The Stitcharama Story

jenn_stitcharamapicHowdy, Crafttribe! Jenn here. I’ve just realized I’ve not yet shared with you, my lovely friends, what Stitcharama is really all about. Perhaps you’ve been seeing my updates on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and in my newsletters… but there’s so much more to it than just beautiful folk art craft kits and patterns!

Stitcharama isn’t just another craft company: it’s a tribe of folk artists and crafters woven across the globe, stitched together by threads of art, craft and love of the handmade.

Let me back up a bit:  I’ve always been crafty, way before that was a buzzword.  As a kid I’d sit for hours cutting up magazines to make customized stationary sets as gifts, and putting just as much time into creatively wrapping presents as making them.  Remember those cool safety-pin beaded bracelets back in the day? With my parents’ guidance and support those were the start of my first business. Dad took me to the wholesale jewelry district in Manhattan for supplies and Mom drove me to shops looking for buyers. When a fancy store on Long Island became my first wholesale customer,  the entrepreneurial seed was planted in my brain and has been sprouting ever since.  From handmade metal bookmarks to hemp jewelry, silversmithing to stationary, there’s a good chance I’ve DIY-ed it & sold it.

Fast-forward to 2010: I was let go from my last of a long series of ill-fitting corporate jobs in NYC, the cat I’d had for 9 years died, and love was lost.  It was obviously time to go learn to surf! I bought a 6-week return ticket and headed to a women’s surf camp in Nicaragua, and from there on to Costa Rica where it became clear to me I needed to radically change the course of my life.  Instead of choosing the easy-but-wrong path again, I wanted to walk my right path.  I stretched those 6 surfing weeks into 4 surfing months, then enrolled in a yoga teacher training course on the Oaxacan coast of Mexico to take myself even deeper. Truly a magical time!

By then it was December and I was heading home for the holidays. I detoured for a quick trip to the central Mexican high desert colonial town of San Miguel de Allende I’d heard so much about for years. Four hours north of Mexico City, San Miguel is a UNESCO world heritage site with a long history of arts, culture, theater, food and folks from all over the world.  It took one afternoon there, with careful consideration of a cafe noticeboard full of local event fliers, for the clear thought to be heard: “I could have a good life here.”

So I stayed for two years, and had a very good life.

I started a marketing business, made amazing friends, learned how to relax and live more in the moment. I wandered the cobblestone streets for hours and laughed over sunset cocktails.  I even adopted a Mexican street mutt, my trusted compadre and travel companion Max Von Schnoodle.

Now, if you’ve spent any time in Mexico, you’ve noticed that handmade textiles are still a part of everyday life for many folks.  From woven shawls to crocheted baby hats and embroidered tablecloths with matching napkins, you can’t toss a taco without hitting a handmade work of art.  Women sitting in shops, on buses, in the zocalos… oftentimes their hands are busy stitching something beautiful.  After months of being separated from my craft supplies I was inspired, and headed to the mercado to purchase embroidery floss, needles, and traditional cloths pre-printed with designs.  I embroidered up a storm and connected with women I may never have encountered without our shared love of stitching to help us find each other.

Inspired by a conversation with crafty friends, I had the idea to create an “embroidery kit” containing these gorgeous Mexican patterns, and spent the next year journeying to Mexico City wrangling the components.  I never did quite figure out how the wholesale system workd, and every trip to the mega-city resulted in a comedy of wandering the “fabric zone” looking for the right cotton fabric or the “embroidery zone” searching for the right embroidery hoops — which I never did find! Those trips were an exercise in patience, frustration, and believing in miracles.

Eventually Stitcharama was born — the kits were beautiful, and I was so proud of them! And that’s when a dear friend gently pointed out that what I’d just spent so much time creating actually amounted to cultural appropriation:  “Cultural appropriation is the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group, especially if the adoption is without the consent of the originating culture, and when the appropriating group has historically oppressed members of the originating culture.”

Which was exactly what I’d done.  I hadn’t been able to figure out how to find the original artists behind those unsigned embroidery designs, which were reprinted across the country from an innumerable number of screenprinting shops and then sold in an endless number of local mercados by local vendors. I’d had three of those designs reprinted so I could package them consistently in every kit.  Yup: appropriation.  Despite being a fairly ethical person, I just hadn’t seen what I was doing.

I immediately stopped selling those kits and shelved Stitcharama.  I loved the idea of sharing traditional craft patterns and designs from around the world but I needed time to think about new a approach.

In 2013 I relocated to the verdant magnificence of Portland, Oregon, and Stitcharama kept popping into my mind.  Crafting is in my blood, travel is my passion, and cultural appreciation — not appropriation — is important to me.  I knew there was a way to share folk art and craft kits with crafters around the world, and do it in the right way.

I have now relaunched Stitcharama with passion and a strong new ethos: to respect and uplift. I seek out traditional & modern folk artists around the world and we build a collaborative partnership together.  The artists own the copyright to their artwork and patterns; I only license their designs from them.  Their intellectual property is theirs — it belongs to their culture, and certainly not to me.  For every Stitcharama product I sell, the artist or collective behind the design receives a royalty fee.  Each product I sell comes with a booklet containing the history of their craft and their artist bio; their name is printed proudly on each product I create.  I celebrate them as artists and as my global crafty family, and I want to share their heritage and creativity with you, Crafttribe. Through Stitcharama I’m working to create a sustainable stream of revenue for our artists for years to come.

So that, friends, is my story!  Stitcharama is my heart and soul, and you and I are woven together by craft, love and the power of the handmade.

Now it’s your turn: What makes the difference between cultural appropriation and honest, ethical respect of another culture? And is Stitcharama doing it the right way? Please use the comments section below to share your thoughts. Thanks!

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