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Home / Articles / Special Sections / Gifts /  Homemade for the holidays
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Friday, November 23,2012

Homemade for the holidays

Local artisans meet the holiday demand

By Elizabeth Miller
A ring design by Blue Hour Designs

Blame the Internet. Access to the World Wide Web full of ideas and a community of customers has sparked new legions of do-it-yourselfers, and made it possible for more people to make a living, or at least a side income, on jewelry, clothes, accessories and other goods they make at home. In addition to often repurposing second-hand materials, these creative makers are also creating jobs for themselves and giving new shape to their lives, whether they’re coming out of a layoff or just looking to have a little more time at home with the kids. When you’re going for local with your holiday shopping, it’s harder to go closer than something made in your neighbor’s living room.

Blue Hour Designs

www.bluehourdesigns.com

Alysia Sánchez Melnikov quit a teaching job to stay at home with her kids, then 1 and 3 years old, but found herself in need of a creative outlet.

“I took a weekend crash course in silversmithing and I completely fell in love with it,” she says. She set up a workshop in her home, and now running Blue Hour Designs is a full-time job for both her and her husband, Norbert Melnikov.

“It was just a really fast snowball that took off,” she says. “It just felt like I found what I was meant to do.”

Melnikov’s designs range from simple to elaborate, often featuring clean lines of a singular metal like silver or gold, but occasionally mixing metals like copper and charcoal silver to striking effect. An audience for her work quickly emerged, and the Melnikovs converted their basement into her studio and the company office. Teaming up allows her to focus on artistic designs while he works on making the workflow efficient and the business profitable.

“There’s a reason why they have the term ‘starving artist’ — most of us are not very good at factoring all these things in or learning how to sell our work,” she says.

Without the Internet, launching her business — which runs entirely from their website and an online Etsy store — could have been a different story.

“I think it would have been very difficult, I really do, because [the Internet] allows us, being a small business, to find a very large market,” she says. “If we had not had access to the Internet and we just did physical locations and craft fairs, we would just really be limited to local people, just the local consumer base, and I think that would have been difficult for us to have grown to what we are now. … Having online shops has allowed for us to do this full time.”

Meeting the holiday demand — and making a big chunk of their annual income in a short period of time — means going into “survival mode” for about six weeks, putting in long hours and lots of days and leaning on family members for things like meals.

“My parents live here, they just moved here last year, so they take care of us, really. That’s how busy it gets,” Melnikov says. “We are working so hard because it’s just my husband and I, and we make everything.”

But because both work from home, they get to alternate who takes care of the kids, now 5 and 7 years old, when they get home from school, and are available to volunteer and attend school programs.

“We really enjoy having the flexibility,” she says. “We love that we are able to do what we want to do, when we want to do it.”

And, she says, she’s glad to take part in the growing industry of goods made by other people, developing personal relationships with other artisans, trading goods with them, and supporting their businesses.

Take 2

www.take2mrd.com

Jennifer Campbell and Jennifer Cunningham spend a lot of time in “The Lair.” The Lair, in Cunningham’s basement, stocks their fabric samples and second-hand clothing and jewelry that will add flair to their designs, as well as a billboard to post their receipts — it is, after all, a business.

_Take2_Mrd_zigzagpillow.jpg

Zigzag pillow design by Take 2

Campbell and Cunningham are “doing the kids thing” and have put their careers on pause, but decided that while they may not have 40 or 50 hours in a week to sit in an office, they could put 15 or 20 hours to creative use. So within the confines of their Lair, they work with used clothing, donated fabric, ribbons and jewelry to repurpose tired or ill-fitting clothing into modern designs with a fresh, fun feel — and every piece is one of a kind. The results are a little bit quirky, and a lot of fun.

In addition to the clothing — much of which is for kids — they make the “Lazy Jenny,” a contemporary take on the lazy susan spinning trays for cupboards and dining tables. Their Lazy Jennys provide a decorative surface to become a centerpiece with candles, or to hold tea sets or painting supplies. They also remake secondhand clothes into pillows and handbags, finished with flourishes like a costume jewelry-style brooch.

Their company, Take 2, is still in the early stages, since they filed the LLC paperwork in April, but they’re quickly locking down components like a website and business cards, and have been on Etsy from the beginning.

“This is either going to be a fun business — something that we love to do — or it’s going to be a hobby and we’re going to have to tremendously cut our costs because we can’t keep buying stuff and not bringing anything in,” Campbell says. “Which we’re figuring it will take us at least 18 months to figure that out.”

Their complementary skills balance out and the work divides naturally; Campbell says, “Whoever has the least to do with their family on that day gets it.”

It’s an ebb and flow. And it begins with making what they would want in their homes and on their kids.

“One of the reasons why we got into this is, I don’t want to go big box shopping. I like having something that has been thoughtfully made and from the heart,” Cunningham says.

Because what they made depends on what they find in thrift stores or receive as a donation, everything really is one of a kind — it’s the only dress ever made from that t-shirt or pillow ever decorated with that shirt sleeve.

“Our supplies sometimes dictate what we do or don’t make — and that’s why things are certain sizes,” Campbell says. They’re cultivating an email list that, unlike most spam-esque lists, will also be a welcome source for feedback and customers’ wish lists, like more of a certain kind of pants, or dresses in a specific size.

The hope is to create “grow with you” clothes that morph with kids as their size changes and can mix with other items to work in multiple seasons.

In addition to building their own business — or whatever it blossoms into — Campbell and Cunningham are developing a network of other local creators and artists, promoting their work on social media to boost community presence.

“You’ve just got to find what makes you happy,” Cunningham says. “Whatever that is that feeds your creative side and makes you feel calm and centered makes you a happy person.”

Strung Out Beads

www.etsy.com/shop/strungoutbeadsCO

For decades, Madison McFarland-Elwell made jewelry she’d bring to work or social events and sell among her friends — on occasion driving to meet a desperate gift giver on the way to a party at a coffee shop to hand off a present.

Strung_Out_photo.JPG

Jewelry from Strung Out Beads

Then she was laid off from her job as a credit analyst at a Boulder-based company.

“Coming from a really fast-paced, high-stress job, I was really, really bored being home and I was not able to find a job, so I started to take [beadwork] really seriously to start supplementing my income,” she says. “It just really helped me kind of get over the shock of being laid off, and it’s something I really enjoy doing and it’s really rewarding.”

At 63 years old, she says, finding a new job in the area proved challenging. She went to classes at a job service center to explore what else she could do with her skill set and realized, she says, that while there are plenty of credit analysts out there, her beadwork was a unique skill, so she embraced the idea of beading full time and doing temp jobs on the side.

She makes a line of Titanic-inspired jewelry with Victorian flair, as well as dangly earrings from crystal, pearl, stone and silver beads, most of which are priced below $15. She’ll also take heirloom jewelry and restring it in contemporary designs that refresh the beads and repurpose them over multiple pieces to go back to the owners.

So far, business has been slow to pick up for the holidays, but she’s stockpiling for the coming rush.

“Right now, I’ve really focused a lot on earrings because they’re easier to make as far as sizes, and when you’re selling over the Internet, it’s kind of a universal thing, everybody can wear earrings and they’re easy to ship,” McFarland-Elwell says. She’ll be working on necklaces next — and everything at this point is getting made in her kitchen, since her son and grandson recently moved into the bedroom that had been her workshop.

“It really helped me, because when I got laid off, it was depressing, it really was, especially when you’re an older worker because you’ve been doing the same thing for a long time and when your job is outsourced and moved overseas and nobody is knocking at your door, it hurts your pride. It hurts your ego,” she says. “[Making jewelry] just kind of makes me feel like I can still do something.”

Boulder Design

www.etsy.com/shop/BoulderDesign

Love brought Lindsey Bricker to Boulder, but it didn’t get her a job. A year ago, she relocated to Boulder for her fiancé’s job, but she couldn’t find full-time work in real estate as she had in Kansas. She’d done glass work as a hobby and took glassblowing classes in high school and after, including an impulse decision class at the Boulder Pottery Lab, but her approach to it started to change shape.

_Boulder_Design_glass_3.jpg

Glass design by Boulder Design

“It was a slow transition into it just kind of being a time filler to something I realized people were actually buying and people would buy more if I made more,” she says. “It started by me having no other options and just sticking with it.”

She makes fused glass decorative plates and coasters, melts recycled wine and beer bottles to make candleholders and cocktail trays, and turns her glass scraps into recycled glass earrings.

Bricker works from a home studio in her garage — to be relocated to the basement during cold weather — and is trying to stock up on gifts for the holiday season, which she says is definitely her busiest time.

“Looking at my Etsy stuff, I pretty much sell as much in November and December as the rest of the year altogether,” she says. “Last year, I ran out of almost everything that was popular, so it’s been a real focus this year to stock up on the stuff that might be popular.”

Her method is that when something sells, she makes two more, one to relist for sale and one to have available for the holidays.

“That’s my attempt for this year — we’ll see how it works out,” she says.

Now it’s a question of finding space to store all the inventory as she waits for sales that will have her shipping her glasswork all over the country, as well as to Canada and Australia.

Nature Inspired Jewelry

www.natureinspiredjewelry.com

Greg DeMark, a Longmont-based jeweler, opened his first store in 1978 and operated two stores in Longmont until 10 years ago, when he made the move to an online-only business.

_Greg_DeMark_twin_peaks_wedding_band.jpg

Twin Peaks wedding ring by Nature Inspired Jewelry

“If it hadn’t been for the Internet becoming as popular as it was, I wouldn’t have been able to make it,” he says.

Most of the year, he says, he works from about 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. in his home workshop, and makes his regular pieces, stockpiling up for the holiday season so he can spend his time working those weeks — until 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. at night and seven days a week when necessary — creating custom pieces. His designs include pieces that feature Colorado mountains, including rings of the Twin Peaks and the Flatirons.

“I grew up on a little farm, so I’ve always loved animals and I’m a nature type guy — if I have spare time, I’d just as soon be up in the mountains than in the city, so it’s just a natural thing for me, and I’ve always done nature-inspired jewelry,” DeMark says. In an effort to be more eco-friendly, he buys a lot of old gold off customers to be melted down, refined, alloyed into different colors and carats and put into new designs.

A lot of his business still comes from Boulder and Longmont, but with the Internet, he’s seeing an increasing amount of business from out of state.

“What brings me the most amount of joy is the happiness I bring to other people through the art of creating jewelry for them,” he says.

Double Black Designs

www.doubleblackdesigns.com

Elise Reynolds and Matt Holmes aren’t rebounding from a layoff or trying to stay home with their kids. The co-founders of the new Double Black Designs are just at the start of their careers, and they’re looking to take charge of the direction they head by running their own company, in addition to her full-time work as a graphic designer and his as a wine marketer and sommelier — for now.

DoubleBlackDesigns_Puzzle.jpg

Double Black Designs

Their million-dollar idea came to them during ski season last year. When snow conditions were less than ideal, they were spending time at a house in the mountains, putting together puzzles. But talking about a certain ski trail left Reynolds, who recently relocated from North Carolina, unable to keep up with Holmes, a Colorado native. Reynolds suggested that it would be more useful if the picture in front of them was a ski area map.

So they contacted area resorts, got permission from Vail Resorts to use the maps for Beaver Creek, Vail and Breckenridge and lined up a custom puzzle manufacturer to print high-resolution images on high-quality puzzles. Those resorts are just the start, they say, and so are puzzles. The two plan to issue a broader line of items — but what, exactly, remains to be seen.

“I didn’t think of puzzles as cool until now,” Reynolds says.

Running Double Black Designs is work for the evenings and weekends for now, but they plan to grow.

“I want this to be my full-time thing,” Reynolds says. “This is kind of our ‘Aha!’ moment.”

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