Friday Feature: Made in Lowell July 30, 2010 08:00

Made in Lowell is the business of crafter Liz Smith. Liz is someone I got to know in the Twitter-sphere, and then got to know in "real life" when she started selling her work in our 2009 Craftland Show. She lives and works in an old mill town in Massachusetts and makes unique and beautiful handmade goodness. Here's the interview I did with Liz! Happy Friday!

When did you start your handmade business?
I have been making things and selling them since I was a little kid. No really! My older sister showed me how to make little miniatures; kitchen things for a dollhouse, tiny soaps on tiny sponges, little rolls of aluminum foil etc. I would make a whole kitchen's worth of goods then set up a table in the living room and my mom would buy the items. I guess that got me hooked because I started doing craft shows (outside the home) in my twenties and apparently I cannot be stopped! Selling on Etsy and in craft galleries has opened up a whole other world for me, I love it. 

It was a fun surprise to see you featured in Kari Chapin's book, The Handmade Marketplace. How did you get involved with the author and get the opportunity to be part of her project?
Kari is an amazing person! She befriended me on Etsy in 2006 or early 2007. We just clicked through emailing back and forth. She even made a treasury that included one of my items that made the front page, my first FP! Years later she emailed to ask if I was interested in participating in a book she was writing. Um, yeah! I was so excited. You know, I didn't actually meet her in person until Bazaar Bizarre Boston, 2009. Her book is amazing and crafters who want to sell their goods just love it! I am so honored to be a contributor. No matter where you are in your crafty business, there is information you can use in there and it's presented in a friendly, encouraging tone which is the embodiment of Kari's generous personality. 

Describe your studio space for us.
I am tremendously fortunate to have a studio in an old converted textile mill in Lowell, Massachusetts. I was on a waiting list a long time to get one of these affordable spaces at Western Avenue Studios http://westernavenuestudios.com . It's about 434 square feet. The floors are metal plates, the drywall partitions go up about 8 feet. the high ceiling is exposed wood beams and the back wall is brick. I have crammed all my art supplies in there and kept a few square feet for my workspace hahaha! It is absolutely dreamy to have a dedicated area for making. Like all crafters, my work was taking over our tiny condo and it was hard to expand the business when I kept having to clear things off the table to serve dinner. The best part of having a studio is leaving everything out on the workspace, locking the door and going home.  

Do you think having your studio in an old mill building inspires your work?
Everything about Lowell inspires me! Lowell, Massachusetts was the first planned industrial city in America and it is filled with brick buildings, cobblestone streets and canals. I live in one converted textile mill and I have a studio in another. I think about the young mill girls who used to work long hours making textiles and how lucky I am, how privileged to have the freedom to make whimsical textile goods in this space now. 

What advice would you offer to someone who is interested in taking their crafting from hobby to business?
I would say get involved in the crafting community through Etsy, through Twitter and Flickr, gather around you a virtual (and real!) group of crafters at all stages of business development that you can observe and learn from. But above all else be excellent at making your items. Perfect your craftsmanship before you start selling. And be adaptable, being willing to change course will work in your favor. One more thing, please value your time! Be sure to charge for the knowledge and labor you put into your items and not just the material costs. 

How do you balance the creative part of your work, with the business side?
I wish I were super organized, I'm a Virgo so I really should have a some elaborate and efficient system in place, but alas that is not the case. I find I work it out intuitively. Every day there is always a tremendous to-do list. But while the business side of things can always be accessed, the Muse is a fickle visitor. So if I find myself spending three days obsessively making felty goods, I'm not going to interrupt that flow to order credit card slips. The Muse will ebb and flow so when it pulls away for a bit, I find that is the time the left brain takes over and files my sales taxes. 

How did you first become involved with Craftland?
I was in Providence visiting with in-laws a few years ago and I picked up a Craftland holiday postcard, so pretty! I wasn't sure what it was, a show? A store? I researched then found I knew a lot of Rhode Island crafters who explained it was a temporary holiday consignment craft shop. Last year I applied for the holiday shop with fingers crossed and I got in! At the end of the holidays I was going to apply for the year 'round shop when I was preemptively offered a spot, thrilling! I absolutely LOVE Craftland, I know so many of the artists who show there and seriously want to buy one of each every time I visit. For me, the shop just embodies the new craft revolution that really kicked into high gear with Etsy, Bazaar Bizarre and Readymade and Craft magazines. I love being a part of it. 

Guilty Pleasure?
Every week I read Entertainment Weekly magazine cover to cover though I watch absolutely no TV, never listen to music radio and see about 3 movies a year.

(Watch Liz show Martha how to make polymer clay eggs on the Martha Stewart show!)