Today I’m pleased and excited to welcome three very bossy artists to help launch my new Indie Artist Spotlight series!
Three is a good number, I think — three times the talent, beauty, spunk, ingenuity, and brilliance. Three times the luck, three times the inspiration for us all, and yes, three times the bossy craftiness.
Kari, Mandy, and Amy work together as a needle felting cooperative called Bossy’s Feltworks on Orcas Island, a 57-square mile creative Eden north of Seattle in Washington state.
If, like me, you love and appreciate the handmade and heartmade — you’ll enjoy hearing from this enterprising threesome who, back in 2006, took piles of fleece sheared from the sheep on Amy’s farm, gathered around the kitchen table with their five young daughters underfoot, and began fashioning colorful balls and adorable little white sheep.
In no time at all, they set off on regular flights of fancy, fueled by endless cups of tea and snacks (!), a shared love of children’s books, inspiration from a menagerie of pets and farm animals, and steadily built an enthusiastic customer base via Etsy and a local farmer’s market. Their felted critters are irresistible — not only well made, but infused with the good feelings of friendship, family, and the joy of maximizing what each is uniquely qualified to bring to the table. Thanks so much for visiting today, Bossy Ladies!
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♥ WHERE THERE’S WOOL THERE’S A WAY ♥
Name of shop or business: Bossy’s Feltworks, Amy Lum, Mandy Troxel & Kari Van Gelder
Year established: 2006
Items you make: Felted animals – used as free-standing figures, on mobiles, as Christmas ornaments, on pincushions and more!
Studio Location: Orcas Island, Washington
Three words that best describe your art: whimsical, sweet, humorous
Self taught or formal training?
Both. We are self taught needle felters, two of us with art school backgrounds. In addition to needle felting, this business has included all kinds of learning curves. We’ve learned about processing and dyeing wool, product photography, branding, how to run an Etsy shop, how to vend outdoors, small business management, shipping with USPS… and so much more. We’ve taken advice and knowledge from many sources while making it up as we go along.
Tools of the Trade: Our hands, our wool, our felting needles, and occasionally our washing machines!
Inspirations and influences:
We inspire each other! We sometimes describe ourselves as super bouncy balls together in a small room, and the mutual support has been pretty fantastic for keeping momentum. We love “Bossy Show and Tell”, when we unveil what we’ve come up with individually. On the flip side, we often sit together and work out a design for a certain item, using our collective brain to troubleshoot. What has emerged is a fusion of our individual artistry, whim and humor that still reflects a uniquely “Bossy” look.
Bossy influences have been beautiful children’s books by artists such as Patricia Polacco and Alice and Martin Provensen, and the many delightful requests of customers young and old. We also must give a nod to the beloved critters in our own lives, which include dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, horses, sheep, and most recently cows! The “Bossy” in Bossy’s Feltworks refers to Bossy the sheep, who for many years was the “matron” of the Lum family’s flock.
Three significant milestones in your career:
Can we have four?
1. In July of 2006 we tested selling our wares at the Orcas Island Farmer’s Market. When we realized that we had not only had fun but also made money that day, we were (joyfully) teary and giddy!
2. Passing $100,000 in overall total sales (yes, this took a number of years). No skeptical husbands remained.
3. Being “Featured Seller” on Etsy.com in the spring of 2011.
4. Graduating from the kitchen table: we now rent studio space for our business. Until Fall of 2011, we were working from our homes, using the backs of our cars to haul things from kitchen table to kitchen table. We love having a clubhouse.
Food that inspires your best work:
Tea and chocolate!! In addition, we eat a shared lunch on our studio day. Most recently we’ve found lunch happiness in nachos with the works and salad. It has to be quick, simple and yummy! During the growing season we especially enjoy the produce that comes from Kari and Amy’s abundant gardens.
At our local farmer’s market, it’s the humble yet lovely felted ball. In our Etsy shop, it’s our “Lamb with Scarf” ornament.
What is your earliest memory of being creative? What is the first thing you ever made as an “artist”?
With three of us, perhaps we’ll take a collaborative approach to this question. There was a particular day in the spring of 2006 when we all managed to secure childcare and planted ourselves on Amy’s living room rug amidst a mountain of newly washed and dyed wool. With just two hours to ourselves, we felt like we were in some kind of woolen oasis. As that first batch of felted balls came to life, we realized we had something truly special.
Tell us about your favorite creation so far, some of the challenges you overcame to make it, and how it influences what you’re doing now.
Our lamb is definitely one of our favorite creations. It remains the cornerstone of our business. It’s the item which we make in the largest quantities, and it nonetheless continues to inspire us. In the beginning, the lamb was the challenge. We wanted to make them, and we didn’t know how. We had much to learn about wool, needle felting, armatures, stitched eyes. Most especially, we had to figure out that lamb “essence” — how it could be simple, cute, and easily identifiable to the rest of the world. We can proudly (and a bit wearily) say that we’ve figured it out, as we felted and sold more than 700 of them last year!
Describe your studio or workplace. How have you fashioned your work environment to enhance creativity and maximize productivity?
We’ve got our very own clubhouse these days, also lovingly referred to as the Bossy Headquarters. It’s a rented space that we use as a studio/office for production, shipping and storage. We use it as a homebase individually throughout the week, but have one day exclusively set for production. It is good to know that once a week we will all be around the worktable together for at least 6.5 hours, deep in that lovely pile of wool, felting needles in one hand, and mugs of tea in the other. Some things must never change! It is truly the heart of our business.
It’s been fun to decorate our space (including prints, pillows, mugs and more, all found on etsy). Having a set space devoted just to Bossy has enabled us to set up good systems and increase our productivity. The Bossy Headquarters is also well stocked with snacks for moms and kids alike, holds a small couch, has a stockpile of good chocolate, and is not often without a good mix of tunes via Pandora or Rhapsody. It’s just icing on the cake that it’s walking distance from our kids’ school.
How do you chart your growth as artists? How do you define success?
We’ve been defining success on our own terms as we go along. In the beginning, we were looking to make some extra income while being creative, having our children with us, and using wool from Amy’s farm. We more than succeeded, when we think of the ways that Bossy also created the platform for us to support each other physically and emotionally as moms with young children. These days, we’ve got bigger goals. Bossy’s Feltworks has become a larger job, our kids go to school, and we use more wool than we ever dreamed possible. We’ve grown our business each year and we still love what we do. We call that success!
What do you like best about the creative life?
There’s always something new… a new product, a new tool, a new idea… and it’s our job (hooray!) to pursue it.
Any new projects you’re especially excited about?
This year, we’re hoping to teach more classes, create some online tutorials, and host a springtime studio open house.
We’re online all the time at www.bossysfeltworks.etsy.com
Visiting Orcas Island? You can find us at the Orcas Island Farmer’s Market, Saturdays from 10-3, May through September on the Village Green in Eastsound, WA.
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♥ MORE BOSSINESS ♥
♥ Of course you want to visit their shop at Etsy to see more of their unique handmade critters. Why not get something special for your Valentine?
**Shipping deadline for Valentine’s Day is this Friday, February 8 (noon PST)!
♥ Read their wonderful “Featured Seller” interview at Etsy.
♥ I love this wonderful piece Mandy wrote, “On Being Bossy: Lessons in Running a Home-Based Crafting Business”
♥ Keep up with their Bossy Busyness via Facebook.
*All photos copyright © Bossy’s Feltworks
Copyright © 2013 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.