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Archive for 'My Life My Craft'

My Life My Craft: Harmony Susalla of Harmony Art

Harmony Susalla is one of the most honest designers in the organic fabric community. She is true to herself and to her work, and she is dedicated to bringing good organic fabric to those who need and appreciate it. All of this is reflected in the quality of her fabric and design.

Harmony Art Organic Design, her organic fabric company, was listed as one of the top companies in both of our articles on organic fabric. The first, in the Spring 2009 Issue, written by Tara Boyd and Winnie Culp of Nearsea Naturals, as well as the current Summer 2011 issue, with our Organic Cotton Fabric Resources by Fiona Duthie, which includes a Selection Criteria section by Tara Boyd and Winnie Culp.

Harmony’s fabric.

photo selected from our Summer 2011 article photo shoot with Harmony’s Ten Flowers, Morning Dew, and Thirty Nine.

Here is an interview so our readers can get to know her better:

When did you start doing handwork?

It’s funny, but I am not sure where or when my crafty/arty side started to develop. I always loved to color and draw and create things. My earliest memories of doing art are from when I was a child and would go to work with my father. He worked at the Space Science Lab at U.C. Berkeley as an engineer designing layouts for circuit boards and such. He would set me up on his tall stool with paper and lots of colored pens and pencils. I would spend hours drawing and coloring while he worked.

At summer camp, I always picked the arts and crafts projects. I remember making cards for friends and family in third or fourth grade and signing the back of each one with “Harmony Art” and a copyright symbol …like I saw on Hallmark cards. So, it was the very young me who named my company. No one in my immediate family is particularly artistic or crafts oriented. The only art my mother ever created was the result of a painting class she took when she was pregnant with me.

Mom's painting

I like to think that seeing those paintings and knowing she created them had something to do with my own artistic bent. This painting of hers hangs in my home/studio (she painted a grand total of three paintings in that art class in 1968). I cherish it.


I did have a wonderful art teacher in high school who was very influential in supporting my own creative spark. Her name was Mrs. Hermann. She was a gem.

What were your interests when you started making things and how did you stumble upon fabric design?

For years, I made a lot of cards, particularly collages for Valentine’s Day. I spent a few years making beads out of FIMO clay and selling necklaces and earrings at Grateful Dead shows. I took art classes and did a bit of batik and tie-dye too. I worked at an after-school child-care program and dreamed up lots of art projects during that time of my life. I stumbled upon fabric design back in 1997 in a chance conversation with a second cousin. Here’s a link to the longer version of how Harmony Art Organic Design came to be:

Can you share your story of how Harmony Art started and any advice you have for others who want to have their own textile business?

I guess my advice would be to start with a question: Why do you want to design textiles? If the answer is about seeing your own artwork on fabric, I would refer you to one of the ever-growing providers of digital printing services, such as Spoonflower, KarmaKraft, and AdaptiveTextiles just to name a few. The prices aren’t cheap, but the initial investment is manageable, and you can make that dream a reality with very inexpensive start-up costs.

If your reason for designing textiles is that you want to make money, well, that’s a different story altogether. Honestly, the easiest way to make money is to work for someone else. To start your own business takes a lot of cash, and the more successful you are the more money you will need to keep pouring into the company to keep up with demand. Having no business background, this was a very rude awakening for me. With the explosion of Etsy and digital printing, you can get your feet wet at a much more reasonable cost, but to produce a line of fabric that can compete price-wise with the big fabric houses is no easy, or cheap, task.

Working for another company designing textiles (which I did for five years) is a great way to get experience and have a steady stream of income. However, when designing for someone else, it is best to let go of your artistic ego and attachment. It really doesn’t matter what you like, as you are tasked to design what the client wants. I know many designers who struggle with designing to another’s tastes. To be successful and happy in the textile design industry while working for someone else, I would provide this advice (collectively gleaned from my time at the California School of Professional Fabric Design): Get over your “self.”

Where do you get your inspirations for your design?

Nature, nature, nature, nature, nature. If you go to and click on an individual design, such as Morning Dew, on the left you can read description of how I was inspired to create that particular print. Here’s a photo of dew drops hanging in a spider web, which inspired the Morning Dew print.


Do you teach fabric design or other design?

I don’t teach fabric or any other design, but I do have some interest in doing so. I have often imagined a one-week course of hiking, sketching, designing. Of course the program would also include dining on organic meals. Anyone interested? Contact me!

Can you tell us anything about your personal life?

Harmony Art is so woven into my personal life, it is often hard to know where one stops and the other begins. I make it a point to go hiking at least twice a week. An ideal week provides me at least five days of getting out there and looking for inspiration, but realistically, I am lucky if I get my standard two, with one extra hike to watch the sun set. I am lucky to live 2.2 miles (straight downhill) from a sweet Pacific Ocean beach. I will often run out the door to “catch the sunset” and hope to catch a ride back up the hill from my husband.

sus and me

Sus (husband) and me. I couldn't have created Harmony Art without his never-ending love, support and confidence in me.

Me on a hike

I find that being outside, surrounded by nature, keeps me sane and refills my artistic well. So, although I do it for “fun and fitness,” I also consider it time spent working, as I am always on the lookout for patterns or pattern ideas from nature. Having lived in the same rural environment for almost 10 years, I have come to appreciate the small changes that happen throughout each season.

Besides your web site, where can our readers find your products?

One of the great perks of Harmony Art has been getting to meet and work with so many wonderful people. I truly believe that I have the best customers in the world!

Here’s a link to the retailers who sell my fabrics

And here’s a link to some of the companies who use my fabrics in their product lines:

Facebook Fan Page.

One thing that makes me a bit crazy is the single-use-plastic-bag phenomenon. Did you know that the average single-use plastic bag is used for only 12 minutes, and only one percent is ever recycled? Each year, people the world over use a total of 500 billion to one trillion single-use plastic bags. In fact, in the U.S., it is estimated that every five seconds 60,000 of these bags are used! Plastic bags break down into small, highly toxic chemical particles, which end up floating in our ocean water. These tiny particles are eaten by sea animals, and thus enter our food chain, which then threatens our health. Birds, fish, turtles and other animals consume larger pieces of these bags, as the plastic can be indistinguishable from other sources of food. Unable to digest these items, the creatures’ stomachs become bloated, often causing death by starvation, as plastic contains no nutrients and blocks passage of any other food that does.


In an effort to assist you in quitting the single-use-plastic-bag addiction and help you transition to fabric bags, we will be giving away three organic cotton (Harmony Art fabric) Green Bag Lady reusable bags. The Green Bag Lady began as an eco-friendly art project in 2008, the brainchild of artist Teresa VanHatten-Granath. Teresa and her team of volunteer “Bagettes” sew reusable bags created out of donated fabric and give them away in exchange for a promise to refuse paper and plastic when shopping. The use of these bags worldwide is documented on her web site She also has step-by-step tutorials, patterns, and a video on how to make your own fabric shopping bag.


Shopping Bags

Shopping Bags

Please enter comments on this post by Sunday, August 21st midnight pacific time, and a winner will be drawn at random. In addition, you will receive some of the fabric sent to us for our article’s photo shoot (shown above), which includes one yard of Ten Flowers, 1/4-yard of Morning Dew, and 1/4-yard of Thirty Nine, all at 110″ wide,  making this giveaway valued at least $90.  Good luck!

We have a winner!

Noelle   Submitted on 2011/08/20 at 3:36 pm

“This is so inspiring! I love all the designs and her method of working! I would LOVE to win this giveaway and show all sewing buddies her fabulous work!

Posted by Living Crafts on Aug 18, 2011 03:05 PM | 512 Comments

My Life My Craft: Salley Mavor

Salley with Self Portrait 2009

Salley with self portrait 2009

Years ago, when my daughter was a toddler I found Salley Mavor’s art, and her flower fairies. I loved acorns and acorn caps Salley was behind my inspiration to do an acorn cap exchange with online friends. I did leave the acorn itself for the squirrels … I still have a huge collection of acorn caps of all sizes from around the U.S. and treasure it, thanks to Salley! There was a time that I was making these little people for every child I met. I also wore them as pins which was delightful to both children and adults. At my daughter’s Kindergarten, when Miss Charlotte was “our” teacher, every child got one from me for Christmas, and when my daughter was old enough to make her own, I would arrange picnics with friends to sit under an oak tree and make them together. Now that I think of it, these 6-7 year olds had so much patience. One day, when I dig up all my own work from various storage containers, I will show you some of our work.

Felt Wee Folk

Salley’s book, Felt Wee Folk, is an American classic, and if you love hand-sewing, this book offers many beautiful options in working with felt. The little fairies are just the cherry on top!

Salley has also illustrated children books with her beautiful handwork, the latest is Pocketful of Posies, which was reviewed in the Spring 2011 issue of Living Crafts.

Here’s my interview with her:

When did you first start handwork? What was the “original” craft you started doing and who taught you?

Looking back, I have early memories of sewing and constructing things as a child. I would spend hours sewing outfits and creating scenes for my dolls. Once I figured out how to sew on snaps, a world of possibilities opened up. I was especially interested in all things miniature and coming up with ways to decorate and furnish my doll’s environment. I can remember making a tiny bathroom and looking around the house for shower curtain material. It had to be plastic and water repellant, regular cloth would not do! I took a pair of scissors, went into our bathroom and cut a small piece out of the shower curtain. It took a while for my mother to discover that the corner was cut out, but she was quite open to sacrifice in the name of art. She was an artist herself and created an atmosphere in our home where art and making things with one’s hands was important. In our home, learning how to make things was not only looked upon as fun, but there was also an unspoken high regard for handwork and beauty. Art was not looked upon as an “extra” and my mother instinctively knew the benefits of creative work, that the process can engage the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual parts of oneself.

In a term paper about art education for her master’s degree in 1965, my mother wrote, “The student should be encouraged to find his own way, but this does not mean the void of laissez-faire. Children need a structured exposure to many ways of seeing, doing and thinking. To teach art, the teacher must be an artist. By having confidence in their own abilities, teachers will be able to sensitize children to want to learn and care—not just problem solve. Through intuitive discovery a child will find himself, what he believes and be really free, even in a computer society. By giving students something to do—learn and contemplate what they can understand naturally—will give them the values needed today.”

Anne and Salley with playhouse our parents built and painted
Anne and Salley with playhouse our parents built and painted

How did you get interested in felt? And hand-stitching?

I’ve used many different types of fabric in my artwork, but it wasn’t until the early 90’s, when my two sons were enrolled in a Waldorf School, that I discovered the joys of real felt. I love how it looks and feels to work with and I now use plant dyed wool felt almost exclusively. I am self-taught in needle work and have learned through trial and error, as well as plenty of practice. I’m not as interested in method as I am communication. I think that in order to best tell a story, my artwork must be executed with skill, so that the medium contributes to the message and doesn’t distract.

Lately, I’ve been describing my work as part of a Slow Art Movement. Yes, its very time consuming and not very practical, but that is part of what attracts me to this way of working. I sew, wrap, embroider, carve and embellish in as many ways as I can think of—all by hand. I can’t really speed it up and machines are no help. Through the repetitive, tactile processes, I find a calm satisfaction that can help lead to effective problem solving. But, stitchery itself is not dynamic enough for me, I like to decorate felt pieces and parts with embroidery and then combine them with other dimensional materials. Each illustration requires figuring out something new, whether it is a way of constructing a driftwood house or making a tiny basket, so I need time to work things out.

How did you start doing those little acorn people?

I was intrigued by the use of natural objects in the handwork projects at our Waldorf School and started making little people and teaching workshops for parents. The idea started with a simple acorn capped fairy and grew into a larger group of fanciful characters. Through teaching, I learned how to break down and explain the process of making the dolls. I made and sold Blossom Fairy Kits for about 10 years and wrote the how-to book, Felt Wee Folk: Enchanting Projects.

Tell me about your childhood, your family, and now …

Jimmy, Salley and Anne Mavor 1960
Jimmy, Salley and Anne Mavor 1960

The middle of three children, I lived with my parents, sister and brother in the small village of Woods Hole, Mass. on Cape Cod. Growing up in our household was like living in a busy hive, with art projects, materials and equipment close at hand. My mother had a big influence on my development as an artist. There was always time for art and I never heard her say no to an imaginative scheme. She would help us gather supplies and teach us whatever we needed to make an idea come to life. We lived in a perpetual state of clutter, with the technique du jour in evidence all through the house. One day, Mom had the children clear a path through the living room so that our father could walk through. For Mom, part of the fun of making things was the physical thrill of interacting with the materials. Her batik room was a Jackson Pollack of spattered dye, where she would busily apply hot wax on the fabric and dip it in dye pots. Our world was full of creative possibilities and I’ve dedicated Pocketful of Posies to the memory of my remarkable parents, Mary and Jim Mavor.

I’m on my father’s lap


What is a day of your life like?

Since my work is so sedentary, I try to start the day with some form of exercise; dance aerobics, yoga, bicycling, etc. Then I usually catch up on e-mails, write blog posts or interviews like this one. I try to stitch for several hours a day and work on design related problems the rest of the time. I break for dinner and then resume working in my studio. I got in the habit of stitching in the evening when my sons were young, because that was the only time I could sit peacefully. My husband, Rob says that when I’m not eating or sleeping, I’m working in my studio. Of course, this is not entirely accurate, but it’s close to the truth. I admit to being obsessed with making things, as I believe are most artists. Holding a threaded needle is my default position.

Salley sewing 2010
Salley sewing 2010

What advice can you give our readers, who are so eager to have their own handwork businesses and books of their own?

Fine handwork skills are essential, but good design is the most important element in making something to sell. If your product stands out and is beautifully made, then you may be able to charge enough o make it worth your time. You have to be content with working on the same item, over and over again and building a reputation for quality. Working by hand is no way to make a lot of money, so do it because you get some satisfaction from the process.

Books are a lot of work, so be sure that you are ready before making a proposal and embarking on a publishing project. How-to publishers are looking for unique, teachable ideas that are not so complicated that the reader becomes frustrated. You have to be the type of person who doesn’t mind explaining every minute detail of directions, a trait that often does not come with a creative personality.

How do you go about designing and creating?

Just like other illustrators who work in more traditional ways, I draw a layout of the book, making sketches of each page that show the general positioning of the subjects in the picture, leaving space for the type. I find the design phase to be the hardest and most cerebral part of the process. I’m glad when it’s done, because then I can get down to the more intuitive and enjoyable business of making. It’s thrilling to hold the materials and let my hands start forming the pictures.

I find that welcoming found objects into my work can become a trap. Some very interesting looking things can seduce me into thinking they belong in a picture. Later, if it doesn’t contribute to the story, I’ll have to make the painful decision to kick it out. That’s hard, especially when I really like the object. Writer friends tell me that they encounter something similar in their writing. They have to get rid of clever characters, witty dialog or funny situations that seemed perfect earlier. We agree that it’s all part of the creative process, but you have to be willing to see the imposter for what it is.

What do you want to tell us about the meaning of life, and anything else that pleases you.

It took five years for Pocketful of Posies to go from early sketches to the final production stage.

For three of those years, I stitched and assembled the 51 nursery rhyme illustrations. What kept me going was the challenge and excitement of bringing so many stories and characters to life. I could concentrate a lot of energy into each picture and make bold design decisions. I was determined that every rhyme would have the love and attention it deserved. Adults comment on my detailed, labor intensive technique, but children are not impressed by how long it takes or how perfect my stitches are.

No matter what technique I use, or how many days it takes, my goal is to stimulate the imagination and have children emotionally connect with my art. Right now, I’m taking a break from illustrating and will be spending the next few years making pieces for art shows. I’m not even sure what I’ll be making, but I feel like I have something to contribute outside of the children’s book world.


Recently C+T Publishing published Salley’s article about the connection betwaeen her books, and they have generously allowed us to publish it on this blog as follows:

Stitches tie books together

When my new children’s book, Pocketful of Posies came out last fall, many people were introduced to my work for the first time. I’ve been illustrating with fabric, embroidery and found objects for 20 years and I’m delighted to report that this book has taken off like nothing I’ve done before. Pocketful of Posies has attracted a lot of unexpected attention, but the biggest surprise is that it has been given the Golden Kite Award for picture book illustration from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. To my knowledge, this is the first time this honor has been given to fabric or dimensional illustrations of any kind.

In the months since Pocketful of Posies was released, there has been a renewed interest in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk: Enchanting Projects , published by C&T in 2003. Many people who see the fabric relief artwork in my children’s books want to learn how to make dolls and scenes of their own. So, I’m glad to have an instructional book already on the market. There are projects to suit all skill levels, from simply constructed dolls to finely made figures with intricately embroidered felt clothing. In Felt Wee Folk, I teach how to make little dolls, which are basically made the same as way as the characters in Pocketful of Posies. The wee folk appear in both books, with their painted wooden bead heads donning acorn caps and wearing similarly stitched outfits.

The two books seem to compliment each other, with Pocketful of Posies spurring the imagination and showing possibilities of what can be made with the techniques demonstrated in Felt Wee Folk. Not only do I hope to inspire creativity in children, but I want to encourage people of all ages to try their hand at making their own miniature worlds with a needle and thread.

It’s been 8 years since Felt Wee Folk was first published and I’ve been asked if I will write another instructional book. It’s satisfying to hear that my book has created a thirst for more, but I probably will not write another. So, what are my plans? I’ve been feeling the urge to experiment with my fabric relief techniques and make more personal one-of-a-kind artwork. I’ll still work in 3-dimentions and stitch like crazy, but lately my muse has been calling and urging me to try a new approach. I’m not sure what I’ll be doing, but I figure that if I’m going to expand my horizons, now is the time. I have truly enjoyed sharing my stitched world through the nursery rhymes in Pocketful of Posies as well as the photos, directions and patterns in Felt Wee Folk. I hope that both of these books will remain available for years to come. Links to learn more about Salley and her work: Blog: Web Site:

You may also be interested in reading an interview Salley did with the children’s book blog, Seven Impossible Things.

Salley’s Two-Book Giveaway


Felt Wee Folk

Today, we are giving away two of Salley’s books: Wee Folk Felt, published by C+T Publishing,  and Pocketful of Posies, by Houghton Mifflin. To enter the drawing, please leave a comment here by 8 p.m. EST Sunday, April 17th. The winner will be announced Monday.

And the winner is…

Mel V 2011/04/16 at 5:07 pm
Thank you for sharing your story and your passion. Just beautiful.

Posted by Living Crafts on Apr 15, 2011 07:12 PM | 464 Comments

My Life My Craft: Starting a Fabric Business

Cynthia Mann and family

When Cynthia Mann launched her online fabric store, she was looking for a way to combine her love of making things with work that kept her close to home and her two young boys. Three years later, is a thriving business. Cynthia is not only selling beautiful fabrics, but, together with her graphic designer husband Jason, she is designing them. A further leap: Cynthia also manufactures her own organic line, Birch Fabrics. After being told again and again how cost-prohibitive organic would be, she decided to do her own research and found a way to marry costs, her family’ s passion for “ reducing our global footprint,” and her customers (and her own) need for a “ healthier alternative for the world.” Birch Fabrics is also the name of her recently opened brick-and-mortar store in California, stocked with 100% organic cotton fabrics.

Cynthia calls her life “ a dream realized,” but it is a dream that came with a big commitment of time and energy. “ There was a time there where I worked about 80 hours a week,” she says. “When things were really busy I would wake up in the middle of the night around 1:00 or 2:00 AM and cut and pack orders for a couple of hours while everyone was sleeping.” This was about the time Cynthia realized it was time to hire help. Her two full-time and three part-time employees are, Cynthia says, “the engine that runs the vehicle.” They will often sew together on lunch breaks and after work. Cynthia and the girls – Andrea, Bre, Arleen, Belin and Melanie – have “all really bonded around our love for all things crafty!”

Bird Quilt

Many, whether young mothers or not, dream of turning their love of craft into a viable business. Cynthia’s advice for anyone starting out:


- Research—tons of it—before you spend even a dime.

- Find out about demand in the marketplace and also competition—ask family and friends questions related to your ideas and business; join forums and chat groups online to get a sense of the demand for your product.

- Evaluate ALL the costs—Remember to include your time as a cost.

- If you have children at home, find someone to help you with them – for at least a few hours a week. You need uninterrupted time to concentrate on the research.

- Start small and grow slow.

And some Don’ts:

- Don’t price your goods too low and sell yourself short.

- Don’t jump right into it with a big investment

- Don’t assume that because you love something that everyone else will too.

- Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family and friends.

- Don’t lose sight of what you wanted to do, and why you wanted to do it, in the first place!

When it comes to balancing work and family Cynthia says it can be “tough.” But she feels fortunate to be co-parenting with “a hands-on dad” who also works at home.

Father & Kids

As far as balancing everything with craft, she says that though she doesn’t sew as much as she would like to, she tries to put in at least one or two hours on the machine a week. She enjoys designing, and suggests that anyone interested in fabric design “sketch and doodle like crazy, these can turn into the most unique and interesting designs.” Cynthia’s own favorite designer is Etsuko Furuya (her company is called Echino).  “She’s incredible,” says Cynthia, “her use of pattern, is like no one else, and she inspires me every day.”

White Pillows

Though she says she “ stumbled” into this calling, clearly Cynthia is a woman who had a goal and accomplished that goal. When asked what, at this juncture, is the best thing about running fabricworm, she says, it is “ friendships.”

“ I’d have to say one of the best things is the friendships I’ve made, not only with my employees, but with the online community as well. I’ve met so many interesting, inspiring people. I just couldn’t ask for a better occupation.” “Not to mention,” Cynthia adds, “I have access to the most amazing fabrics in the world – at least in my opinion!”

Fabric Giveaway

Fat Quarters

Today’ s giveaway is by Birch Fabrics:  a fat quarter set of all 9 prints from the Beach Mod collection by Monaluna, each a fat quarter measuring 18″ x 22″, retail value is $40.50.

Bolts of fabric

To enter, please leave comments by Thursday, February 3rd, 8:00 p.m. EST and the winner will be announced on Friday.

And the winner is…

 Monica   2011/02/02 at 7:03 am
 What cute fabrics! What a wonderful giveaway – thanks!!

Posted by Living Crafts on Feb 1, 2011 09:14 PM | 513 Comments


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