Tuesday, March 27, 2007

HotHolders and MAD at the BML

** Exhibit up until June 1st, 2007 **

That's Blake Memorial Library http://www.blakememorial.org for those of you who aren't local to our corner of Vermont. Centrally located in East Corinth village, a stone's throw away from the P.O. and the health center. And it's the first real exhibit for MAD (Mountain Ash Design, eh) that isn't a craft fair or shop type venue. Pillows on top of book cases, 4-Way-Entry bags near the recently published books, HotHolders greeting patrons as they come in the front door. I am honored to have the chance to add more color and cheer to what is already a cheerful institution that so benefits the local community here. A great selection of books and films, free Internet, etc. but also fabulous programming including monthly screenings of quality movies recently on DVD, weekly story hour for the pre-school set, and book discussions of the classics. I love these book discussions. For one thing, it gets me to read something other than magazines or craft business publications but also they are just fun and lively fellowship with other members of the community. We usually take on a series of books put together by the Vermont Council for the Humanities.
http://www.vermonthumanities.org There are many thoughtful people who read the books and attend the discussions including several local authors who bring insights on the writing processes of the likes of Tolstoy. (We were all very impressed with ourselves last year when we tackled War And Peace over 4 months - or was it 5? For our last discussion we had a Russian aristocratic style tea complete with coddled cream and fruit preserves for sweetener - as a surprise for our wonderful facilitator, Dartmouth's own Suzanne Brown of the Literature Department. She has immense contagious enthusiasm and a skill for drawing us out into discussion. I resist this skill every time. I just know I'm going to shoot my mouth off with some not fully formed or well articulated ideas about what's going on with the characters. Suzanne gets the better of me every time and that's just what I do. Oh well. It was like this for me in college too. I think the other people around the table are amused, though, and I believe amusing people is good so I always try to attend. With Tolstoy I used to go on about his obsession with female mustaches.

Anyhow, this exhibit is the debut for my new product: vintage linen tea towel and matching HotHolder sets. They include one tea towel cut from a vintage table cloth and nicely hemmed plus two HotHolders with fronts made from the same vintage tablecloth and back and loop of repurposed clothing (usually). The result is an elegant and unusual gift set made from completely recycled materials. You can see two sets hanging from the shutters in the photo above.
I got the idea for them earlier this month when I was in Montreal checking out the gift show there and casing out shops around Mount Royal and St. Denis. I went into some very nice fine linen shops. It was interesting to see what products are out there and how they were displayed. It helped put into the front of my mind that some people are really into dish towels or "tea towels" and I've found several retailing for up to $18. I also believe folks like the look of vintage tablecloths but don't buy or use them because they always have some antiquated stains and no one wants to set out a stained tablecloth. I had already bought or otherwise acquired some lovely vintage tablecloths that I was starting to cut up and sew into HotHolders. It occurred to me that there might be big enough sections of these tablecloths free of stains to make tea towels. I looked at my collection and there were. Mary Johnson (who met with me for 3 hours free of charge the other week listening attentively and doling out free advice) at the Vermont Women's Business Center http://www.vwbc.org thinks I am really onto something with these. I hope so because I'm having a lot of fun designing and making them.

Please come by the BML to see MAD creations in all their three dimensions. Library hours are:
Monday 2-8
Tuesday closed
Wednesday 2-8
Thursday 9-noon
Friday 2-6
Saturday 9-noon
Sunday closed
For directions call the library at 802-439-5338 or me at 802-439-6921.

Friday, March 2, 2007

our first press!

Yipee! Well, it's the first press for Mountain Ash Design anyway, in our own local weekly, the Journal Opinion out of Bradford, Vermont. I am really pleased with the angle Jenn Grossi took in writing about my creative endeavors. When I showed her one of my Alter-Ego Pillows(tm) she started jumping up and down and laughing. I love it when someone really gets my sense of humor. The pillow she mentions in the article went to live at Revolution in White River Juntion (see my previous post) and is available for adoption.
I have the feeling Georgia has seen her name and the name of her craft business in print before, especially in online publications. Below is the version of the article Jenn sent to her editor. He published it with a few small changes, as editors are wont to do. Georgia's part comes first. Thanks Jenn, for exposing the community to the next-generation craft movement. You're super!

This black pillow is the one Jenn mentions in the article. Scroll down to the bottom to see the nerdy side.

Local Women Craft Online Business Opportunities
by Jennifer Grossi

The DIY movement, indie artists, craftivism: it’s the language of a new generation. Here are two local entrepreneurs who find themselves at the forefront of these critical shifts within the venerable tradition of making and selling crafts.

Georgia Hadley, West Newbury

“I like being in charge and I admit it. That’s a big reason why I do this.” Georgia Hadley, who does everything from designing her products to maintaining her website, is clearly in charge. Once Adorneya and now renamed August Lately, her home-based business allows her to juggle the demands of family, finance and her own personal interests with command and energy.

She began in 2003 when her younger son was born. “I had to feel like I was doing something useful outside the home, but still keep my family a priority.” She started out making jewelry, and has since expanded her wares to include handbags and greeting cards. “I’m open to making anything in the realm of accessories,” Hadley says.

Her “pretty little things”, as she calls them, sell mostly from her website, www.augustlately.com, as well as through links to other crafty virtual venues like Etsy.com. They’re starting to sell in stores too, including one as far away as Scotland.

Hadley’s business, in our small world with innumerable Internet marketing opportunities, generated an international customer base rather quickly through her online efforts. This counter-intuitive development process is only now leading her to a more narrow focus on the “real world” of people and places, which she asserts can be more time-consuming. “As the kids get older and I have more flexibility, I’ll do more local and regional shows and more community networking. One goal is to sell more regionally at shops that fit with what I do.”

What Hadley does, as she tells it, is “next-generation” crafting: non-traditional items with a sophisticated, edgy style, geared towards a relatively young market. She cites her messenger bag, pictured on this page, as an example. “It’s not what people usually associate with the word ‘craft’. It’s more contemporary, the kind of thing you’ll find in a trendy store.”

But these products are not manufactured like the ones often found in those stores. They’re handmade, and Hadley wants to see more like them on the shelves. To promote what’s becoming known as the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) movement, she is a co-founder of CraftRevolution.com, an online magazine resource for DIY artists. Through these efforts, plus sharing information through blogging on her website and others, she keeps her business at the leading edge of the modern crafting curve.

“I’d also like to be involved in a more local cooperative effort for sharing resources among Upper Valley crafters,” Hadley says. She’s especially interested in the Craft Mafia model, pioneered in Austin, Texas a few years ago, which is described on its website as “a forum for networking, promotion and shared ideas” between independent craft artists of a given geographic location.

In March, as another outlet for her “craftivism” (a term that defines where crafting and activism meet), Hadley will co-facilitate a formal discourse at the Craft Congress in Pittsburgh on DIY and political change. Apparently the new wave of crafters has grown large enough to wield some power within government and industry systems. “We’re going to discuss how to flex our muscle as a community to make a positive difference, and find out what’s important to us as a group.”

When I asked Hadley what’s important to her, she said she’d like to see more awareness and respect around the choice to balance work and family by operating from home. “We need to make laws more favorable for small businesses like mine. It’s not just women staying at home making doilies; it’s real work, and it makes a contribution.”

Sarah Green, East Topsham

“Because you’re not the only thing in the kitchen that’s hot.” That’s the feisty slogan describing Sarah Green’s signature HotHolders. On her website, www.mountainashdesign.com, they’re touted as highly practical, eco-friendly and visually unique potholders. These and other handmade goods are the foundation of her independent craft business.

When I first sit down with Green, she’s in production as we speak. She makes things whenever she can, often when her two children are at school, or multitasking in the afternoon, pinning fabrics and overseeing homework at the same time. She describes her current HotHolder project as a way to “celebrate the cook whenever they embark on a culinary adventure.”

That may sound like a tall order for a potholder, but as Green describes it, her primary goal in designing each new piece is to make the domestic sphere more cheerful. “We must cook. We must do laundry. If I can create some tools that make those tasks more pleasurable, I hope that’ll be a side effect of my work in people’s lives.”

Green, as a studio art major in college, really enjoyed working with fabric, a practice of which she says her professors didn’t approve. They thought she should focus on the fine arts, but she couldn’t seem to shed her interest in quilts. She remembers those her grandmother made from available scraps. “She would piece fabrics from the ‘40s next to ones from the ‘70s and that fascinated me, how they related to each other.”

This link with the past is a hallmark of Green’s current work. A recent HotHolder description on her blog shows how she uses the history behind her fabrics to generate new stories: “The black and white lion is from a cotton wall hanging that was in [my husband’s] family room growing up. ... I put the strawberries around him to balance his fierce grumpiness.” In addition to potholders, she also makes pillows, sachets and “4-way entry bags” modeled after her grandmother’s design for a clothespin bag.

While these items could be reckoned as classic craft fare, the end result is anything but traditional. Green showed me a pillow prototype that had a country-western shirt motif on one side, all pearl buttons and embroidered roses; turn the pillow over and you’ll find its “nerdy plaid alter ego” (her description). This type of innovation has won Green some product placement; soon her merchandise will be sold in several hip Vermont stores, including ZuZu’s in Norwich and the new Revolution in White River Junction.

By making the fun in her work apparent in the final product, Green fits in well with the modern DIY trend, where others like her find amusement in the ironic and the incongruous. “I like to include humor– I’m trying to reinvent the potholder here! I’m laughing about them; I hope that other people will too.”

But entertainment value is only half the story. Green, like other modern crafters, is a also an entrepreneur: “I’m constantly striving to make the production process more efficient, the craftsmanship more skilled and the fabric combinations more dynamic.” She regards her enterprise as no less than a mid-life career change, and as if to prove her ambitions, she just became a juried member of the NorthEast Kingdom Artisan’s Guild, based in St. Johnsbury.

As Green herself puts it, “I can’t just wait around and see what happens. I have to make it happen."