Fiber Wall Hanging Recap + Book & TV Recommendations

One thing that I do for all classes is ask everyone to go around and list a guilty-pleasure tv show (though what is there to be guilty about if it brings you pleasure) and a good book you’ve recently read or a podcast to share.

Not only does this exercise help to break the ice and get everyone talking but it also results in an amazing list of recommendations and things to check out. I’ve been meaning to share them after each class. Here’s what was said at yesterday’s Textural Wall Hanging class along with pictures from the day:

Books Recommended:

  • The Astonishing Color of After – A YA book about a half-Taiwanese girl going through emotional family stuff and their history.
  • Color: A Natural History of the Palette – What was said about it: “You learn about colors like ochre and where it originated from and how it evolved and all the different colors of ochre that there actually are.”
  • Open Book by Jessica Simpson
  • The Dutch House, because Ann Patchett
  • An interesting article from a weekly Spoonflower email about a woman who does historical research related to sewing. (Will try to find the link to the email)
  • Yes, Please – the autobiography of Amy Poehler because she’s funny. Interesting insight into the improv process and we love her mission to empower girls. (Side note, my tween daughter loves watching Making It. It’s a sweet crafting challenge show and perfect for watching together as a family curled up on the couch.)
  • City of Girls – What was said about it: “I love books about bad women. This one touches on a woman in war, showbiz and NYC.”
  • Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert’s (author of the above title) book on creativity and the process that challenges preconceived notions about what it means to be an artist but also a professional. Mostly, she encourages us to get over ourselves and just do it. Highly recommend listening to her read it on audiobook.
  • Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self Delusion – What was said about it: “The interesting ways that our economy has been influenced by social media, different essays about how we use these modern things instead of connecting as actual people.”
  • The Desire Map
  • Matter & Desire: An Erotic Ecology
  • Average Is The New Awesome

Guilty-Pleasure / Bingeable TV Shows:


  • 90% Invisible Podcast
  • Over The Road podcast – What was said: “A new podcast about long haul trucking witha trucker host with a smooth 60 minutes voice, talking about all the lingo and the jargon.”
  • My Favorite Murder
  • Song Exploder – What was said: “They interview musical artists and talk through their process of making their songs. It is interesting to go into their artist process and compare with others artists process and the equipment they use etc.”
  • The Ezra Klein Show

Did you miss this class? We might host another on a Friday evening in March. Would you be interested? If so, email me to find out more. What is a good book you have recently read and your favorite bingeable/distracted watching and scrolling type show? I’d love to hear your picks in the comments section.

Photos by Michelle Smith Creative for Gather Goods Co

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Paper Houseplants: Inspired by Upcoming Paper Houseplant Craft Class at Gather

On Saturday March 14th at 10:30am at Gather in downtown Cary, Raleigh based paper crafter Santana Douglass will be teaching a paper houseplant craft class. You can register for that class here. Green thumb not required. 😉

Here are some inspiring pieces from Brooklyn-based artist Corrie Beth Hogg who wrote the book Handmade Houseplants which I discovered last year at the library and that has inspired this upcoming class.

Corrie’s work combines paper crafting and paint into incredibly realistic “plants”. With careful attention to shape, color and structure she’s created the illusion of something real that has the potential to have a much longer lifespan in your home than an actual plant depending on your plant nurturing skills. No judgement, it can be hard!

Join me and local paper crafter Douglass Santana in an upcoming class at Gather inspired by Corrie’s work and book on Saturday March 14th at 10:30am at Gather. You will learn the techniques to making these plants and walk away with your own as well as the knowledge to apply towards others. You can register for the class here.

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