Monday, April 28, 2014

Meet the Maker - Ellie from The Costume Wrangler

My name is Ellie, and I’m The Costume Wrangler. And, like all good characters, I have an origin story too. Here it is:

I grew up feeling like I never quite fit in, never quite belonged.  In grade school, I liked to go on pretend adventures at recess, even though I was told girls couldn’t go on adventures.  I was the kid that got excited when the teacher told us to read.  I was that kid that went in super early to school so I could work on an extra art project. I was the kid that stayed up all night to get her homework done, and then had to sit in class with nothing to do while everyone else caught up. My differences made me the victim of bullying, being called every name in the book.  Ellie Elephant. Dork. Pig. Cow.  Nerd. Geek. I learned from an early age that to be seen as different was bad, but that I’d never fit in either.  I didn’t like the right things or look the right way. The world saw me as different, and that meant to them that I should be treated differently.  

I am so lucky to have a family that loved and supported me no matter what, that embraced my quirks and encouraged my interests. I also had a few close friends who, like me, didn’t fit in, didn’t like the right things and didn’t look the right way. So, we faced the world together, all the while feeling like outcasts. We banded together and survived all the way through high school.

After high school, I went to art school in NYC. I studied anything and everything, and consequently never quite fit in, not with the graphic designers, and certainly never fit in with the painters and sculptors either. Nevertheless, four years later I earned my BFA, having studied drawing, graphic design, bookmaking, sculpture, calligraphy, and photography (to name a few things). I was totally enamored with the arts, I couldn’t just pick one art form to study.

I went straight from undergraduate school right into the graduate program at KU for Scenography, the study of lighting, scenic, and costume design as a holistic process. And, for the first time, I felt like I’d found my place in the theatrical community, as an artist, a designer, and a technician. I could put to use my varied interests, my wide skill set, my unusual perspective. I was able to embrace my unique talents and interests and finally felt at home while working in theater.

After graduation, I worked freelance for a while, mostly in costume design, having discovered my true passion: costumes. Even when designing scenery, I look at it as if I’m costuming the space of the play. My creative explorations took me all the way to Western Massachusetts, to small state college, teaching some theatrical design and construction courses. I loved the challenge of teaching. The school put on one show a semester, which enabled us to let the design and the production develop organically over the course of the rehearsal process.  I got the opportunity to really challenge myself, to push myself as both a costume designer and a scenic designer.  I learned so much about myself as an artist and as an educator.  I worked with some of the most amazing students, kids that daily reminded me why teaching is such a joy.

But, despite all that, I missed my family and friends back in Kansas. 1500 miles was quite the road trip for me and my dog, Teddy.  But we did it, twice a year, for six years.  Even so, being away from my family and friends was taking its toll. I needed to be closer to home. The job market was not encouraging, but I finally got offered a job to work in Nebraska as a teacher and costume designer at a small private college.  So, I donated everything I owned to charity, packed up my dog, and moved back to the Midwest.  Taking the job in Nebraska was one of the best and worst decisions I’ve ever made. I was glad to be back in the Midwest (New England was beautiful, but living there I discovered I’m a Midwestern girl at heart.)  When I started my new job, I loved teaching.  I loved designing and building costumes.  I loved helping students realize their potential, to discover they were capable of creating something as exciting and dynamic as a theatrical production.  I loved the huge variety of shows we were doing.  I loved that I got to teach more design classes and work with students more directly.  There was nothing in the world I would have rather been doing at that point.

But the politics of academia slowly began to chip away at my joy of teaching.  The demands of designing and building costumes for 14 main stage productions a school year began to erode the passion I had for creating theatre, a passion I thought I’d never lose. I woke up one day and realized I hated what I was doing.  Designing and building costumes had become a chore, one that interfered with teaching and giving my students the best possible experience. The administration did nothing to help the situation. I felt frustrated and miserable, and had no business in the classroom without that passion for theatre and design.

I needed a change.

That’s when I opened my Etsy store, The Costume Wrangler’s Closet.  At the time, all I wanted was a creative outlet, a place to create clothing and accessories that people might enjoy, that might help folks feel good about themselves the way I wanted to feel good about myself.  But what started as something to do on the side quickly snowballed into a full time venture.  And pretty soon, I was quitting my day job and striking out on the exciting and terrifying path of running a small business.  I said goodbye to teaching, something I thought I’d never do.  And I bid farewell to theater too.  I rented a truck this time, packed up my dog, and moved back to Kansas.

That was just over a year ago.  And I’ve never been so happy.  I’ve realized that I don’t have to let the way the world sees me define who I am.  And that, to me, is what The Costume Wrangler’s Closet is all about.  It’s a celebration of all things different, all things geek.  

The most surprising aspect of my journey this past year has been my foray into fabric design on Spoonflower.  I have over 50 designs up so far, and I’m constantly surprised by how popular some of my original fabric designs have become.  A few of my designs have even made it to their “Hot Sellers” list, more than once.  How cool is that!?

When I started designing fabrics, I didn’t think it would be anything special. I really only wanted something unique for a corset I was building.  In fact, creating my own fabric designs to use in my clothing and accessories has been one of the most exciting parts of developing The Costume Wrangler’s Closet.  It’s so much fun to design the fabric I’m using, and it means I can create some really special, really unique and fun pieces. Plus, designing my own fabric lets me use all that art and design experience I have, while sharing my geek love with other crafters and artisans.

This journey has been amazing, and I wake up everyday excited to continue down this path.  I grew up believing being a geek was a bad thing, because it made me different, it meant that I didn’t fit in.  But the truth is, being a geek, and being different, is great.  It means I don’t have to let the way the world sees me, or sees being a geek, define who I am.  It means I get to wake up everyday and and share my creativity, help people feel happy.  And that’s what I want to do with The Costume Wrangler’s Closet: give people a chance to celebrate who they are, to love what they love without feeling like an outcast.  So, I’m on a mission to foster geek love, help folks celebrate their love of all things geek, and feel great about doing it!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Meet the Maker - Cheri from Altered Iris

Hi, I’m Cheri from Altered Iris. I was born and raised in the Kansas City area and now reside in Southern Johnson County. My full-time job is as a wife, mother of two and the smooth operator of the Johnson Household.

It’s been a long-time dream of mine to have a handmade business. I’ve always enjoyed hands-on creative hobbies and have gotten such fulfillment out of making things for other people. In college I made photo calendars from scratch (before Shutterfly was around) for my parents and grandparents and also enjoyed dabbling in scrapbooking. When my daughter was born in 2006, the dabbling turned into a passion for mixing paper, photos, embellishments and usually my own handwriting to record memories and milestones of my daughter.  Over time, my “scrapbooking style” evolved and I began using paint on my layouts and really enjoyed adding this medium to my memory keeping. 

In early 2011, I was introduced to mixed media art, through a tutorial from Christy Tomlinson and learned about new ways to use the supplies I already had on hand. I instantly fell in love with combining these elements in a more artistic way and began  playing around with different products and techniques. Before long, I realized I had more canvases than I had wall space, and with that, my handmade business was born with the opening of my shop in November of that year. 

Over the last two years we have moved three times which has made growing my business a bit challenging. I’ve been pre-occupied with packing, unpacking, settling, re-settling, changing schools, meeting new neighbors, saying goodbye to old and everything else that goes along with moving. It’s been quite a ride but I am happy to say we are now settled for the long term and growing my business seems more attainable and exciting to me again. 

I love creating items a person can have in their home or give to someone else that inspires or encourages them, I’m grateful that God has given me this talent to share with others and I look forward to growing Altered Iris to one day also make a difference in others lives through supporting worthy causes and giving back to the community.  

I’m excited to be a part of the Handmade in KC community and look forward to connecting and serving with the other members to bring quality handmade goods to our great city and beyond.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Meet the Maker - Jenny & Skip from Ugly Glass & Company

I’m Jenny. In 2002 I began creating jewelry after a friend introduced me to jewelry making and shortly afterwards I began selling my creations.  I was in awe that someone would want to buy and wear something I created.  I was so hooked! Together with my husband, Skip, we create Ugly Glass that is not ugly at all. The name represents the beginning of our journey as artists - our first glass pieces were ugly and lumpy, and over the years we have refined our skills to create beautiful jewelry, art and lamp worked glass pieces! 

As a way to spend more time with me, Skip joined me for a lamp working class a couple of years later.  He was bitten by the “glass working bug” and I just got burned.  I don’t know how many times I have dropped molten glass on a chair, floor and myself.  Needless to say, he does all the “hot” creating and I do all the “cold” creating!  Skip has been creating by my side ever since.  It is honestly great to be able to work with your spouse and know that you have their full support in everything that you do.

After doing art and craft shows for a decade (that makes me feel old!), we opened up our own little shop in the only area we would ever want to open a shop in, the Independence Square.  We added the “& Company” to our already eye catching “Ugly Glass” name and welcomed other artists works inside.  In 2013 we moved into a much larger space so we could provide a classroom for the artists to teach in and be a retail outlet to double the artists we already had.  We were also able to put a little glass studio in the front of the shop for Skip to work in while customers watch.  

2014 marks 20 glorious years of Skip and I being married.  We have 2 beautiful children and a couple of cats.  Our daughter Chelsey is 18 and our son, Austen, is 15. They are each so different and creative in their own ways.  I can’t wait to see what my babies become!  Chelsey will be going to college this fall and Austen will be a sophomore in high school.  Skip also owns a commercial construction company so I run the day to day operations of the store, as well as all the paperwork that goes along with his business and a very small part time bookkeeping job I have for another small business owner.  Skip stays very busy with his work, but takes Wednesdays off to demonstrate his glass work to customers on Wednesdays.  Our life is an amazing roller coaster ride and I would not change it for anything!