Q1: What kind of sewing machine do you use/recommend?
A: I use a Kenmoore that my Meemaw bought at Sears for my wedding gift. I have used it regularly in the last seven years and have never had to take it in for repairs. It's a basic model without a computer and gets everything done that I need it to do. Brother and Bernina are also fabulous brands at basic levels if you're looking to purchase a quality machine without spending a fortune. Look for sales at your local fabric and craft stores and pick the brains of the old ladies working there.

Q2: What kind of patterns or projects do you recommend for beginners?
A: I still feel like a beginner in many mediums. As far as sewing goes, I suggest starting with a pillow case. It is a quick project with few complications that can get you comfortable with sewing basics such as hems, back-stitching, and measurements. Once you're ready for something more, a small patchwork quilt will let you experiment with combining fabric colors and piecing things together. I offer a tutorial for such a quilt that was designed with beginners in mind. It's available at RedVelvetArt.etsy.com.

Learning through mistakes and having patience with yourself is the best way to progress but I also suggest finding some pattern books from authors such as Lotta Jansdotter, Amy Butler, or Amy Karol for more simple sewing projects that will build your confidence and get you hooked.

Q3: How do you find the balance between Mommy life and artist life?
A: Finding that balance is a new challenge every day. There are certain goals I have with how we raise our children that I'm not willing to lose sight of such as teaching them through play, making sure they spend a lot of time outside when possible, instilling a love of reading, introducing them to crafts they show interest in, and keeping them unhooked from electronic forms of media for the majority of the day. I have also learned that letting some of my ideals take a back seat to finishing a project on a deadline is also a necessity sometimes. I try to always keep a tally of both and make sure they even out throughout the week. Sebastian is at an age where he can entertain himself easily for a short time so that I can get some work done but I have to work around Ruby's naps and those few moments when she's content just watching from a quilt on the studio floor.

A social life is something we have to work really hard at since we're usually spending our free time working or relaxing by ourselves. A clean house has also been a frequent victim of deadlines.

Q4: I'd love to know how you got into art. Did you just start stitching one day and doodling the next?
A: My family nurtured my artistic leanings as a child by signing me up for drawing classes, piano lessons, dance class, etc, but it was seeing my mom sew our clothes, paint Christmas gifts, and come up with creative ways for us to stay in touch with long distance family members through funny videos and letters that really set the stage for a creative outlook on life. I put it all aside until late in high school when I would rip out pretty magazine pages and write notes to my friends in the blank spots. Then I got interested in sewing again and had my mom thread her old machine so that we could make an outfit 'together'. It wasn't until I was married that I got my own sewing machine and got a domestic urge to make curtains, pillows, and slipcovers for our hand-me-down furniture.

I started working with leather and had a small journal making business while at college and at the same time became aware of art journaling through the work of Sabrina Ward Harrison. Soon after, Elsie and I decided to get organized with our creative interests and Red Velvet Art was hatched. The two of us, along with Elsie's beautiful sister, Emma, tried out new mediums and made product to sell at several music festivals and local craft fairs and encouraged each other to continue to let art be a big part of our daily lives. Those parts have developed in unique ways in each of our lives and has most recently turned into a dream come true business for Elsie that I love sharing in. Looking back, having important people in my life that share in and support this creativity has been the strongest reason that it is still something I love and will continue to explore.

The internet has been an incredible resource for learning new techniques or skill sets. I suggest searching YouTube for video tutorials if you like having someone show you how to do it rather than just reading about it. Finding your way through the many crafty blogs out there is also a great way to learn from others and take advantage of their shared knowledge. Just make sure you are always aware of copyright laws and respect the unique work of individual artists as opposed to common crafts that are out there for you to customize and reproduce for profit. It's something we all have to work on as we strive to support and encourage the role art plays in each of our lives.

Q5: How do you organize all of your stuff?
A: Organize? You mean, how do I keep track of what is in each pile on my studio floor? Organization doesn't come naturally to me although the rest of my family seems to own it. It takes extra effort to refold and replace fabric when I'm done with a project and the ironing board usually stays set up near my sewing space but every now and then I spend focused time tackling the piles and weeding out things I haven't used in six months to a year. Having a tidy workspace always helps me feel creative but the flip side is that creative urge leads to the next big mess on the floor. Cleaning up in small bursts throughout the week also helps keep things under control.

I like to keep similar elements grouped together so I'm not cris-crossing my studio all afternoon looking for what I need to start a new project. I have all of my leather, batting, stuffing, and pillow forms stashed in one spot underneath a work surface where they can be stuffed together while avoiding damage. I then cover this space with a tablecloth so I don't have to see it. I keep all of my fabrics organized by type (cottons, jerseys, flannel) and color. They are always easier to be inspired by this way and add to the visual look of my studio space. Fabric scraps are stowed away in large gallon sized ziplock bags and stored in the space below my work table. I have a hard time throwing them away but do require that they are at least big enough to realistically use again. My yarn and needles are stashed in a vintage weekender bag that is pretty enough to keep sitting next to our couch. This is still a small collection so it's easy. My ephemera and papers are kept in file folders and thick, manila envelopes and stashed in a portable, metal filing system that also fits under my work station.

The vintage items for PonyParty used to be sorted by theme on a large IKEA Expedit shelf but it was so visually overwhelming that I passed the shelf unit along to a good friend and edited my collection down to keep it from taking over. I now store things in my new sideboard as well as in the pink wardrobe in our living room. Keeping things covered really helps me not want to just throw it all out. Having a specific space to keep things in has been fantastic, although an ideal situation would be a room with a door that can be closed. Until then, I'm forced to clean up after myself most of the time. It's good character building, right?

Q6: What did you study at college, and have you found it useful to your current career path?
A: I received a BA from Oklahoma Baptist University. I majored in Cross-Cultural Ministry and minored in Teaching English As a Second Language. I took quite a few anthropology classes and tried to fit some art classes into the schedule but it never worked out. I have used my major and minor since graduation and taught English courses at international
language schools in Oklahoma and Seattle, prepared curriculum for English classes at migrant camps in California, and tutored elementary school children from immigrant families. My time at college also shaped my character in ways I'm thankful for and provided me opportunities to travel overseas and meet people who I still have important friendships with so even though I'm not necessarily following the career path I trained in, I'm thankful for the ways it has made me who I am and for the skills I gained that I can put to use doing what I'm doing now.

Q7: Where did you meet Brett and Elsie and how did you end up in Missouri?
A: Here's the basic storyline: I met Brett in English class on the second day of college. We ran in the same circle of friends and had a big crush on each other from the start. During that first Christmas break, he and Elsie met in an airport in Chicago on a group trip to India. He came home and told me all about her and that we should be best friends. We were able to meet up about a month later and realized Brett was right! We hung out whenever Brett and I visited his family in Missouri together and developed a really unique long distance friendship.

Two years later, Brett and I got married (before junior year) and spent three more years in Oklahoma. We moved to Seattle for Brett to attend grad school and did our best to make it work in a big city with a new baby and lots of rainy days. Eleven months later our apartment management jobs were eliminated when the owners turned them into condos. With little notice and few options we had to leave and stay with my family in California for awhile. We soon realized we both missed the Midwest and decided for several reasons to head back and stay awhile. We've been in Springfield, MO for over a year and love being close to good friends again.

Q8: What products do you use on your curly hair?
A: I decided this question needed answering because I know how frustrating it can be to feel like curly hair is more a curse than a blessing and I'm always eager to hear how other women are tending to theirs.
I've used the same brands since high school when I first realized my hair could be styled curly and trends were moving away from bushy, blow dried manes! I use Pantene shampoos and conditioners with lots of moisturizers in them and only shampoo my hair every other day. Even if it wasn't because I'm a busy mom, this helps keep my hair from getting too dry and frizzy. Once I have rinsed the conditioner from my hair, I hand comb it into separate chunks of curls and let the water run through it with my head tipped forward. I scrunch it while it's dripping wet and then gently fold a towel over it without rubbing so as not to separate the curls too much. After five minutes I remove the towel and add about two medium sized handfuls of Suave #8 mousse. I don't run it through with my fingers but scrunch it into my curls with my palms. I then run my fingers around the curls framing my face and around my crown to add extra definition. A new trick I learned a few years ago was to pull up the curls near the roots on the sides of my head and near the top and pin them with a bobby pin so that they aren't weighed down. This allows me to have a little more volume without using a hair dryer. I continue to scrunch them as they dry.

I've tried more expensive brands, sprays, waxes, etc. and nothing seems to work as well as this little system that has seen me through the years. I have been known to get the straight iron out on those days that it doesn't.

photos by Janae

Q8: How did Red Velvet Art get started?
A: Elsie Flannigan, Emma Chapman, and myself started RVA in the summer of 2004 as a way to encourage and challenge each other artistically and started selling our wares at music festivals and local venues. It's always been a goal of RVA to share the value of a creative lifestyle with others and encourage people with ideas and inspiration through our blog, art weekend workshops, and online classes. Most recently Red Velvet Art has turned into an online shop and brick and mortar store here in Springfield, MO that showcases handmade products and accessories by local artists and ourselves. We are excited about the future of RVA and the many dreams that are turning into realities for those of us involved!

Q9: How do I advertise on your blog?
A: Thank you for your interest! You can find Smile and Wave advertising information here :)

* If you have a question, please email me at RachelDenbow@gmail.com :]