If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you will know what a huge fan I am of reusing and thrifting. The bulk of what I used to create my jewelry displays was from repurposed items from Goodwill, and I can barely contain myself from spending money at consignment stores.
Therefore I am hugely excited to present to you Irene Stapleford of wantknot. Irene’s shop is an eclectic mix of whimsical paintings and felted bags, made from reclaimed materials. As she writes on Etsy, “Recycling and repurposing are the underlying practices in both my painting and handbag-making. I use reclaimed lumber and scraps for painting support panels, because somehow wood scraps have always been more inviting than a brand-new piece of purchased plywood… and taking a beautiful wool or cashmere sweater that’s only slightly stained or holey, and re-inventing the good parts as a thoughtfully designed handbag or stash bag gives me such a thrill.”
What is the story behind the name of your shop?
The idea of reusing and recycling materials is an integral part of my art and design process. I love the old, practical-minded adages like “waste not, want not,” which really are still relevant in terms of both frugality and the environment. By adding the “k” I’m adding the textiles context: waste knot, want knot. I shortened the name to “wantknot” after learning some other clever textile artist beat me to the full name on Etsy, plus the shorter name is hopefully easier to remember.
How did you get started painting and felting?
I love putting colors and textures together, in paintings and in felted bags. I consider the felted bags kind of a cross between design/composition and textile/craft. The machine-felting of commercially produced knitted sweaters is an idea that I must admit I first learned about from… a Martha Stewart magazine article! I didn’t follow the directions for Martha’s projects, but the concept for machine washing and drying otherwise imperfect sweaters did source from that article. I believe the technical term is “fulling” rather than felting, but for most people the term felting is familiar and gives a general sense of how the fabric I’m using has been altered. Once the sweaters are warm water washed and dried a few times, they “felt” together into a piece of fabric that doesn’t fray when cut, so it’s really a cool transformation of the knitted material. I’ve been making felted bags for about four years.
What do you like most about having your own creative business? What do you find most challenging?
I love interacting with other small business owners and creative folks on Etsy, seeing their ideas and products, and receiving positive feedback on my work. Making a sale is such a huge thrill; it’s very exciting when someone wants to own something I’ve made. Most challenging is finding the time to make new items, photograph and list them… if I had 22 alert hours in a day I would find ways to utilize them all. I also work full time and have two daughters in elementary school, so my time is pretty booked.
What inspires you to create?
I really enjoy bringing into existence something completely one of a kind that wasn’t here yesterday… and I love to see colors from my imagination come together in a real object. Paintings can be inspired by dream images, quick glimpses of landscapes, or a combination of visual thoughts. Felted bags are inspired by the colors of sweaters I find, and the design process of composing shapes, colors and buttons brings them to life.
What do you think motivates others to buy handmade?
Probably the excitement of possessing a unique object, and sometimes the desire to support sole proprietors over big box kinds of stores with mass-produced goods. I think for some it can be a patriotic or political choice, because doing business with the individual seller instead of the corporate one feels different, maybe more special or personal. On Etsy, you can choose the location of your seller and get to know a little bit about them and their basis for creating, and avoid purchasing an item made in a factory overseas by underpaid and/or anonymous workers. I’d rather purchase something one of a kind handmade by one of those same workers than a factory-made item of lesser quality. Handmade items have more palpable heart.
What is your favorite handmade item you have bought or received?
Too many to choose just one: I still have my first (70s, bright, orange, large) handknit hat from my mom. I like my own first knitting efforts that are crazy big or small, and totally unwearable – they represent so much time invested. Some little papier mache animals my parents bought in Puerto Rico on their honeymoon. My daughter’s wall relief sculpture from clay, my daughter’s paper amusement park, many small clay bowls made by my girls in school. My husband, before we were married, made me a series of tiny handmade books which he sent, one at a time, while I was away at an artist residency on the west coast. Mom made us a wall quilt from Dad’s dramatic vintage silk neckties on a black and red ground for a uniquely personal wedding gift. Lots of hand made items at our house that I love. I may harbor a bit of a hoarding tendency, hmmm…
When you are not painting or drawing, what do you like to do with your time?
With two small children, full time job and regular household tasks, I don’t have much else in the way of creative outlets. I spend time on Etsy, watch tv and movies at night, read a lot of library books, and try to get in some daily exercise. I enjoy yoga, Zumba and a twice-weekly weights class which I’m lucky enough to be able to fit in during lunchtime at work. Exercise keeps me going and gives me the energy to tackle all the other stuff needing doing. The felted bags were actually an alternative to painting, because they are quicker and easier to pick up and put down as needed — less mess, and they don’t require the same level of concentration. I can plan ahead in my mind and get on my sewing machine and produce bag components even with only a small window of working time.
What is something people might not know about you?
I’m taller than average, and it’s tough to find pants that fit. I hope to be able to sew well enough some day to produce my own tailored trousers… ahhh, that would be lovely. I consider my sewing skill level pretty basic.
What is one piece of advice you would offer to others with their own creative business?
Well, I can’t point to my own creative business as a whopping success story, more like an occasional sale, so my advice may not be worth a whole lot. Aside from that caveat, lots of advice comes to mind. [I just love to give advice!]
– Of course, waste not, want not.
– Persist in your efforts.
– Support other artists, purchasing their work when possible.
– Network. Etsy is a great place to start, try to also cultivate real connections in the actual vs. virtual world.
– Don’t be afraid to try new things.
– Be open to useful feedback, especially if it comes from a credible source. It’s not easy to receive critical feedback but it can be very helpful if you are able to accept it.
– Be patient.
– Be proud and promote yourself.
– Exercise for sanity and increased energy.
– Have fun. It shows.
Thanks for me on my blog, Irene, and be sure to check out her shop!