My journey may not be special in any way, other than the fact that it is mine.
For more than six decades I have walked the earth. It all began in Birmingham, a suburb of Detroit. I was fortunate to be from a caring and functional family. I was privileged to have more than just the basic needs. My childhood was full of wonder, love and adventure.
I learned at a very early age that sewing was my passion. My mother was a tremendous seamstress. With her as a teacher in the early years I became adept at sewing. As a teenager I enjoyed being able to make any sort of outfit I could imagine.
As the journey continued I spent a year in Missouri attending college. There, a side from the basics I took pleasure in studying art & fashion design. It took me the year to figure out that school wasn’t for me. At that point, I joined the workforce.
In the beginning of adulthood “punching the clock” got old, fast. All I really wanted to be able to do was stay at home and sew. I left Missouri and home base. I made my home in Nebraska, then Washington and finally Oregon. During a seven-year stay in Oregon I finally got to do just that. I made my living making western style shirts. They varied from flashy one of a kind shirts wore by truck drivers, to the classic denim cowboy shirt worn by welders.
I sold many shirts by setting up at Portland Saturday Market. This is where I first became aware of the craft scene. The craft scene later proved to be very significant in where my journey would go.
I was residing in a sweet cabin on twenty acres in the foothills of the coast range. Living costs were high in Oregon. I had a mortgage. I once again became restless and tired of the grind. I sold the land and loaded all I could in a 1961 Ford Econoline that I called Isaac. Gypsy and Sam, my canine friends joined me for the odyssey. I found a good home for my feline friend, Fingers, and left her behind. The first stop was San Francisco where I stayed for a month with my mother and her husband. I stored most of my worldly belongings in their attic and headed east, to the Ozarks. Unbeknownst to me, I had joined what would later be called the back to the land movement.
I knew very few people and had no prospects of clients to sew for. I, of course, had my sewing machines with me. I had an industrial Singer set up on an old industrial treadle stand. I had even brought fabric with me in the van. What I didn’t have were customers.
The first Winter I was most grateful for the
fruits and vegetables I dried when I was I Oregon. They were major in getting
me through the long cold months. With six dollars left, and winter upon me, I
was in for some real survival skill tests.
In 1981 I was blessed with the birth of a
baby girl. As a single woman in a tipi, this was a tad controversial. But, it
wasn’t for me. I was confident and strong.
In my early Ozark years I actually worked for a year in a garment factory. That was to be the fifth and last garment factory job in my work history. Once I cut loose of that factory I was making it on my own, but just barely.
I had a friend named Chris Kunkle who was a wood worker. He did outdoor shows and needed a canopy. He designed a canopy using white tarps and conduit. I went to his house where we pinned the tarps together on the frame. We took the pinned together tarps to my land where we carried them through the woods to my shelter. There, I sewed them together on the treadle. The booth was such a success that two other artists approached me to do the same for them. A calligrapher, Eileen Billig was represented by her husband Bob Billig and a basket maker named Leon Neihaus brought a frame out to my land. Once the tarps were pinned together we carried them through the woods to my shelter. There, Bob and Leon took turns reading Pipi Longstocking to my daughter, Heidi. Who ever was not reading was helping me guide the bulky goods through my treadle machine. Bob asked me casually, “If I were to market these, would you be willing to make them?” Just as casually, I answered “Sure.” The Protector was born.
Bob Billig’s company, Flourish went from selling pressed flowers with calligraphy to supplying crafters with canopies to keep them dry in the rain as well as cool in the heat at art shows. Part of the success of Flourish must be given to the wealth of knowledge that Bob had to share with crafters. He knew which shows were the best and the ins and outs of how to put submit an application. Flourish Company continued to grow. Over time a team began to develop at Flourish, as well as at my shop, Dogwood Designs.
Working for Flourish was just a sideline for me at first. This is when my son came along. By now I was quite at home in the Ozarks. I had lots of friends and was getting by all right. Being a mother of two soon plugged me into the public school system. I became very involved as a volunteer. Before I knew it I was employed part time as the parent coordinator. I enjoyed it. Even though I only did it for a couple of years it remains significant. I learned the value of parental involvement in a child’s education. With that in mind, I encourage the people I work with to be involved in their children’s education. All employees are part time. Shop policy dictates that family absolutely comes first. Whether a child is sick or having difficulties, the ladies know that they can have the time off that it takes to straighten things out. My knowledge of the school system and how it works has also been a resource for these ladies at times.
Now, thirty years later, Flourish Company and Dogwood Designs employ many local folks. It has been years of hard work and long hours. But here we are. Dogwood Designs is housed in a 40x60 building on 40 acres of land. My commute is a lovely walk in the woods.