Yo Momma Monday: Karen LePage

yo momma mondayMeet Karen LePage, 42, a sewin’ mama from Michigan. I met her through Oh My! Handmade and I instantly swooned over all of her work. She not only sews up a storm, but she also creates patterns, sells custom-made garments and shares tutorials on her website at One Girl Circus! Oh, and she also co-wrote a sewing book for boys, appropriately named Sewing for Boys.

Before she started working for herself, she sang at weddings, sold cars, managed a coffee shop, taught German and worked in Strategic Planning. To say she is well-rounded would be an understatement.

Karen started a blog after she read and loved blogs from other people. Initially, it started as a means for documenting her children’s special moments.

“I guess it’s not surprising that I’m not very consistent with it, however, because I was never a child who could keep a journal beyond “dear diary” for more than a few weeks.”

Photo from Karen LePage

Photo from Karen LePage

After her mother bought a sewing machine when Karen was five, she started experimenting and made every project in the booklet that came with the machine. From there, she spent several years making wardrobes for all of her dolls. As a kid, she started watching Sewing with Nancy when it came on PBS, a show she still watches to this day.

I always say Nancy Zieman taught me to sew…I still watch it.  I still love it.”

Karen still remembers her first sewing project – a drawstring bag – and she says there have been plenty of disasters along the way. When she first got started, she would wear her disasters; now, she tucks them away until she’s ready to try again. Her latest creation was a Japanese double-gauze newborn outfit that was in a box for six years because she couldn’t stand to look at it.

“I’m so happy I could rescue it!”

Photo from Karen LePage

Photo from Karen LePage

As a mom, Karen says that her children not only inspire her work, but also keep her balanced and admits that if she didn’t have her kids, she would probably just work all the time.

“I love making things, and having humans relying on me for comfort, food, and shelter ensures that I nourish myself with their companionship while meeting their needs, too.”

The creativity bug has definitely hit both of her kids, as her son likes to design the garments she makes for him, and her daughter is a quilter. Her son also shops at thrift and vintage stores, so he has become quite the master at button replacing, and he already has an eye for what can be fixed, and what cannot. Her daughter will often work up a patchwork when she’s in the sewing space.

“She has an amazing eye for color and pattern.”

Karen describes her workspace as chaotic yet comforting. While she is always moving things around in there, she still keeps an open space for her kids to visit while she’s working. She does like to take some time tidying up in between projects.

Photo from Karen LePage

Photo from Karen LePage

“But as soon as I have a clean space I’m inspired to start making again – immediately.

Although there’s no such thing as a normal day, there is one consistency in her morning routine – coffee (ain’t that the truth). Her daily activities are determined by deadlines, inspiration and commitments – and she does try to get some sewing in every day.

“I start to get twitchy when I’m away from my sewing machine for too long.”

Karen says that the best and scariest thing about running her own business is that everything – from what get made to what gets published – is all her.

Photo from Karen LePage

Photo from Karen LePage

“Sometimes it’s wonderful and sometimes it’s terrifying and sometimes it’s wonderfully terrifying.”

She started teaching classes after someone asked her to do it, and that is one of her favorite things about what she does.

“There’s something super-satisfying about nudging my students toward sewing confidence.  I love that it’s a skill they can use forever. I love holding their hands through the tough part and saying “Look how awesome you are!” when they make it through and realize they can make something they didn’t think they could make.”

When Karen is not teaching classes and making clothes –  or thinking about new classes and new projects – she loves reading, hiking with her daughter, yoga and cooking.

Photo from Karen LePage

Photo from Karen LePage

“Actually, strike that, I like reading cookbooks.”

And of course, she loves all forms of crafting. There isn’t a craft she hasn’t stopped, and thanks to Creative Bug and the craft section in her local bookstore, that won’t be ending anytime soon. She loves making anything from  baby clothes to formal gowns – all of it.

“If it goes on a body, someone will wear it and love it, and that’s something that makes me happy and keeps me going.  There’s always something new I want to try, whether it’s a technique or material I haven’t yet attempted; I incorporate my latest learning into each new project.”

She gets the majority of her fabric from local fabric stores and loves visiting new stores in any town she visits. When she cannot find a fabric she wants locally, she will shop online.

Photo from Karen LePage

Photo from Karen LePage

“I spend my dollars locally whenever possible.”

Karen loves being a part of the handmade community because she has always been just one of a handful of people she knows that love sewing. Of the four high schools she attended, she only found one friend who could sew. ONE! Now that she has a whole community of friends who also love the same kind of things, she counts it as a blessing.

“I feel so energized and inspired when working collaboratively; even when working on my own thing amongst fellow makers.  The handmade community is what has made my 30s and 40s the best years of my life.”

She currently has two patterns in the Stitch Magazine Spring issue and there will be another one in the Summer issue. She is also working on a handmade garment line and is hoping to hire some local people to help with the sewing and sales of her products.

“I’m really excited about it, but I’m also thrilled to have a steady stream of consultancy projects.”

Photo from Karen LePage

Photo from Karen LePage

Karen hopes to inspire people by being an advocate of all things handmade – whether its making, buying, spreading the word, or all of the above.

“I also hope I can inspire people to try something new every once in a while, and to really enjoy the process of making.”

Thank you to the lovely and wonderful Karen for participating in this series! You can find her blog here, buy her stuff here and read the book she co-wrote here.

If you enjoy this series and would like to be a part of it, or know someone who should, please leave a note in the comments or connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Pinterest and Instagram. Next month, I will be talking with Jane Skoch from Maiden Jane!

Yo Momma Monday: Gretchen Fleener

Image belongs to Gretchen Fleener

Image belongs to Gretchen Fleener

Meet Gretchen Fleener, 34, from Mound, Minnesota. She is an Industrial Designer, Web Designer and face painter. She runs her own business, Junk Mail Gems, where she sells fun items that she makes out of junk mail. She is also an awesome momma to her two sons, who are three and five. Gretchen took time out of her busy schedule to talk to me about how she manages everything, and what she wants her sons to learn from her business.

Gretchen got into junk mail art when she was making magnets from junk mail to preserve patterns that she liked in a functional way. She heard over and over again that she could sell her magnets, but it wasn’t until her sister urged her to start selling online. And that is where Junk Mail Gems was born, six years ago.

“She and I came up with the Junk Mail Gems name because the magnets looked like little gems.  I had a lot of fun designing the logo, then website, and coming up with more things to make out of junk mail to fill my store!”

Although  it may not be for everyone, Gretchen says that being the boss is the best part of running her own business. She loves that she can work when it fits in her life, rather than having to wait for work to be over to enjoy life. A life-long multitasker, she can be found packing items during a commercial break.

As for most small business owners, finances are a worry of hers. Fortunately, she has an incredibly supportive husband whose stable job covers the important bills, allowing her to work from home. He fits her business schedule into his and will come home early to watch the boys if she needs to go to a face painting job or a client meeting.

“He never talks down about my businesses or makes me feel less important because I don’t work 9-5 in an office anymore.”

Before she had her sons, doing anything creative or artistic gave her the most fulfillment. Now, she gets the most fulfillment from using her artistic skills (and revenue earned through them) on her boys.

Image belongs to Gretchen Fleener

Image belongs to Gretchen Fleener

“My kids blow my mind with the things they create already at age 3 and 5 and it’s so cool to see that part of me in them.”

As you might imagine, her boys love crafting with her, and her five-year-old has even caught the bug for turning junk into something he can use and play with! To help cultivate her boys’ creativity, Gretchen labeled a Rubbermaid bin “the project box” and throws odds and ends that the boys can use for their crafts. She also keeps all the kid-friendly crafting supplies at their level so they can create on their own.

“I love coming up with projects to do with them, but my favorite thing is to let them loose and see what they come up with on their own. One of my 5 year old’s most used Christmas gifts is his collection of brightly colored masking tape rolls that my sister gave him.  He is constantly rescuing things form our recycle bin and turning them into things…rocket ships, monster trucks, and houses for his stuffed dogs!”

Not only do her boys love crafting with her, they also love going to yard sales and thrift stores, too! Gretchen says that she talks to them about not wasting things or money, which has also taught them to be patient when they find brand new toys in a store, as they will probably end up at a yard sale or thrift store in a matter of time.

Much like her children, Gretchen loved going to yard sales as a kid and quickly became a big collector. Her collection is now limited to what she can use to decorate her house, and what her family can actually use. I feel your pain, girl. Her vintage finds came in handy last year when she redesigned her kitchen and decorated it with her scores from the 50’s. After facing the normal collector problem of acquiring more than she could use, she set up an Etsy shop.

“This gives me the thrill of the hunt, without the worry of collecting too much.  I love to imagine people looking through my site and getting as excited about finding the perfect thing for their kitchen as I do for mine!”

Gretchen says that she finds inspiration from everywhere – like an oil slick on the street or an old brick building. She also finds inspiration from surrounding herself by other creative people.

Image belongs to Gretchen Fleener

Image belongs to Gretchen Fleener

“I take TONS of photos and am always collecting inspiration for art, graphic, design or craft projects!”

As an Industrial Designer, Gretchen likes to stay current and is always looking into current and future trends. However, when it comes to her personal style, her love for the ’50s does not stop at kitchen utensils. She also leads a life that is deemed old-fashioned by many people today.

“..Staying home with my kids, canning stuff from my garden, baking cookies, making things by hand and cooking a family dinner each night!”

While Gretchen has always considered herself a motivated person, she says that she is now motivated by different things – like getting her work done early so she can spend more time with her family.

“I know that if I get overtired or overworked, I won’t be as good of a parent or spouse, and my family come first.  So in a way, getting in a little “me” time or letting the laundry sit there one more day  can be better for the family and everyone’s mood!  “

Gretchen credits her ability to get everything done to multitasking and creating lists, just like she used to make fun of her mom for doing years ago. Along with that, she stays super organized, and will rework how shes does something if she feels she’s not doing it efficiently enough – often finding a tool or an app that will help.

“But the one thing I don’t compromise on is sleep.  I just can’t function well on any less than 8 hours a night, and when I get enough sleep, being super productive comes much easier during the day!”

Image belongs to Gretchen Fleener

Image belongs to Gretchen Fleener

Although Gretchen says that she doesn’t really feel like her work is “work,” she does like to get outside and go fishing, biking and gardening. Living on a lake doesn’t hurt, either. She also likes to paint and work on something creative that is related to her businesses. One craft that she would like to practice more is knitting.

“I’ve done a little, but I love to crochet and really like how much faster it goes!  I’d love to learn how to make my own soaps or candles.  And I’d really love to learn Henna.  It seems right up my alley and would be a great addition to my face painting offerings!”

Gretchen also runs as a series of “Momtreprenuer” Interviews on her blog, as she says that she is always encouraged by hearing how other moms run their businesses and homes.

“So, I thought others might enjoy them too!  It’s also one small way that I can help support fellow moms by spreading the word about their businesses.”

She hopes that her Junk Mail Gems business gives people a new way to look at “junk.” She shares tutorials on her site for various recycling projects, so that people can get new ideas for their own projects.

“I hope to inspire them to find a way to do what they love and maybe even make a little money doing it!  I am always so happy to hear from people who were inspired to try a project I’ve shared too.”

Since Gretchen’s sons will be in school full-time pretty soon, she plans on adding more jobs to her line of work (as if she doesn’t have enough already) like freelance retail fixture design and body painting. She also wants to expand the merchandise section of her online face painting store and seek out more retailers for Junk Mail Gems.

“Right now I have no desire to go back to the corporate gig, but have a huge list of things I’d like to do to grow all of my businesses”

Image belongs to Gretchen Fleener

Image belongs to Gretchen Fleener

If you are feeling inspired by Gretchen like I am, you can connect with her through Junk Mail Gems and ID Mommy and can also find her on Facebook and Pinterest. If you know someone who would be a good fit for Yo Momma Monday (your beautiful self included), post in the comments and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Find more Yo Momma Monday inspiration on my Pinterest!