Featured in the WS Journal: Local people come up with crafty ideas for their businesses

As featured in the Winston-Salem Journal on Local people come up with crafty ideas for their businesses

Rather than keep her collection of Alabama band T-shirts packed away in a drawer, Mitzi Cusack decided to turn all 30 of them into a quilt.

Cuzack took the concert T-shirts, some of which had become worn, to Sew Fabulous Inc., a quilting company based in Winston-Salem.

“This is a great way to preserve the T-shirts and create this fantastic memory. I just love it,” Cusack, who lives in Walkertown, said of her finished quilt.

The overall crafting industry is doing well, according to the Craft & Hobby Association, based in Elmwood Park, N.J., because of several factors. The association’s members are designers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers of all shapes and sizes in the craft and hobby industry.

Lauren Carroll / Journal

“When you look at the entire Do It Yourself and DIY movement, the younger generations are engaging in crafting and really doing it in a variety of different fashions with a variety of different crafts’ said Andrej Suskavcevic, the association’s president and chief executive. “It is strong.”

He didn’t have specific numbers to size the market, but said that a lot of the growth is online as many stores look to the Internet for craft sales. He is also seeing an increase in other online communities starting to form around the craft industry, some of which offer online learning tools for people wanting to make crafts.

“I think that speaks to the robustness of the industry overall,” Suskavcevic said.

He said that crafting allows people to have family time as they come together to do activities.

“I think the recession over the past five years had an impact on people’s budgets,” he said. “They will turn to crafting and doing things together as an alternative to going out and spending money elsewhere.”

He said some social media platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest give people a place to share their creativity and inspire others.

Lauren Carroll / Journal

He has also noticed that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is starting to bring back crafts somewhat in its stores.

Walmart stores stopped carrying cloth in the late 2000s but still sold crafts and fabric supplies. In April 2011, the discount retailer announced that it was broadening its product assortment, including the expansion of fabrics and crafts. A Wal-Mart spokesman was unavailable for comment.

Suskavcevic said that new products are coming out in the quilting and knitting category, including knitting yarns and online tools, which are inspiring people to learn crafts.

Sew Fabulous Inc. got its start in 2006 with the company’s Dreamin’ Deacon Quilt design, which can be personalized.

“We became licensed with Wake Forest (University) and we have a copyrighted quilt,” Stickney said.

Sew Fabulous started making T-shirt quilts in 2009. Customers have brought T-shirts for an entire family – from infants to grandparents – to make one quilt.

The company also offers custom quilting services and other products, as wells as quilting classes.

“We specialize in creating quilts for those that don’t sew and making memory pieces for them,” said Gloria Stickney, who owns the business with her husband, Bob.

Stickney works full time as a business manager for the Physics Department at Wake Forest University, and her husband is a social studies and science teacher at Walkertown Middle School. They have always worked out of their home, first in Kernersville and now in Winston-Salem.

Stickney has been sewing since she was a child. In addition to regular sewing machines, she uses computerized long-arm quilters.

“I have a friend who calls them a sewing machine on steroids,” she said laughing.

The company sells its products online, and at quilt shows and school events.

“Our plan going forward is that we will continue to grow,” Stickney said. “We have a mechanism in place to be able to increase the number of quilts that we can make, and be able to reach out to the Wake Forest community and be able to market the products that we have.”

She declined to give exact numbers but said Sew Fabulous’ sales rose about 25 percent in 2012 from 2011.

“We’ve grown every year that we’ve been in business,” she said.

Stickney said that quilting was almost a lost art back in the 1960s but started making a comeback in the 1970s.

She said that many quilts are being done in elaborate designs and color schemes. Quilted wools and art quilts in which pictures are painted with thread are popular.

“Quilting, I think, is here to stay because it’s relaxing,” she said. “It’s challenging. It’s an avenue that men and women are able to funnel their creative styles to.”

She also said that crocheting and knitting have also seen a revival, especially with the availability of different yarns.

Mary Alden Luttrell, 9, and Mayah Ding, 8, have been knitting for the past several years. The friends met at a July 4 party this year and decided a week later during a play date to start their own knitting company, Needles Knit for Peace.

“We were bored so I came up with the idea to do a business,” said Mary Alden of Winston-Salem.

She figured they’d just make and sell products in their neighborhoods, but Mayah wanted to sell to a much wider market and do something different with the money they made.

“I thought we should give the money we make to charity,” said Mayah, who lives in Clemmons.

Mary Alden said they keep just enough money to buy two balls of yarn after a sale. She focuses on the marketing, typically posters, and Mayah makes the majority of their products.

Rosemary Luttrell, Mary Alden’s mother, recalled the girls’ first play date. She found them on the top bunk in Mary Alden’s room. The girls had written a business plan that included how much their venture would cost and their initial market.

Yongmei Liu, Mayah’s mother, said she is so proud of the girls.

“They are really creative,” she said.

For example, she said that the girls made a beautiful poster and created custom order sheets for people who were able to come to their first sale.

The girls sold enough knitted products, including a purse and head band, to make $60 in their first sale. They gave $50 of it to SciWorks Science Center. The money will be designated for the museum’s Adopt-an-Animal program to help provide food, housing, medical care and enrichment for its animals. The girls specifically want to help fund SciWorks’ new outdoor enclosure for Rascal, a raccoon.

“They’re industrious and generous young ladies,” said Ally McCauley, the marketing coordinator for SciWorks.

McCauley said that museum officials have given the girls permission to sell their products on consignment in the SciWorks gift shop.

They have also been invited to set up a table where they can sell their goods at SciWorks’ Festive Family Friday event on Dec. 13.

Mary Alden and Mayah’s plans are to give proceeds from other sales to Brenner Children’s Hospital and a local backpack program to feed hungry school children.

The girls are planning their own website and want to eventually expand their line of products. They make other specialty crafts including rag dolls, key chains and friendship bracelets. They also want to start knitting workshops to help children learn to knit.

The girls have decided that no matter how big their business grows, something will never change.

“We feel like it’s going to be one of those businesses where we can make money for ourselves, but we’re never going to give money to ourselves,” Mary Alden said. “We’re going to keep giving to charity.”

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