Browsing Tag


Maker Stories

‘Tis the Season To Get Ready for the Holiday Season

November 9, 2012

‘Tis the season for the leaves to change color and the days to get colder–signs that the holidays are fast approaching! Our team here at UncommonGoods is getting ready for spending time with family, the merriment of holiday parties with friends, and lots of delicious family favorite foods.

But with all this planning at home, there’s still work to be done at UncommonGoods HQ. We’re preparing our warehouse with unique gifts and necessities for the season, so you can find the perfect gift for that hard-to-buy-for person (come on we all know one!). But of course, we’re not the only ones having fun preparing for the holidays. We asked our designers, Jim Martin of Green3 Apparel, Josh McGlothlin of Icebox Knitting, and Jamie Cornett of Instrumental Lighting to share how they get ready for the holiday season.

The holidays are a crazy time of year at Green3 with orders pouring in for their one-of-a-kind reclaimed products. Jim says the demand really “keeps our team hopping!” Despite the demand, the Green3 team is solid, knowing exactly what to expect during the holiday rush. The team gets an addition during the holiday season, in the form of energetic college students home for the holidays. As if getting ready for the holidays didn’t give Jim enough on his plate, he is also a judge in our Upcycling Design Challenge!

This holiday season, Jim is excited for items that use reclaimed Christmas sweaters and reclaimed men’s ties, like the Necktie Skirt and especially the Recycled Holiday Sweater Skirt. These fun products make a statement not only in their unique beauty, but also in their eco-friendliness. Jim sources the materials for the reclaimed products from vintage wholesalers, who are collecting these ties and sweaters throughout the year. But the team doesn’t let the wholesalers have all the fun in the collection process, they scour markets and resale shops for their own vintage apparel finds.

After all the ties and sweaters are found, the reclaimed products are skillfully crafted, and the many orders are placed, we asked Jim if he finally takes a vacation. His response, “I’m not familiar with that vacation word?” All jokes aside, come January Jim is at work on the trade show circuit traveling all across the country from Atlanta to Chicago to New York and more. But, it’s not all work during the holiday season; Jim looks forward to spending time with his family, especially his daughter, who will be home from college.

At Icebox Knitting, the team is getting ready for the holiday season by getting in the holiday spirit. Josh recalls that thousands of sweaters arrive at the factory throughout the year to prepare for the holiday rush. Some of the sweaters have their own “interesting styles.” This year, the crew has chosen their favorite holiday sweaters to wear. Josh loves the Icebox Knitting “formal wear” or as you might know them glitzy black and gold holiday sweaters. Perhaps this is the start of a beautiful new holiday tradition!

Aside from this new tradition, Josh is excited for the Reclaimed Sweater Link Scarf and the Upcycled Knit Handwarmers. Both products are artfully crafted and Josh particularly loves the recycled yarn component. The sweaters used to make these reclaimed and upcycled products come from a textile recycler in the United States, while the recycled wool yarn comes from a manufacturer in Europe. This manufacturer is unique, Josh says, since they have developed a “new patented process of recycling that is 98% more environmentally-friendly than making yarn from scratch.” Not only are the products artfully crafted and unique, but also eco-friendly!

After the fast pace of the holiday season, Josh and the Icebox Knitting team make “a concerted effort to stop the machines and turn off the lights for 10 days.” It’s a time for reflection and to recharge the system, before they are ready to hit the ground running for the trade shows in January. During that mini vacation and the rest of the holiday season, Josh looks forward to spending time with his family and enjoying the natural beauty of Colorado.

Over here in New York City, Jamie Cornett of Instrumental Lighting is getting ready in different ways. With an inventory of lamps made of reclaimed musical instruments and room for custom orders, Jamie has taken to craft shows, street fairs and flea markets to start getting his designs in the hands of thoughtful gift-givers in the five boroughs. We caught up with Jamie a couple weeks ago at a street fair in Chelsea to benefit a local elementary school. We didn’t stick around too long as his table was very popular among shoppers.

Although Instrumental Lighting is sold to customers across the US at UncommonGoods, a lot of our designers rely heavily on local trade shows and markets to sell their products. In fact, our buyers discovered Jamie and his original lamps last year at Brooklyn Flea, a local market that Jamie plans on attending this holiday season. While planning on setting up shop at markets in the city and being a stay at home dad, Jamie will also judge our Upcycling Design Challenge with Jim of Green3.

With the hustle-and-bustle of the holiday season, a season that started a couple months ago for the UncommonGoods team and our vendors, we are so glad to get to check in and celebrate our hard efforts. We can’t help but believe in Santa with all these hard-working elves!

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Jenny Krauss

November 8, 2012

A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit longtime UncommonGoods artist and former How To Make It panelist, Jenny Krauss in her new Manhattan studio. Jenny’s space is a combination between a warehouse and mission control, where she sends out her vision to artists in Peru who turn her ideas into reality. Her designing happens all over – at her desk, at home on the sofa – wherever she feels inspired. Her pieces are a combination between the traditional weaving techniques of the region in Peru that she employs and her modern visions of design.

I was there just in time to see her package up a shipment of her new Hand Embroidered Pillows to send to UncommonGoods in time for the holidays. Take a look inside of the work space of this incredibly talented designer and entrepreneur.

What are your most essential tools?
Pencil, paper, yarn charts, and laptop.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
Inspiration comes from thinking and seeing; the space where that happens can be anywhere. This is an office, warehouse, and studio. I wouldn’t say the space inspires me. I do the work here.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
It generally doesn’t. We work hard all day and only stop for lunch.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Making and selling things is a lot harder than designing them.

What advice would you offer yourself 5 years ago?
Don’t give up.

How do you set goals for yourself?
Entrepreneurs are often people who need a challenge. I’m always thinking about how I can make the product and company better.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
I’m not a big celebrator. Maybe I should become one!

What quote keeps you motivated?
I heard this when I was a kid and have never forgotten it. “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” Since I work with impoverished women who live in remote areas without opportunity, I am grateful for everything.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Instead of sending drawings to Peru to get samples made I wish I could make the samples myself. I’m not exactly making progress though.

How do you recharge your creativity?
I don’t get to be creative all that much. We introduce new product twice a year so I have to meet those deadlines. Most of my time is devoted to running a business, so when I have to think up new designs, I’m thrilled that I can sit down and draw. My dream is to be able to design full-time, but it doesn’t look like that will happen any time soon.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I’m always bouncing ideas off of Janet, my co-conspirator. She has a background in fashion and a great eye.

Maker Stories

Meet Laura White, Bike Lovers Design Challenge Winner

October 15, 2012

The entries to our Bike Lovers Design Challenge ranged from the beautiful (stunning and evocative art about bikes) to the practical (sturdy and useful bike accessories). We were delighted by all of them. Perhaps because winter is coming, the entry that tickled our fancy the most was a suncatcher.

Laura White’s Bicycle Cog Suncatchers are lovely pieces of everyday art. They creatively combine upcycled metal bike parts with colorful, translucent inlays to harness the sun’s light and create a stained glass effect.

We asked Laura about her crafty, bike-y life.

What’s the weather like where you live? Is there a lot of sun?

For the last four years I’ve lived in Southwestern Virginia, prior to that I had spent my entire life in Michigan. The biggest draw to this area was the mountain biking. It is an outdoor lover’s heaven. We have some of the best mountain biking in the world. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs along the edge of town, so there is also great road cycling.
The weather is very mild, at least compared to Michigan. Lots of sun and blue skies.

How did you first get into making things and being crafty? What kinds of things did you make back then?
I think I’ve always been into crafting. As a kid my favorite part of school and day camps was the arts and crafts. I was also heavily influenced by my grandmother, who did a lot of crafting. She taught me to knit, and one summer we sewed a doll. She was also good at saving household items that would normally be discarded, and using them in craft projects.

How did you get into biking, and when did it turn into a major passion?
I rode my bike a lot as a kid, both for recreation and as a way to get around before I could drive. I left it behind once I got a car. But then in my 30s I attended a bike race with a friend and decided that I had to do that. So I bought a bike and began training and racing. My love of cycling has grown from there. I don’t race much anymore, but cycling as a lifestyle and as transportation has become something that I am passionate about.

What was the inspiration for your Bicycle Cog Sun Catcher?
I had been making items out of recycled bike parts for several years. Several years ago, I had a daydream. Fast forward almost three years, I now I have a beautiful daughter (and a piano). I still have to work a regular job, but supplement with crafting.

I had made bike chain stars for several years and was growing tired of making the same thing and wanted to make something more “fun.” Something that would be colorful and cheerful instead of just metallic and hard. I had a sun catcher hanging above my daughters changing table that she loved. I liked the way the sun hit it. One of those fun craft projects I did as a kid was to make suncatchers in the oven. I decided to try to use the cogs as a medium for the suncatchers.

What other things do you like to make? What are you best at? Worst?
I really like anything that’s art or crafty. I love to knit, that is probably one of the things I am best at. Painting is probably the thing I am “worst” at. I love to paint but find that I am too much of a perfectionist when it comes to painting and tend to ruin the pictures by trying to making them look real and perfect. If I could embrace the abstract a little better I would probably be better at painting.

Is there any common theme, style, approach, or thought process to most or all of your craftwork?
Biking tends to be a common theme in my craftwork. I think I just love biking so much that I try to incorporate it into my life. Even my knitted items tend to have a bike theme or little bikes knitted into them. I also try to make things that are practical and I can use. That’s typically how a project starts. I’ll see something that I need and my first thought will be “can I make that?”

Do you enjoy making things out of things that would otherwise be discarded?
I do. I try very hard to live a sustainable lifestyle, which is part of the reason why I love cycling as opposed to driving. I try to limit the amount of waste I create by reusing and recycling items. I often find myself saving things that would typically be discarding, thinking, “I bet I can make something with that.”

What’s your favorite thing that someone has said about something you made?
When someone responds to something I’ve made by first being impressed that it was crafted for them and then saying “You should sell these.”
I recently received a picture from a mom that purchased a couple of suncatchers. It was of her daughter admiring them. I like when other people find joy and beauty in the things I’ve made.

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio: Tiffany Threadgould of TerraCycle

October 12, 2012

This month we have the pleasure of hosting our fourth design event, How To Make It: Implementing Green Practices in Your Designs, at which Tiffany Threadgould will speak on our panel. Tiffany is the Chief Design Junkie at TerraCycle, a long time vendor of UncommonGoods with a penchant for turning trash into treasure. Now operating in 20 countries across the globe, Terracycle offers recycling services to large companies and creative products for consumers, like our Upcycled Mail Sack iPad Case. Tiffany leads the team of designers who are tasked with taking an unwanted product or package and creating a piece that will impress.

We were unable to take train ride across the river to Trenton, New Jersey to visit the TerraCycle headquarters first hand but Tiffany was willing to share her studio with us. Enjoy!

What are your most essential tools?
The industrial sewing machine and heat press machine are two machines we can’t live without. Just about any solution from flexible waste can be solved with one or both of those machines.

Where do you find inspiration within your space?
Inspiration often starts with the material itself. We work with a lot of waste that has logos and branding on it so we’re always tying the original purpose of the material back into the finished product. Colgate toothpaste tubes can be transformed into a travel kit. Baby food pouches become a diaper bag or bib. Toothpaste tubes and food pouches are surprisingly easy to sew.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
There’s not a lot of down time in the office. If we don’t have urgent sample requests for our brand partners, then we’ll refocus on new, upcycled décor for the office. [Decorating with repurposed materials] is not only an inexpensive way to refurnish our office, but is also the best sales tool to demonstrate our commitment to what we do. An old bowling alley was turned into a conference table, soda bottles and vinyl records became room dividers. Nothing is waste to us. It’s all material for our next project.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a designer?
Measure twice, cut once.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Try to get the word “NO” out of your vocabulary. I’ve worked at TerraCycle for over 4 years and it really has taught me to push the upcycled envelope on waste materials. Prior to working here I was always choosier about the materials I worked with. At TerraCycle there is a need to find a solution to everything that comes our way – yogurt lids, cigarette butts, you name it. My job is to make sure we find an upcycled product for any material that comes to us.

How do you set goals for yourself?
Goals come directly from our project assignments. We hit a goal whenever we finish a big project like an office makeover; complete a challenging project for a brand partner, or creating a new product line for our awesome retail partners like UncommonGoods.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Our CEO, Tom Szaky, started a tradition of “gong hits”. We have an actual gong in the office and whenever something major is accomplished you actually ring the gong and then send an email to the company. TerraCycle is in over 20 countries now, so we can share good news and positive energy with our distant offices this way.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Traditional crafts techniques can always be applied to new waste materials. I recently learned to braid with bread bags and food wrappers and that was a fun “twist” on an old technique.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
This quote came to me from Daniel Freitag when I was working on my graduate thesis titled Trash Nouveau – “Waste is a natural resource in the wrong place. Change the context and you have usable products.”

How do you recharge your creativity?
Caffeine is always the perfect tool to help recharge.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I work with an amazing design team at TerraCycle. We all bring different skills and talents to the table (a table made from upcycled wine barrels and doors, of course). We do a great job of blending our backgrounds of Industrial Design, Textiles, Architecture, and more to create unique design solutions for recycled materials. Hurray for upcycling!

Maker Stories

Meet Kim Jakum, Jewelry Design Challenge Winner

August 17, 2012

Each and every design challenge gives us the exciting opportunity to meet up-and-coming artists, reconnect with our favorite designers, and open our eyes to new and unique works of art. Coming off the success of the 2011 Jewelry Design Challenge, we simply could not wait to hold another call for jewelry entries. This year’s Jewelry Design Challenge brought in over 100 entries and showcased the unique designs of artists, jewelry designers, and metalworkers.

Our judges worked through designs with bold patterns, fascinating stories, and unique mediums. They decided on pieces they thought would capture America’s eye with their delicate beauty and others with their intricate detail. But there was one piece that the judges couldn’t take their eyes off of; they loved its concept as a keepsake to keep those you treasure close.

We simply can’t stop talking about the craftsmanship and attention to detail of Personalized Child Signature Necklace and are excited to introduce you to the designer, our Jewelry Design Challenge winner, Kim Jakum of Wisconsin. Kim thrives on designing one-of-a-kind pieces with her recently found love of PMC (precious metal clay) and she will soon be able to see those one-of-a-kind pieces being cherished by people all across the country. Here she is, Kim, the newest member to our Uncommon Artists family.

When and how did you discover jewelry design?

I’ve been making jewelry for over 20 years. I first started making jewelry by just stringing beads. I was drawn to all the different shapes and colors. To this day, I’m still drawn to beautiful stones and the sparkle of crystal.

What is your favorite piece of jewelry?

My favorite piece of jewelry that I have made is my Tiger Maple and Fine Silver Cuff.

How did you realize that metalworking was your passion?

My work is primarily in PMC (precious metal clay). I love that it is made from recycled silver. About 16 years ago, while taking a traditional metal smith class, PMC was first introduced in the USA. The whole class got some and played with it. I didn’t really like it at the time, and didn’t give it any thought until about five years ago when I took a workshop just using PMC. I fell in love with it, and have not looked back since! The possibilities are endless…

What are your favorite pieces to design?

Besides the children’s signatures, I also take kids artwork, shrink it down and transfer it to fine silver pendants and key chains. I love that this makes an everlasting keepsake.

I have also recently been accepted into The Artisan Group. The Artisan Group is made up of small business artisans that gift celebrities with samples of their work. I’m having a great time designing jewelry for specific celebrities.

All in all, you could say that a lot of my work is very personalized, made specifically for the person receiving it.

How do you keep yourself inspired?

I have been fortunate to take workshops from fellow jewelry artists who’s work I really admire. I find these workshops very inspiring, pushing me to continually learn a new skill and perfect what I already know.

How else do you express your creativity?

I like to pass what I know on, so I teach classes in jewelry making and PMC.

Also, if I see something I like in another medium, I usually think I can make something close to it myself, so there are a lot more projects other that jewelry making going on!

What attracted you to the UncommonGoods Jewelry Design Challenge?

I actually found out about this challenge from a fellow Artisan Group member and entered it on a whim.

What was the inspiration behind Personalized Child Signature Necklace?

The signatures on my Personalized Child Signature Necklace sample are actually my grand children’s. I have seen a lot of stamped name pendants and thought I could take that idea to a whole new level by using actual signatures! I also added a twist by texturing the back, so the necklace is reversible.

Do you have any advice for someone interested in taking part in a future challenge?

Just enter! Until this year I have NEVER entered a challenge or competition. I have entered four different challenges this year and have placed first, second or third in three of them!

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Aaron Ruff

July 3, 2012

Situated above a Brooklyn art gallery, in a space shared by artists of varying mediums, Aaron Ruff’s single room looked more like a museum at first glance than a jewelry studio. The creator of Digby & Iona and his four-legged friend, Nuki, took me in for the morning to chat about the creation of his new collection, how the price of commodities has impacted his business and how history plays a role in keeping him inspired.

What are your most essential tools?
The hammer and the foredom.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I’m a big collector, so the entire space is inspiration. I’m constantly rearranging and dragging in new stuff, so the space is constantly evolving.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
It’s embarrassing to say, but just the basics of running a legit business were the hardest skills to master. Terms like W9 or EIN still make my head spin a little.

Does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Does Pinterest count as downtime? We think so!

What advice would you offer yourself 5 years ago?
Invest in silver! This is my main material and it has gone crazy in the last 5 years. Then it was $13 an ounce and earlier this year it was almost $40. I definitely miss the days when I could cast absurdly huge pieces in silver without blinking and eye. It’s changed the way I design quite a bit, I don’t want to have to raise my prices significantly so I have to be a lot more conscious about designing lighter pieces.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I’m terrible at meeting the deadlines I set for myself, so I generally set yearly goals and hope all goes to plan.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
I’m my own toughest critic, so celebration requires a pretty massive win.

What quote keeps you motivated?
I use historical quotes in my work quite a lot, most recently, ‘Don’t give up the ship’ which is a quote from Lee Hazard Perry during the War of 1812 (also the name of the collection). It’s pretty self-explanatory; it’s my version of the ‘hang in there’ kitten poster.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Travel as much as possible.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I generally collaborate with illustrators; my drawing skills are terrible, so I really enjoy turning 2d into 3d and vice versa.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I’ve just come out with an engagement band collection, so I’ve had a recent crash course on diamonds and precious gems.

Aaron will be a judge in our Jewelry Design Challenge. Call for entries ends July 12th.

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Laura Lobdell

April 16, 2012

We want to give you an exclusive look inside the minds of our uncommon artists. Our second artist visit features Laura Lobdell, who makes our Sterling Silver Guitar Pick Necklace and Kiss Ring. Trained as a fine artist–she holds an MFA from the School of Visual Arts in NYC and studied Chinese calligraphy in Hong Kong–Laura has a beautiful, tiny shop in Greenwich Village, where she sells her exquisite and utterly original jewelry. For Laura, there is no real division between her shop and her art; it all comes from the same place in her imaginative mind. Collections of objects which seem to have drifted together out of their desire to express Laura’s poetic sensibility share shop space with pieces of her art–and of course, her jewelry.

What are your most essential tools?
My most essential tool is actually a state of mind. Being present, open to ideas and creative moments. That’s a way of being able to have more creative ideas, for me. Of course, that’s the struggle–ideally, we’re all always present and open, right? In New York, it’s a great city because if you’re open and present when you’re on the subway you can see something or experience something in these banal moments that become really good inspiration for something creative.

For example, once some friends of mine were playing in their band. And they’d lose their pick and call out, “Does anyone have a quarter or nickel?” And just kind of being present and open, I thought, “Oh, I could make them something” and that’s what led me to make the guitar pick, which is something that could be worn or played with.

As for physical tools–I have a pair of pliers that I particularly like. They’re not really very special, except for me they just work really well. The tip is really pointy so they’re great for wire wrapping and just holding things, forming things. And the grip is really nice; there’s a little bit of texture on the rubber handle. It’s funny that something so simple it makes such a big difference but it does.

And my calligraphy brushes. Having studied Chinese Calligraphy in Hong Kong, I love calligraphy brushes in general; he natural fur bristle, I just love the way they hold the pigment. And also that they come to a really fine tip, so I can shift the line weight really beautifully. I use that for my illustration.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
The color of the walls. I use in my studio as well. It’s “Skylight” by Farrow & Ball. I love it. It’s a really old formula of paint. It doesn’t have synthetic pigments in it, it’s mineral based. It’s very calming, and it changes with the light of the day, the way the sun is hitting it. The light plays across it because of the minerals in it, and it has an ambient effect. It’s a really beautiful paint and I think it fits me. It’s also a good, neutral color to see my work against.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
1) Trust your…call it guts or your intuition or whatever. The voice of your instinct can get crowded out by all these other things. But it’s usually right. And trust in that can keep you out of a lot of the other troubles.
2) Get a credit card machine! Although now, I’d say, get a Square Up.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I’m learning how to work with precious stones, because they’re beautiful, and knowing more about them opens up a lot of possibilities. Stones are a way to bring something unexpected, some color, and of course sparkle and luminosity to the work. Like for example, with a cigarette butt, setting it with orange sapphires creates an embers glow, bringing that piece to life. It’s pretty cool without it, people like it; but it’s a whole different piece when you essentially ignite it with the orange soft fires and leave it smoldering, it’s a really nice piece of jewelry.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio? And how do you recharge your creativity?
I definitely always feel better when I have made the time to do yoga or exercise. And cooking and talking to friends. Seeing art is really important to me.  But it’s definitely challenging. My shop is open 6 days a week, officially 1 to 7, but I try to get here a little bit earlier. And I’ve usually been working in a studio in the morning. Then running around the city, I go get supplies and silver and, you know, go to the engraver and go over projects and go to pick them up. So, I’m constantly recharging. The year before last, I wrote a little survival guide to myself to get through the holidays, and it really applies all the time.

Holiday Survival Guide for LL to stay clear and energized (circa 2010)
Keep Store Hours 12-7, Sun 1-6
Be discerning about events to attend
Stay in at least one night per week
Be in bed by midnight Sunday to Wednesday
Two Cocktails on weekend nights
One glass of wine other nights – unless it’s just the best party on the planet.
Drink Water

How do you set goals for yourself?
I write a lot of stuff in my little Moleskin book. It usually start with a little bit of a notebook-ey, thinking, drinking some tea kind of process. I use occasions to look at where things are in progress: at New Year, my birthday in June, and back to school…seasons and occasions are good times for me to get the notebook out and start to think about things.

When I’m planning events I do a timeline. For other things I don’t necessarily put dates because, I think you can spend too much time planning, and I think that that in that becomes, I think, a barrier to accomplishing the goal.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
One of the nice things about my mom is that she really celebrated pretty much everything and so I take a page from that notebook. When something good happens, I try to appreciate it, because it’s a way to stay motivated and—why not? Why not celebrate something that’s positive, like you get an order from a store that’s really exciting, or I ship my bracelets to St. Barth. So, you know, call a friend and have a glass of Prosecco, or maybe make something especially nice for dinner. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy, but I think it is really nice to acknowledge these moments.
That’s kind of the whole point of the champagne and the champagne rings, the idea of champagne every day, celebrating. I mean that not necessarily literally in terms of champagne every day, but that feeling of trying to celebrate something in every day. And then that ties into my work, too, about the everyday objects that aren’t essentially celebrated, by transforming them into precious metal. The jewelry is jewelry, but it’s also the idea of celebrating and making people happy–that’s what I do. I guess that’s kind of what gives my work meaning, is that I do something that makes people happy even in a small way.

Pin It on Pinterest