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Maker Stories

Allison’s “Babe” Takes the Win!

September 17, 2013


Allison and Canine Inspiration

If you follow us closely, most of you know that this summer we proudly launched our Ongoing Art Contest. This means instead of just awarding a winner once a year, we are crowning an independent artist winner and awarding $500 smack-a-roos and a chance to sign a vendor contract to join our UncommonGoods family every single month. The first winner from our Ongoing Art Contest was appointed to Caribbean resident, Allison Gray. We received amazing entries from through out the nation, yet it was Allison’s lovely “Babe” that caught our art judges’ attention. Allison’s eye for detail, use of mixed media, and sweet, creative design of her very own pup landed her into the winning spot.  In her interview, Allison mentions that “it wasn’t until I began expanding my media usage that I started veering away from strict realism and started redefining my limitations.” We’re more than ecstatic that Allison experimented out of her comfort zone, because as a result “Babe” was created and now will be officially a part of our artist gallery!

Meet Allison Gray, a fellow animal lover and our latest Art Contest winner.

Babe submit-a

Tell us an uncommon fact about yourself.

I have very vivid dreams.  They actually inspire a lot of my work.  I may not necessarily dream about a scene and then wake up and paint it, but the images and emotions that are remnants of my dreams can serve as the stepping stones or foundation of my craft.

I don’t know if the vividness of my dreams is a factor in my sleep pattern, but about 75% of the time, I start sleeping by violently waking up.  It’s called a myoclonic jerk  and of course everyone’s familiar with it—that sudden waking burst of panic preceded by a falling sensation.  What’s uncommon in this case is that it’s become routine.  I drift off, spasm awake and think, “Oh good, that’s done.  Now I can really get started on sleeping.”  And, without fail, I have these brilliant dreams, saturated with emotion and light.

(I hope I haven’t confused uncommon with odd.)

What different techniques do you use when creating your art?

I hate to pigeonhole myself when it comes to craft media.  For a long time, I only worked with oil paints and I only recreated realistic images.  With the difficulty of transporting necessary oils and thinners to continue my oil painting in Grenada, I opted to instead try a different medium.  So I began working with watercolors and from there, branched out further.  I began using charcoal, India ink, pen and pencil, and masking techniques.  I use bleach, salt and even coffee grounds for different textures and effects.

It wasn’t until I began expanding my media usage that I started veering away from strict realism and started redefining my limitations.  One of the first paintings I did in Grenada was of a local boy.  The painting was from a photograph I’d taken of him.  I already had the picture, so I knew I wanted something more than the photo could offer me.  So I filled my palette and painted him with every color that was missing from the photo.  When I finished, I knew I’d moved somewhere in my capacity as an artist.  And I’ve been moving in that same direction since.

In summary, I have and will continue to use whatever techniques I can to perpetually evolve my artwork and myself as an artist.

Colorful Boy Painting

Describe your daily life in Grenada.

Without an actual career, that varies from day to day.  I always try to allot myself a few hours a day to devote to a craft (painting, writing, knitting, photography, etc.).  The rest of the time is spread out over responsibilities and recreation.

Of course I’ve got domestic responsibilities.  With a medical student for a husband, all household chores sort of fall on me.  I’m not totally won over by the cleaning part of the duties, but I love to cook almost as much as I love to eat.  It’s hard to complain about having absolute control over the menu.

I run in the mornings.  Sometimes I go to the beach during the day and play Frisbee in the sea.  I might walk a couple miles to our favorite fruit stand and get our produce for the week from “Fireman,” our fruit vendor.  On Saturdays, we go on hashes.  (A hash is an all-terrain [mostly off-road] hike, followed by food and drinks and music, that draws hundreds of participants per week and takes place anywhere on the 132-square-mile island.)  Occasionally I’ll take a local bus into town and pick up fresh fish from the fish market.  I am an executive board member for St. George’s University Photography Club and perform duties as liaison for the organization.  On special occasions, we tour the island, go snorkeling, visit the forts or the cocoa plantation.  I spend a lot of time experimenting with my photography and looking for ways to intertwine it with my painting and other crafts.

Of course, sometimes, I just lounge around with my husband and watch movies with a little popcorn and wine.

Allison and Ivan beachside

It’s probably every artist’s dream to travel and live abroad, but does living in the Caribbean have its downfalls?

Absolutely it does, but most people don’t want to hear about it.  I live in the Caribbean; what business do I have complaining?  Even so, this life comes with its own set of difficulties and to reinforce that argument, I actually posted an essay on my blog about the pros and cons of being a married couple in the Caribbean, living on student loans, and following the twisted path to our goals.

In short, yes, life in the Caribbean has its downfalls, but the benefits—measured in memories and experiences—far outweigh the comparatively insignificant drawbacks.  (I’m writing this from the sandy shore of one of the most beautiful beaches in the world: La Sagesse.)

Grenada is A-OK2

Where exactly do you go to catch inspiration? 

I love running.  I run almost every day.  I’m not remarkably good at it.  The only records I have or ever will break are my own.  But that’s not particularly discouraging to me because it’s the act itself that I enjoy and the reward that I get. Specifically, I like going for longer runs (one hour plus).  And while I’m running, I have no obligations to pay attention to anything other than my own wandering mind (except perhaps not tripping).  That’s a golden time for me to come up with all sorts of ideas for my art.  And the only distractions I have are my mind’s own erratic imaginings.

I could probably have a similar experience if I just sat quietly in my apartment, but then I’m usually surrounded by reminders of all my obligations and responsibilities.  When I’m running, I’m both metaphorically and literally getting away from “it all” and with that sense of freedom comes a euphoric rush of creativity.

Studio Desk w Light

 What’s your all-time favorite quote that keeps you going?

Not including about everything Dr. Seuss ever said (how many genius simple truths did he make catchy with a little rhyme?), I’m quite fond of William Faulkner’s “You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”  Besides its apropos metaphor, Faulkner’s wisdom rings true in light of our ever-changing future.  Without the courage to leave everything behind, we never would have found ourselves living a surreal life in the Caribbean.

Faulkner Quote

When exactly did you discover your talent?

I can’t help but feel at least marginally narcissistic going on and on about my talent and my history leading up to the showcasing of my creations!  For a very long time, people have been commending me for my talent and while I can and have admitted (does that imply guilt?) that I have an artistic ability that not everyone has, it’s still humbling to come right out and say, “Well, hello, my name is Allison and I am a talented artist.”  No matter if I say that out loud or in my head, I always wind up finishing it in a snooty accent.

A popular quote by Pablo Picasso is “Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”  Children have this perishable fearlessness to create anything and then share it with everyone.  But at some point the fear of judgment and criticism makes an unwelcome and permanent guest of itself and we hide our creativity.

Maybe it was my peculiar creative courage that gave me the boldness to keep on drawing and painting and creating despite the crushing potential of failure.  Or maybe it was because I just didn’t like math class.  The truth is, I find solace in artistic expression and am bemusedly stunned every time someone comments on my apparent talent.  And when someone does, I think the most appropriate response is to give credit where credit is due.  (I never would have submitted my art to this contest if it weren’t for my friend, Cat.  I never would have thought to create a paper collage of my beloved dog if it weren’t for my friend, Patty.  I wouldn’t have had the heart to create this piece if Babe hadn’t had a foster home while we’re abroad, Lisa.

My direct response to this question—when exactly did you discover your talent: every time someone reminds me.

Grenada is A-OK3

Do you have any major projects you are working on now? 

I’m afraid I’m going to seem a little boring here, but no, I really don’t.  We live as minimalists for the most part and are living in a studio apartment.  Working within my means involves smaller projects that are inexpensive and can be tucked away at a moment’s notice.  I dream of someday when I can really plan larger-than-life projects.

Beas Submitx

Are there any particular artists you look up to?  What is it about their work that you like?

At the risk of sounding trite, I’m going to go ahead and say Bob Ross.  I know my work doesn’t exactly radiate the spirit of the amazingly gifted painter, but he did inspire me to pursue painting and to do so with an almost absurd amount of cheerfulness.  He’s part of the reason I began painting with oils and stuck with it for so long. It would be a blatant lie to suggest Bob Ross is the only artist who has inspired me and influenced my work.  Modern art, with its shifting genres and techniques, influences the decisions I make when searching for a new approach to a usual subject.  I don’t have a secret list of artists whose techniques I use as a paradigm when creating my own pieces, but draw from methods I’ve seen and admire.

What’s one thing you use/see every day that you couldn’t live without?

Well, if I’m being materialistic, it’d probably be a draw between the air conditioning or my morning coffee.  Probably the coffee, though. If I’m being crass, it would be sarcasm. If I’m being poetic, it would be love.  If I’m being optimistic, it would be humor. But if I’m being honest, it would be Supporter Extraordinaire and Husband, Ivan.  (Cue collective aw.)  There’s plenty I can go without, but I haven’t been without him for seventeen years and I don’t intend to start anytime soon.

Allison and Ivan climbing Grenada Mt.

What’s one piece of advice you could give to aspiring design challenge contestants, particularly our Art Contest?

Have the confidence in yourself that all of your supporting friends have.  Chances are, they’re right.

Babe the Pig Dog

Maker Stories

MG Stout on Moving, Staying Motivated & Making Art

June 24, 2013

Artist Mary Gallagher Stout (Also known as MG Stout) not only captures animals’ unique personalities though her stylized pet portraits, but also conveys a bit of her own personality though each of these soulful pieces, which seem to be dripping with warmth and emotion.

Mary admits that she’s faced some challenges on her way to becoming a professional artist, and she graciously spoke candidly with me about discovering her passion for art, using her work to promote social change, and making the decision to transition to a new studio space in order to put her paintings in prime public view.

You mentioned in your UncommonGoods artist bio that you studied philosophy in school. How did a philosophy degree turn into a career in art?
Here are the cliff notes-I never felt like I was good at anything. I doodled privately and I studied philosophy because I wanted to learn how to think. My ambition was to become a professor. University life seemed to suit me. After I received my BA, I applied to a few graduate programs and moved to RI with my fiance. The following year brought a wedding, a new baby and a severe case of postpartum depression. The love of my family and ART saved me.

What the what? Art saved you? How so? Among the laundry list of psychological issues from which I suffered, and there were many, I became agoraphobic. I was terrified to leave my house, and heaven forbid it should rain–I’d cry all day. *I was a delight to be around.

Meanwhile, my mother-in-law knew that I wanted to paint the sanitarium white walls of my home and suggested that I grab a brush. I painted practically every surface in the house. I did murals, faux finishes and furniture. I think I even painted a few shades! To my surprise, people were really impressed with my work. When my faculties returned and the anxiety passed I started a decorative painting business and have been painting ever since.

*My company actually was the opposite of delightful.

What lead you to start painting animals? How did the custom aspect come into play?
I used animal imagery as an analogy to raise awareness of the vulnerability of the arts and art programming. Endangered species, the environment, and the arts need community support to thrive and flourish. The National Endowment for the Arts budget is the first to be cut when funding is being dispersed. I wanted to demonstrate how art impacts and enriches our lives and so I co-produced a free community event at the Workhouse Arts Center called ART OUT LOUD- a fusion of art and music.

I painted my first pet portrait in honor of my cousin’s dog, Mattie, who passed away unexpectedly. She was old, but seemingly healthy. The whole family was so upset and I wanted to celebrate the life of an amazing dog. I worked on the piece in my studio, which is a public space, and started getting orders and requests from visitors. I knew then that I was onto something.

How many pets do you own? Do they spend much time in your studio?
I had two dogs. Champ died of bone cancer last year and nearly broke my heart. Scottie is 15 years young and while his skin is much looser, he is a sweetie pie. Neither spent time in my studio because they like to misbehave when they are not home.

Would you consider your studio an extension of your home, or do you prefer to keep work and your personal space separate?
My husband prefers that I keep my studio work separate as I seem to get paint everywhere!

How did you know it was time to transition to a new studio space?
I set professional goals for myself and made a 5 year plan. I juried into the Workhouse Arts Center and became a full-time studio artist. I spent the months before I moved into my studio in VCU’s [Virginia Commonwealth University] Summer Studio Graduate Residency Program there. It was intense and kicked my ass into gear. I signed a 3 year lease and dedicated that time to finding my voice. I gave myself permission to paint a lot of crap. As a decorative painter, lacking a fine art degree, I felt like a big phony baloney. So I painted a bunch of introspective stuff and experimented with various media. I had my aha moment when I started my *REAL Life Drawing series. Pastel on newspaper! Drawing my observations of the city. I found my groove.

Year 4 was about making sellable artwork. Yikes! Did I just speak of money? Heck yeah I did. Artists have bills that need to be paid too. As a professional artist you need to have work that pays the bills so that you can afford a studio to make art just for art’s sake. The problem with my old studio was that I was making decent work, but nobody was seeing it. Truth be told, most of my sales happened off site. It just seemed logical to move.

*Sunbury Press published my DC inspired artworks in a book titled REAL Life Drawing, My Eye on Washington DC, by Mary Gallagher Stout

What do you look for in a studio space?
The first concern is location. Is it metro accessible? My atelier needs to be in a place that people can get to by hopping on a bus, train, trolley, or bike. The studio also needs to have good lighting, and enough space for to be divided into a workroom and gallery. Finally I need to be able to have 24-hour access. One can’t ever be certain when a thunder-bolt of creativity may strike!

What was the last thing you packed? What was the first thing you unpacked when you got to your new space?

It was the same thing- my paint palette.

How far is your new studio from your old? Did you have to move all of your supplies and works in progress a great distance?
I’ve added about 20 miles to my drive so it is a bit of a hike, but completely worth it. Old Town Alexandria is a destination. This town is buzzing with art enthusiasts, and animal lovers! The marina is literally one block from my new spot and there are dozens of local eateries and shops.

I’m in heaven. I share this space with two other prolific professional artists, John Gascot and Gina Cochran. We make a great team. We inspire and support each other and are eager to produce community-centric exhibitions and creative workshops.

Maker Stories

Frost Glass’s Banded Lacework Design Wins!

June 6, 2013

I’m never happy to see a design challenge end, but I admit I took a sigh of relief two weeks ago when Candace, Jim, and Justina met via Google Hangout to pick a winner in the Glass Art Design Challenge. I wasn’t only glad we had an amazing winning design, but that my desk could be free from all of these beautiful, yet very fragile samples. I tend to be a little too clumsy to host such a design challenge.

But the greatest joy I get is making the phone call to a design challenge winner to let them know that the judges picked their work to be featured in our collection. When I called Patrick and Carrie of Frost Glass, Patrick told me that they have always loved the UncommonGoods catalog and wondered when would be the perfect time to submit their work to us. It delighted me even more to tell him that the judges loved the colors and interesting design elements in their Banded Lacework Glasses.


Meet Patrick and Carrie Frost and help us welcome them into our UncommonGoods artist family!

What is one uncommon fact about you?
We are both uncommonly determined and happy people!

How did you begin in glass arts?
Each of us got “hooked” on glass during our time in college. Carrie studied and received a BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art, and Patrick got started with a BS from the Illinois State University. This is a common case for many artists working in glass that they become enthralled upon the first encounter, and there are many university programs across the country where this can happen.

The real education began for us after school however – the real education and understanding that drives your glasswork comes through years of study and education through alternative means. Volunteering at craft schools, working for other glassmakers, finding ways to be involved in workshops, looking for residencies, work-study programs, whatever it takes to keep going until you are adequately prepared to start working for yourself full time. Every person you work with and all of your experiences culminate to give you your true skill set and vision for what you would like to create and how you will execute your plan.

Where do you get inspiration for your glass designs?
Our designs are based upon a process where we look for a function that needs to be filled, and then create a design that can perform that function in the most interesting way possible. Each of us has a vast body of knowledge that encompasses techniques both traditional and unusual, which came from numerous experiences with master glassmakers from around the world. We love the style of the Mid-Century Modern and feel like it was an important time for design so some of the functions, shapes, and colors come from this era. Sometimes when you think you have done something really unique you will open a book and see something very similar has been done 50, 100, or 2000 years ago!

Describe your artistic process.
Our process up to this point has been to generate a line of glasswork that embodies the idea of elevating everyday experience. We hit upon an idea of experiential luxury after doing some research and found it was an interesting concept that applied to a lot of the things we were doing at the time. Our glasswork is designed to give you an experience through its function, as well as by transforming the space in which it resides. This connection with the client and their home creates a really unique bond between the artist and consumer that is unique to a handcrafted object.

Describe your workspace.
At the time we share a small private studio with a good friend, it has been a real saving grace after spending 16 months or so on the road. Trying to start a business from a mobile office is difficult, especially when you are lugging around all of your tools, glass, etc! We rent a small house, which is almost entirely consumed by glass our office / “war room” features a large-scale desk calendar that is dismantled, stuck up page by page to the wall to give the entire year-at-a-glance (gold stars are sometimes used to note an especially productive day). Being here allowed us to take all of our equipment and belongings from 5 separate locations and put them in one place. Having our work, office duties, photography, packing and shipping consolidated gave us the real opportunity to launch our business.

What advice would you give to another artist interested in entering one of our design challenges?
This is a great opportunity it doesn’t cost anything to enter there is really nothing to lose! Even the opportunity for a jury to look at your work usually costs money; here you get a team of professionals to evaluate your design for free! The semi-finalists get great exposure on the website through the voting platform and there is another opportunity for honest feedback and insight into your work. We made a goal several years ago when looking at an UncommonGoods catalog to some day be featured in their collection, and it took this long to do it. Without ever having that thought or goal to begin with it never would have happened!


Square Bottle’s Refreshingly Clean Design

May 15, 2013

That stinky muck that likes to lurk in the deepest, darkest parts of your drink bottle finally met its match–but only after inspiring Clean Bottle founder Dave Mayer to invent a better bottle.

Square Water Bottle

The moldy mess lead to the creation of an innovative product–a sports bottle that opens on the top and bottom to allow for complete cleaning, but Dave, a triathlete himself, and his team of designers and engineers weren’t done there. Realizing that the design could still be improved, the team set to work to create the Square Water Bottle.

Dave running in the Ironman Triathlon

“I saw that everyone was carrying water bottles but they all had the same dull ‘fuel canister’ look and had some real design flaws,” said Dave. “We wanted to create a bottle that was as aesthetically pleasing as the clothes, handbags, shoes and phones that people also carried with them.”

The shape wasn’t hard to come up with. A square bottle makes sense, because it won’t roll away if knocked over or accidentally dropped. The challenge was making the product they envisioned a reality. It took time, but after around 40 mock ups and prototypes the Square Bottle was born. “Our final product stayed mostly true to the original design,” said Dave. “It took longer to not make compromises but it was worth it.”

Dave as “Bottle Boy” posing with actor Patrick Dempsey and Bottle Boy running alongside cyclists at the Tour De France

The Square Bottle, like it’s predecessor, the original Clean Bottle, is easy to clean, because it screws open at both ends. It’s also durable, because the body is made of durable stainless steel, while the BPA-free plastic Vibrant Fresh Taste Lid ™ keeps your drink from taking on a metallic taste. The bottle is also slim enough to fit in a cup or bottle holder and is complete with an ergonomic handle, so it’s comfortable to take on the go.

Square Bottle on the go with Freda

Creating something that had never existed was no easy task, but time, collaboration, and hard work made it possible. “It was extremely difficult to do a Square bottle – there is a reason no one has done it, but we wanted something totally unique,” Dave,who uses the product himself every day, explained.

“People either want the cheapest or they want the best,” he said. “Aim to be one of these two and create a truly unique product and you will succeed.”


Constellation Collaboration: Creating the Zodiac Pillows

April 15, 2013

All great designs start out as great ideas, and while we often think of great ideas as masterpieces that burst forth from the minds of individuals, in reality, many are actually the product of collaboration.

For our product development team, collaboration has a major part in creating dynamic new goods. Sometimes the idea for a new exclusive designed-by-us product is conceived in a brainstorming session, sometimes it’s the result of discussions with our buyers, and, as in the case of our colorful Zodiac Pillows, sometimes the idea is built around existing artwork.

Senior Product Development Associate Sarah Stenseng, Product Development Associate Tiffany Jyang and their zodiac characters

Before our product development associates Sarah and Tiffany got to work designing these plush pillows, the adorable astrological characters featured on them started out as illustrations by artist Mark Poulin.

“Mark’s artwork informed the materials,” said Tiffany. “The characters are bright, fun, and colorful, so we knew the product had to be huggable.”

Mark agreed that UncommonGoods had to take his designs in the “huggable” direction. “It was all about the cute,” he said when asked what (besides the zodiac symbols themselves, of course) inspired him. He continued, “My goal was to make cartoon characters that would appeal to anyone with a heart and with a sense of goodwill. After all, you do have to feel comfortable snuggling up on the couch with these guys!”

Since there are 12 original zodiac signs, the team knew they had to create a product that could be consistent across several styles, while letting each character’s personality shine through. They decided that pillows were the perfect way to display Mark’s creations, because they are soft, squeezable, and fit into a variety of home decor styles.

“Part of what makes these zodiacs uncommon is that they are lovable, which isn’t something you usually think of when you think astrology,” said Sarah.

Mark himself jokes about his own feelings about astrology. “Secretly I’m a zodiac fanatic,” he said. “Not the reading the columns kind of guy, but the always trying to guess peoples signs based on their behaviors kind of guy. There’s nothing wrong with a little astrology mixed with numerology and maybe a dash of tarot, as long as you don’t talk about it in interviews…whoops!”

Artist Mark Poulin

That idea of blending the symbolism of the zodiac characters into everyday life was also a factor in creating these pillows. The team wanted the youthful series to appeal to fun-loving folks of all ages. And, since they really are functional pieces, that look lovely on your bed our couch, but are also soft and comfy when you rest your head on them or snuggle up with them, they had to be durable.

Fortunately, Tiffany and Sarah didn’t have to look far to find a vendor who could produce quality plush products. UncommonGoods has worked with Green 3 for years, and knew they were a great choice to help take the zodiac pillows from a concept to an uncommon good.

This next level of collaboration started with Jim Martin, who co-founded Green 3 with his wife, Sandy. “Our reaction to the designs was positive as soon as we saw them,” Said Jim. “We liked the icons and felt that had a very modern feel. We also really loved the saturation of colors.”

It was important to Jim and the team at Green 3 that the artwork was reproduced faithfully, without limiting the usefulness of the pillow or making the price point too high.

Zodiac Pillows in production, photos courtesy of Green 3

Since these factors are also important to our product development team, Tiffany and Sarah worked closely with the other collaborators creating mock-ups, working out kinks, making needed tweaks, and striving to hit a deadline–motivated to get the product perfect in time to appear in our next catalog.

The team also reached out to our online community, through the community voting app, to get feedback before releasing the final version of the product.

“We saw a fair amount of positive comments, ” said Tiffany, “which helped us gauge customer reaction to the product.”

Our product developers were encouraged by kind words from our voters, and couldn’t wait to see the finished pillows, and when the first shipment came in, they were both relieved to see that the product was finally here and excited to be able to start getting the cuddly characters out to customers.

Although seeing a product like the Zodiac Pillows through from an idea inspired by charming artwork to a tactile piece does involve a lot of moving parts and collaboration, it’s definitely worth the time and effort to see the end result–a design that can’t be found anywhere else!

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Adrienne Vita

March 6, 2013

Artist Adrienne Vita | UncommonGoods

Through her exuberant illustrations, Adrienne Vita celebrates life, family, and friendship. “Coexisting” reminds us that, like giant polar bears and tiny birds, we all share the same planet, while the colorful family of cuddling wolves in “Close Knit” reminds us to hold on to those we love.

Feeling energized (and maybe a little mushy–in a good way) by Adrienne’s vibrant work, I couldn’t help but wonder where she brings her alluring animals to life. From across the country, the artist sent some positive vibes to Brooklyn in the form of her virtual studio tour. Although Adrienne mentioned that the sun was hidden behind clouds over Portland, Oregon when she held her photo shoot, this look inside her home-based workspace definitely brightened my day.

What are your most essential tools?
Brushes, pencils, pens, paper, an Exacto blade and music.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
Well, my “space” includes a couple parts of my house. It started off as a logistical thing such as size of the rooms, hooking computers together with one router, etc. That became how and where I could set up my “spaces” to do my work. But I’ve grown to really like it this way over the years. Mainly, I share a computer “think tank” room with my husband (when he’s home) and have a drawing part in another small room. I like how when I draw; I don’t have the distraction of the computer or the business part of what I do because it’s in another room. Also, I use the basement for the really messy stuff, and sometimes move my work outside on the deck in the summer. It’s really nice to be able to switch it up.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Meditation time on my couch in the drawing part of my studio is a perfect way to recharge and get some moments of down time in between working.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I have a book where I write my goals but often refer to lots of colorful post-it notes and iCal for daily intricacies.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Lot’s of dance parties! Coconut ice cream and treats are always a nice way too.

What quote keeps you motivated?
What does that quote mean to you? I have never read this book but I always liked the title so much – “Feel the Fear and do it Anyway”.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Traveling, visiting with nature, riding my bike, baking and of course dancing and singing! Basically, just doing things I enjoy that allow me to be creative and free in a different way.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?

Five years ago, I struck out on my own after working for various design companies for about 10 years. When I first started, I was worried about how I would make enough money and how I would stand out in a sea of talented artists. Basically losing sight of the big picture of the work I am here on this earth to do. Knowing what I know now, I would have told myself, “What you put out in the world is more than what you make or create. It’s about the connection with people, about the helping and healing that you give through your work that is important. That is why you make art. Do it in your own way and celebrate it.”

Gift Guides

How to Repair a Wool Sweater

February 22, 2013

Getting the opportunity to try uncommon products is one of the great things about working at UncommonGoods. While many of these product-testing experiments become gift labs, every now and then we find a new good with so many uses we can’t fit them all in one “report.” The Woolfiller Sweater Mending Kit is an example of just such a product, AND, since associate buyer Katie and community moderator Cassie both had their eyes on this winter must-have, we decided to diverge from the traditional gift lab format and see just how many uses we could come up with for this clever kit. Four are outlined below, but Cassie and Katie agree that the fun doesn’t have to stop there!

Katie: Having spotted the Woolfiller at a major New York trade show last year, I was anxious to get such a solution-oriented product into our assortment. A fun, hands-on kit to patch up an old favorite or add some flair to a basic sweater seemed like the perfect DIY project nearly anyone could adopt.To put this product to the test, I decided to tackle two specific projects, the first was to patch the embarrassingly large (and winter chill-inviting) elbow holes on one of my favorite sweaters. After completing the elbow hole patches, I wanted more – I had seen some fun images the company provided where people used the bright colored wool to add some creative patches as flair and I wanted to try this out, which lead to Project two: adding flair.

Cassie and I decided to each purchase one kit – a match made in heaven as this green-adoring girl, could partner with Cassie’s purple-loving self and combine to make a cornucopia of rich, jewel-tone wools mixed with solid staple colors (greys, blacks, beiges) which came in extra handy for my second project. But I would also say that one kit is entirely sufficient – each comes with bright color options as well as neutral, basic colors which should cover a range of sweater needs. And to that point, upon unloading our kits onto a communal table, we were both surprised by how much wool comes in each kit – we went about tearing each ball into half and divvying up our goods.

Project 1: Bold Elbow Patches

Katie: After some deliberation, I chose to patch the elbows of my dark, gray sweater with the natural beige wool – aiming for a contrast patch look – like your grandfather’s sweater.

After choosing the color of wool, I reviewed the simple instructions and went to work. I used a pair of scissors to make the first of my ragged elbow holes into a smooth, even oval to ensure my patches would be as clean-looking as possible. Next, I ripped a decent amount (maybe the width of a lime) of wool off the main piece, turned my sweater inside out, put the provided foam piece in the sleeve, laid the wool over the hole, and began poking!

After completing the first of two patches, I turned my sleeve right-side out to inspect my work. Herein I learned one of the bigger lessons of the project – while the instructions suggest turning your piece inside-out to use the product, I found that by doing that I was less aware of the exact line of the hole (because the piece of wool covered it) and as a result I ended up with what can only be described as a “halo” effect around the patch – one sold patch, with a light ring of excess wool surrounding it.

On elbow #2 I decided to try another approach – again I cut away the ragged edge to make a smooth hole, but this time I left the sweater sleeve right-side out, I inserted the felt piece, and lined the wool up perfectly with the hole and started poking away. I found when I did it this way, I was able to guide the wool into a perfect oval while poking and overall felt much more in control of the overall work. When complete, the patch appeared much more perfect and solid.

After completing the elbow patches, I moved onto my next experiment…

Project 2: Adding a Little Flair

Katie: I decided to do a simple trio of mini circles with bright colors. Having learned from my elbow patches, I left my sweater right-side out, tore of tiny circles of wool (about the size of a quarter), and started poking away! I found my technique was much-improved, I used my fingers to expertly guide the wool and before I knew it I had my little flair added in.

In the interest of science, here are my key Findings:

Finding #1:
This kit comes with a lot of wool. I was surprised by how little wool it took to patch up my rather large elbow holes. I have a lot of wool leftover and am just waiting for a quiet Sunday to get to patchin’ my slew of other well-worn sweaters.

Finding #2:
The more you poke – the more “felted” the wool becomes. Good thing poking is super fun.

Finding #3:
As mentioned above, the kit recommends turning the piece inside-out and then using the wool filler, however, I found this created a slight ‘halo effect’ around the actual patch, and when I tested using the kit the opposite way – with the sweater turned right-side out, I was very pleased with the results – I could control the pokes more and create a clean oval with no halo.

Finding #4:
The Woolfiller is a really easy, creative way to patch.

Having now completed two projects on one beloved, well-worn sweater, I can vouch for the usability and honestly–the fun– this product provided.I passed the DIY-sweater-patch torch along to Cassie.

Project 3: The No-Show Repair

Cassie: I also had a beloved sweater with a hole in it. Unlike Katie, I didn’t want my repair job to be super noticeable. My hole was just under the arm of a multi-colored sweater, so I hoped I could blend the new wool in and make the sweater look like new. Taking her findings into consideration, I began my exercise in craftology.

I started out the same way, by finding the hole, turning the sweater inside out, and inserting the foam block. Then I picked out a couple of colors that I thought would mix nicely with my sweater’s pattern.

I placed the wool over the holes and started poking. It was really fun, and, because the sweater is 100% wool the new wool took almost instantly. I pricked at the wool with the felting needle for less than a minute before the patch was completely attached, but I kept at it for a little longer, just to make sure it was blended well.

I turned the sweater back inside in and gave it a few more pokes, just to give the wool a smoother look. The finished product looked good, and the patch feels just like the rest of the sweater.

While I agree with most of Katie’s key findings, I found that starting with the sweater inside out worked great for a small, blended patch. She preferred the look of the patch when she placed the wool directly over the hole without turning her garment inside out first. I’d recommend doing a test on your own piece, by woolfilling just a small section of the patch, before completing your own project.

Project 4: Super Star Style

Cassie: Giving my sweater a quick fix was fun and easy, but after seeing Katie’s bold patches and the little bundle of flair she added to her project, I was a little jealous. I wanted to give my own colorful creation a try, so I decided to add a little shape to an old cardigan.

First I drew a star shape on a small piece of scratch paper. Then, I cut out the star, leaving an outline. Next, I placed the outline over the elbow of my sweater. (Remember to insert the foam block first.)

I didn’t turn the sweater inside out this time, since I wasn’t actually making a real “patch,” I was just covering up the existing material with new wool.

I put a little ball of bright pink wool in the center of the star shape, then started stretching it out to fill the cutout as I poked it with the felting needle. I didn’t secure the star before starting this process, which made it a little trickier than it had to be. Next time I’ll hold it in place with some fabric tape or a safety pin.

I gradually added more wool and pulled it into the shape of the star as I worked at it with the felting needle. Once I had the outline filled in I removed the paper and then poked carefully around the outside edges of the star to give it a sharper shape.

Since the cardigan isn’t entirely wool (it’s a blend also containing nylon and cotton), it took a lot longer for the woolfiller to adhere this time than it did with the 100% wool sweater I’d used it on before.

The star turned out well, but there was one problem. I was so focused on creating my shape that I forgot to move my foam block the whole time I was poking. The wool (and the sweater) got stuck to the block, so It was somewhat difficult to remove when I was done. Make sure to readjust the block several times during your project to make sure this doesn’t happen!

I’ll definitely try this again next time I want to give an old sweater a new look. Next time, I might try a heart, a triangle or square, or maybe even a letter.

Through our multiple sweater patching projects, we learned that the Woolfiller Sweater Mending Kit is a great way to repair a damaged sweater, give old wool a new look, or add a personal touch to your favorite pieces.

And, bonus, it’s not just for sweaters. It works on any pretty much anything made of wool!

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Melissa’s Game Night: Rollick!

February 18, 2013

Welcome back! This edition of Game Night actually features a get-together I had a while back. (As you can see from the shorts. One plus, though, now I’m in the mood for some warmer weather!)

I was looking through old photos, and realized that I had a hilarious photo shoot of my friends and myself trying out the game Rollick! that we brought into the assortment this past summer.

This game is like a backwards version of charades – instead of one person acting out each clue, you divide up into teams and act out the clue as a group. Being the rebels we are, we didn’t actually follow the rules, and instead nominated 2 people per card to get up in front of the group and make fools of themselves (the boys were particularly good at this).

My sister and I had a particularly special moment where we tried (relatively unsuccessfully) to act out what a magic carpet ride would look like – we eventually got people to guess it when we cheated and hummed the song from Disney’s Aladdin, and then she jumped into my arms at the end.

The gameplay was definitely hilarious and highly interactive – we were giggling (ok, more like rolling with laughter on the ground) the entire time, and even though we didn’t play by the rules or even keep score, we still managed to get competitive over who was the best actor. Hint: it was not me.

I think this is a great game for a span of ages – it is something that the young and the old can get involved in together, and I can see this being great for a family game night.

I’ve had a few game nights since, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to share this one with you, so stay tuned for those posts to come! I am always playing the games that I’m considering bringing into the assortment, as well as sometimes grabbing the ones we already have on site, so please feel free to leave a comment below and let me know if there is any particular game you want to see played.

Till next time, kids!

Check out more of Melissa’s Game Nights to see her play Kwizniac and ZinZig!

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