Studio Tour: Liz Esser, Haden Designs

Last week I visited Liz Esser of Haden Designs at her shared studio space in downtown Raleigh and took photos for you to see. She will be teaching a fiber wall hanging class at Gather in downtown Cary on Sunday February 23rd at 10:30am. You can register for it here.

In the class you will create a beautiful textured wall hanging from recycled fabrics, mementos and other found objects. Inspired by the collections of things we keep, these wall hangings evolved as an idea to make art out of reuse and materials you may have saved up but didn’t know what to do with them. Here, we make functional and sentimental wall art. Students are provided with all of the tools that they need including fiber, fabrics and jewelry tools though students are encouraged to bring their own collected ephemera that they might want to incorporate as well.

I can’t remember when I first met Liz, though it was probably through participating in one of my Rock & Shop Market’s where she was selling her beautiful jewelry. Regardless, I’ve known her for a long time and we both have kids the same age so about a decade ago, when we were new moms, we were both navigating that new world of motherhood and making, and trying to grapple with what that looks like. We were brainstorming studio spaces, trying to figure out how to keep expressing ourselves through our craft, and wanting to connect with others (and ourselves) in the process.

Like myself, Liz has a lot of creative energy (as does her husband and kids, but that’s another story) that spills over into everything she does. And also like myself, she is very grounded by her home and making that space special and comforting for her family and children. Unlike me, Liz is the mom that makes the most amazing handmade costumes every year and then throws the party too.

But that natural affinity for homemaking and creating nurturing nests for our families and putting their well-being first can also create a tension too, especially when you are an artist. How to pour yourself into it all? Is it okay to “just be a mom” or an artist occasionally, or even a big picture visionary but also just a regular person who doesn’t utilize all those skills in a public-facing way? I appreciate that she understands these things intuitively. All moms understand this juggle-of-self intuitively. But also, a lot of makers who are not moms do too.

She shares her studio space with Oami Powers at Artspace in Raleigh. Oami is another friend who we’d meet up with at that same time period ten years ago, and who shares similar values of being crazy-creative and skilled in a variety of media but also just wanting a balanced life. And a balanced life for the three of us means turning things upside down and being willing to lean into less for a more fulfilled life. We each have had to go through the process (and still are) of letting go of the conventional expectations of what “being a successful artist” looks like to instead lean towards “what does a happy life look like”. It is Oami’s beautiful drawings that are in the background of these pictures. And though we didn’t know it then, I’d say we are, each of us, on a more fulfilled, if unconventional path, though as with anything, it is a daily practice and a work in progress.

Over the past few years Liz has been experimenting with more fiber and installation work and incorporating new shapes and materials into her jewelry design. She has a keen sense of color which you can get a feel from in these pictures and she always weaves together texture and color in a way that is pleasing and beautiful. She made the earrings that she is wearing and they combine recycled, vegetable-dyed leather, custom cut brass shapes and a woven, patterned element to them as well.

So through seeing her jewelry evolution, I began marinating on having her teach a larger scale class, something that incorporated these layered elements but more as a wall-hanging. It took a bit of prodding and convincing to tease out this class but I think the results are stunning and much different and cooler than I imagined them to be. Ever the self-doubting perfectionist (sounds like me – maybe you too?), she created other pieces, second-guessed them, then tossed them all out in favor of these styles (of which she created 4-5 different ones as examples).

When I asked her about her process and inspiration for these pieces she said “I was thinking about having a wall hanging that had sentimental value. We all collect things and those things have meaning behind them. I thought that instead of putting them in a drawer, the next step would be to have them out and shown. That’s how I started thinking about putting different objects into the wall hangings – kind of like a scrapbook on your wall.”

Will we see you at the class on Sunday February 23rd at 10:30am at Gather in downtown Cary? It would mean a lot to both of us and give us a shot of confidence as we lean into other facets of ourselves. Also, we’ll probably retreat back to our cozy homes right after this offering and then evolve on toward something else – so get it while you can. 😉 Space is limited. You can register here.

Photos by Michelle Smith Creative for Gather Goods Co

Fiber Wall Hangings – Inspired By: Upcoming Fiber Wall Hanging Class at Gather

On Sunday February 23rd at 10:30am at Gather in downtown Cary, Raleigh based artist Liz Esser of Haden Designs will be teaching a textural fiber wall hanging class. In this class you’ll walk away with a beautiful art piece that combines recycled fabric, knots and collected ephemera – think of it as a scrapbook for your wall that also doubles as a beautiful one of a kind art piece. You can sign up for the class here.

Many of the fiber wall art pieces that have inspired me lately have combined a variety of materials such as clay and fiber or like Liz, metal jewelry and fiber. When I first envisioned this class with Liz I could just see her jewelry pieces in a larger scale and knew that she would be just the person to teach this class and come up with a set of unique pieces. I loved what she came up with.

Similar to punch needle embroidery or even weaving, these fiber wall hangings that I’m currently inspired by combine a variety of different fiber techniques including knot making, weaving, macrame, fiber wrapping and collected objects into one sculptural piece. Below are some inspiring mixed media, fiber wall hanging pieces and woven jewelry that are on my radar:

You can sign up for the Fiber Wall Hanging Class being held at Gather in downtown Cary on Sunday February 23rd at 10:30am here.

Images: Fiber Wall Art Pieces by Liz Esser of Haden Designs for Gather Goods Co, Photo by Michelle Smith Creative, knotted wall hanging, organic fiber tassels and rock and fiber wall hanging art by HimoArt, woven necklace by Lesh Loom, clay and fiber wall hangings by Karen Gayle Tinney

A Quick Trip to Jacksonville, Florida

I recently took a last-minute weekend road trip to Jacksonville, Florida to visit family. Below are the things we checked out while exploring the area in one busy day. Warning, this is a very picture-heavy post but since documenting visually is such a big part of the experience and expression for me, I thought I’d share them here. First up we headed to The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

The weekend that we traveled ended up being an unusually cold one in North Carolina so it was nice to escape the weather temporarily in the very temperate Florida climate. It was a treat to see plants growing in the winter there that are only hot-season annuals here in North Carolina.

Here, versus some other zoos that I have been to, you could see that the animals and the facility itself were well taken care of and you could get very close to the animals as well.

In addition to the animals and exotic birds there were many landscaped garden areas.

After a morning trip to the zoo (to avoid the crowds) we headed off to lunch. Whenever I travel to a new place I like to scour the internet and research behind the scenes to try to find the underground pulse of that place. Almost every place has one if you are willing to do some digging. Though it is also hard with limited time to just pick one place when you’ve never seen it in person and are only going on instinct.

Still, my instinct lead me to the perfect spot for a quick bite to eat in the hip Pheonix Art District Neighborhood: a bakery called 1748 Bakehouse. This light filled bakery serves up pies, pastries and breakfast and lunch items such as the savory french toast that I had and muffins that reminded me of a beloved local favorite of mine in Durham that is no more, Scratch (RIP). The 1748 Bakehouse is a family run business with celebrated husband and wife chefs at the helm.

A trick to finding cool stuff when you are in unfamiliar territory is to just ask others, especially when you are at a place that already resonates with you. I usually cross reference a few things on my list with a cashier or ask them simply, what should I check out? It’s always interesting to hear what people’s “must visit’s” are in their hometown. We were told to visit The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens and the Riverside Arts Market, a big farmers market and craft event that takes place below a highway underpass.

The museum has a permanent collection of over 5000 art pieces on display inside as well as sculptures in their gardens. The 2.5 acre gardens overlook the St. John’s River and are filled with hundred year old oaks.

Next up, we drove about 45 minutes south to St. Augustine not really sure of what we’d find but with a tip to seek out a milkshake and knowing that the city is the oldest in the United States. We sought out what National Geographic calls “one of the 10 prettiest streets in the country” on Magnolia Avenue and we discovered a lot of very touristy things which we tried to sidestep.

We walked down the less touristy Aviles Street and came across a handsome old cemetery and lots of historic buildings. The New York Times recently did a 36 Hours in St. Augustine which you can read here.

We got our milkshakes from a place called Cousteau’s and they were, as promised, delicious. We shared the “Ping Island” which was a combination of vanilla, peanut butter, chocolate, marshmallow and graham crackers in a one drinkable dessert. We skipped dinner this night. 😉

At dusk, the buildings along the waterfront in St. Augustine were lit up with Christmas lights and ornaments despite it being 70 degrees and January.

To cap off the whirlwind day, we stopped by the ocean for a quick look at the beach since we were so near to it.

On our way home the next day, we decided to take a short detour to Jekyll Island, Georgia. The spot has a handful of buildings made with “tabby” a material made from crushed oyster shells.

Jekyll island is also known for being the spot where the Federal Reserve System was planned out in secret in the early 1900’s. The island is filled with marshlands and beaches and trees covered in drapey moss. At the northern end of the island is Driftwood Beach which features a number of driftwood trees on and near the sand.

I have lots of images like this from all the places I’ve visited. Should I share them here – even if they are 5-7 years old, would you be interested in seeing them? Do you like to live vicariously through them? Do they inspire you to take your own exploratory trips?

Photos by Michelle Smith Creative for Gather Goods Co

Flower Crown Bridal Shower Party at Gather

Airy Flower Crown DIY Bridal Shower Party

In addition to being a shared office space that houses seven private offices, the front classroom portion of Gather (which also functions as an appointment only showroom for our online shop) hosts classes frequently – either curated by me or others. The studio tenants host their own workshops, I of course facilitate maker lead craft classes about once a month, and I also rent out the space for private events and parties.

Bridal Shower, Flower Crown Making Party at Gather in downtown Cary, NC

I can tailor a class to you based on one of any of the ones that have been offered through Gather in the past (terrariums, flower arranging, embroidery, wreath making, the list is endless) or I can custom create a class especially for you. To host a private class I just ask that there are four or more attendees – beyond that, together we can tailor the specifics to what you have in mind.

The benefits are that all the materials (and instruction) are provided and you can bring in your own food and drinks (or we can arrange that too) and we do all the setup and cleanup. You just show up with your friends, make your project and then leave with your completed project and off you go to dinner or wherever you want to head next and your house stays clean – or not clean, whatever the case may be. 😉 It’s a no-brainer get together solution. While I don’t always take photos of the events – it’s hard to be hostess, photographer, and teacher in one – sometimes I do, and I was able to capture these recently.

These pictures I took were from a recent private party that was created for a DIY flower crown bridal shower party. Each of the bridesmaids created their own faux flower crown as per the bride’s request (so that it could be made well in advance and used over and over again) to be worn at her upcoming wedding ceremony. Each bride made their own unique crown that still complemented the others because of the similar materials and color palette.

The bride-to-be’s sister provided the champagne and charcuterie and I provided the cups, the space, the flowers, the supplies, the instruction and some recommendations on local downtown Cary restaurants they could check out afterwards. Before the event, the bride-to-be and I exchanged some inspiration photos which allowed me to pull together a palette of colors and flower styles that would most closely resemble the look she was going for.

Since my background is in design, facilitation and styling, this custom art-direction that I am able to provide is not only fun for me, but ensures you’ll get a high quality end result as well. This is how every class that has ever been offered at Gather has been created: with a vision and idea in my head, my guidance on aesthetic and then many times a collaboration. I scout out people who I think can best bring that vision I had in my head to light, sometimes it’s me or oftentimes it’s a local maker who I think can take that idea and run with it, most especially because I love to highlight local craftspeople and their techniques and expertise. With a private class such as this one I just fold in the teaching aspect and become the teacher too. I really enjoy both the practical and creative aspects of teaching.

Are you interested in pulling together a similar event for you and your friends or coworkers, your upcoming bridal party or even your teen/tween adult birthday? Email me and let’s set something up. It’s low on pressure and high on value and good times in Gather’s serene and lovely space in downtown Cary in the middle of the Triangle.

Photos by Michelle Smith Creative for Gather Goods Co

Weekly Rewind

Heir Raleigh

A few faces and behind-the-scenes from some of the local makers who will be selling their wares at our “Shop Local Holiday Market” at Gather this coming Saturday from 11am-4pm. Hope to see you there! We are located at 417 Kildaire Farm Road in downtown Cary. You can park in the deck across the way on Walnut Street. See you soon! 🎄✨🎄

Wendy Varr
Wonderpuff Cotton Candy
The Apothecary’s Kitchen
Paige Puckett Pottery
Fly Honey Oils
Youngblood Made Art
Jordan Grace Owens
Plastic Flame Press

Spent the morning rearranging tables in the front classroom area and moving plants around to make space for the Holiday Market on Saturday. I’ve got a long to-do list still but slowly checking things off one item at a time…✔️

There’s one big upstairs office at Gather coming available in a few months. Perfect for therapists, wellness practitioners or other creative professionals who need to meet with clients in a serene and inspired space and could also benefit from our shared classroom area. I’m open to it being shared. for details.

Just got word that @orlayaflora will be dropping off some of their stunning dried flower wreaths for us to sell at the market on Saturday. 😍

I’m spending my days leading up to the Shop Local Holiday Market at Gather on Saturday sprucing up the showroom shelves and adding lots of new merchandise. Did you know that in this space we’re only open by appointment and Saturday’s market (and during classes) are our only time of year we’re open to the public to shop from them? We’re of course open online 24/7. Did I mention everything inside will be 20% off too?! Who are you shopping for and can cross off your list on Saturday?…🎄

I’ve added a lot of new inventory to the online shop and you’ll find these new goods at the market on Saturday. When it is cold out and the nights come early, one of my favorite things to do is sit with my family and play board games or work on puzzles. I’ve added 5 different designs to the shop, all of which are art pieces on their own. You can find them here or of course at Gather on Saturday (where they will be 20% off):

Goods & Things

Don’t you just love these gold, minimalist geometric earrings in the Gather shop? They are simple and modern. Hand made gifts make the best gifts don’t you think?

Join me and instructor Lucy Kagan for an evening of cozy crafting on Thursday December 12th at 6:30pm. Put away your holiday to-do list for a few hours, bask in the season by taking some time for yourself. We’ll have holiday tunes and warm drinks and be making DIY pom pom earrings and garlands. Hope to see you there! Register for the class here.

I think in this age of always-engaged-with-technology, it’s helpful to remember that working with our hands, getting them dirty, making things, cooking, using them as a tool is an important part of being human and a great physical release too. I love that this handsome ring in the Gather shop is a reminder of that, a totem to wear to inspire more active uses of our bodies and selves.

Do you have a library nearby? I frequent mine a few times a week. What is more inspiring than being surrounded by all those ideas, bound and collected, for free and to share? The new Cary library just opened downtown and it has a great view overlooking the park and fountain and Cary Arts Center. Gather is just a crosswalk away to the left of this photo and the library. If you’re coming to the Shop Local Holiday Market at Gather on Saturday December 7th from 11am-3pm, you could check it out then. I recommend parking in the deck, walking to Gather, then meandering around downtown for the day.

A sign of a well-designed and pulled together house is the attention to details. It’s something that is a constant work in progress for me. While I have a lot of in-progress, half-finished projects around the house, it’s important to me that my space always feels cozy and welcoming, it’s my retreat after all and that of my family as well. Good quality Turkish towels are a step toward those “finished” details. I love how they look in a bathroom hung on a hook, slung over the back of a sofa or as a dish towel in the kitchen. I just got unpacked a lot of them in a variety of sizes and added them online and to the shop showroom so you can use them in your own home. You can shop for them here.

Are you coming to the Shop Local Holiday Market at Gather on Saturday December 7th from 11am-4pm? It’s going to be really fun. I’ve been working on a holiday playlist all week and I keep adding vendors to the line-up. There will be an amazing group of makers selling their wares, hot chocolate and an abundance of those holiday hygge vibes and who couldn’t use more of that in the winter time? 😉

While I enjoy pulling flowers together and making arrangements with them, a really simple way to bring impact to an everyday or holiday table is to create a grouping of the same type of flowers in their own vases and to collect and arrange them all together along the center of the table. When picking out flowers that go well together on a table or in an arrangement I first look to their color palette (are they in the same color family? are the colors contrasting? – both can be great looks but different effects), then their shape and texture. You could do the same thing with just foliage and greenery to great effect. Do you set your table for a holiday meal or just keep it super casual?

The JC Raulston Arboretum, On A Morning in Late November

I’d be happy at any arboretum, anytime, but I especially love having free and easy access to NC State’s JC Raulston Arboretum just a few miles from my house. It’s a gem of a garden filled with rich biodiversity and an abundance of plants tested and tended to with care.

JC Raulston Arboretum | Photo by Michelle Smith, Gather Goods Co

It’s easy to see the appeal of the expansive gardens in the spring and summer when many plants are in bloom but if you really want to see the space in all it’s splendor head over on a brisk and clear early morning in late November. This is when textures and form shine and steal the show with a juxtaposition of glorious decay alongside signs of life. You can expect to see seed pods in the sun, smell the rich resinous smell of grasses and wet earth, maple leaves glowing amber and orange in the intense morning sun, with your breath fogging before you.

To me, it is awe-inspiring and magnificent. It makes me believe that God is no doubt a gardener before all else. Here you can commune with a hawk, his spotted feather wingspan set alight as you come near and then watch him glide into a thicket of brush, protected by branches and brambles.

I feel most myself here and engrossed in nature and I imagine anyone would if they took the time to be still and present here. In the garden it’s less about being the most and instead about being the least. It’s about blending in to become one with everything around you in concert, and that’s that. It just is.

What a breathless and beautiful experience. Aren’t we lucky then to have it in our own backyard?

Photos by Michelle Smith Creative, Gather Goods Co

Shop Local Holiday Market at Gather, Makers at the Event

I wanted to give more details about each of the makers that will be popped up at our Shop Local Holiday Market at Gather on Saturday December 7th from 11am-3pm. It’s sure to be an amazing time. Not only are the makers participating really talented with great gift-able products but downtown Cary itself which is always charming is even more so at the holidays.

Academy Street will be lined with Christmas trees decorated by local citizens (the winner gets $500 donated to the charity of their choice), many local businesses will have gingerbread houses decorated by citizens that you can vote for as well, the light poles are festooned with wreaths and there is even a mailbox for letters to Santa (that get responded to on Santa stationary) for the little ones.

So bundle up, and prepare to get your dose of holiday hygge on with us. We are located just a crosswalk away from the new library and adjacent parking deck at the downtown park. I recommend parking there and walking over to Gather. We are located at 417 Kildaire Farm Road, Cary, NC 27511.

Now on to the makers that will be at the event:

Jordan Grace Owens work incorporates graphic shapes, illustration and portraiture and somehow feels both retro and modern at the same time. Jordan will be at our holiday market selling prints, posters and other work. You can pictures from a visit to her home studio a few years back on my old blog here.

Wonderpuff is a 100% local vegan and organic cotton candy made by Jackie Morin with delicious flavors such as chocolate and peach tea. I can tell you the first booth my daughter will be begging to visit at the market…

Wendy Varr Burgess is a Raleigh based artist whose nature inspired work is made with alcohol inks and a variety of different media. She will have art and other pieces for sale at the Gather market. I love the way her work is textural and looks like it belongs underwater.

Unpredictable Jewelry is a line of contemporary jewelry that feels like sculpture made by local artist Vivian Blanco.

Paige Puckett Pottery is made by local maker Paige in her home garage studio. A passionate gardener she uses pottery as another creative outlet for expressing her ideas using materials straight from the earth. Paige will have an assortment of pottery for sale at the market.

YoungbloodMade is an art and illustration company based in Raleigh by Heather Youngblood. She’ll have cards, prints and temporary tattoos for sale at the market. Fun fact: Heather wrote about art for us on our blog indieNC way back in the day!

Fly Honey Oils is a locally made line of handcrafted, essential oil based products designed for holistic self care by Bri Hart. She’ll have essential oil roll on blends, and oils for your face and body for sale at the market.

In addition to curating wares from other makers, I am a product designer as well. At the market you’ll find my own Gather Goods Co goods featuring my pattern design and art on note cards, coasters, apparel and more in addition to the new line of soy based candles I just launched.

Heir Raleigh is a jewelry company based in Raleigh made by Sophie Wiseman-Floyd. Her work is minimal and dainty. She’ll be at the market selling her earrings, bracelets and necklaces at the market.

Plastic Flame Press is a line of silk-screened art and music posters by Chris Williams based in Durham.

The Apothecary’s Kitchen is a line of peppermint bark made by my husband Ben Smith. He creates it seasonally exclusively for the holiday season. It makes an amazing gift and is made with fair trade dark chocolate, a thin layer or white chocolate and organic candy canes.

& a few more makers as well.

The Shop Local Holiday Market at Gather takes place on Saturday December 7th from 11am-3pm. Gather is located at 417 Kildaire Farm Road, Cary, NC 27511. Everything inside from the Gather shop will be 20% off. There will be holiday tunes and hot chocolate and everyone who comes will be entered to win a pair of tickets to an upcoming Gather class of their choice for you and a friend, one of our new candles, AND A BOX OF PEPPERMINT BARK. Please spread the word and hope to see you there!

Going Vegan

I’ve long had a health goal of trying to integrate a more vegan based diet into my day to day. While my family eats a lot of vegetables and not that much meat as it is, I can’t deny how good I feel and how yummy just eating vegetables is to me. Plus it just makes a lot of intuitive sense. Still, the idea of giving up creams and cheeses and milks seems cumbersome and daunting since they have been programmed into our diet for so long. I have huge binders full of recipes I’ve been collecting since I was a teenager and changing it all up seems like a hassle.

I had been hearing a number of health-minded fitness friends mention The Game Changers documentary so I watched it. The premise of the movie is to bust typically masculine stigmas of strength and power by showing high performing athletes eschewing meat and instead relying on vegetable protein. Unless you are fascinated by watching said athletes talk about these things for an hour or so, I would say you can take my summary above and apply it as you see fit.

Regardless, it spurred a discussion between my husband and I and a goal to try out a completely vegan diet for a month which would give us time to try out soy based alternatives and really dig in properly more than say a week would. Our goal isn’t to become 100% vegan, but instead to be more comfortable with the plant based alternatives that are out there so we can make healthier choices in our everyday cooking and eating. I’m really looking forward to it. We’re waiting until the holidays pass to make it easier but I’m armed with a stack of cookbooks from the library and I can’t wait to dig in.

Do you have any go-to vegan recipes? I’ll be sure to report back with cookbook and recipe recommendations.

A Chart Explaining How I Got From Here to There.

Sometimes it can feel like all of the internet is leading us to believe that everyone is an overnight success and has “made it” more than ourselves. This illusion also makes it seem that success comes easily and is all about “faking it till we make it” or that the secret isn’t really just about a lot of hard work, baby steps, brave leaps and pivots, big mistakes, heaps of self doubt and a lot of forging ahead with a belief in something bigger than yourself. Certainly none of it is a linear or an immediately logical path, or at least it hasn’t been for me.

Since I’ve personally had to take a lot of steps to get from there to here – and it’s still very much a work in progress – I thought I would share, in a chart, some of that elbow grease and meandering that over many years has lead me from there to here in the past twenty years or so. It makes me hopeful for the next leg of my journey, however long that may be, knowing that it will be full of rich experiences, many of which I can’t even imagine at this point.

Read if you dare, print out if you want, make your own version with your own markings and choices. Most of all I hope this inspires to give yourself more grace on your own path to wherever you are headed. I hope it allows you to enjoy your journey with more perspective that the dips and swells are all part of a life well lived. Because really, it’s not about the place where we end up, but how we got there that has the most value to our lives. I’ve made two versions, one with my personal path, the second a more humorous perspective. You can click on either image to see them larger and to open in their own window and print out at home. Enjoy.

Lastly, if you do decide to make your own version, I’d love to see. 🙂