When did you get started with your craftiness?
My first recollection of ‘crafting’ (aside from the standard Sunday school, preschool stuff with paper, scissors and glue) was when I was about eight years old. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents since both my parents worked outside the home. I was at their house a lot, especially during summer break. Once a week my grandmother would go to get her ‘hair done’ and, of course, I would tag along. The hairdresser worked out of a studio in her house. In addition to being a beautician, she also worked with ceramic. She was very, very talented. So when I got to my house, I figured that I could do ceramics too. I headed for the basement and decided to take some powdered laundry detergent and mixed in some liquid fabric softener. Then, I poured it into a plastic cup and placed it on top of the furnace. Yikes! My parents found the concoction and that was the end of my career in ceramics.
Somewhere I saw that you worked with macramé. Is that true?
LOL! Yes…that is SO true. Do you remember macramé? Back in the late seventies I went with my mom one Saturday morning to the hair dresser (what is it with beauticians and crafts???). Elaine was her name and she had a few house plant pot-hangers in her shop along with a wall hanging. They were made out of jute twine. She had an instruction book lying on a table and as I was flipping through the pages, she told me I could take it home and try to make something. Oh. My. God. That was ALL I needed to hear. I talked my mom and dad into making a trip to our local American Handicrafts store and bought a big spool of jute. It smelled wonderful. I set up shop in our basement and cranked out several hanging pot-holders. During the summer my “entrepreneurship” got the best of me and I hung out my creations on the lamppost in the front yard. I even made up a sign that said “Mike’s Macrame’ Mart” and propped it up against the post. I tried so hard to get my mom and dad to help me find someplace that would print up brown kraft paper shopping bags with “Mike’s Macrame’ Mart” printed on them. I really wanted to go big with this venture. The bag idea was a bust. Oh well.
So…when did the craft bug really take hold?
Okay…so fast forward to 1995. My wife and I had our first son, Nate. And as you probably know, all babies eat often and sometimes what does in doesn’t stay there. “Spitting up” happens — which calls for a large supply of baby bibs and burp cloths. Plastic bibs were not an option for us. They were scratchy and they smelled like vinyl. Nope. We were NOT going to tie one of those around our kid’s neck. Nice baby bibs were expensive. So…the LIGHT BULB WENT ON! I can make them! Off to the fabric store for cute fabric and thread. I had ‘inherited’ my mom’s sewing machine as she really never used it anyhow. I came up with a bib pattern and began to crank them out. We had the coolest bibs: some for every holiday and season. And some that were just ‘baby cute’. Family members thought the bibs were the cat’s meow and started asking me to make some for their kids. And that’s really where it all began. And like Nate, the baby bib idea has grown. Now baby bibs and other hand-crafted items have turned into a hobby/sideline business venture.
Do you have a ‘day job’ of some kind?
Yep. Sure do. Crafting and blogging are part-time ventures for me. During the day I’m officially the Corporate Account Support Manager for a large automotive-related mail order company. Un-officially I manage and serve as cheerleader for a team of six (6) of the best worker-bee people you can imagine. We work really hard and still manage to have fun and laugh every day.
Where do you buy your fabric?
I find fabric in all kinds of places. I shop online at Etsy.com and find some of the best stuff (especially Japanese fabric). Living just minutes from an Amish community here in Northern Indiana, I’m fortunate to have Yoder’s Department Store and Lolly’s as fabric sources. They have TONS of fabric and notions along with some of the most knowledgeable people too. I also scour local thrift shops for fabric remnants and vintage pillowcases, sheets, curtains and table cloths. You would be surprised at some of the great items I find at dirt-cheap prices. And hunting for the stuff is sometimes as much fun as creating something from it. Once in awhile, I’ll make a trek to JoAnn Fabrics or Hobby Lobby for fabric. But that’s rare. I prefer to support other artists and craftspeople like those on Etsy. And buying from thrift shops benefits the less fortunate. I’m all about that.
What kind of camera do you use?
Most of the photos on my old blog (www.craftydad.blogspot.com) were taken with a Fuji FinePix 900 camera. I picked it up at WalMart a few years back and it has been a SUPER camera. The micro and super-micro settings are the ones I used for up-close shots. The camera also has a ‘natural’ setting that suppresses the flash – which is a very nice feature because I don’t like the shiny flash ‘bounce’ in my photos. Just a few weeks ago (April 2011) I splurged and bought my first digital single-lens-reflex (DSLR) camera. It’s a Nikon D3000. Wow! I love it! It is so powerful and gives me options that a point-and-shoot camera just can’t give. I use the “auto” setting, the “no flash” setting and (most of all) the “A” setting where I control the aperture. That’s the setting I use for my up-close shots on the new blog. I can focus on the subject and the rest of the photo is sort of blurred or out of focus. It’s my favorite option. You can see an example here [need link to a cool photo].
What kind of sewing machines and other tools do you use?
Tools? Yes…now we’re talking. In addition to having a garage full of hand tools, power tools and garden tools, my corner of the basement (my creative space, craft room, studio) is stock-piled with sewing and tailoring tools. Here’s a quick not-so-quick list: Singer treadle machine in a wooden base (metal was a precious commodity during war time, so this one was created with a fancy wooden frame). Bought it at a thrift shop. Works like a trooper. Could not part with it. Sitting in its original wooden cabinet, I have a Singer 401(a) Slant Needle machine. This vintage machine belonged to my wife’s grandmother. It’s a nice, nice machine. Would NEVER give this one up either. Stocky, all metal, direct gear-driven (no belt). It’s a workhorse and sews a perfect stitch. Next is my Sears Kenmore Model XXXX. Bought this one over ten (10) years ago. Nice, basic machine. Upstairs, in the spare bedroom is my Sears Kenmore Model XXXX. Manufactured by Janome, this is a fancy electronic sewing machine and was my first needle-down option machine. The needle-down setting is perfect when you stop and turn your fabric a lot. When you let off the foot pedal, the machine stops – always with the machine down through the fabric. The need holds the fabric still so you can pivot it on the needle. My latest purchase was a Brother Model XXXX. This is a sewing machine and embroidery machine combination. I bought it mostly for the sewing function. It has needle-down AND has an auto-thread-cut option. It also has a USB connection that can be hooked up to a computer. This allows you to download files so you can embroider designs. I’ve haven’t used this feature – yet. Nice. Let’s see…what else. Oh yes, I have a Janome Model XXXX cover stitch machine. Not sure why I bought this. I really don’t need it and it takes up precious worktable space. It’s a great machine though. Has a double-needle that sews a beautiful stitch. This is used mainly for cuffs and hemlines. I may be selling this one so let me know if you’re interested. Sitting next to the cover stitch machine is a Blind Stitch machine Model XXXX. I had to have this since we are a short family and have to have all our pants shortened. I tailor all our clothes and this machine has been a godsend. It creates hems with that invisible stitch you see on commercially-tailored clothes. It takes a little bit of time to figure how to set it up, but after that it works like a charm. I also have a Kenmore, basic, sewing machine at the park model at the lake. Sometimes I take projects with me on weekends and work on them late at night. Also tucked in somewhere in the basement is a commercial walking foot machine that handles heavy fabric. It was made for sewing canvas and other thick material. I don’t use it very often, but…something else I had to have. Let me know if you’re interested in that one. I could part with it and not feel too bad about it. There are another two or three vintage machines stored in the basement. I’m not sure what brand they are. But…I found them at the thrift store for $5.00 each and they looked like they needed a good home.
What other tools do you use?
I have lots of tools and notions. There are so many different things that you make…and there’s a tool for every need. Here’s a quick rundown of the tools I use the most: rotary cutter and self-healing mat. Fiskars makes a great cutting tool and mat. Plastic see-through quilt rulers. These are wider than a standard school ruler and allows you to see through the ruler so you know exactly where you’re going to cut. I have two of these; one is about six inches wide, the other is approximately 2-1/2 inches wide. They are both 18 inches long. I use them along with the rotary cutter and mat. I have a table that’s dedicated to cutting fabric. It’s actually a small drafting table that I found at a thrift shop for less than $5.00. When the table top is positioned so it’s parallel with the floor, it’s at the perfect height for cutting. Other favorite tools include a walking foot for my sewing machine and a commercial thread holder. I use large cones of thread that cannot be put on the sewing machine’s spool holder. I found some great holders at Ken’s Sewing Center. I highly recommend his shop. I’ve purchased SEVERAL machines from him. Super great prices and low shipping costs. Great place. Good lighting is essential when you sew. I bought a few desk lamps at the thrift shop and have them placed strategically around my workspace so I can see what I’m doing. I suggest you do the same. It makes a HUGE difference. A couple other must-have tools are thread snips and tweezers. I found my snips at WalMart a long time ago and have not seen them there since. My tweezers are actually surgical forceps I bought at a flea market. A large pair of tweezers from WalMart or Target will work fine. Snips are really handy for trimming off loose threads. Tweezers make it easy to get thread through the eyes of sewing machine and serger needles. If you make a lot of buttonholes, look for a machine that has an auto-buttonholer. Sometimes you can find them after the fact online at eBay or at some sewing / notion stores. They are REALLY handy and assure that all the buttonholes are the same size. There are lots of presser feet available for sewing machines, my favorites are the standard (zig-zag) foot and the top-stitch foot. The standard foot is the wide one with the front prongs that are sort of bent upward and slightly outward. They are great for normal straight and zig-zag stitching because they make the most contact with your fabric and tend to keep it close to the feed dogs. That allows the fabric to be pulled through the machine with ease. The top-stitch foot is the one I use to ‘finish’ projects like baby bibs to give them a professional, finished appearance. The top-stitch foot is narrow and allows you to stitch close to the edge of your project. Warning: Make sure you have your machine set for a straight stitch when you have the top-stitch foot installed. Zig-zag stitches will cause the needle to come crashing down on the metal foot. NOT a good thing! While I’m talking about being smart, please be sure to keep your machine cleaned and oiled per your machines instruction manual. When properly maintained, a sewing machine can be a lifelong investment. Take good care of yours!
What does your wife and sons think of all your craftiness?
Ahh…I was waiting for that one! Well…they’ve come to realize that creativity oozes out of my pores. I get a bit carried away sometimes and spend too much time in my studio (read: corner of the basement) and/or in front of my computer. I’m obsessed with this stuff and sometimes need to be gently nudged (read: pulled away kicking and screaming) to spend more time with the family. I’m trying hard to be more cognizant of the time I spend by myself, but sometimes creative ideas come at the strangest times and places and I feel drawn to act on an idea. I’m guessing other artists and craftspeople have this same ‘condition’ (read: please tell me I’m not the only one with this problem).
What craft mediums have you worked with? What is your favorite?
Great question! I’ve dabbled in several craft mediums: wood, paper, rubber stamps, watercolors, oil painting, clay, jewelry, fiber (jute, fabric). I’d have to say that fiber, especially fabric is my favorite. Probably because it’s a process where a basically flat piece of material becomes three-dimensional and has purpose. Case in point is a pair of boxer shorts, a travel-size tissue holder or tote bag. I think there’s something pretty exciting about that transformation.
Where do you find your inspiration and/or ideas for projects?
As you can imagine, I spend a fair amount of time on the internet. There are so many places that pique my interest and when I see a color-combination or item that interests me, I ask myself “How can I incorporate that idea into something I can hand-craft?” Or, “How can I improve on that design to make it better?” My wife and I subscribe to several magazines and I find lots of great ideas there too. Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention. I have a new project ‘cooking’ now and hope to unveil it soon. No. It’s not food-related. Well…yes it is. Sort of. Be patient and you’ll see it soon enough. I’ll tell you this much: it’s a tool you can use in your kitchen and it will turn you green. Or greener if you’re already green. That’s as much of a hint as you’ll get!
When did you start blogging and why?
I’ve been blogging since 2006 (wow…five years ago already!). I think it was Beth over at The Rusty Bobbin that got me started. [Beth: if you’re reading this please accept my ‘thank you’ for getting me started in the blogosphere.] Her blog was one of the very first I came upon as I surfed the web back in the old days. Her site was (and still is) full of great stories, step-by-step instructions and…near and dear to my heart…she collects vintage sewing machines. Bingo. We have a winner! I’ve been collecting vintage machines for several years. Some of them I buy, clean up and then sell at garage or tag sales. Others, some of my favorites, I keep. I have a Singer treadle machine with all the attachments and instruction booklet that I cannot give up. It’s a fantastic machine and produces a beautiful, even stitch. I use it often. I’ve also given a few machines away to family and friends. You know: pay it forward, pass along a tool so someone else can get creative too!
I’ve seen your Etsy store and I’m wondering if you do special projects or custom orders.
Yes! Custom orders are ALWAYS welcome. And if it’s something that I feel is over my head, I’ll let you know. I’ve made up large batches of tissue holders for one customer and I also created an iPod Touch cover for someone a few months ago. Just e-mail me and I’ll reply quickly with an answer. Chances are good that I can make it!
Can you help me with my blog, website, Etsy shop banner, etc.?
While I’m not a pro at this stuff, I’ve done enough of it that I feel pretty comfortable and confident with most aspects of design and set up. Send me an e-mail with your question(s) and I’ll get back you. Hopefully I can help you out. Or you can do the D-I-Y thing and check out programs like Picnik and Gimp to help you along. Google is everyone’s best friend and you’ll find TONS of free help on the web. But seriously, if you’re in a jam, give me a shout and I’ll do my very best to help you out.
Can you tell me where your blog is hosted?
The Crafty Dad blog (the new one) is hosted by Blue Host. I’ve also used 1and1 but I much prefer Blue Host. Blue Host has a super-simple, one-click installation of WordPress that you can add to your website. I buy domains from Blue Host and then install WP on them. In addition to the Crafty Dad blog, I also run Top Notch Parents, Be Strong Stay Strong, and The Garden Boys on a self-hosted WP platform using Blue Host as my internet provider.
It looks like you use WordPress for your blog platform. Is that true?
Yes, I’m a big WordPress (“WP”) fan. It’s a powerful blogging tool and much, much more than that. You can literally have an entire web site created through WP. My old blog is hosted by Blogger which is a free blogging option. Blogger is perfectly fine! It’s a great, easy-to-use platform that THOUSANDS of bloggers use. If you’re okay with it, then don’t change. The biggest advantage to having your self-hosted WordPress site is that YOU own the content and have control of it. Please be aware that there is a difference between WordPress .com and WordPress.org. WordPress.com is very much like Blogger. It is hosted by WP. I’m sure there are ways for your domain name to “point” to it so it looks like it’s your site. But…be aware: it’s WP on WP servers and it belongs to WP. WordPress.org is the site you go to when you want to download the WP code to the files you have set up on your domain host (like Blue Host or GoDaddy, etc.).
Have you ever used TypePad?
Yes, in fact I have used TypePad in the past. To me, it falls somewhere between Blogger and WordPress. When I first tried TP a few years ago, it was pretty easy to set -up and use. I thought I’d check to see what it was like now so I tested it out a few weeks ago on their free trial period. It was NASTY. It was difficult for me to figure out how to get the format setup. And I consider myself pretty blog-savvy. I was disappointed. Several bloggers use it, and their blogs look great. But…it’s just not for me.
What WP theme do you use?
Okay, so I use a couple different sources for my WP-based themes. I have purchased some great themes from Woo Themes. Crafty Dad and Be Strong Stay Strong are both using the “Delegate” theme from Woo. The Delegate theme is highly-customizable. I use a theme called “Canvas” on The Garden Boys blog. It gives you TONS of options and (of course) takes more time to set up. As with any theme, once you have it set up the way you want it, you just create blog posts and then tweak the theme on an as-needed basis. WP uses widgets that allow you to add things like blogrolls, HTML code for Google AdSense, code for your Amazon store, advertisements, etc. The Top Notch Parents blog is running on the Thesis Theme from Chris Pearson. Thesis gives you lots and lots of options too. It’s probably the one that takes the most time to get set up. And…depending on how you want your site to look, it can require you to add code (PHP or HTML). Steer away from products like Thesis or Delegate or Canvas if you want to just start “blogging” without all the hassles of set up. WordPress (both the .com and .org version) offers several free themes that are almost like ‘plug-and-play’: you just fill in your blog name and you’re up and running. Sure, you have to add the widgets, but the basic blog format is already set up for you. Hey: blogging should be FUN; find an option that you can live with.
If you have a specific question, that I haven’t already covered, feel free to email me or use the contact form on the Contact page to get in touch.