By Susan Myers, Acorn House Designs
Note: Susan Myers' innovation, "To Clay or Not to Clay... No Question," was recognized at the June 2012 NeedleArts Trade Show as a TNNA Needlearts Business Innovation Awards winner. The program is a joint project of TNNA and Hart Business Research.
Before I started designing counted cross-stitch patterns, I taught and sold custom gumpaste flowers to local bakeries and brides. I competed regularly in the annual Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show, which is an internationally known event. I authored how-to articles for American Cake Decorating magazine, and in 2005 was one of 60 designers chosen by BRIDES magazine to display a tiered wedding cake at Vanderbilt Hall in New York's Grand Central Terminal (pictured at right). It later appeared in a special issue of BRIDES Receptions.
Because of physical issues, I had to give up cake design in 2007. This is when I decided to turn to cross-stitch design. Little did I know at the time that the years I put into my flower making (along with the hundreds of dollars in tools) would come to serve me well again.
After being rear-ended in a collision in December 2010, I found it difficult to sit and stitch for very long periods. This resulted in fewer designs being released — and countless restless hours fretting about my lack of progress. To pass the time, I did tons of web browsing and also checked out stacks of books from the library. It was during this time that I had a "light bulb moment": I realized that polymer clay and gumpaste were very similar in many ways, not the least of which was the tools and techniques that are used.
I began researching polymer clay, getting my hands on all the books the library had, then purchasing the ones I thought I would need. Even though I still hurt too much from the accident to begin, I wanted to be ready to hit the ground running as soon as possible. I already had most of what would be needed to dive in and begin producing.
When I was finally able to start production and sales in the fall of 2011, my initial investment consisted of a toaster oven, a few tools and books, the clay and the bags for packaging. Even with a slower start because of my recuperation from the accident, I was able to realize a slightly larger profit in 2011 over 2010. At left is my first pattern with clay (three marbled leaves), "Crow." It took Best of Show in Home Arts at the 2011 Ozark Empire Fair.
I now see clay as an integral part of the design process for many of the new cross-stitch designs I am developing. There is even the potential to expand by collaborating with other designers on joint projects, or contract to produce custom clay pieces for designers and/or shops. I also can see instances where a special piece is developed in small quantities for a specific class, retreat, etc.
There is an added benefit of (hopefully!) making it less appealing to break copyright law with pattern sharing: Most of the clay I've produced thus far is being included with the chart, and not available separately. Because I do not sell directly to the consumer, this not only benefits my business, but also that of the retailers who carry my designs.
I should point out that it is not my intention to compete with the polymer clay button makers that are well established in the industry. Instead, it is my goal to create pieces that are new, outside the box and uniquely my own. Take, for example, one of my recent releases, the Dogwood Sewing Set. Its clay dogwood flower is life-size and adds another dimension to the needlework piece, as seen at right.
I encourage my colleagues to take a fresh look at a second skill they both possess and enjoy, and see how it can be applied to their designs. After all, fresh and new charts and embellishments are among the top requests of both retailers and consumers. The polymer clay pieces that I produce for new charts have and will continue to be just that: fresh, new and unique.