A member of the Stitch & Rivet team works with machinery to create leather goods. During the pandemic, the company closed its shop and chose to shift entirely to ecommerce.
Photo courtesy of Katie Stack.
Prior to the pandemic, many makers already ran their businesses from home. However, some professional crafters were forced to make major shifts and scrounge together a home office with inventory space. Those who traveled to teach, created in a studio, or ran a storefront were all affected in different ways.
So how did creatives handle these new challenges? Between work-life separation, following a self-imposed schedule, and staying connected to colleagues, here’s a look at how four pro crafters found their “new normal” in 2020.
Bringing production in-house
Melissa Quaal runs an Etsy Shop called A Happy Stitch where she sells craft kits with everything needed to make your own espadrille shoes. Prior to the pandemic, the New Jersey-based business owner was selling kits and traveling across the country to teach classes. “The kits require that I hold onto a lot of inventory and storing that inventory in my basement was getting very complicated,” she says. “So in November 2019, I made an arrangement with a friend who has a huge attic space to rent it as my studio. In this new space, I was able to pack up kits, take photographs, and, most importantly, separate my work life and personal life.” Now that Melissa could give focused attention to her art instead of getting sucked into doing laundry, It felt like a major step up for her business.
But around late March, lockdown orders caused Melissa to move everything back to her home office. “It was devastating,” she says. “I felt I was just getting into the rhythm of working in a studio and setting regular hours for each day.”
“Don’t get me wrong! I understood the importance of the lockdown and was happy to comply. What was devastating was halting work in the studio. I really went through a mourning period at the loss of momentum, the loss of that ‘building a business’ feeling, and the loss of quiet workspace.”
Melissa Quaal of A Happy Stitch moved her espadrille kit business into her basement once the pandemic hit. With her time and energy spent helping her two school-age children, balancing work and family all in one space proved challenging.
Photo courtesy of Melissa Quaal
With two school-age children, Melissa says her time and energy immediately shifted to assisting them. Though the experience of being together all the time brought her family closer, it also made running a business very stressful. “My craft kits were quite popular at the start of the quarantine,” Melissa explains. “Business was booming, but I was miserable. Sneaking in work in tiny bits of time when no one seemed to need me. Hunting for everything I needed in a tossed-together basement. It was very challenging. It led to serious burnout. My family comes first and they needed me, so the business suffered.”
Nine months into the Covid-19 pandemic, Melissa has continued to pay nominal rent on the studio space and stores a few supplies there. She’s optimistic she can return every once in a while, but won’t be able to do so on a regular basis until her kids are back in school full-time. “I have made the basement setup more permanent and manageable, but it’s hard to find the energy for creativity and the enthusiasm to build a vibrant business right now. I’m suspending any harsh judgment against myself for that because I just have to accept that this unusual time will have an impact.”
Adjusting to a quieter schedule
Elaine Luther collaborates on a creative company called Being Bold with her friend, illustrator Betsy Zacsek. With a mission to “share stories of invention, adventure, and making the world a better place,” Being Bold’s offerings include stickers, placemats, and posters highlighting female inventors.
“Betsy and I are both artists who support and encourage each other,” Elaine says. “Normally we meet up with some regularity, help each other with our personal art projects, and get each other going on the Being Bold projects.”
Elaine admits she has a lot more time now to make are and work on her business. “The interesting thing is that most of normal life has been stripped away,” she says. “I used to spend a ton of time driving my kids to activities, plus things for myself, going to the gym, the occasional coffee or dinner with a friend, and client meetings. When you strip away almost everything else in your life, there’s more time for what’s most important,” she says.
Being Bold offers stickers, placemats, and posters highlighting female inventors. Co-founder Elaine Luther says she’s been able to carve out more creative time since being at home during the pandemic, with a quieter, less hectic schedule.
Photo courtesy of Elaine Luther
“There was a level of busy-busy-busy in my life before that I don’t think I’ll go back to. Kids don’t need that many activities. I like having my groceries delivered; it saves a lot of time. While those may seem like personal issues and not work issues, if my personal life is more freed up, I have more time to make art and market my business.”
Though both women already worked from a home office before the pandemic, they’ve had some socially distanced outdoor visits this summer. “Chicago winters often can be brutal, but the pandemic brings a whole new level of cabin fever,” Elaine says. She will likely add in some more Zoom chats to stay connected to others over the long winter.
When it’s safe to do so, Elaine says she can’t wait to grab coffee with a different friend or colleague every day of the week. “I’m a terrific networker and love conferences,” she says. “I miss meeting people and connecting with them. I can’t justify paying for a co-working space and I really like my office and studio spaces at home, but once ‘this is over,’ I’ll be working in coffee shops, just because I can! Maybe having artist playdates, organizing get-togethers, and events. I can’t wait!”
Working to stay motivated
New Yorker Kristina Alexander has run her creative business (KVT Creative) part-time while working as an administrative assistant at a small nursery school, where she’s been for the last 16 years. “March 13, 2020, was my last day working in our school with our kids and staff,” she says. “I also have had an art studio nearby that I would work at on a nearly daily basis after work and on the weekends.” A photographer and mixed media artist, Kristina shared this space—an old carpet factory converted to artist studios—with artists of many kinds. Unlike Kristina, many of these artists have had to give up their spaces due to the pandemic and the loss of regular employment.
“I have not let go of my studio,” she says. “It is my safe haven and it will be the last thing I let go of. Now being unemployed from my full-time school job, I am attempting to find a viable way to turn my art studio life into my professional business life.”
Before the pandemic, Kristina was usually out and about, but now she spends most of her time at home. “Not having daily conversations with coworkers, deadlines, and projects have been difficult,” she admits. “My creativity desire has plummeted, and as much as I try to plan to go to the studio, it is hard to follow through.”
Working hard to combat these obstacles, Kristina has spent the last few months revamping her website and working with a business coach, also investing in a desktop computer for her home office. She plans to release a photography book in 2021.
The Stitch & Rivet team is now working out of their homes with no intention of returning to their shop space.
Photo courtesy of Katie Stack.
Pivoting to ecommerce while letting go of a retail space
Katie Stack, the founder of Stitch & Rivet, opened her public-facing studio and retail location in Washington, D.C. in 2013. “Over the years we expanded to a larger location with the expectation that at some point in the future the business would become online-only,” she explains. They closed up the shop in March due to the pandemic. By June, she and her team members decided it was time to give that online-only idea a try.
“Initially when I closed my studio to the public, I continued to commute there from my home,” she says. When she decided to move the leatherworking supplies back into her house, she had to completely rearrange the main living area and take over the dining room as a workspace.
“It was a ton of work,” she says. “At the same time my husband and I were doing that, my team went from being employees to contractors and needed to set-up their own home studios.” To help her team transition to working from home, Katie “sold” them some of the equipment like sewing machines and cutting tables for $0. This in turn helped several of her staff, who’d lost full-time employment in the costuming industry and needed to get set up as independent contractors.
Though she misses her coworkers, Katie does enjoy being able to concentrate without the constant interruptions she had at her retail shop. “It has given me the ability to redesign some pieces I’ve been wanting to work on for a couple of years,” she says. After the pandemic lifts, she and her team will continue working from separate homes as their new permanent arrangement. “I also feel good that I was able to have my team help me make the decision about how we moved forward,” she says. “It made a huge difference in how I felt about all of it, and it still feels like we are a team.”
As an added bonus, Katie can appreciate that her investment into an online presence over the years actually paid off.
“The time and energy I put into my social media that always previously felt like a waste of time would be the thing that allowed me to make this change.”
Lindsay is a modern quilter, writer, and editor. A multi-book author with C&T Publishing, her latest project was designing sampler quilts for FreeSpirit Block Party (Stash Books, September 2018). She also works with Craftsy and Baby Lock sewing machines, and is an editor for Frommer's Travel Guides. She lives in Indianapolis with her husband, son, and two cats, who were the inspiration for her adult coloring book and Kickstarter "Project of the Day" Lazy-Ass Cats. www.lindsaysews.com, www.lazyasscats.com