Bats, owls and spiders combined with antique style lettering give the paper crafts of Brandywine Designs an autumnal, vintage appeal. Owner Brandy K. Faulkner says making her Halloween art helps her recapture the magical feeling she experienced as a child celebrating the “scary but fun.”
Brandy grew up with crafting not just as a creative outlet, but as a way of life. “I lived on ranches my whole childhood. You couldn’t just run to the store. So we learned how to improvise and make things ourselves. My mom made everything homemade. I learned how to make everything from homemade donuts to candles.”
The knack for improvisation she learned as a child gave the kind of can-do attitude that enabled her to start a professional crafting business from scratch. After losing her job when the business she worked for closed, she started her crafting business with no money, offering upcycled, altered items for sale. Initially, she tried selling on EBay, but found the environment for crafters there less than friendly. Today, she sells her wares on Etsy.
Brandy finds inspiration in nature, as well as in vintage materials. “I adore old paper and books. I could play with buttons, lace and glitter all day! And the changing seasons, each with its own special colors, scents, lights and sounds.” She also enjoys inspiring others: she participates with some of her crafty colleagues in a site offering how-to’s on seasonal craft projects. She also looks forward to teaching at craft retreats later this year.
Although she only started selling her cards, labels, tags and other decorative paper elements in 2007, her natural aptitude and artistic flair has already gained recognition. Brandywine Boutique has been featured in several magazines, including the 2010 Halloween issue of Better Homes and Gardens. She advises other crafters aspiring to go pro with their work to be true to their personal craft muse: “It may sound corny but follow your heart. By trying new things and trial and error I have found my style. In the past when I would try to do what was trendy and it never seemed to sell. But, when I made something for myself that I loved, it was always a big hit. If I find myself not excited about a project I drop it and go to something else. Basically I only create what I love.”
Photo Credits: Brandywine Designs
Sometimes deciding to start a new business is just as simple as… running out of soap. Or at least that’s what happened to Tony Laudicina of Rocky Top Soap Shop. The shop just opened in June of this year, and is stocked with such wholesome-sounding, mild soaps as Goat’s Milk, Fuller’s Earth, and Simple Soap. “It sounds funny, but it’s true. One day I ran out of soap,” Tony tells. “I was tired of spending money on soap that I knew wasn’t good for my skin, so I decided to start researching what it would take to make a bar of handmade soap that would be good for me and my family.”
Apparently, Tony found out what it would take, because his shop offers over 18 varieties of soap with more being introduced. His customers receive the benefits of his obsession with quality. “I experimented with melt and pour soap bases at first, and continued to research and experiment with cold process soaps. I am still in pursuit of that perfect bar of soap.”
Perfection, to Tony is a bar that is totally handmade and natural, with only the healthiest ingredients. “I develop recipes, grow the ingredients in the garden, and build the soap molds and cutters; my soaps are as handmade as I can possibly make them.”
I asked Tony where he gets his inspiration for his sophisticated, yet simple recipes. “My inspiration comes from nature, my love of gardening, and my own personal preferences. I feel as though in most cases, simple is better. I always keep that in mind when I am considering new recipes or ingredients.”
Tony also likes to educate his customers about the differences between the soap he sells and what is commercially available in stores, and why his are better. “In most cases, what you find on the shelf at the store, the commercial stuff, isn’t actually soap, it’s detergent. So the advantage to using handmade soap is that it is actual soap.
“Handmade soap not only cleans, but will rehydrate and nourish your skin. It will help replace and balance the natural oils in your skin. Commercial soaps strip the skin, leaving it dry and itchy. Healthier skin helps you become a happier person. Increased personal happiness, great skin and knowing your supporting a small business are all advantages to using handmade soap. Store your soaps in a place that’s cool and dry, like a linen closet, or the root cellar if you have one.”
For anyone who has been thinking about making and selling their own soaps, Tony has these words of advice, “I would say do your research. Learn as much as you can about the soap making process. An understanding of the materials, their individual attributes, and how they work together is paramount to making a good bar of soap. Experiment, then use your soap and share it with family and friends.
“Get to know the state and federal laws. Each state is different, and the federal laws are currently being written. Also, before you launch your business, don’t forget to buy an insurance policy. Most of all have fun with it. Soap making can be a very creative process. It all depends how far you choose to take it.”
It seems Tony’s quest for the perfect bar of soap has taken him, and his customers, quite far already and he shows no signs of slowing down.
Kathy Kittredge has been selling and collecting antiques for twenty-five years. Early on she discovered the joy of making primitive crafts from old quilts. After years of being submerged in the world of antiques and primitives, she learned about the online handmade marketplace Etsy while watching the Martha Stewart Show. Soon after, her own Etsy shop, Kittredge Mercantile, was born.
“I collect primitive painted furniture, samplers, yellow ware, early lighting, quilts, tin cookie cutters, stoneware, baskets, game boards, birdhouses, and Cornish ware,” Kathy states with pride. “I’m lucky that I got started antiquing, it lead me to discovering crafting.”
Kathy’s crafting has led to a very satisfying career. “The best part is making my own hours. I love painting in my sweats at 12:00 p.m. while watching Oprah. You can’t get much better than that.”
Kathy’s specialties, at the moment, are handmade cloth dolls and painted Americana. “All of my cloth dolls are inspired by the designs of others. I love buying patterns and making dolls of all kinds. My hand-painted Americana items are inspired by our American flag. I love to paint flags on everything from baseballs to birdhouses to baby shoes.”
When asked what advice she would give to anyone who loves making primitives and thinks they’d like to make a career of it, she has this to say: “Make what you love and others will love it too. It might take awhile to find your niche. Stick with it. I have come full circle. Twenty-five years ago I started making items from old quilts and now I’m back at. I love what I do and feel blessed everyday that my husband thinks I have a job.”
For primitive crafter Gina Cooper, the patina of age makes a huge difference in the attraction of any item. “I love antiques and anything vintage, that feeling of something worn, used and loved” she says. She recreates that feeling in the primitive craft dolls, wooden plates, embroidered towels and pillows, candle mats and other crafts she sells, through her Cat Nap Inn Primitives shop on Etsy as well as at fairs.
Gina first discovered the primitive and country-style crafting in the late 80s and “I was hooked” she says. “I should have been born 100 years ago. I love the pioneer days and the simplicity of it all… like watching the Waltons or Little House on the Prairie.” She tries to imbue each handcrafted primitive creation not only of the simplicity of vanished eras, but with health-conscious purity, nothing on her Etsy site that her wares emerge from a smoke-free, pet-free environment.
Halloween provides a huge, year-round source of inspiration for Gina’s crafting. “You can really be creative with your Halloween items as it can look worn and falling apart..or have a ton of cob webs on it..and it’s primitive. I love Christmas, too,” she says, “but for some reason, Halloween just tickles me.” Her tickle spot holiday has yielded such unique and charming primitive craft wares as an embroidered pillow depicting a witch picking mushrooms by moonlight accompanied by her black cat, primitive witch dolls, and a felted pumpkin adorned with a black cat.
The crafting world of fairs, bazaars and farmer’s markets is not only a source of income for Gina but a vital social meeting place. “My best friend and I met doing a show together. We’re two peas in a pod, partners in crime; we started out doing the gift show circuit together.” Gina encourages other crafters who want to begin selling their wares to take a two-pronged approach. Local craft culture events like swap meets, fairs, etc, she notes, permit customers to take advantage of the very important “touchy-feely” aspect of crafting. However, she also urges novice professional crafters to join the burgeoning online craft world. “Start out by selling on Etsy or EBay to see if you have items folks want. Start a blog (check out Gina’s blog here), that way you can talk and show the things you are making and folks will ask if you sell your items trust me, blogging has opened up sooo many avenues.”
When it comes to primitive crafts, practice makes “almost” perfect. And, as anyone who loves primitive folk art and crafts knows, it’s that wonderful imperfection that gives primitives their charm. Margo Willoughby has always had an interest in things from years past. She is a long time antiques collector, having amassed an enviable collection for her home. But four years ago, when Margo retired, her love of antiques developed into a fascination with primitive crafts that had its roots in her childhood.
“I think it actually started when I was a little girl,” Margo tells. “My grandparents lived next door to us. I would spend most days with them while my parents were at work. I saw how my grandmother did things and how they didn’t throw anything away. They made use of what they had and, believe me, some of it was old! Old and primitive, to be exact.”
Margo is a self-taught primitives maker whose who creates primitive dolls, ornies, and bowl fillers. With the encouragement of her husband, she began seeking out venues for promoting and selling them. She discovered the Etsy handmade marketplace and opened up her shop, Choose Moose Primitive Designs in 2007.
“My store has only open three years, yet I still continue to learn new things. I like having an Etsy shop because there’s only as much pressure to sell as I want to put upon myself. That appeals to me. I especially like when customers ask me questions about my items or ask me to create something special for them. “
Surprisingly, Margo only learned to sew after retirement, on a machine left in her attic by her stepdaughter. “From my first stitch I was addicted and could not get enough. Sewing relaxes me, yet allows me to be creative, a win – win for me. I try to sew almost every day.” When I asked her where she finds inspiration, she says, “My inspirations come from the things I like and what appeals to me. I won’t create something I don’t like. Going into a fabric store can be quite dangerous. I look at the fabric and my mind starts thinking of all the things I can create!“
Opening Choose Moose Primitive Designs, as well as her website, have been instrumental in providing Margo with a fresh new career that she loves. For anyone who might be thinking about doing something similar, she suggests starting small. “Start with a small project and keep trying. In the beginning, the items that I created didn’t look as nice as those I create today. Practice makes almost perfect!
“It can be disappointing when you have created an item and it doesn’t sell, however, by being persistent and finding different selling venues, you can find someone who is looking for what you have to offer. Find out what works for you, stay focused, and do not give up.” Judging by the wonderful, and popular, collection in Margo’s store, “almost perfect” translates to being perfectly successful as a primitives folk artist.
Photo Credits: Margo Willoughby
In 2003 Rebekkah Griffin found herself with a dilemma. She had a new baby, whom she wanted to be able to stay home with, but she still needed a way to earn an income. Rebekkah used this predicament to create her dream-career, making handmade jewelry for her shop, Canyon Moon Designs.
She’d fallen in love with the beaded designs she was seeing in stores. “I tried making some,” Rebekkah tells, “and the obsession began there. My daughter was just a baby, and I wanted to be able to stay at home with her. This was a way I could make money from home and I enjoyed it.” Rebekkah’s jewelry-making, first beaded, then wire wrapped gemstones, developed into a line of handmade necklaces with soldered digital-art pendants. “I used to be a painter, so I like the idea of creating wearable art.” Rebekkah says. “I found two wonderful digital artists, and started soldering jewelry pendants.
Soldering is the act of melting of a thin layer of a metal and using it to join two surfaces together. “In the beginning I was so bad,” Rebekkah laughs at the memory. “I thought I’d never improve, but I kept at it. It took time, and several emotional meltdowns. Then one day I realized, ‘hey, I’m getting good at this’.”
Rebekkah’s inspiration comes from everywhere. “I’m completely random,” she smiles. “I’ll see something, a painting, or something in the park, or another piece of jewelry, and it’ll give me an idea. Then I’ll have to drop everything and get to work on it. It drives my husband crazy. If I’m feeling sappy, I’ll make pendants with lovey-dovey sayings. Sometimes I’m feeling a vintage vibe. I especially like women-oriented humor about kids and spouses. One of my favorites says, ‘You want breakfast in bed? Go sleep in the kitchen.’”
Rebekkah’s children, Savannah 7, Preston 6, and Liam 6 months, are her reason for following her dream. The kids help me while I work sometimes. I found that they’re much more cooperative in letting me have time to work because they feel it’s a family business and that they can help do things.”
When I asked Rebekkah what advice she might have for anyone who thinks they’d like to try their hand at jewelry-making, she has a lot to say. “First of all, you need the right equipment. In the beginning I tried to save money by buying a lower quality soldering iron, and the results were bad. So if you’re serious about his, invest in the best equipment you can afford. But even more important, don’t conform your style to what others suggest, or what you see in stores. Stay focused, stick with your own style and the people who like it will buy from you. Not every art collector likes Picasso. Not everyone will like what you do, but plenty of people will.”
See more of Rebekkah’s designs in her Etsy shop!
Photo credits: Rebekkah Griffin