Art · Design · Etsy · Reuse · Sewing · Sustainability · Uncategorized · Upcycling

The scrap bag

I never throw away fabric scraps. They can always be used for another project – patchwork quilts, mending, or fabric collages. Some weavers use them to create rag rugs. If you are determined to reduce landfill and reuse every scrap, you might be interested in a project I just finished.

Last summer a friend and I went to the Whidbey Island Open Studio tour and visited Marcia Derse’s studio. Marcia is a textile designer whose work can be seen in many fabric stores around the country. I met her shortly after I moved to Whidbey Island and this was my first time seeing her studio. It was an inspiring place to visit. Instead of books on her shelves there were rows of fabrics ready to be used. Paintbrushes lived next to her sewing machine which looked over a view gently sloping towards the Puget Sound. I felt right at home.

The paper collage on the wall eventually resulted in the bolt of fabric below it.

You would think that as a designer of fabric bags I would be filling my shopping basket with as much of her fabric as I possibly could. I was tempted, but I promised myself that I would resist because I have enough fabric to last for a very long time. Most of my stash consists of cast-off designer samples that I regularly upcycle. I only bought two things — a packet of black & white fabrics from her “The Opposite” series, and a plastic gallon baggie of “studio scraps.”

That plastic bag sat around my own studio for a few months before I got around to using it. Once I opened it I realized that I was going to need to iron every single scrap in that bag or it would be too hard to use. It took me a few hours but I pressed and stacked the scraps by color. It was like opening a treasure box of colors and patterns. I wondered how many collages I could make with all these strips.

Every scrap was ironed and then sorted by color.

As I sorted through the pieces I decided I would challenge myself to try to use every single scrap from that bag to make something useable. I started with the biggest pieces and created fabric collages on top of a base piece of muslin or linen. Most of the scraps were strips so that guided my collage design decisions. They were going to be mostly striped. To hold the small strips onto the backing, I used a product called Mistyfuse. It has no paper backing (less waste) and is pretty easy to use. It allows me to secure the scraps to the backing while maintaining the “hand” (drape and softness) of the fabric. My first collages were based on one color at a time. To add visual interest I would occasionally add one little accent strip of a different color.

Building the collages and getting ready to iron them onto the backing.
After ironing them to the backing, I sewed the strips using various colored threads.
Sewing the strips into place with variegated threads.

Once the strips had been sewn onto the backing, I began to assemble the other parts so that I could make zipper pouches with the collages. I cut out lining from some of the fabrics I had purchased from Marcia. Then I clipped the parts together. I sometimes stack up a pile of these because cutting and assembling is stand-up work. Sewing is sit-down work. I like to alternate.

Parts of a zipper pouch all ready to assemble.

As I progressed through the pile of scraps, the remaining pieces began to be smaller and smaller and vary more in color. Some of the scraps were hand-painted. Some of the scraps were part of the fabric selvedge edge with text. Some had Marcia’s handwriting on it to keep track of her dye color tests. I used everything. I began to mix up the colors more and more.

Ultimately, I ended up with 21 collage zipper pouches. I photographed them all and posted them in my Etsy shop to sell. One woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure.

Charity work · Craftivism · Learning · Sewing · volunteering

The Blanket Project

One of my favorite signs from the Women’s March in 2017 was this:

The message really resonated with me because I am an introvert and I don’t like large crowds. But I was there marching with my friends, my daughter, and my grandsons because I needed to do something to express the outrage I felt. The outrage and the need to do something about it hasn’t left me these past few years. If anything, it has intensified as people continue to express their cruelty, hatred, misogyny, and bigotry in myriad ways. I have felt frustrated and helpless when I ponder what I can do to change things around me. Mostly I have focused on small things I can do to make a difference. In social media I have consciously chosen to be positive and upbeat instead of railing against the state of things. I’ve aimed to inspire instead of depress or anger but its hard to judge whether this actually makes a difference. Since moving to Whidbey Island I’ve been in search of a way to have more of an impact in my own introverted way.

Serendipitously, I met Darcy Sinclair, another former graphic designer who had similar feelings about wanting to make a difference. We came up with a plan to start a community of makers who would gather weekly to make things together and then give them to people in need. We both sew so we started searching locally for people who might need stitched items and found that the sheriff’s office and a local agency that works with foster kids needed blankets and tote bags for children who are suddenly moved out of their homes. I stumbled upon a Facebook post about ArtDivisionLA, a group that is making blankets to send to the people who are trying to immigrate to the US and have ended up in cages at the border.

We approached the people who run a community art center in Langley, WA called CreateSpace to see if we could start a regular meeting there to make blankets. They were very happy to let us use their space for this purpose so we advertised locally and had our first meeting. We emphasized that experts and beginners were welcome because we wanted this to be a place where people could learn new skills.

At our first meeting there were people who knit, crocheted, and sewed. Some who showed up had never sewed before and wanted to learn so we began to teach them. We started with the smallest size quilt that was needed and started cutting, designing, and stitching. We used donated fabrics and yarns. Some of the knitters, anxious to start, had already begun knitting blankets before the first meeting.

At our second meeting most of the people who came to the first meeting returned and there were several new people. Some already knew each other but most had never met. We started making new friends. Some people wanted only to make blankets for the local foster kids. Some wanted only to make blankets for the border families.

We’ve already given some of the fleece blankets to the local foster kids. We finished our first baby quilt and by this Friday’s meeting we should also have some knitted blankets ready to send to ArtDivisionLA for their Blanket Project. What is especially exciting to me is to watch the birth of a supportive maker community. I love seeing people teach each other new skills and help each other as they work. But what really thrilled me was when I overheard one woman say, “It feels so good that I can finally DO something to make a difference!” I feel that way too.

Want to get inspired or learn more about craftivism? Check out the Craftivist Collective. Or watch this TED talk by Sara Corbett. Or this site about craftivism. Here’s an interesting article about the rise of craft-based activism in recent years.

Art · Art Therapy · Design · Photography

Why 100 days of hearts?

This past March I decided to participate in the The 100 Days Project. I have been seeing the Instagram results of other artists doing this project for several years. It was interesting to watch their collections of 100 things build up over time. I just love watching a work in progress series.

Those of you who know me may wonder why I decided to commit to a crazy project like this? I’m currently in the middle of a huge home remodeling project. ACCKKK!!! We are living in an Airbnb and I have no studio right now. Why would I commit to a huge art project when all my supplies are packed in boxes and my life is so chaotic? Mainly it was to keep some kind of creative discipline or structure in my life.

You might think that artists and athletes have nothing in common but you would be wrong. They both need to practice their skills regularly. One of the things I try to practice regularly is my ability to “see.” I do this by making pictures almost everyday. The act of making a photograph, editing it, and cropping it is one way that I practice “seeing.” For me as an artist, seeing involves honing my observation, composition, and color skills. These skills are critical for creating almost any kind of art. So I try to practice them every day. I wrote “A picture a day keeps…away” several years ago when I was still working full time in the corporate high-tech world. During that period of my life, I needed a creative outlet that was personal, achievable, and soul-healing. This project had a profound effect on my life as an artist. I even made a video about it.

Some of the flower studies I created for my “Picture a day” project.

I started that project almost 5 years ago. Let’s do the math – that’s close to 1800 days. So, if I’ve already been doing this for 5 years, why do the 100 Day Project? Because my 5-year long discipline has been all about photography. I signed up for The 100 Day Project to make different kinds of art. I need to practice other skills besides photography and I am hoping that this process will help me.

Doing a project like this makes me accountable — especially when I post to Instagram each day. I’m not looking for extra likes or compliments. I’m not even super proud of many of my creations. The discipline of daily posting is very much like my art school classroom experience. I used to go into my figure drawing class and we would have short warm up sketches. Then we would do longer sketches. We always posted our work on the wall and had a class critique. It was how all my art and design classes worked. Make stuff and put it on the wall for the class and teacher to discuss. Critiques can be tough but you can learn so much from how the other students approach the same task. You learn about your own work by putting it up there for others to see. This is how I think about The 100 Day Project. Its a 100 day art class for me. Sometimes I throw some crappy stuff up on the wall and sometimes I make some real progress.

Heart made from skeins of silk threads.

Some of the artists participating in 100 Days are pretty intimidating. They are making work that is so good they can sell it. Some people are making big things that take several days or weeks to finish. Some people make a brand new thing every single day. Because my days will be chaotic during this 100 day time period, I’ve kept things simple for myself. We are going to be moving and still spending entire days going into Seattle to choose door handles, floor tile, etc. I needed to keep this in mind when I committed to 100 days.

The first 9 hearts of my 100.

I chose a simple shape, a heart, as my topic. 100 days of hearts. Its not my favorite shape in the world but I thought it might work. And so far it has. I told myself that on super busy days I could just take a photo since that’s easy for me. On days when I had more time I could make a heart in some other way. I’ve ended up with a lot more photos than I had hoped but that’s okay.

To be honest, I’m getting really sick of heart images. That’s okay too. Actually, I truly believe that when you start getting really sick of the subject matter you can start to discover new ways of approaching it. I think I’m at that point and its kind of exciting. I’ve started to work on some larger, more involved heart images and I’m liking the process very much. If you want to follow along, I’ll be posting my heart images on Instagram every morning for 65 more days.

The first in a series of heart wall hangings.
Gift wrapping · Holidays · Reuse · Sewing · Sustainability · Upcycling

Santa’s got a brand new upcycled bag


Every holiday season when we drag out the boxes of ornaments and decorations, we also drag out the box full of gift bags. These aren’t those sparkly, shiny paper and foil bags you buy at your local Target or Costco. These are fabric gift bags that my sister Jill and I have been making for over 20 years.

It started with our desire to reduce the amount of money we spent every year on ribbon and paper. But as we’ve continued to make the bags over the years, its become much more than just a money-saving idea. It is our small way of reducing the amount we consume and dump in the landfill. In the beginning we purchased Christmas fabrics that went on sale after the holidays. But in recent years we’ve been using fabrics that are upcycled. For example, the fleece bag pictured above was once a sweatshirt. I deconstructed it and made it into a soft gift bag.

The Bag Box

Educating our family

Part of embarking on a project like this has included teaching our family about how to use these bags. It takes time to make them and Jill and I have a few rules.

  1. The bags are exchanged ONLY within the family. That helps ensure that they will continue to recirculate instead of leave and never be seen again.
  2. If anyone is unable to store them through the year, they give them to Jill or me and we store them. One commitment you must be willing to make when you use bags year after year is storage. We are willing to store them but this isn’t practical for our college-age kids, nieces and nephews. When my son was in college, he knew he could buy or make his gifts and dip into our Bag Box for instant wrapping solutions.
  3. All bags must have reusable closures. In the beginning we didn’t do this but over the years we’ve learned to attach the ribbons or use other closures. Nobody wants to use a bag that doesn’t close easily.

Not all of our family members use and reuse our fabric bags. But over the years people have learned that they are really easy and make quick work of big wrapping jobs. My daughter has even started creating some of the bags.

Bag closures

We make sure that the closure is securely attached to the bags. Loose ribbons tend to get lost and the bags without a closure don’t get used. Recently I found a bunch of Velcro at a closeout sale and have been using that for closures. No bow-tying needed! The velcro bags are the first ones we tend to use because they are so easy. I’ve actually sewed a permanent bow on some of those bags to make them a bit fancier.

The best ribbons have been grosgrain although I’ve recycled some mesh & wire ribbons with good success. I always go through the trash bags after a gift unwrapping orgy to find ribbons, papers, and cards that are reusable. Here is an example of a bag made from a tee shirt knit with a gold mesh wire ribbon attached.

I sometimes sew the ribbons right into the seams for security. However, if you do this your bow might end up on the opposite side of the bag instead of in front. So most of the time the ribbon is attached at the center back. That way the bow will end up center front.

How the various bags are constructed

Gifts come in all shapes and sizes so we’ve created bags in many different ways to accommodate the variety. Pictured above are some different types of bags we use often. Drawstring bags have either a casing with a ribbon or cord that draws tight to close. The giant Santa bag above left is made from red and white fleece. The drawstring is placed so that the white collar folds down over the top. Envelope bags like the one in the upper right corner above can be tied with ribbons attached to the top edge and somewhere in the middle of the bag. These are good for flat or small gifts. Lately I’ve been making bags that are lined and padded or quilted. The padding protects the contents of the bag and makes it a little harder to figure out what’s inside. Jill experimented last year with this bento bag design (below). Instead of ribbon or velcro, you tie the pointy top ends to close it up.


I’ve made many bags from upcycled designer samples that I’ve gotten from FabMo and from Zero Landfill Seattle. Many of them have been sold in my Etsy shop. Below are a couple of examples of how I took plain linen and made it into a Christmas gift bag. Below left the fabric was block printed with white fabric paint. Below right the tree was appliquéd onto the yellow background fabric before constructing the bag.

The gift tags

There is no need to buy a bunch of gift tags for our fabric gift bags. I make my own from beautiful paper and greeting cards I’ve received. Then I attach them to the bag with a safety pin or some kitchen twine. No tape needed — ever!

18-172-1718-172-1818-172-16I bought this paper punch when it was on sale at Joann’s several years ago. But you can make interesting tags by just cutting out shapes from cards that you were going to toss in recycling anyway. Then punch or poke a small hole to thread the string or safety pin though and attach it to the gift bag.

One unexpected result of creating these bags over the years is that they have become part of our holiday memories. In recent years I’ve heard different family members say things like, “Oh, I remember that bag! I got it a few years ago” or, “Oh, this is my favorite bag! Can I just keep it?”

Are you interested in trying this? Here are a couple of tutorials that may help you get started:

Art · Art Therapy

The family that paints together…

boat-1We just moved into a new old house. The exterior setting is wonderful but the interior of the house needs major updating. One of the things I really don’t like about it is that all the walls in the entire house are covered with wood paneling. Yes, its like living in a 1950’s man-cave. We will be fixing this problem eventually but I wondered how I could make a temporary fix without incurring too much cost. I decided to work on covering the walls with paintings. The first painting is now finished and I’ll share the steps of how the whole thing came together.

I’m a former art teacher and this is a twist on a project that many painting teachers use as a group or class exercise. The idea is to take a classic painting, split it into a grid and then give one grid square to each participant to paint — typically on paper. The assembled result is usually very interesting and sometimes comes close to looking like the original painting. Often the gridlines show because of texture or color differences but I kind of like that.

I set up this first painting to coincide with a small family gathering that I hosted this summer. My plan was to have this project as one of our group activities. I prepped the wall before they arrived so that all they had to do was paint their chosen grid square. I had hoped that each person would paint two or more squares so the painting would be finished at the end of the weekend. But things never work out the way you plan. Here are things that happened:

  • Half the painting was unfinished when they all left.
  • Even though I primed the wall with 3 coats of primer/sealer, the wood panel varnish created a slight yellow tint to the white.
  • One person ignored the instruction to draw and paint only his/her square. He/she sketched the outlines for the whole painting. I’m not naming names. 🙂
  • Several people didn’t participate. The ones who did were the young ones. Besides me, only one older person painted a square. It seems that the older you get, the less confident or adventurous people are about art projects. See my previous post about this: You do not suck at art. Really. You don’t.

Step 1: Pick a painting you want to create

I looked to my favorite artists and decided to use a watercolor sketch by Van Gogh.

van gogh - boats-grid.png

I opened the image in Photoshop and created white grid lines on a layer over the image. Then I printed them out on my inkjet printer and taped the whole thing together. The painting is about 30×22″. Finally, I cut out the grid squares using a ruler and rotary cutter.


Step 2: Prep the wall

I scrubbed the wall a couple of times to wash off dirt first. Once dry, I drew out the border of the painting dimensions in pencil. I applied blue masking tape very carefully to the edge of the drawn border. Then I painted on the primer/sealer. I quickly realized that I would need several coats to tone down the golden yellow tint that seeped through the white primer.

Step 3: Draw the grid

To ensure the grid on our printout was the same as the wall painting, I drew the gridlines in pencil onto the dry white primer. I wasn’t worried about them showing in the final painting since we used acrylic paints. However, there are a few spots where the yellow paint didn’t cover them up. I labeled the grid using numbers across the top and letters down the side. Each corresponding printed image was labeled so the painters knew which square to paint.

Step 4: Paint!

Here are some shots of the painting as it progressed.



The artists who made this wall painting were me, my nephews Daniel & Jacob, niece Emma, stepmom Margo, and my friend Kim. It was really fun to make and I plan to do more when other family members and friends visit. There’s nothing like a shared project to enrich a gathering. I don’t really care if the painting is perfect or even beautiful. It was a fun thing to do together and I think all of us will remember that — not whether the result was perfect.

Art · Design · Etsy · Learning · Small business

The “F” word

The most paralyzing, damaging, crippling, and powerful “F” word that I know is FEAR. Many therapists have made their careers helping clients learn to cope with their fears. Many politicians and religious leaders have made their careers by effectively wielding fear as a tool. Have you ever noticed how fear and hate often go hand in hand? I hate spiders. Why? Because I’m afraid of them.

Here are some things that spark fear in me:

  • Initiating conversations with strangers
  • Public humiliation
  • Small spaces
  • Spiders and very large insects.
  • And swamps. Murky, slimy, crocodile- and leech-infested swamps.

Sometimes I draw things that I fear — like large hissing June bugs.

Here are some things that spark fear in me as an artist:

  • Walking into a shop or gallery and trying to sell my work
  • Sitting in a fair booth surrounded by my work trying to sell it
  • Signing up for an art class and being the worst in the class

Fear has been a recurring topic in my creative life. In the mid-1990’s I collaborated with emotion studios on a video addressing the topic of fear for a creative conference called ADIM. At the time most magazines and newspapers were still printed on paper and they were just starting to think about publishing their content online. Many graphic designers were very anxious about how the internet would change their jobs. We created this 15 minute High Anxieties video to address these fears. Interestingly, Debbie Stoller from Nickelodeon, was eerily prescient about what the future held for personal content. She basically outlines the idea behind YouTube a good 10 years before it came into being (about 9 minutes into the video.)

Last week I decided that I should sign up for a painting or drawing class. I thought I could use a refresh on my skills. Also, I just moved to a new town and classes are a good place to meet people who share your interests. I did a Google search on “art classes near me” and found out that there is an art studio with classes right across the street from me! How handy is that? Its called Whidbey Fine Arts Studio. One glance at their website and I was instantly struck with fear and self-doubt. Here’s why:


Total intimidation!!! This website just screamed “YOU ARE NOT WORTHY!!!” to me. It immediately brought back memories of my art school days. I was a graphic design major but I wanted to round out my education by taking certain fine art classes like composition, rendering, watercolor, figure drawing, and — painting. My professors were great and I loved the classes but halfway through my painting class the instructor came over to me and told me I should give up painting and stick to graphic design. He said my painting style was too flat and graphic. A terrible, wasted teaching moment! It felt like he was saying I was bad at painting and I wasn’t going to improve or change so I should just give up.

Because I’m afraid that I’ll be out of my depth (again) in a painting class, I haven’t signed up for it — yet. I need to work up my confidence so I decided to take an art journal/collage class at the Pacific Northwest Art School. Its a 40-minute drive, not just across the street, but I’m excited about it. I feel like collage is a much more forgiving medium than paint.

How do I go about conquering my other artist fears? I haven’t yet mustered the courage to take my wares door to door in the shops here in my new little town of Langley. Part of it is the fear of rejection which in turn leads to my fear of public humiliation. One of the good things about having an Etsy shop is that I never have to go door to door selling my stuff. I never have to hear someone tell me that my work isn’t good enough. But I have better selling success when people can actually see and touch the bags and pillows I make. Both methods of selling take time away from what I’d rather do — create. In a nutshell, because of my fear of rejection and humiliation, I hate selling myself and my work. And because I hate it, I don’t sell anywhere but Etsy. That’s a problem because Etsy isn’t a perfect place to sell things.

I’m sure there is a better approach but for now I’m trying to be aware of my fears and acknowledge them as such. And then I’m working slowly on keeping those fears from holding me back. The only thing I’m not really working on is my fear of spiders. Or swamps.

Art · Design · Etsy · Mending · Sewing · Sustainability · Upcycling

Keep on patching

Can you spot the mend in this pillow cover? Designer samples are often ruined when they place a glued label or rivet in the middle of the fabric. This $335/yd fabric is a replica of a tapestry from Hearst Castle and I wanted to keep it whole. So I mended the place where the rivet had been and made it into a pillow cover.

Earlier this year I posed a question in a Facebook group of up-cyclers and recycle artists. I wanted their opinions about how to price this mended pillow cover for sale on Etsy. It sparked a discussion on the value of items that are patched or repaired. Some people felt that the mended hole added value to the pillow because it gave the pillow a well-loved character. Some felt that I should discount the pillow cover because it wasn’t perfect and that I should be transparent about the fact that it had been repaired. Ultimately I decided that I liked the pillow so much that I would keep it and use it in my home rather than sell it. The patch in the pillow doesn’t bother me at all.

The art of mending textiles has been out of favor for many years because it is faster and easier to just toss the torn garment or textile and buy a cheap new one. But mending has been having a resurgence because of a growing awareness that the fast fashion trend has created a huge textile waste problem. Here are a few interesting people and companies that are trying to counter this trend:

FabMo is a non-profit organization in California that provides high-end materials to artists, teachers, and others for creative reuse.  The textiles, wallpapers, tiles, leathers, trims, etc. are from the interior design shops in the San Francisco design center. FabMo makes them available on a donation basis, diverting about 70 tons/year of them from their otherwise destination – the landfill. Every big city should have an organization like this one! (above is a patchwork pillow cover that I made from their silk scraps)


Eileen FisherEileen Fisher Renew
Here’s how it works: you bring back your old EILEEN FISHER clothes they sell them to someone else at a reduced price. When your clothes can no longer be worn, they remake them into one-of-a-kind designs and sell those. I love their Instagram feed.


When designer Michelle Paganini learned that fashion is the second largest polluting industry on the planet, she decided to stop buying retail and buy second hand fashion. She combines her sewing know-how with thrifted garments to create brand new clothing. She also designs and sells patterns so home sewists can create their own up-cycled fashions.


img_6568.jpgBoro mending
Learn to mend textiles in the artistic traditional Japanese way! These teachers and authors can show you how:
Jody Alexander
Katarina Rodobaugh
V&A boro bag tutorial

knit mendingUpcycled Cloth Collective
10% of the world’s waste originates with the textile industries. This group was started to create awareness so that people stop and think “How can I re-purpose this cloth before I throw it into the landfill?” To drive the awareness globally, international fiber artists, fashion designers, quilters and other textile makers were invited to participate in a make-and-share. There is a wealth of ideas and information here for people interested in recycling, upcycling, or finding artists and designers who are dedicated to upcycling.

Next time you are tempted to buy brand new textiles or clothing try asking yourself this — do I really need to add to the world’s landfill or could I buy something that’s been upcycled or recycled? Besides, according to the Wall Street Journal, Upcycled is chic!

Design · Entrepreneurs · Etsy · Photography · Small business

What’s it like to have an Etsy shop?

etsy shop2 years ago I created my own Etsy shop so I could sell the bags I was making. I had this idea that Etsy was a place that offered handmade goods from artists and designers like me. I also thought that if I just popped my stuff up onto Etsy, they would sell pretty quickly. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Where’s Waldo (Luanne)?
There are 1.9 million sellers* on Etsy right now. And those sellers are offering over 45 million products. That’s right. As a new Etsy seller I quickly realized that I’d just stepped into a Where’s Waldo world and I wasn’t even Waldo. I was a tiny button on the shirt hidden under Waldo’s striped sweater. That’s how easy it was to find my store and its products. I don’t exactly have a common name but its impossible to find me using Etsy’s search. Here’s what you get if you search on my oddball name:

Etsy searchWhat’s interesting about this is that even though I’m a seller and the name of my shop is LuanneSeymourDesign, Etsy’s search can’t find me. What’s even more interesting is that the 4th item in the search results is a book from a publishing company that my dad started, Dale Seymour Publications. No, he doesn’t have an Etsy shop. The search function for Etsy shops is a complete fail. What if you like a particular artist and are trying to find them? Good luck. When people ask me how to find my shop, I have to send them the link because nobody can find it using Etsy’s search.

You might be thinking, “Wow! Are there really that many artists and designers selling their handmade stuff on Etsy?” No. There aren’t 1.9 million artists selling handcrafted items on Etsy. Those 1.9 million include people who sell supplies, used and vintage items, and manufactured items. Many of the shops are based in parts of the world where cheap labor is easy to find. So I end up competing with people overseas who are offering their goods at much lower prices. This is the reality of the marketplace. But Etsy has cultivated an overall impression of the Etsy marketplace as being a place where buyers can find unique, handmade items. Buyers may think they are supporting a small business or struggling artist when they may actually be purchasing from a large company. Here’s an example:

Etsy competitionI did a search for handmade linen bread bags and these items are part of the first search results. The lowest cost bags come from three of the companies — MagicLinen, StitchAndSaga, LovelyCraftsHome. They are all based in Vilnius, Lithuania. MagicLinen is a manufacturer of loads of various linen goods. LakeshoreLinen is a linen goods business based in Minnesota. These items were certainly not handmade by a small business owner in their home or studio. These were made by companies who manufacture linen products on a larger scale than a single artist can produce. This is the real competition for the artists and artisans who sell on Etsy. Here is Etsy’s mission statement:
Etsy mission

Nickel & diming
The cost to post a product in your Etsy shop seems small at first. 20¢ to post a product for a 4-month period. If it doesn’t sell in 4 months, you can renew it for another 20¢. Not too bad as long as you don’t have to renew too many times. When you sell that item, Etsy takes 3.5%. So let’s do the math here. If I sell one of my $44 wool zipper pouches, my profit is reduced by $5 per bag for Etsy fees and, sometimes, shipping costs. Its further reduced by the cost of my supplies and I then end up making less than minimum wage. Most artists have resigned themselves to this fact and learn to live with it by seeking additional employment. But for some reason, there is a myth that persists amongst Etsy sellers that they can actually support themselves fully on their Etsy sales. I have no doubt there are a handful of people who are doing this. But for individual artists making handmade goods, don’t get your hopes up. Ignore the people who hype you up on this idea. 65% of Etsy sellers consider their shop income to be supplemental.

Am I an artist, a marketeer, a photographer, an accountant, or a…?
Here’s the thing you don’t realize till you start creating your shop — it takes an amazing amount of time to build and maintain your Etsy shop. Just setting up the shop initially takes days. You need multiple photos of each of your products. You need a brand. You need to write copy about who you are, your business mission statement, your business policies. You need descriptions of each product. You’ll need to do research on the hashtags you should use for each different product. I think it took me a month to set up my shop. I had to learn the Etsy ecosystem and then figure out how my products fit in. I created an inventory system to keep track of my products, prices, etc. I had to learn to use QuickBooks. I had to learn about shipping costs and regulations.

Once I launched the shop, I realized that my work as a businesswoman had only just begun. The shop needs to be maintained and I needed to promote it. I learned how to promote and market using Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook. Doing this kind of marketing is a regular daily commitment. I see a noticeable drop in traffic to my shop when I don’t post on Instagram for a few days. As I continue to add new products to the shop, I’ve had to learn to become a better product photographer. Each new product needs to have at least 5 product shots that have been cropped, color-corrected, and retouched. I try to have more than 100 products in my shop at all times. That’s a lot of product photography!

Making peace with the devil called Etsy
A few months ago I joined a couple Facebook groups for Etsy sellers to see if I could figure out how to get more traffic to my shop. Wow! That became overwhelming pretty quickly. It was like going way back in time to when I worked at Adobe and Photoshop was brand new. All sorts of “experts” came out of the woodwork to help new users learn it. And the Etsy world is no different. There are hoards of hyper-active 25-year-old cheerleaders just waiting to knock your socks off with their vast Etsy experience! ACK!!!!!


I learned about an online app for Etsy sellers called Etsy Rank that helps sellers with analytics for their shops. It’ll tell you if you are using the right hashtags and title words. Its pretty handy, but super time-consuming. I spent hours and hours trying to rewrite all the product titles in my shop to help improve my SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Honestly, I started feeling that I could work full time just doing the daily marketing, photographing products, and optimizing my search words and titles. I was missing the days when I could just make the bags and pillows I sell.

You may be wondering why I stick with Etsy when it is so high-maintenance and frequently disappointing. There are a few pretty cool things about it that keep me there. First, I absolutely love the “cha-ching” sound that the Sell on Etsy phone app makes when I make a sale. Its genius! They use the sound an old-fashioned cash register makes when ringing up a sale. I realize that this is very Pavlovian but I love it! Second, Etsy has great shipping prices. It costs me much less to ship through Etsy than I could ever do on my own. And finally, I absolutely DO NOT want to lug my wares from store to store trying to get them to carry my products. I would rather spend my time making products than selling them. I’m a terrible salesperson and would rather sell my stuff on Etsy. I wish there was an online marketplace where individual artists could sell their handmade wares without being overshadowed by larger manufacturers. But for now, I have Etsy.


*Statistics from “57 Amazing Etsy Statistics…”

Aging · Retirement

Searching for my happy place


As a kid I had this notion that when you finally get to retire, you move somewhere warm and then play golf and bridge till you die. This is what two of my grandparents did. They picked up and moved from Colorado to a retirement community in Arizona. One of the attractions of Arizona was the weather. They could play golf most of the year and not ever have to shovel snow. I think they were pretty happy with their retirement lives but its not the kind of retirement life I’m looking for.

I’ve been thinking that if I’m really lucky I probably have 20-30 years of retirement to look forward to. Where do I want to spend the last 20-30 years of my life? I hope in a place that makes me very, very happy. It turns out, its a tough thing to figure out. Most of my adult life, where I live has been determined mostly by family needs or jobs. While you are raising kids, its all about getting a home near a good school. Most of us need to make sure our house is reasonably close to our jobs so the commute is manageable. Every place I’ve lived as an adult has been determined by kids and jobs.

My children are spaced 13 years apart. That means for about 35 years my house and where I lived was largely determined by what was best for my kids. Now, for the first time in my life, I have the freedom to think about living anywhere I want and its a bit scary.

When my son was about 5 years old, we took him to Yosemite National Park for the first time. The road driving down into the Yosemite Valley is spectacular. As we turned a corner and the entire valley was revealed he proclaimed, “This is where I want to live when I grow up!” I keep thinking about the sentiment behind his proclamation. Perhaps this kind of feeling about a place is one way to figure out where I want to spend the rest of my life. What places have I visited in my life that have made me feel the way my son felt when he first saw Yosemite? I came up with a short list of my really magical places:

  • Big Sur, California
  • La Selva Beach, California
  • Point Lobos, California
  • Cannon Beach, Oregon
  • Whidbey Island, Washington
  • Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
  • Lake Garda, Italy

These places have a few things in common. They are all places of natural beauty near an ocean or large body of water. They are rich with bird and marine life. Every time I’ve visited these spots, the natural beauty of the land, the water, and the animal life simply take my breath away. There are so many beautiful places in the world but being able to catch a glimpse of a whale breach, a pod of leaping dolphins, backstroking otters, or diving eagles and osprey–wow. That’s my happy place. These spots are very soothing and relaxing places to be. Maybe the combination of the natural beauty and the sound of water, wind, and birds make it magical. Maybe the memories I have of wonderful trips with family and friends are what make these places magical. It doesn’t really matter because these places make me very happy. That’s where I want to live when I grow up.

Now I’ve got to figure out a way to live in one of these places because I’m not living in my happy place right now. Other things to consider as we think about where to live out our post-working lives:

  • proximity to children, grandchildren, and family
  • being part of an artist/artisan community
  • setting up our home so that we can age in place
  • will our loved ones want to visit us there?
  • cultural activities (museums, music, restaurants, etc.)
  • volunteer opportunities
  • proximity to medical resources

One of the biggest problems with finding my happy place and ultimately moving there, is that I’ll have to leave friends and family. That will make me really sad. Have you found and moved to your happy place? I’m ready to hear your advice.

Art · Art Therapy · Design · Learning · Sewing

Communities Make Us Better Artists

“No man is an island.”

For the past 27 years I’ve been going to a sewing retreat with a group of about 30 women. We’ve retreated to different places in California — Bodega Bay, Pacific Grove, Corrallitos, and lately, San Juan Bautista. Sleeping arrangements, meals, and our workshop setup have changed over the years. My first year bed was a window seat cushion. For several years I slept on a blow up mattress inside of a large walk-in closet. This year I shared a room and had a bed of my own! We used to cook our own food and lugged coolers and casseroles to various Bodega Bay rental homes. At the St. Francis Retreat Center we wait for the dinner bell to ring and then eat cafeteria style. No cooking, no cleanup, no chores — it is truly a retreat!

Like most groups, we have our differences. We do not all share the same political or religious values. Not all of us have been married or have children. Our members have grown up in different parts of the United States and Canada. We aren’t all from the same generation — the age range spans about 25 years. But one thing hasn’t changed in all these years. We are a collaborative and supportive community. Each of us brings our own individual projects to work on. But there is an understanding in the group that we are all there to learn from one another as well as to help each other be successful. Our common love of textiles, sewing, knitting, and dyeing binds us together as artists, designers and makers.


“All of us are better than one of us.”

Every artist, writer, designer, and craftsperson needs a community. Communities of artists can help us learn, be inspired, and get feedback. We need these things to improve our work and stretch as artists. My sewing group is just one of my communities. I was part of a community of designers and artists when I worked at Adobe. Some of them were my peers. Some of them worked in a magical group that I managed. When I lost my job at Adobe, I lost the opportunity to collaborate with them. I quickly decided to be proactive and to hold onto that community by hosting casual “art therapy” sessions at my home.


Being part of communities like these have led to some wonderful artistic collaborations. These projects have been a great way for me to grow and learn new skills. My first collaboration continues to be with my longtime friend and textile artist, Kim Meuli Brown. She makes wonderful hand-dyed items using natural plant dyes. I’ve learned to dye with indigo and also how to create shibori resist designs on my up-cycled fabrics.

Another collaboration that I’m part of is with a couple of young illustrators who worked with me at Adobe. Wren Sauer and Erica Larson have done several of the block print designs that I sell on my Etsy shop. I pay them a royalty for each product I sell using their designs. The three of us also joined together to teach a fabric block printing class at a local art school. And Wren and I are just starting to experiment with collaborating on some designs for appliqué and embroidery. She designed a hummingbird illustration that I’ve been using to create little wool pouches.

If you are not sure how to find a community to join, here are some places to start:

  • Take a class at a local community college, a local workshop or adult education course to meet like-minded artists
  • Look for a local chapter meeting of artisan or craft guilds
  • Find a supply shop that actively supports their local community of artists (yarn shops are very good at this)
  • If you are remote, join an online group on Facebook or Instagram where you can converse, ask questions, get feedback on your work
  • Start your own group!