Friday Feature: Abbey Christine July 16, 2010 12:23

There's a strange thing happening right now in Rhode Island, our wee state seems to be growing. No, not in square miles, but in tiny little Rhode Islanders who will soon grow up to enjoy the wonders of Del's Lemonade. People are having babies like crazy, or so it seems from this side of the register, and a lot of those babies are being welcomed into this world with handmade goodness from Craftland. If you've bought some sassy burp cloths, or super cute felt finger puppets for one of those wee ones, then your present was made by today's featured artist, Abbey Hambright from Chicago, Illinois. Here's the interview I did with Abbey.

When did you start your handmade business?
I started my business in September 2005 (almost 5 years ago!). The first things I sold were handmade cards made from vintage children’s book illustrations and some with my own watercolor illustrations. I started making a felt thing here and there and found that they sold better than the cards, so I kept at it. I started making animal finger puppets then one day, while watching The Royal Tenenbaums, I thought to myself “How awesome would it be to make them as finger puppets?” I decided to give it a try and it’s just grown from there. It’s really been a constantly evolving experiment!

Describe your studio space for us.
I’ve had various studio set-ups in the past, from a corner of my tiny apartment bedroom to semi-dedicated spaces, but I was so so lucky that when my boyfriend and I moved in together a couple years ago, we were able to get a place with an extra bedroom that I can devote completely to my studio space. I work from an older-than-old armchair that desperately needs to be reupholstered (and is a little embarrassing to show off to visitors!) and a good deal of the “furniture” is made of stacked suitcases that I use in my craft fair display. Plus a closet full of giant pieces of felt!

What was it about felt that led you to work with that material?
I don’t remember exactly why I started with felt in the beginning, but it's a really forgiving material and doesn’t require hemming, so for someone like me who can be a little impatient, it totally lends itself to instant gratification. I love the challenge of using this really basic, kind of childlike material, and transforming it into something completely new. Plus, the felt that I use is made from 100% recycled plastic bottles, so I can feel good about working with a material that is responsibly made.

Tell us a little about the process behind your fun finger puppets of famous people.
It’s important to me that all the personalities I make into puppets are people that I think are interesting or important in some way, and often those who might be out of the mainstream just a little bit. I’ve learned, though, that no matter how much I might like a particular person, there are certain things that have to be there for them to translate well as a puppet. I’ve done a lot of Wes Anderson characters because I think they’re great, but also because each one has such a specific look, so they translate really well into 4” tall felt puppets. But a character like Liz Lemon from 30 Rock, for instance, no matter how great I think she is, just isn’t going to work as a puppet-- she’ll just look like a brunette in a cardigan. Same thing with guys in suits-- they all look pretty much the same as puppets. But the limitations, I think, are what make what I do so fun. The challenge is to to distill somebody into that really specific format and make it work.

Where do you go to find inspiration to help get you over a creative hump?
I really try to just keep working, even if I’m not in love with what I happen to be creating right them. The process can help me get over the hump. I also try putting myself in places where I’m around other artists and their work-- a craft group, a gallery, a handmade shop, even just browsing great blogs-- being around fantastic work inspires me to want to be get involved in that creative conversation again.

What advice would you offer someone who is interested in taking their crafting from hobby to business?
Work really hard on refining your craft. You’ve got to be really good at what you do in order to find a market and be able to make things at a rate where you can be profitable. Also, make sure that you love putting a ton of time into building your business-- it takes a lot of effort and commitment, and you can only do it if you won’t resent having to stay home to sew/blog/draw/email customers/whatever on a Friday night or two!

How did you first become involved with Craftland?
I’m from the Midwest, but I lived in Providence for a couple of great years. My best friend, who I moved out with, visited Craftland right before we moved, and just raved about how cool it was and how much I would love it. I applied in 2006, still a very fledgling crafter, and was THRILLED to be accepted. Craflland was the first retail setting where I’d ever sold my stuff, so it was a huge deal for me. 

Guilty Pleasure?
The People’s Court. Funny pictures of dogs, especially when they’re in costume : )