aspects of life.


What does your workspace/studio look like?

I must say, my little garden shed turned jewelry workshop in South Florida was my favorite. Lots of tropical inspiration all around me. Now it’s in the basement but I have really cool antique furniture that I use for my bench and storage cabinets. When I go there…time just goes by and before I know it hours have gone by. I also like to set the mood with music and maybe a glass or two of wine. Life is good.


What are some of your favorite tools or techniques?

After taking both the metalsmithing and pottery classes, I bought my own kiln so I could build inventory. I absolutely love to open the lid of the kiln to see all the beautiful pendants of which no two are alike. The way the glass flows with the glaze and crackles and creates little miniature seascapes….I feel like a little kid on Christmas morning! I want to play with glass slumping and metal clay next. The creativity never ends!


Is your business your full time job? Or do you have a day job?

I have been a graphic designer at some level since I graduated college in 1992. Since about 2007, I have had an in-home design studio and work with a handful of great clients. It has given me the freedom to explore the jewelry world, which I am grateful for.

What does a day in the life of Kristy Jane look like?

I split my days up between my freelance graphic design and my jewelry business. When I get tired of looking at the computer screen, or am waiting on client approval, I can change gears and go edge walking to collect more beach glass or go to my workshop (now in the basement) and create beautiful things, or one of the other thousands of things to do to market both of my businesses! It’s a definite labor of love and I couldn’t be happier.


Visit Kristy’s website and follow her on Facebook!

Thank you so much Kristy for sharing your story with us! Do you want to be our next Featured Maker? Visit our Contribute Page for more info!

BIZ: How To Prepare For Your First Craft Show

My booth at the Crafty Wonderland Super Colossal Holiday Sale, 2013.

Camp Smartypants‘ booth at Crafty Wonderland Holiday Sale, 2013.


UPDATE: This post originally ran on April 9, 2014. Since holiday craft show season is on the way we thought we’d share it again in the hopes that you find some useful tips and enjoy the free printable checklist!

Applying for your first ever craft show? We’ve got some important tips to help make your experience fun and successful, plus advice from seasoned craft show vendors and a free printable checklist of must-have items you should have with you.

Choose your show:

When I first started my business, Camp Smartypants, I applied to as many craft shows as possible. Some shows I was busy with customers and other shows I sat in an empty room with no one but other vendors. I recommend doing a bit of research about the event before applying for any show. Find out how many years the event has been running and what ways they promote the show. How many shoppers do they expect to attend? Is it indoor or outdoor? If they don’t seem to have much of a promotion plan, I’d say look for a better show. Without proper promotion, potential shoppers won’t know about the event and you’ll be sitting in your booth by yourself, bored all day.

It’s also a good idea to find out who the show’s past vendors are. Take a look at the event website and browse through their photo galleries (if they have them). Would your products fit in with the other types of vendors? It’s also great to see how people have set-up their booth displays for that particular show as well.

Here I am at my very first craft show in 2009 at the Doug Fir in Portland, Oregon.

Here I am at my very first craft show in 2009 at the Doug Fir in Portland, Oregon.


Applying for your first craft show:

Depending on what type of event you are applying too, you’ll need to fill out a detailed application. Make sure you follow their application instructions exactly and provide clear photographs to your work and a link to your website or Etsy shop. Some shows may even ask for a photograph of what your booth will look like so if this is your first craft fair, don’t wait until the last minute to apply as you may have to set up a mock booth to photograph for your application. Also be sure to read the F.A.Q. page on the event’s website. They will often explain further how to submit a good application.

Note: Some shows, like Crafty Wonderland here in Portland or Urban Craft Uprising in Seattle, are fairly competitive to get into, so don’t get discouraged if you aren’t accepted the first time you apply. Instead review your application and look at how you can improve it for the next time you apply and yes, you should definitely apply again!

Our first craft show was in Missoula, MT called the Missoula MADE fair. We were living in Spokane at the time, so it was the closest one to us. It was summer and held in an outdoor park downtown and it was very memorable! The day started out sunny and beautiful, but they’re known for quick sudden thunder storms to roll in. The wind picked up and it started hailing and raining for about the last hour of the show. People were packing up and leaving. We had lots of prints, cards, some tea towels and pillows, but were lucky enough to be towards the center area of the covered canopy they had, so our things didn’t get too wet, but still, it was pretty crazy. – Year Round Co.

How Much Product Should I Make?

As much as you possibly can. Bring everything you have, even if you don’t think you’ll sell all of it. You want your booth to look nice and full. You don’t want a big table with only a few items on it. I’ve always gone by the rule, the more you make, the more you’ll sell.

Designing Your Booth:

I always set up my entire booth at home before the show. That way I know exactly how things will be set up and I can take my time figuring out the best display for my products. Use a tape measure to mark off the exact dimensions of your booth space in your living room and start setting things up. Experiment with different arrangements of your products to find the most appealing setup. It’s good to display product at different levels so that the customer’s eye has multiple places to look when visiting your booth.

Year Round Co. show booth

Year Round Co. (formerly Slide Sideways) at Renegade Holiday Show in San Francisco.


Our current display is made up of pallet wood that Scott put together and painted. Our display has to be durable enough to be taken apart multiple times a year while also fitting into our car and, of coarse, look good and able to hold all the product we carry, so a lot of thought went into the design and how it would break down. We seem to constantly be evolving how it looks or how our new products fit into it too. –Year Round Co.


Table. Consider the size of your allotted booth space. Your booth display should fill your entire space. You don’t want a table that’s too big or too small.
Tablecloth. When choosing a tablecloth (I like using a twin size flat sheet), consider the color and look of your products. You want a tablecloth color that will compliment your handmade goods and make them stand out. Usually neutral colors work best (unless your products are the same color). Avoid using patterned fabric for your tablecloth as this can potentially distract the viewer and make your booth look too busy.
Banner. Make some sort of sign or banner with your shop name on it. I made my sign by hand-painting my shop logo onto canvas and sewing it into a banner I can hang in front of my table.
Signage. All your products need to be clearly marked with a price. Consider making small signs or tags to attach to each item.
Display Items. This is where you really have to be creative. Choose display items that are lightweight and easy to set up. You don’t have to break the bank; great places to find baskets, frames, containers, etc. are local thrift and vintage stores. Don’t be afraid to give an old crate or shelf a DIY facelift with a little cleaning or new paint job. You can also look at IKEA or a display fixture store in your area (like Portland Store Fixtures here in Portland, Oregon.) Lastly, when designing your booth, you can’t depend on having a wall behind you. Everything in your display needs to be free-standing.

I use wood crates, old tackle boxes and vintage glass collected from thrift stores to display my handmade jewelry and art. Some things I make sure to have with me at every craft show are: a lint roller, paper towels, coffee, and a mirror for customers to use when trying on my jewelry. –A Tea Leaf

The Day of the Show:

I like to arrive to any craft show 1-2 hours before the doors open. I don’t want to feel stressed or rushed about setting up plus I like to give myself time to run to the bathroom, grab a cup of coffee/tea, and get settled into my booth before the doors open.

It’s also a good idea to ask a friend or family member to help you load in and out for your event. Remember that you have to load your entire booth into the show space and you may have to carry things quite a distance. (If you have a hand truck or rolling cart, bring it).

In addition to bringing my entire booth display and all my products, I always bring the following items to any craft fair. It’s better to ‘be prepared’ than be freaking out about forgetting something or something going wrong. This checklist will help you have a stress-free, successful show! You can download it here and use it for your first show!

Free Printable Craft Show Checklist by Adventures In Making http://www.adventures-in-making.com


A chair. If it can fit behind your booth, you’re going to want it.

Water bottle and food. You most likely will not be able to leave your booth during the event. Depending on how long the event lasts bring plenty of snacks or lunch so you don’t get hungry/cranky.

Emergency tool kit: Pens, pencils, tape, hammer, pliers, box cutter, scissors, safety pins, tacks, twine, zip ties, extra price tags/stickers, band-aids, tampons, Ibuprofen, hand wipes, napkins.

Change, cash box and calculator. make sure you have plenty of change (mainly $1 and $5). I usually get $100 in change for a show and that’s been plenty for me. I keep all my change in a metal cash box behind my booth. You could also wear an apron or fanny pack to keep all your change in.

Square App. an essential tool for any craft show. The Square App allows you to take credit cards on your smartphone or tablet. You can order the Square Reader for free here. Before the show starts, set up your free account and do a test transaction (I usually charge $1) to make sure it’s ready and working. Make sure your device is fully charged and don’t use up your battery power on facebook or instagram during the event. Also- ask the event coordinator if they have wifi access for vendors.

A notebook and pen to track sales. It’s good practice to write down every sale. That way you can review what items sold the best and how much money you made at the end of the day.

Business cards. Business cards a SUPER important to have at a craft show. I order mine from Got Print. You can also look for local printers in your area. Make sure your business card includes your name, your shop name, your email and website/etsy shop. This way customers who aren’t looking to buy something the day of the show can find you again.

Mailing list sign up sheet. So you can stay in touch with your customers.

Tools of your craft. Especially good for last minute repairs. If show traffic is slowing down, I’ll usually get out my supplies for making my products and get to work. Customers love seeing you in action! It could spark conversation and questions about you and your work. Just make sure it’s something you can put down easily so you can continue to interact with customers and make sales.

Packaging materials. You’ll need to bag or box up your product when someone makes a purchase. Make sure you have enough bags, tissue, etc. to properly package sold goods for customers.

Wear comfortable shoes and layers. Keep in mind that you’ll most likely be on your feet most of the time so comfortable shoes are important. Also, you never know what the temperature of the room will be (or what the weather will be if you’re event is outdoors) so it’s best to have a few layers of clothing you can take on/off.

We keep a small box that holds all the nuts/bolts/screws we need, plus a screw driver, extra hooks, and tape. We always keep pens, lots of business cards, and sometimes even our wholesale info on hand too, you never know if a potential store owner will be stopping by. Snacks and water are never forgotten either! – Year Round Co.


Show Etiquette. Tearing down your booth and/or loading out before the show ends is extremely bad show etiquette and disrupts the flow of any show. Even if you sold out of all your products, don’t tear down your booth (unless you have special permission from the event coordinator). If you tear down early, a lot of shows will put you on their ‘naughty’ list and won’t invite you back to do the show again. Also, be sure to leave your space as you found it and throw away any garbage.

Exposure and feedback. Don’t be too upset if you don’t sell out or make a ton of money at your first show. Many of the shows I first attended I didn’t make much more than the cost of the booth fee. Exposure of you and your work and customer feedback are the best things you can gain at your first show. This is your chance to test out your products, interact with customers and receive instant feedback on your work. As a rule, if I at least make my booth fee back, I consider it a success.

Outdoor shows. If you are planning to attend an outdoor show, I recommend using a pop-up canopy. They are quite an investment to buy, so ask the show coordinator of there’s someone you can borrow or share a canopy with. Also remember to prepare you booth for inclimate weather. You don’t want anything to fall or collapse due to a gust of wind and you don’t want your product to be ruined by rain or fade in the sunshine. Also- sunscreen and bug repellent are important.

Network! A craft show is the perfect opportunity for you to meet other like-minded people! Talk to the other vendors. Tell them it’s your first show and don’t be afraid to ask them questions. I’ve made many new friends this way and it’s great to offer each other advice and support.

Opportunities. Local shop owners might be attending the event on the look out for new handmade products for their shop! I’ve received many consignment opportunities with stores that first saw my work at a craft show.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCE: The Ultimate Craft Show Preparation Link List by Handmadeology


SHOW + TELL: A-Frame Canvas Card Wall

One of the best things about having “a summer off” is that I am slowly getting to the projects that have been stacking up, with the help and company of Safety Husband. It feels great to make forward progress, but it is INSANE how much I expected to have done in a couple of weeks.

This weekend I finally got to a pressing project, and built an a-frame portable card wall out of two canvases and some scrap wood. There are a million options when it comes to displaying cards, but I wanted something light-weight with a little character, and I think this project absolutely fit the bill.


Safety Husband makes a great arm model. Safety goggles not shown, but surely present.

Since these canvases were big (~30″ x 48″) they were reinforced on the back, so our first step was knocking those bars out. Fortunately they came out pretty easily with a couple of smacks from a mallet.

We decided to use some trim leftover from the shop, and ripped it (on a table saw) to be the same depth as the canvas. That left us a scrap that made a perfect lip for the front of the card rails. We cut the trim to fit inside the frame of the canvas.

Once all 10 card rail pieces and lips were cut, I glued and clamped them together and left them overnight to dry. Once they were dry, I used a semi-gloss white spray paint to cover all the green painted sides (all that would be visible from the front of the display.)

I made a mark along my frame every 9 inches to allow for enough room for the cards, and the occasional journal.

The shelf pieces ended up being a tight fit in the frame of the canvas, so I decided that wood glue would be enough to hold up the light weight of the cards. I put glue on the ends to mount into the frame. I also put glue along the long back of the rails to attach to the canvas and keep cards from falling behind the shelves.

I then gently put the rails in place, using a piece of scrap wood and a mallet to tap some of the tighter pieces in.


I used painters tape to secure shelves in that were more likely to shift around. Most were held in place by friction and perfectly measured cuts.

When the glue had set, I finished by attaching the two canvases together with old door hinges. (The best hardware has a little character.)

I love the simple but rustic look of the a frame, and I adore how light weight and durable it is. It will soon find a home in a local store, and I’m excited to see how it looks.

I always get a sense of satisfaction when I finish a project like this, when I get over all the “What if I…” ideas and just get it done. This one is especially rewarding because I only used materials leftover from the shop and previous projects.


What are you working on?

TODAY: Heal a Creative Soul

The illustration above is from a college class assignment, and was one of the ways I dealt with some of the more negative critiques of art school. It was also my very first letterpress project, so even though it’s not the cheeriest subject, it lead to my biggest creative passion!

A few weeks ago I was talking to someone I knew from junior high, and they said something fairly innocuous that has been plaguing me since. It was mild, probably a joke, and definitely something my adult self would have laughed off– but somehow it struck right through to the insecurities of my inner ‘tween.

I think there are very few of us who would say that they had a childhood completely free of bullying (and if we’re honest with ourselves, we probably didn’t treat everyone perfectly). It’s been a long time since that was me; and even though I am a worrier, I try not to worry too much about what people say about me. I’m a “grown-up” now.

But here’s the thing- I am just now getting to the point where I can make things without constantly worrying what people will say about them.

The trouble with subjective work

I think that bullying has a special impact on our creative souls. If you make a drawing that one sour person says “looks stupid” you will forever question your talent. Your work is subjective, so there’s no standardized test for creativity. What’s worse is that art programs encourage this kind of snarky commentary in class critiques. Very few programs make an issue of allowing only productive criticism, so you end up with people saying “I just don’t like it” “It’s not successful” “The perspective is off.”

Basically, there’s never going to be proof you’re talented, so it takes a long time for those kind of negative experiences to wear off.

I’d love to turn the whole world around (and bring world peace) but I’ll settle for getting everyone to embrace their creativity and appreciate their own style.

Below are a couple of ways that people have, over time, helped me overcome some of my hang-ups about my work– and things that I try to do to reinforce positive feelings about what I’m doing. It’s all personal, but I feel like they would be great ways to encourage creative exploration in your own life, and to help the people around you have confidence in the things they make.


Make Someone Happy

Show interest in their work.

Even if people who are quiet and secretive about their creative endeavors, they usually enjoy when people show interest in them. Don’t be pushy about it, if they don’t want to show you their work, let it go… this time. Ask questions about what they are interested in, their point of view, and places they like to look at for inspiration. Show interest in them as whole (creative) people.

Compliment, Compliment, Compliment.

If someone shows you their work, say something nice and say something true. Don’t just make up something to say, really take a moment to appreciate what you’re looking at. There’s bound to be something to admire– tell them!

Ask smart questions.

Again, showing interest in the work is key. Ask why they made decisions that they did, what they are trying to say with their work, what problems they are trying to solve.

Ask them to look at your work, sometime.

Even if you do totally different types of creating, asking for someone’s opinion shows that you appreciate their point-of-view.

Basically, be encouraging and interested.

We all need a little more creativity in our lives, and that’s much easier without nagging doubt. So lets nip those mean little voices in the bud, and while you’re at it…


Heal your creative soul

Interact, frequently, with people who “get you”.

You know, like the community here at A-i-M! There are also free meet-ups and craft events in most areas that are a great place to interact with other people who are making creativity a part of their lives. (We’d love to know about creative groups in your area- let us know in the comments section!)

Be honest with the people who make you feel less than awesome.

Sometimes people don’t think about how their comments make you feel about your work. If you take a (calm) moment to give them a little insight, you might find out they have a lot of great things to say.

Take compliments when they come.

Sometimes it takes a little work to let those compliments sink in. Take a minute to consider who they are coming from, and let it go to your head.

Keep making things the way that feels right.

For me there’s always a fight between the way I want to do things, and the way I feel like I should do them. Lately I’ve started following my own flow, and I feel happier with the things I’m making. It also gives me more energy to try new techniques, whether or not they end up working for me.

Do all that other positive stuff.

Make affirmation cards, do wacky projects, cook something crazy, and just get your creative life going. The more you do to bring joy to your life (and the lives of others) the better the world gets.



What soothes your creative soul?

School House Craft Fall Conference + A Giveaway!

School House Craft + A Giveaway!
We are excited to team up with School House Craft this year for their 5th annual fall conference in Seattle, WA! Artists and crafters from all over the Pacific Northwest come together for 2 days of classes, hands-on workshops and networking. We’ve been attendees to this event for the past few years and we are excited to be teaching a fun craft project this year during the Book Signing and Craft Social on Sunday, September 28th.


The mission of School House Craft is to help artists and craft makers find the knowledge they need to build businesses that last. This year’s conference is held September 27th & 28th at the Sunset Hill Community Club in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. They have a full lineup of amazing small business classes and workshops led by some of our community’s most knowledgeable and inspirational speakers including Jena Coray, Blair Stocker, Tara Gentile, and more!

Visit the School House Craft website to register and see the full line up of classes and events.

This year’s conference has a huge range of classes, an amazing line up of teachers, an exciting new round table event, a happy hour soiree and a book signing and crafting social. One and two day tickets include daily inspirational keynote addresses, over 17 classes and events as well as lunch and snacks. One day tickets are available for $85, two day tickets for $155 and individual classes for just $35.

This conference is a fantastic opportunity for Artists, Crafters and Makers, both emerging and experienced, who are looking to invest in their businesses and learn a wealth of information that will help them start, run, and grow their small creative businesses more efficiently and with greater success.


The Giveaway!

This year School House Craft wants to give one of you a one-day pass to this year’s fall conference in Seattle! The winner will have the choice of attending on Saturday (Sept. 27) or Sunday (Sept. 28). The one-day pass includes admission to the keynote event, your choice of classes, lunch, a complimentary happy hour event on Saturday evening, and the Book Signing and Craft Social on Sunday– an $85 value!*

How To Enter:

Leave us a comment below telling us one of the goals you have for your small business for 2014 (required). Remember to include your contact information!

Additional Entries (Optional):
Share this tweet: I just entered to win a ticket to the 5th annual @schoolhousecon conference at http://adventures-in-making.com/ #giveaway (click to tweet)
• Sign up for our monthly newsletter (in right sidebar above)
Click here to share this event on Facebook (and leave us a comment below letting us know you’ve shared)

Enter all 4 ways to increase your chances of winning!

*Note: This is an in-person event located in Seattle, WA. It does not include overnight accommodations, so be sure to plan ahead!

The giveaway ends on Sunday, August 24 at 11:59PM. We will announce the winner (chosen at random) on Tuesday, August 26. Good luck everyone!

UPDATE 8/24/2014

We have extended this giveaway through Wednesday, August 27 at 11:59PM! We will announce the winner (chosen at random) on Friday, August 29. Good luck everyone!

UPDATE 8/28/2014

This giveaway is now closed. Thank you to everyone who entered! We’ll be announcing the winner tomorrow!

FEATURED MAKER: Gail Kirwan of Rockabella Bags

FEATURED MAKER: Gail Kirwan of Rockabella Bags
Please welcome our newest Featured Maker, Gail Kirwan of Rockabella Bags! Gail took the plunge into starting her own creative business and now makes and sells beautiful, waterproof bags of all shapes and sizes. See more of her work in her Etsy shop!

Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? What is your background?

I grew up in the Denver area, and majored in mechanical engineering in college. I moved to the Seattle area to work as an engineer, which I did for 20 years. Eventually the creative urge got the best of me, and I left to start my own business. I enjoy crafting, reading, traveling, and gardening.

What do you make and sell?

I make bags of all sizes – from large laptop bags to tote bags, hipster bags, and wristlets. I also make other small accessories.

FEATURED MAKER: Gail Kirwan of Rockabella Bags #handmade #interview

What made you decide to take the leap and start your own creative business?

For many years I traveled extensively for business, always with my laptop. I had a laptop bag that I loved for its functionality, but like most laptop bags it came in your choice of – black nylon. I hoped to find something a little more colorful but that was impossible to find. Eventually I tried one made from quilted cotton – it was pretty but didn’t hold up to heavy use. Back to the boring black nylon. One day I discovered vinyl laminated cotton fabric, and I immediately thought “Eureka”! This beautiful fabric came in designer prints, was strong, durable, waterproof and easy care. It was perfect for a laptop bag – or for any bag. That was the beginning of my Rockabella Bags journey. Now I make bags that indulge my love of color and design. Living in the rainy climate of the Pacific Northwest, I love that these bags are waterproof – and they wipe clean. I hope that you love them as much as I do!

FEATURED MAKER: Gail Kirwan of Rockabella Bags #handmade #interview

What’s your process for coming up with ideas for new products?

I think of products that I would like myself that would lend themselves to laminated fabric. Sometimes people ask me to make specific things, usually these are already on my list. I have a long list of new products to try, and it is constantly growing!

Where do you look for inspiration?

Fabric – I love the color and design of fabric prints. Certain prints just reach out and grab you – that is what I’m drawn to. I also enjoy mixing and matching prints to come up with great combinations for bags.

Function – I’m in love with the beauty and functionality of laminated fabric. It is waterproof, wipes clean, strong and durable – and still buttery soft to the touch. Wonderful.

Design – I love to explore different designs for bags. Large, small, they are all good! Personally, I like to carry a small bag on a daily basis but I like to have options for special events or travel. Who doesn’t?

FEATURED MAKER: Gail Kirwan of Rockabella Bags #handmade #interview

What does your workspace/studio look like?

I have a spare room in my basement that I use as a studio. I love working in the basement because it is so comfortable – cool in the summer and warm in the winter. My studio window looks out over the back garden, and I always have music playing when I am working. When I started my business a year ago, I threw my studio together with what I had on hand – folding tables, etc. Currently it is very messy with not enough storage, so I’m planning to make it over in the next few months. I’m looking forward to a little more organization!

FEATURED MAKER: Gail Kirwan of Rockabella Bags #handmade #interview

What are some of your favorite tools or techniques?

Of course, my favorite material to work with is laminated cotton fabric. There are a lot of tips and tricks to sewing with laminate that can be used if you are working with it occasionally. If you work with it a lot, like I do, a walking foot for your sewing machine is essential. The walking foot also helps in dealing with thick layers of fabric which happens with bag making.

FEATURED MAKER: Gail Kirwan of Rockabella Bags #handmade #interview

Is your business your full time job? Or do you have a day job?

Rockabella Bags is my full time job.

What does a day in the life of Gail look like?

I usually spend around 2-3 hours in the morning catching up with email and social media, ordering supplies, any paperwork or organizing that needs to be done. Then I am sewing until around 4:00, when I pack up any orders that need to be shipped.

FEATURED MAKER: Gail Kirwan of Rockabella Bags #handmade #interview

Visit Gail’s Etsy Shop and follow Rockabella Bags on Facebook.

Thank you so much Gail for sharing your story with us! Want to be our next Featured Maker?
Visit our Contribute Page for more info!

BIZ: Tips for Selling the Unique

After posting about “Pricing the Precious” we got emails and comments asking great questions about other aspects of creative business. It’s one of my favorite parts about the blog, because it gives me the opportunity to think about the challenges that other artists face. I can only ever give advice based on what I’ve witnessed, but if we all share our experiences, it can only make us more happy and more successful. So! If you ever have a question or comment after reading one of our posts, please make sure to share with us.

In the day-to-day running of the shop I get to meet all sorts of working artists. Mostly I feature artists who are creating the same, or similar, items over and over- but that’s just the kind of store So, There is. Selling and producing one-of-a-kind goods, art, or goods that require a lot of individual production time definitely has its own challenges. It can seem especially daunting to try to recoup money for your time when the time you spend on your art seems endless.

Selling art has never been easy, but I hope the tips below give you a chance you look at your business from a different point of view. If you don’t already, right now is the time to…

Outline your goals

I am the most hesitant business planner ever. I hate writing down all the plans that are there in my head already, but I do it anyway. It’s extremely important to be in-tune with your own plans for the future of your business. Take some time to figure out what success for your business would look like. Do you want to be a well-known artisan who makes products from your studio? Do you want to turn your creations into a mega-business with lots of people working under you?

Take that picture of your perfect future, and work backwards to clarify the steps you need to take to bring your business to that point. You may need to make some compromises to get things started. Always keep that end-goal in mind, especially as you…

Adapt your line

Sometimes it seems to me the difference between “artist” and “artistic business person” is as simple as having the ability to step away from the things you are making and evaluating the success of each item. It’s harder for those of us who are really emotionally involved with our work, but unless you’re experiencing unbridled success, it’s absolutely necessary.

These mugs are offered with custom hand signs, so customers can have their own initials on a mug from the playful potter.

These mugs from the playful potter. are offered with custom hand sign decals.

Think about adding pieces to your selection.

I had some great advice from a gallery owner when I was setting the shop up. She said that I should make sure to include a few expensive pieces in the store, even if I felt I would never sell them. They might encourage the sale of a lower priced piece by the same artists, or they might just sell themselves.

The same is true for your line. If you take some time to make quicker, lower priced goods to fill our your selection, you will appeal to an audience who doesn’t feel they have as much money to spend. You get a sale that contributes to your company, and you are establishing a fan base. Those people will share your goods with their friends- and eventually someone will find your great work of art a necessity in their life.

There are lots of benefits from having a wide range of prices in your line. You’ll appeal to more customers, and you’ll be able to customize your line when applying to art shows and sales. Think about adding prints of your pieces to your line, selling patterns and kits, or smaller accessories.

Look for ways to reduce your costs.

Try to think of ways you can reduce your personal costs in time, supply, and overhead. Can you order supplies in bulk? Take a production line approach so that you can get pieces made more quickly and efficiently? (That is, do the same small task over and over again before moving to the next task. You’ll save time by not having to change you tools/setup/attention as frequently.) Sometimes the steps you take to reduce your costs will make you feel like you’re more a production person, and less of an artist– but might be necessary nonetheless.

Make your items even more special to your audience.

Sometimes all it takes is a quirk to get your line the attention it deserves. Take some time to think about if there is something you could change to make your goods so special that no one will want to walk away from them. (Or as I say to customers at the store “When you dream about it, give me a call so I can put it on hold for you.”) Think about popular trends, and other things that will catch some eyes. Can you use repurposed materials to appeal to the environmentally conscious? Can you up your packaging game? Can you offer a custom monogram or other custom motif that customers will love?

Reevaluate less popular and more expensive designs.

Over the years I’ve had to drop items from my selection that were too time-consuming and not popular enough. I don’t consider any of these things failures- because for me it’s the inventing and making that I enjoy. I try to take some time to figure out what the make-or-break details are, absorb the knowledge, and move on to my next big idea. I know artists who have decided to turn their whole business in a different direction because their line wasn’t as successful as they wanted it to be. Sometimes you have to stop embroidering hand sewn bags, and focus on your popular illustration style.

Try not to be discouraged by decisions like this. There’s a lot of luck involved in businesses like ours, and sometimes it’s just that you haven’t found the right audience (are you ahead of your time?)

Find the right Audience

Advertising, sales, and networking are extremely important in selling your work. As much as we want to, we can’t sit back on our haunches and wait for people to discover our online shop. We all know this– so we do everything we can think of to get a new group of customers to find us, and fall in love.



Go to your niche customer.

Sometimes your most successful sales spot is not the easiest. Take some time to think about your product, who loves your product, and where those people are. Are they at the weekly farmers market? Are they at conventions? In tourist spots? Do they go to stores? Shop online? This is a great time to talk to your friends and get their honest opinions about where you should go. (Be wary of suggestions that are self-serving; like school craft sales and the like.) Go where your ideal customer is. Try out as many things as you can stand to- and give yourself permission to have a couple of misses before you get a hit.

Teach what you love!

Sometimes the best way to prove the value of your products is to show people everything that goes into them. Think about teaching a class, or demonstrating your work. You give your well-crafted items more value by demonstrating the skill it takes to get them right, and customers connect with them because they “saw it being made.”

Donate to raffles and auctions when you can.

You can reach a whole other audience by donating to charities and fund-raising auctions. You get the double value of reaching a new audience, and showing that you care about _____. This is a great way to move an item you love, but hasn’t sold for what it should- or a chance to advertise that class you’re going to teach (above.) You can also write-off most charitable contributions, and you know that your piece is going to someone who will love it, and supporting a good cause.

Set Emotion Aside (for a minute)

Sometimes it just isn’t working, even though we’re amazing at what we do. We’re in pricing battles the big-box stores. We’re the only ones doing the work. And we’re also expected to find our audience and sell to it?

Try to look at your line and history and think of what you would tell a stranger. Maybe it’s time to shift your focus. Maybe it’s not worth selling at wholesale to stores. Maybe it’s time to open your own store! But don’t ever give up…

If you love what you do, usually it’s worth doing for the joy- even if it’s not going to make you a millionaire.

BIZ: Pricing the Precious

BIZ: Pricing the Precious #handmade #business #adventuresinmkg

Pricing is such a tricky thing. I often work with artists to try to find the right price for products, and even my experience is limited to research and what I see in my own store. I’ve listed a couple of great resources that go into all the things you need to think about when setting a price on a product, but I just want to talk about one thing.

After you do all the calculations (figure out what you need to make, double it to get a retail price, and balance that with what the market will bear) you might end up with a small range of prices. The bottom one (say $15) would mean you have to work a little harder for a little less. The top one (say $22) would give you a nice little cushion, and make you feel like what you’re doing is really valued by your customers. What do you do?

Even when it comes to handmade goods, customers have a clear idea of what they should be paying for something. Often that figure is a little unrealistic because of big box stores, cheap labor, and (let’s be honest) flimsy options. We’re all working to turn that around– but the reality is if they can buy it from Target for $11, they will be more likely to buy yours at $15 than at $22.

In fact, they might buy your product like mad. You might sell hundreds.

Here’s the rub. You will be the one to make those hundreds of things. And if you are up late at night grumbling the words “fifteen dollars” under your breath as you work your fingers to the bone, you aren’t a happy little maker. Are you?

So here are some things you should think about when you’re finalizing your prices.

Consider the Lower Price if…

You are happy when you’re making it.
Can you sit idly in front of the TV, listen to music, work at the park? Do you feel satisfied while you’re crafting those little guys? If so, I would err on the side of the low rate. Making a hundred of something you love (and will still love after the hundreds go out to new homes) is a pretty great thing.

Your materials are abundant, easy to use, and non-toxic.
If you can easily get your materials, don’t see any trouble getting them in the future, and working with them doesn’t make you sick continuing to do so as you get more and more successful shouldn’t be a problem.

This product is the foundation of your business.
If the success of this one product is going to make or break your business, I think it’s smart to aim for selling a ton of them. If you’re making decent margins with them, then that means more money for you to try new things. Also, this one product might be the success that gets you in the door with stores and customers who will then take a chance on those other products.

You’re emotionally and artistically satisfied.
I know I already addressed this; but really, it’s a big deal!

There is enough variation in your product to keep your brain working.
If you’ve come up with a product that can be different from piece to piece, it will give you more freedom to continue growing as an artist. They may be very basic tweaks (different colors, different designs), but variety is the spice of life!

Your products are really just a copy of an original design and have a limited amount of work involved.
If the majority of your effort and material cost went into the first design and now you can just automate the production of the item, go for the lower price. If you sell a million, you’ll have made more towards your original design…. and your work will be EVERYWHERE!

Digitally printed cards are a great example of items that can be produced easily again and again, once they have been designed.

Digitally printed cards can be produced easily again and again.


Think about charging the Higher Price if…

Your materials are rare, or difficult to acquire.
If you think you might possibly run out of your materials in the future, it’s worth considering. (A couple of the things I make use vintage papers that I will eventually have to try to replace. That means time and money on my part, and I eventually might not be able to find those things at all.)

If you are wearing out the tools that you are using.
If you will need to replace or repair tools on a regular basis, that’s something to consider in your pricing structure. Charge the higher rate, especially if it’s an expensive tool.

It’s a niche item.
If you will sell fewer of your items because they have more of a limited audience, charge a little more. Eventually they might pick up in the right crowd, but until then you want to make sure you’re covering your costs.

It’s one of those things that scarcity actually adds value to.
If you are only ever going to make one of these like this, then give it a precious price. People will likely use that price to reassure themselves that what they are buying is a one-of-a-kind item.

You have to keep a lot of material on hand, order in bulk, or make other costly investments.
This is usually considered as part of your material cost, or as part of your overhead- but it’s worth thinking of again. If you have to buy your items in large quantities, you want to make back enough to cover that cost as quickly as possible so you’re not sitting on a lot of debt. Even if it’s not actual debt, those materials were purchased with money taken from your company- and until they are made into products and sold, they have basically no value. (Also, your roommate might not be too happy with how much space they are taking up.)

It’s hard work.
I know, I know, all creation is a combination of expression and hard work­­– but some work is harder than others. If you’re exhausted at the end of each production shift, take that into consideration.

This thing is precious to you, and difficult to part with.
If you put your heart and soul into each item you make, and it matters to you that they go to “a good home” please use the higher price. Then you know the person who bought it will love it, and the extra pocket money doesn’t hurt.

When the vintage maps are gone, so are the notebooks.

When the vintage maps are gone, so are the notebooks.


Try to use these to think about pricing in the bigger picture.

The goal is not to make a complicated subject more complicated, but rather to help you figure out why you’re unhappy with one price or the other. Hopefully this will be another tool to cement a great starting price that ensures you’re successful and satisfied. Cause that’s what we want.


Other Resources

Craft, Inc.: The Ultimate Guide to Turning Your Creative Hobby into a Successful Business by Meg Mateo Ilasco

Some Thoughts on Product Pricing”, at OH My Handmade Goodness.

(If you have a go-to resource for creative business, please let us know in the comments!)

BIZ: How to get your work in stores (Pt 1)

BIZ: How to get your work in stores (Pt 1) #business #handmade #advice or first steps to get your work in stores (and make people like you.)

Our brick and mortar shop has been open less than a year, but I feel like I’ve already seen everything under the sun. The advice below is directed mainly at approaching stores for consignment placing, but many of the elements can (and should) be applied to any type of interaction. It all comes down to starting with a great relationship.

Most stores will have much of the information you need right there on their websites. Take some time to look around, find out who the owner is, what their submission policy is, and the general feel of the place. It shouldn’t take too long, but I would recommend taking notes, and maybe keeping a spreadsheet or list with notes (you can also keep track of who you talked to, when.)

BIZ: How to get your work in stores (Pt 1) #business #handmade #advice


If you’re approaching a [local] store without visiting it first, you’re missing a big opportunity. Visiting the store gives you a chance to see the general style of goods that the store owner is drawn too, which means you can send a targeted email with photos that you know they’ll love. It also gives you a chance to size up the owner, and see if it’s someone you’d want to partner with (more on this later.) You can do all this without even talking to the shop owner, if you feel shy or if the shop is busy.

There are a few things I think everyone should do when they visit a shop they are interested in selling products at. The first and most important step…

BIZ: How to get your work in stores (Pt 1) #business #handmade #advice

Take a look around.

When you go to the store, give yourself plenty of time to look around. Pick a day when you have a babysitter, some time to kill, and maybe a friend to shop with. Really spend some time taking in the store and its goods.

It isn’t absolutely necessary to buy something, but if you have the interest and the funds, pick something out. Whatever you do, take the time to absorb the feel of the store, the kind of products it carries, what its specialty is. If you make something exactly like a product they already have, you should keep that in mind. Don’t let it stop you from talking to them, but be aware that you might have to wait a little while to have product in their store.

Don’t forget to give yourself time to get an instinct. Do you feel comfortable? Does the store seem organized? Do the people working there seem polite and happy? You will be entrusting them with your beloved goods, and with your brand’s reputation. If it seems like a fly-by-night operation, let it go for now, and apply if you feel differently later.

If you have a hard time approaching the store owner, I think that it’s fine to skip that on your first trip. Feel free to reference your trip when you contact them later.

But if you’re up to it, and the shopkeeper is free…

Talk to them.

You might not be talking to the person who makes the decision, but there’s a good chance whatever you say will make it back to them. I like it when people express interest in my store. Ask about certain items, artists, etc. Once you’ve broken the ice, and introduced yourself…

Ask about their submission and vendor policies.

“How do you find your artists?”
“What kind of things are you looking for?”
“What are your terms? Do you take goods on consignment, or buy them wholesale?”
“That all sounds amazing, how do I sign up?”
You probably know all the answers to these questions, from the research you did on their website, but it’s worth asking anyway.

Listen, and do what they say.

Most likely they have a policy of only meeting artists by appointment; which means even if you are wearing your product, you should arrange to apply the right way. This sets the best tone to your interaction. As with most things in life, if you show respect and kindness, you will probably get it right back.

Then, when you have all these details flying around in your head…


Check out the second part of this series for my hints at making the best impression when submitting work.