Creating a Sense of Community Throughout The Appalachian Highlands

Sweet & Dirty’s Handmade Goods

As far back as I can remember I have always been a maker. One of my earliest childhood memories is of drawing on a giant piece of fabric on the kitchen floor. The entirety of the memory is fuzzy, but the action is so clear. To be given the chance to create on such a scale at a young age was magical. The other memory that stands out is of my Mamaw teaching me to sew. It was a small handbag constructed from the back pocket of a pair of jeans, with ribbon handles, and my own hand stitches. There are other moments peppered in between, but those two serve as centerpieces in my creative endeavors.

East Tennessee has always been my home. After growing up in Kingsport I migrated to Johnson City for college at East Tennessee State University. I was fortunate to have a family who supported my pursuit of a degree in art. I graduated in the Spring of 2006 with a BFA in Painting, where I focused on creating large scale painted fiber pieces. It was such an enjoyable and creative time, I even met my husband in a figure drawing class. It was also during this time that I began machine sewing. It started as a want to make myself clothes, and after some minor frustration, evolved into more functional art pieces. With sewing I went the self taught route, which proved to be equal parts frustrating and rewarding. Once I was able to get a good grasp on it, I began sewing for family and friends. The entire motions of art school, painting, sewing, and supportive folks is really what helped usher in the next stages of making and planning.

In the fall of 2007, newly married, and sitting at our kitchen table, my husband and I began to daydream of turning my sewing into a small business. It was a conversation filled with lots of hope and lots of nervousness on my part. The most productive part of that whole evening was the creation of a name, Sweet and Dirty’s Emporium of Good Stuff. The Emporium of Good Stuff was wishful thinking of a future store, and the Sweet and Dirty’s stemmed from our nicknames. After months of talk, it took my first pregnancy to really push the business along. We began to toy with the idea of my staying home with the baby and running this business. So I began sewing a small batch of bags and officially opened up an ETSY shop in the winter of 2009. From there I began doing local and regional setups, my first large scale was at Bristol’s Rhythm and Roots in September of 2009. That first Rhythm and Roots was such a positive experience, it really gave me a renewed confidence in what I was doing. From there my husband and I decided that I should officially make a go at this full time.

Over the course of the past seven years we added two more children to our brood, moved a few times, and settled permanently in Johnson City. It has been tricky finding a balance between raising three kids and working from home. There are constant tweaks to the making process. In the beginning I found myself sewing during nap times, and as nap times faded away, I ushered in the current era of late night sewing. I don’t see that one ending anytime soon, which is fine by me.

Sweet and Dirty’s is, at its core, a labor of handmade love. I began with sewing bags, using vintage and recycled materials, and have over the years added hand painted fabrics, pouches, and embroidery hoops. I really place a lot of emphasis on the fabrics I use. I’m particularly fond of vintage material, from the patterns, to the colors, to the quality, it can‘t be beat. I am also a big proponent of reusing material, constantly cutting up curtains, clothes, and sheets, I love the notion of giving new life to something. Also this past year I began painting my own fabric, which feels like such a positive direction creatively.

Fabric aside, the embroidery hoops have taken on their own life. Four years ago I stitched a quote from the film Harvey: “In this world you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant. Well for years I was smart, I recommend pleasant.“ I haven’t stopped stitching since. The hoops are a blend of song, film, television, wit, crass, and hilarity. They’ve been such a fun addition and a great point of conversation. Not to mention, I enjoy the ability they give me to stitch wherever I go, which is helpful with small children in tow.

In all honesty, I really am completely, and totally in love with the process of making it all. The way the fabric runs through the machine, and the way it feels to hand stitch, no matter how tired my hands get, it’s such an amazing feeling to have made something.

Long term I have dreams of a brick and mortar shop, but for now I am more than happy with where things are. I participate locally in several events, Rhythm and Roots, Little Chicago, Insta-Crafty, etc. As well as showcase at ArtCurious Gallery, and still keep up that old ETSY shop. That nervousness I had in opening Sweet and Dirty’s is always there in the background, but I have found that the more I do, the more I push, the further away that feeling gets. This area is fortunate to have an amazing handmade collective, full of folks who continuously support each other, and I feel really lucky to have found that. Equally, there are so many here who support local and handmade, which is really wonderful.

All the years of making, from bed sheet drawings, to jean pocket purses, to fiber paintings, to all that is Sweet and Dirty’s, have come full circle in a way. I plan to keep pushing this business, creating as much as I can. In all honesty, the days just aren’t long enough for all that I want to sew. And with each turn this all takes I am forever grateful for a husband who supports my work, for kids who wear me out, but keep my heart full, and for a family that has supported my artistic endeavors from the get go.

How to find Sweet & Dirty’s Homemade Goods

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