Archive for interviews

Raising Creative Kids

I had the good fortune recently to be interviewed by Jennifer Cooper of Classic Play! for her Creative Family series.

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Jen has a bottomless supply of fun ideas, thoughtful articles and enthusiasm for creative play and parenting. Her homage to the Red Balloon is too charming for words. She also has one of the most contagious smiles I’ve ever known.

In other words, Classic Play! is a must read, and I’m very honored to be featured.

You can read the interview here.

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Featured on the Fossil Blog!

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I was completely blown away by this feature of me/ Charlotte’s Fancy on the Fossil blog. They had such kind words for Charlotte’s Fancy, and I loved the photos they chose to go with the interview, too – they really picked some of my favorites. I’m speechless!

Special thanks to the kind folks at Fossil and to those of you who have read it and given me such positive feedback. I appreciate it more than you know.

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Mader Spinning Tops

Ara Wooden Spinning Top by Mader

Last weekend I visited a toy store with only eco-friendly toys (boy oh boy, was it gorgeous!), and on the counter, they had the most beautiful wooden spinning tops, which I had never seen in a toy store or online. Then, by chance, I was looking at a (new to me) online toy store earlier this week, and wouldn’t you know, they carried some of these spinning tops! They are made by an Austrian company called Mader, and after a bit more research, I found that Mader makes quite a range of tops in different sizes, colors and different ability levels (who knew?!).

Tops are one of those toys that fascinate kids of all ages endlessly, and sure, you can buy cheap plastic ones that will spin around and do the trick. But why not buy one that’s truly special? Many of these tops are between $12 – $18 each, and although I don’t own one (yet), I feel fairly certain they would last a long time.

Imagine how stunning a display of several of these would be.

Tango spinning tops by Mader

Trumpo Spinning Tops by Mader

Spaghetti Spinning Top by Mader

Sea Star Top by Mader

Pull string wooden tops by Mader

This last one is a pull string wooden top, and apparently the record for the longest spin is about 4 and a half minutes!

The online shop pucci Manuli has an amazing selection of these tops.

In my opinion, these are *the* perfect stocking stuffer.

Images: Mader (from the pucci Manuli website)

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My Interview on Carina’s Craftblog

The lovely Carina Envoldsen-Harris of Carina’s Craftblog (and also of the fantastic Polka & Bloom embroidery patterns) was so kind to interview me for her blog. I really enjoyed answering her questions and would love for you to read it!

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[Design Thursday] Lisa Zuraw of Sweetbeets

I am so pleased to share an interview today with Lisa Zuraw of Sweetbeets. You might also know her blog ModEcoKids (if you don’t, I highly recommend it). Lisa also will be launching an online handmade marketplace called Gift Gush soon.

Besides loving her letterpress designs (and her newer printables), I admire the way Lisa lives her eco-conscious values, and I look forward to days when she writes about what she’s doing to move toward a more minimalist way of living. It’s personally inspiring to me, and as such, I wanted to know more about her thoughts on sustainability and how that impacts her decision making as a small business owner.

I also asked her to share a little bit about what it’s like to own a business, not having any firsthand experience with it myself. I’m especially fascinated to hear about the challenges.

I hope you enjoy the photos of her gorgeous work and that you find her answers to my questions and her insight as interesting as I did – I learned a lot.

First, can you give me some basic background: Did you go to school for design? How did you learn to letterpress? What led to Sweetbeets?

My education background is completely unrelated to design (I used to work in the field of medical research), but probably my attention to detail is a common thread. Before my first son was born, I was looking online for ideas for birth announcements, and I think that’s what first planted the idea of a stationery business in my head. I fell in love with the look and feel of letterpress printing after learning about it through design blogs and researching stationery companies. I taught myself how to use Adobe Illustrator so I could create my own designs, and I dreamed of owning my own press. I signed up for a letterpress class, but when it was cancelled I realized that it would be better to have my designs printed by an experienced letterpress printer so that I could just focus on designing and all the other tasks involved in running one’s own business.

You don’t have an art/design background, but surely you can’t just get on Illustrator, learn the tools and crank out the pretty things you make without having some artistic ability, right?! So were you the kind of person who liked to draw/doodle as a kid?

The truth is that I cannot draw by hand! I didn’t draw or doodle as a child but I was always interested in design, especially decorating and rearranging my bedroom as a young child and attempting (unsuccessfully) to sew my own clothes as a teenager. I never think of myself as a “real” illustrator or even artist really. But I do like to figure out how things are made. When I first started using Illustrator I’d look at a geometric flower, for example, and figure out how to make one. I like using Illustrator because it basically uses lines and shapes with all these little points along them that I can manipulate. When I started working on my own designs I took tons of profile photos of my kids (my poor children!) and basically traced their outlines like a silhouette. Making these alien-looking creature drawings into something that would pass as a baby or young child took tons of trial and error. I c-r-i-n-g-e at my early designs (for some I had expensive custom printing plates made — foolishly investing $1000+ on them to “save” on a bulk order of plates — and later trashed them in the garbage without ever using them!) and even some current designs that I think look a little bit off. What’s that saying about us being our own worst critic? I could really relate to this post at MakeunderMyLife where Jess talks about her early jewelry designs and and her learning process, and how we all have to start somewhere.

Do you do other design work, or do you only work for yourself?

I think because I’m self-taught, I feel more comfortable only working for myself, so that’s what I do.

What are your design influences and what tools do you use to create your designs/cards/prints?

Simple and minimalist designs appeal to me. Luckily that style is a good fit for my relatively limited skills at using Adobe Illustrator.

I’d like to explore your decision not to wholesale Sweetbeets anymore, which you mentioned on your blog earlier this year – can you elaborate on that? What advice might you give to other handmade artists who are struggling with wholesale? I have to admit that I don’t get the economics of wholesale. I have heard handmade artists who have their own online shops complain that they “can’t compete with wholesale” in reference to selling their goods through other online (or bricks and mortar) shops. Can you explain this for those of us who don’t own small businesses?

When I sold my cards wholesale, the wholesale price was 50% off regular prices in my Etsy shop. This discount is typical and often there is a minimum order in terms of a dollar amount or number of pieces of the same design. When a handmade artist prices their product so that they only cover their materials and perhaps a little time spend creating it, then they find it isn’t feasible to cut the price in half for wholesale and still make a profit. The retail (bricks and mortar) shop may put the price higher than in the designer’s own online shop because they need to cover shipping the product from the designer to the store, rent, staff etc.

At the beginning of 2010 I closed down the wholesale side of my business that I had started in November 2007. It was definitely a thrill (particularly as a self-taught designer) to know that a shop owner thinks what you’ve created is good enough to sell in their shop, and I’m very proud that my cards were carried in over 90 shops across Canada and the USA and even as far away as the UK, Australia and Japan.

But at some point the initial excitement had worn off. I was running low on stock and the thought of investing a lot of money in inventory filled me with dread. With letterpress printing much of the cost is in the time-consuming set up of the press. I work closely with my letterpress printer and learned about all the fiddling that’s involved to get the impression just right and beautiful. With each new design (or reprint) I needed to buy 500-1000 prints of each card design to get the manufacturing costs low enough to be able to sell wholesale and still make a small profit. To keep going with wholesale I figured I’d need to get a network of sales reps (that I’d have to pay commissions of 15-20% on each order) who could bring in more sales for faster turn-over in inventory. I envisioned pressure from sales reps to have frequent releases of new designs (I heard that sometimes they just show the new designs to stores) which of course means more inventory. I decided that going down that route was not a good fit for me. Selling wholesale helped me figure out what I want from my business, and I realized that it’s perfectly ok to just have my little shop on Etsy.

Ok, that was a really helpful explanation! Will you continue to sell your letterpress through Etsy, or are you moving away from letterpress altogether?

Although I won’t be having any more card designs letterpress printed (so once they’re sold, they’re gone!), I may create some more letterpress art prints in the future.

I’m a really big fan of printables, which I think is a clever business model, so I’m glad you’re adding that dimension to your shop. Do you have bigger plans for printables in the coming months?

Thanks Molly! My plans are to add many more printable party invitations and baby announcements. I’d like add some seasonal designs but so far the holidays have a habit of sneaking up on me (Easter!) before I have time to create a new design. A new printable 2011 calendar is also on my to-do list.

How does living consciously impact how you go about your design work? I’m thinking of this thoughtful blog post by Sarah at The Small Object about consumption and her thoughts on producing “things.” I’m wondering if you have had these same struggles.

I have been trying to live more intentionally, and I’m still figuring out exactly what that means to me! There are some more obvious connections like choosing eco-friendly materials for my cards such as 100% post-consumer recycled paper and envelopes and biodegradable sleeves. One of my recent “aha” moments was realizing that having a business that requires inventory is not a good fit for my minimalist aspirations.

I do have the same struggles as Sarah at The Small Object about my role in encouraging consumption. I think that issue has also influenced my shift to print-at-home invitations because this business model minimizes waste (I invest design time but there’s no inventory if it doesn’t sell, and party hosts only print what they need). I do love how Sarah describes the personal connectedness that comes from being a part of the handmade community. I’m so grateful for people who choose to spend their hard-earned money at Sweetbeets, and I’m touched by the stories they sometimes share with me. For example, I’ll always remember the woman who told me she had just given birth to twins (she was a surrogate parent) and she was buying one of my cards to write a note to the parents of the babies.

Can you give me your vision for how ModEcoKids, Gift Gush and Sweetbeets all fit together as a part of a whole (or maybe they don’t?) How do you most want to be known – what work is most important to you?

I started ModEcoKids with the idea that writing about eco-friendly kids design would hopefully attract the same type of people who might be interested in Sweetbeets. Gift Gush is the curated online marketplace where people can easily find beautiful gifts for babies and kids that are created by independent artists and designers (like me) who exhibit at the site. While I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished with Sweetbeets, I think ultimately that Gift Gush will be my most important work (if I ever get the site launched!) because I’ll be providing a valuable service to people within the handmade community who feel that the site will benefit them.

What would you like to accomplish with your entrepreneurial efforts that you haven’t yet? Do you have big projects coming up that you’re excited about and want to share?

On a practical level, I’d like to be able to contribute more to our family finances. It feels good when I can buy groceries with “Sweetbeets money”! On a personal level, I’m really excited about exploring the lifestyle of mindfulness / living in the moment. I tend to have a lot of busyness going on with all my various projects and long to-do lists that results in lots of distractions. I’m starting to let go of things that are not sustainable for me (like wholesale) and trying to put into action the ideas in this blog post. ♥

A very heartfelt thanks to Lisa for this interview. Please do check out her shop and her blog, and stay tuned for Gift Gush. You can also follow her on Twitter.

And if you have children, you might also find her free (and really pretty) chore chart helpful – we use it in my house.

UPDATE: The chore chart is no longer available online to download, but I have a copy of it and Lisa has given me permission to email it to anyone who requests it. If you want a copy, please email me: charlottesfancy [at] gmail [dot] com

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[Crafty Monday] Make & Meaning + CraftyPod

Last week I came across Make & Meaning: Creative Community in Conversation – boy, what a breath of fresh air! It’s a blog that discusses all aspects of creating in a really substantial, thoughtful way. I read “What if we paid each other” and was hooked. I read a few other articles and look forward to reading more. I highly recommend you take a look.

One of the contributors to Make & Meaning (and author of “What if we paid each other”) is Diane Gilleland, also known as Sister Diane and producer of CraftyPod. Are you already familiar with it? I’m just sorry it’s taken me so long to discover it.

CraftyPod is a blog chock full of videos and tutorials, as well as podcast featuring interesting interviews with crafty people and different ideas, tips and discussion about crafting and your craft business. I really enjoyed her podcast with Rachel Klein of One Pretty Thing (which is a site I really love) and was stunned to learn that Rachel has 4,000 blogs that she regularly reads. 4,000! I consider myself an organized person, but I don’t think I could read 4,000 blogs, produce all those craft round-ups, and still have time to devote to family and home, and yet she does.

I certainly wouldn’t call myself a crafter, but I am fascinated by the creative process, so I’m very happy to have come across both Make & Meaning and CraftyPod and the substantive conversations they both offer.

If you are a serious crafter, and perhaps have your own Etsy shop or online shop, Sister Diane also publishes ebooks and has a number of interesting titles on the CraftyPod site. She’s also on Twitter @SisterDiane.

One more recommendation for today’s post: Marie Perkins of Print & Pattern was featured in an article in yesterday’s edition of the Independent coinciding with the publication of her book, which I can’t wait to buy. I love Print & Pattern. You may (or may not!) remember that  when Target rolled out its Orla Kiely line last spring, I featured a few items on Charlotte’s Fancy and also offered to send some of the items to Marie (who is a big fan of Orla). In the package I sent to her, I also included favorites from my stationery stash. She very sweetly wrote about all of it here.

Happy reading and Happy Monday!

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[Design Thursday] Sophie & Lili

If you’re a regular reader of Charlotte’s Fancy, you might have noticed Sophie & Lili dolls popping up in my gift guides and handmade picks, because I adore them. The dolls are one-of-a-kind designs printed on high quality quilters cotton which are personalized with a name or message on the back. Just the other day, my daughter Rosa said, “This doll was my favorite Christmas gift” and on most nights, both girls fall asleep hugging their dolls.

So, today, I’m very happy to share my interview with Jennifer Vallez, the talent behind Sophie & Lili.

Tell me about the process for making Sophie & Lili dolls and what tools you use.
I sketch ideas on paper but most times, I draw right in Illustrator and then send the designs off to be printed digitally. I cut the dolls individually and choose a backing fabric that will look cute. I use my Husqvarna sewing machine and hand sew them closed and also hand sew the name tags on back.

How does having two daughters impact/influence your designs?
Ever since I had my first daughter, I have been buying handmade dolls and softies for her. Etsy was/is a big influence in being able to find unique things.

I went to school for fashion design but, I kind of gave up on that dream a year into college. I had no interest in the kids market back then. My first daughter Sophie was definitely a driving force in starting a clothing line. I started a little girls clothing line in 2004 and added knit dolls (made in Peru) in my Fall 06 collection. They weren’t 100% what I had envisioned, but I couldn’t find a manufacturer to make woven dolls at the time. Then I had my second daughter and it was all too much to juggle. The dolls seemed a natural transition. I love to draw and I love the idea of designing my own textiles. It just kinda worked!

And my daughters love to add their 2 cents to my designs. They have about 20 dolls each at this point.

Where else do you find inspiration and who are some of your favorite designers?
I take inspiration from all over – fashion, graphic design, textile designer, etsy crafters, etc. Some of my favorite designers are Rosa Pomar (artist/crafter), Heather Ross (textile), Denyse Schmidt (quilter/textile), and Orla Kiely (textile/fashion).

Which designer would you most love to meet?
I would love to meet Orla Kiely, Marc Jacobs, Diane Von Furstenberg and Betsey Johnson. I was obsessed with Betsey Johnson since I was about 9. My parents would take me to the city [New York] for my birthday, and we always stopped in her store. When I went to Fashion Institute of Technology, I got to dress models at 2 of her shows. It was the first and only fashion shows I ever went to. Her clothes are not my style anymore, but she has such a young energy about her. Her drawings are what got me inspired me to explore fashion illustration!

What are the challenges of juggling your full time job with Sophie & Lili?
Working full time in a deadline-driven ad agency is challenging enough! Sophie & Lili takes a backseat so, I work at night and on weekends. It’s definitely a juggle between work and home life.

What would you like to do with Sophie & Lili that you haven’t been able to do yet?
I just started making hair accessories and have so many ideas, but not enough time to execute them. The dolls and hair goodies are keeping me plenty busy for now!


What advice would you give to other handmade artists?
Advice? I started the clothing line with NO idea what I was doing. My practical side would say do your research and have a business plan. Wait! I don’t have a practical side!! Ha! I would have never started my business knowing how it *really* is though. I had no plan, just a gut feeling it would work. I am not a huge risk taker. I feel like I got kinda lucky – and also, I am extremely resourceful. If I want something to work, I won’t take no for an answer. A small peeve of mine is when I get emails asking for my sources. I am all about helping you out, but you should also do your homework. You’ll get farther if you figure these things out on your own!

I assume you read lots of blogs. What are some of your favorites?
I love reading blogs. My faves are Decor8, Design*Sponge, Sweet Fine Day and Creature Comforts to name just a few.


Want more Sophie & Lili? (Of course you do!)
Website, Big Cartel shop, Etsy shop, Facebook and Twitter!

Many thanks to Jen for letting me feature here on Charlotte’s Fancy. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know her over the last few months – I feel like I’ve known her for years. Also, I’ve heard that she wouldn’t mind getting a box of Sprinkles cupcakes for Valentine’s Day, or any day, really (wink).

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[Family Friday] Mr. Fox and Mrs. Polar Bear

I have two new friends I want you to meet:

They have some pretty hilarious little adventures, like this one, called “Collision

One of my favorites is the time they tried out a Seesaw:

The Fox and the Polar Bear Seesaw Adventure

I was a little horrified by this one, because I don’t know why anyone would want to smash perfectly good Cadbury Creme Eggs. But Mrs. Polar Bear had her reasons.

I was intrigued by these little stories, so I got in touch with Mr. Fox (Tom) and Mrs. Polar Bear (Emily) to learn a little more about them.

“Emily and I met on our first day of University,” Tom told me. “We both went to Imperial College in London and lived in the same halls next to the Royal Albert Hall. On one of our first ‘dates’ we went to Hamleys (the most famous toy shop in the UK). Mr. Fox just caught our eye – we picked him up and couldn’t put him back – so he’s been with us since November 2003.”

Next came Mr. Bear, then Mr. Wolf, and then finally Mrs. P.B. arrived (all from Hamleys).

“I used to take Mr. Fox home with me at Christmas, and then Emily started to take Mrs P.B. back with her. It was one of those Christmases that Mrs P.B. began to develop a personality and she and Mr. Fox became a twosome.”

During a walking holiday along the Welsh-English border in 2007  they started taking photos of Mr. Fox and Mrs. P.B.  They uploaded them to Flickr when they got back from the trip, with the idea of turning it into a 365 day project. But 365 days has since turned into a daily upload – now with an audio version – of charming short stories and photos for three years.

I, for one, am glad they kept going on Day 366. So are Elena and Rosa. The other night, we sat on the couch and listened to many of the stories and looked at a lot of the pictures. They kept saying, “Click on this one” and “Now click on this one.”

We laughed at the photos, like this one from the “Races,” in which we learn that “after an incident involving a fork, a royal flush, and someone’s paw, gambling for beans was actually banned in the Land of the Bed.”

And we fell madly in love with Mr. Fox and Mrs. Polar Bear in photo after photo.

How could you not?

Tom, who works for a software company by day, and Emily, who is a tax consultant, are working on a website for Mr. Fox and Mrs. P.B., and they hope to write a book one day. Let’s hope that they do. In the meantime, you can follow Mr. Fox and Mrs. Polar Bear on Twitter. And you can also become their fan on Facebook.

Thanks so much to Tom, Emily, Mr. Fox and Mrs. Polar Bear for letting me share their photos and story here today. And thanks to Robert of Mahar Drygoods, who pointed them out in the first place.

Happy weekend to you all!

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