Indie Artist Spotlight: Bossy’s Feltworks

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The Bossies: Kari Van Gelder, Mandy Troxel, and Amy Lum

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.

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Valentine’s Pin Cushion featuring Suffolk lambs

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.

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Basket of felted balls at the Orcas Island Farmer’s Market.
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Tools of the Trade: hands, wool, needles

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 ♥

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Kari’s Easter Chicks

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

Online: www.bossysfeltworks.etsy.com

Three words that best describe your art: whimsical, sweet, humorous

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Bossy Valentines come via felted parachute!

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!

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Early days at the kitchen table workshop

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.

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The inimitable Bossy
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Amy and Kari working the booth at the Orcas Island Farmer’s Market
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Farmer’s Market display: the Bossy Farm

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.

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Amy at the Bossy Headquarters work table.
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Beloved pegboard!

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.

Bestseller:

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.

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Most popular item on Etsy.

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.

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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!

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Felted balls awaiting the washing machine.

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.

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Lambs awaiting their super powers.
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Superhero Lambs completed.
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Bossy children hand-modeling: Lucy works with owl babies.

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!

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Valentine Poodle
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Love Parachute

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.

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Amy’s magnificent Clydesdale sculpture measures 9″ from nose to back hoof.

Upcoming events/appearances/shows:

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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New and popular item: Bumble Bee Mobile!

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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.

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*All photos copyright © Bossy’s Feltworks

Copyright © 2013 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

46 thoughts on “Indie Artist Spotlight: Bossy’s Feltworks

    1. I just ordered several of their animals — of course I *had* to have a Super Hero Valentine Lamb!! I always appreciate things more when I know who made them; now I’d like to visit Orcas Island too🙂.

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  1. You always have such interesting posts, Jama! Nice going, Bossy Ladies!! Your designs are just as you say- whimsical, humorous and sweet- and beautifully crafted, I might add. My favorites are the sheep family, the poodle and the bees. Just lovely!

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  2. I love learning about creative people like this group of ladies. Their work is so fun and whimsical. I love the super hero sheep!!

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    1. Totally agree with you Janel — these ladies are a dynamite combination because they have the artistic talent + great business savvy. Also love hearing how their friendship has deepened over the years, and that their Bossy daughters are learning the craft too.🙂

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  3. Wow, I loved reading about the Bossy Ladies and their creative life. With their delightful felt creations, they could stage tableaus, photograph them, and use them as illustrations for children’s books or calendars. Sort of like what Sloane Tannen does with her chick-illustrated titles for adults (Bitter with Baggage and Hatched) and kids (Where Is Coco Going?). I have strongly hinted to my husband that I would like one of these sheep for Valentine’s Day.

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    1. Yes, Mary, I’ve thought the same thing — I think Mandy is the one with the photography chops. They could create wonderful children’s books; farm animals are always popular🙂. Salley Mavor publishes incredible books with her felt/needlework sculptures.

      Hope one of these adorable sheep finds its way to you next week🙂.

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  4. Thanks for the compliments everyone! (Definitely the best part of doing interviews:))

    Mary & Jama- we’ve been considering illustrating children’s books for years… and feel that it is definitely in our future, with Sally Mavor’s books as a real inspiration. Thanks for the encouragement!

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    1. From the few pics I’ve seen, Orcas Island looks positively enchanting, and judging from how very friendly the Bossy Ladies are, I’d say it’s an ideal spot for creative types to flourish. I guess there’s something about small islands🙂.

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      1. I am proud to say that I came up with the first parachute! It was a number of years ago — I actually had had a really hard week, and was pathetically musing how I wished something could come and save me. I had a felted bowl nearby, and a felted sheep, and in a moment of inspiration turned the bowl upside down over the sheep and envisioned the parachute. Then, all three of us took the idea and ran with it in many different directions. Nothing like humor to save you from the brink!!!

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      2. Thanks so much for telling us, Mandy. What a great story! You were saved by the parachute🙂. I think the parachute needs to be in your first children’s book . . .

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      1. We’re delighted to hear that Farida will be a spotlight guest. She’s a favorite of ours! She visits Orcas from Seattle regularly and has spent some time at the studio/office with us. Fun times!

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      1. @Michelle – we don’t carry the felted balls as a regular item in our Etsy shop- but would gladly put some together for you! Just convo us on Etsy to get the ball rolling (pun intended)…

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  5. I knew my budget would be in trouble if I stopped by here today but I am so glad I did. Their creations are wonderful! I am on my way over to their shop now. Thanks to all of you for this perfect end to my day.

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  6. How darling are these critters, Jama. I know you know some things about me, but bet you didn’t know I collected sheep. I mostly put them out at Christmas, but there is always a ‘stray’ that stays around all year long. I am envious of these three crafters. What beautiful work they are doing. And, to live on an island sounds wonderful. Thanks to all the creativity shown today!

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  7. What a glorious way to start this series, Jama! I can’t believe the amount of personality these fine ladies pack into such small creations. I’m off to go *favorite* the shop, and probably get into trouble. “Something truly special,” indeed!

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  8. Who’s the competition? Robyn and Andie!😉

    The Bossy’s Feltworks are adorable. The ladies look so happy in the photo. They must love what they are doing! Very happy, natural smiles.

    _____

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    1. Don’t worry about the competition — there’s plenty Denzel to go around🙂.

      Yes, they love what they are doing, and WE love what they are doing!

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  9. I so love this new feature in your site – reminds me of our Arts Corner. The art work I see here makes my hands itch to create and do something. I’ve been going back to coloring during our long weekend – haven’t done much writing/reading, but trying to immerse myself in colors yet again. This post reminded me that I should do that more often. Such lovely talent here, thanks for sharing this with us, Jama.

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    1. I enjoy getting inspiration for my writing from other art forms — always have. Great cross-fertilization, and it’s always fascinating to see what others are doing.

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