With a line of impeccable handmade pillows in a variety of textures and colors, incredibly handcrafted leather and fabric tote bags, and gorgeous home decor pieces we wanted to introduce you to Natalie of Natalie V Mason, aftcra’s featured artisan for August. We sat down with Natalie to learn more about her business, how she crafts her products, and where she derives her inspiration to keep her collection fresh, current and totally unique.
1. Tell us about yourself and your company, Natalie V Mason
Hi! My name is Natalie Gshwandtner and my business is Natalie V Mason. I make a variety of home goods and accessories from fabrics that I hand dye, screen print, or digitally print with my own designs. For those that prefer to DIY, I offer my digital designs by the yard on my website: http://www.natalievmason.com.
I’ve been in business for about three years now, though I’ve dabbled in the arts since I was a child. My Dad is a talented artist and always exposed me to a variety of mediums.
2. Share with us a little more about your work space.
My studio space is located within The Workhouse, an artist collective in beautiful Bend, Oregon. Our brick warehouse is part of the Old Ironworks Arts District and we share the property with an amazing bakery, a clay and ceramic studio, a jeweler, and another artist collective. My colleagues in The Workhouse include a clothing designer, woodblock printer, jewelry designer, lampworker, an encaustic artist, a gal who paints with beer and coffee, and a fine artist. You can learn more about The Workhouse here: http://www.theworkhousebend.com/
3. How did you get started in your line of work?
My recent foray into fabrics and the arts stemmed from a need for new curtains and an inherited sewing machine. I’ve always been a bit of DIY’er, and a big time penny pincher, so when my husband and I found ourselves needing a bunch of new drapes, I couldn’t bear to buy them. I had so much fun making the curtains and shopping for fabrics, that I started making more things. I quickly determined that this was an expensive hobby, so I’d better start making money at it. From there I learned how to dye and print fabrics, and how to design repeats using my own watercolors and block prints.
4. How did you come up with the name of your shop – Natalie V Mason?
I wanted a business name that would grow with me, wherever I went and for whatever I decided to do. I’ve been on a creative bender for the past three years, and my business is constantly evolving. So I just went with my own name. I decided to use my maiden name because “Gshwandtner” is a mouthful.
5. How do you create your work?
My designs often start out as block prints or watercolors. I then print them onto fabric (by hand or digitally) and assemble them into home goods and accessories. We are always bouncing ideas off of one another here at The Workhouse, and some of my products have started out as suggestions from my colleagues.
6. What is the inspiration for your work and Natalie V Mason?
I am a beach baby at heart! My favorite coastal areas often lend inspiration: eclectic Key West, laid back San Diego, the rugged Oregon Coast. My mother in law is an incredible gardener, so whenever we visit I like to wander around her garden and take pictures of the peonies, lavender, bees and frogs.
7. What is your next new exciting project?
I am always working on new fabric designs! My latest designs feature falling leaves in a variety of bright colors. Look for new tote bags and pouches in September!
8. As a small business owner, what is one piece of advice you would share with other small business owners?
“You” are not your target market. I am a bargain shopper and when I started, I really struggled with the fact that my prices are much higher than places like World Market and Target. I’ve accepted that I simply can not price-compete with mass-produced goods. There are plenty of buyers out there who value handmade and one of a kind goods. The trick is to find them!
9. What is a quote that you personally live by, or you have shared with others for inspiration?
“I believe that the craftsman, the artist, the cook, the silversmith are peacemakers. They instill grace; they lull the world to calm.” This little quote popped up while I was reading “House of Stone” by Anthony Shadid. I read it during a time that I was feeling very discouraged, and it really helped pick me up and make me feel less “silly” about trying to make it as an artist. On a less philosophical note, I love to tell people that “pain is weakness leaving the body.”
10. What does “handmade” and “handcrafted” mean to you?
It’s such a subjective term! I feel like some sweat and tears, pride, care and passion, need to be involved to make an item handmade. When I buy a mug from the ceramic studio next door, I know for a fact that Chad sweat on it when he pulled it out of the kiln. When I buy a ring from Marianne, who works next to me at The Workhouse, I know that she cursed when she burned her finger while soldering. When I attach the leather straps to my tote bags, I saw each rivet from a large brass tube and use a hammer and anvil to shape and flatten them until they are just right. Sometimes I smash my finger and sometimes it takes a few tries and some foul language. Such is the nature of making things by hand. Even when we get things down to a process, there is always that margin of error that makes each piece unique and more desirable.
My digital fabrics sold by the yard? Those aren’t handmade, even though I designed them. My tote bags and pouches made with my digital fabrics? Definitely made by hand with pride.
11. Why did you choose to join aftcra, and what do you enjoy about the community?
I’ll be blunt: I initially joined aftcra because it is not saturated with mass-produced goods. Since then I have found that aftcra really does attract the kinds of buyers who appreciate my products and who aren’t afraid of my price points. And, though I have much love and respect for my fellow artisans around the world, it is nice to be a part of a community that supports American-made goods.
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