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Gavin's Underground

Craft Lake City: Yellow Bird Fabrics, Twisted Spiders

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2011-08-11 -
Coming up this Saturday, the Gallivan Plaza will play host to the continually growing craft scene, as Craft Lake City takes over once again. SLUG magazine (which happens to be my part-time employer) will put on the third annual event with two stages worth of bands and an array of artists, crafters, jewelers, sewers, screenprinters and a host of others that would take too long to list.
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Today, we're chatting with two of the 180 vendors you'll be able to catch at this Saturday's event: the creative mind behind Twisted Spiders, and the founder of Yellow Bird Fabrics. We'll hear their respective businesses and thoughts on the local craft scene.

Amy Royer
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Gavin: Hey, Amy! First thing, tell us a bit about yourself.

Amy: My name is Amy Powell Royer and I love fabric!

Gavin: What first got you interested in sewing, and what were some of your early influences?

Amy: My mom started teaching me how to sew when I was about seven or eight. She sewed a lot of clothes for my siblings and me when we were kids. I didn't appreciate that until I was a little older. My mom is my greatest influence. She has always encouraged my creativity.
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Gavin: For college, you studied apparel and textiles and Utah State. What made you choose USU and what was their program like while you were there?

Amy: Utah State was the only fashion program in Utah at the time. Unfortunately, in the middle of my sophomore year, the university was making budget cuts and the apparel and textiles major was one of the first to go. The program was completely dissolved by my senior year. I was able to take all of the core classes before I graduated. The credits I still lacked were picked up in the art department, specifically printmaking. In the end, I guess it was a good thing they dissolved the program; otherwise, I would have never started printing my own fabrics and clothes.

Gavin: I read that you traveled to Guatemala for an internship and learned some unique skills there. How did that opportunity come about, and what did you learn while you were there?

Amy: My dad is a humanitarian. He is in Central and South America almost as much as he's in the U.S. He is always looking for people and places that are in need. In his travels, he came across Cojol-ya. Cojol-ya is an association that is set up to help and preserve Mayan weaving. He told me about it and asked if I wanted to do an internship. I flew out a month later to Santiago Atitlan and learned how to weave on a backstrap loom. It was the most life-changing experience I've ever had.
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Gavin: Considering the options and jobs for you after college, what made you decide to stay in Utah?

Amy: After I graduated, I moved to Guatemala for a second time. I didn't know what I wanted to do at the time so I went there to figure it out. After almost three months, I got parasites and moved back home. I knew Utah was where I was supposed to be. My boyfriend (now husband) was here still finishing school and my family was all here. My goal was no longer to go where the fashion was, it was to bring fashion to Utah.

Gavin: How did the idea come about for you to start your own shop, and where did the name come from?

Amy: After Andrew, my husband, finished school at Utah State, we moved to Salt Lake City. I got a job working at Fashion Affair. Fashion Affair was the fabric store that existed before Yellow Bird Fabrics. The owner of Fashion Affair, Margit Hansen, wanted to retire. She asked me if I would like to buy the business. I knew I couldn't afford it, and in the middle of an economic crisis I knew I wouldn't be able to get a loan. I decided to start fresh with a small inventory and see where it went. I bought 150 bolts of fabric and a few trims to start. In the two years we've been open, we have more than quadrupled our inventory. The name Yellow Bird comes from one of my favorite albums, I'm Wide Awake It's Morning, by Bright Eyes. Conor Oberst references a yellow bird and I always felt like that yellow bird was really important, like it was something to be trusted and confided in.
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Gavin: What was it like for you taking over Fashion Affair's old setup and inventory from the start, and getting the store on its feet with a somewhat built-in crowd?

Amy: Well, we had a new inventory, but the same great customers to start. I think the old customers were sad to see the store was a lot smaller, but were happy to see that I was still carrying quality, high-end fabrics. A big thanks to all the wonderful customers who have stuck with us and to the new ones who have found us.

Gavin: What was it like for you getting Leena Mitchell to stay on board, and how did you come across Amber Lee to be a part of the staff?

Amy: Amber and Leena were a huge support from day one. On the day that I opened, May 4, 2009, Leena came by to say congratulations and brought me flowers. Later that day, Amber came in and asked if she could be an intern. They were both a godsend. I could not run this store without them. They are my second family and I am so lucky to have them.
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Gavin: For those who may not be aware, what kind of products and services do you provide?

Amy: Yellow Bird Fabrics is a high-end apparel fabric boutique. We sell quality fabrics and specialty items that you can't find at regular fabric stores. We specialize in natural fiber fabrics like silk, wool, linen and cotton. We offer sewing classes Monday through Thursday nights and also teach private sewing lessons. We have a very knowledgeable staff who are happy to help with any sewing needs.

Gavin: What is it like for you searching out different fabrics and other material to use, and what's the process  in deciding what to add to the store's supply?

Amy: We go to market in Las Vegas every six months. Unfortunately, fine apparel fabrics are harder to come by. Usually half of the booths at market are for quilting fabrics and a third of them are tacky synthetics. We have a short list of suppliers that are really good to us all of the time. We have another list of suppliers that only have good stuff half of the time. It is a simple a process of sorting the good from the bad, then buying my favorites.
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Gavin: You've been open over two years as of this interview. Are there any plans for you to expand the shop at this time, or are you mainly sticking to what's worked so far?

Amy: I would love to expand! Being confined to under 500 square feet is very challenging. It has been great to keep Fashion Affair's location, but I hope that our little Yellow Bird can fly on to bigger and better someday.

Gavin: You'll be one of the vendors at Craft Lake City this year. How did you hear about the event and what made you want to be a part of it?

Amy: I have gone to Craft Lake City for the past two years and thought it was absolutely wonderful. I wanted to be a part of it, but I didn't apply until this year and I was thrilled to get accepted.
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Gavin: Tell us a little bit about all that you'll have on display at the event.

Amy: We will be selling a lot of great accessories: silk ties and head bands, even shoes! We will have some clothing and a lot of inspiring ideas for people who want to create. Come check out the Yellow Bird Fabrics booth.

Gavin: Going local, what's your take on our art and craft scene, both good and bad?

Amy: I think Utah does not get enough credit. We have a lot of incredibly resourceful and creative people here. If you are not convinced, got to Craft Lake City this year and see the great display of talent. Yeah, we are small, but what's wrong with small? We have a lot of heart.
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Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make the craft scene more prominent?

Amy: The fact that there are now two great fashion programs in Utah really helps. Salt Lake Community College has a wonderful design program, and the Art Institute just started a Fashion Mechanizing Program. I started teaching there this summer. I think if everyone will join forces we will be a lot better off. Salt Lake Community College join up with the Salt Lake Association of Fashion Designers. Art Institute join up with Style Wars. Fashion Stroll join up with Craft Sabbath. We all need to come together!

Gavin: Who are some local crafters you believe people should be checking out?

Amy: Too many to name, but I'll try name some fashion designers here that are wonderful. Sophie St. Claire, Jordan Halverson, Sorry Clementine, Lily Bridal, Amber Lee, Eugene Tachinni. Ahh! I know am forgetting people.
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Gavin: What's your take on events like CLC, Craft Sabbath and Beehive Bazaar, and what they do for the local craft community?

Amy: They are awesome! They really bring to light the amazing artists that are in our community. Bravo to all who are involved in these events. Keep up the good work!

Gavin: In your opinion, how would you say the craft community has affected the Utah art scene as a whole in recent years?

Amy: Everyone benefits. The more people can get their name out there and make a living doing what they love, the better we are.
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Gavin: What can we expect from both yourself and the shop over the rest of the year?

Amy: We hope to continue to grow. As always, you can look to us to be inspired by our beautiful fabrics and come to us with any sewing questions you might have. We love to be involved in whatever sewing projects you might have. We have a lot of great classes coming up that are for all ages and capabilities. Check out our blog for all of our events and sales.

Gavin: Aside the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Amy: Support crafters everywhere. Buy local and be a part of our great artistic community.


Becky O'Keefe
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Gavin: Hey, Becky! First thing, tell us a bit about yourself.

Becky: I’m a happily married mother of four. Two boys and two girls, my kids range in age from nine to 18. My husband, Kevin, and I grew up in a Chicago suburb. We left the flatlands of the Midwest and moved to Seattle after getting married, then here to South Jordan about 10 years ago.
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Gavin: What first got you interested in craft art, and what were some of your early inspirations?

Becky: I’ve loved making things with my hands for as long as I can remember and have dabbled in all sorts of media, from three- dimensional art to watercolors to fiber arts to jewelry. I find creating and making things very rewarding and almost therapeutic. For years, my friends and family members have endured many handmade gifts from me.

Gavin: Did you seek out any college for the arts or were you mainly self-taught?

Becky: I did take a few classes but I didn’t study art in college. Most of the things I’ve done artwise were simply for fun or as a hobby or for gift giving. I’d see an opportunity to create something beautiful and think, “I could do that!”
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Gavin: How did the idea come about to start making the spiders?

Becky: When I was young, one of my favorite Christmas ornaments was a little spider my grandmother had made using beads and wire and two small gold ornaments glued together. Even though I was not a fan of real spiders, it fascinated me. I began making jewelry when my sons were young and very into bugs. It seemed a natural thing. I managed to come up with a design that required no glue and made fairly realistic-looking arachnids that are able to hold their shape.

Gavin: What's the process like in creating one, from concept to final product?

Becky: Each Twisted Spider has between 100 and 130 beads on it. Choosing the body beads and the leg beads to accent it is so much fun for me. There are endless possible combinations. The process itself is broken down into a few steps but once the wire is twisted, each leg is then bent, trimmed and shaped.
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Gavin: Do you tend to tinker around with them a lot while making them, or are you usually set on how they will turn out once you start?

Becky: Because I’ve made so many, I usually know how they’ll turn out, but once in a while, I’ll have one where the wire gives me some difficulty and it’s a little more of a challenge, or one that surprises me where I think, “Wow, that one’s cooler than I thought it’d be. It may have to stay in my personal collection.” They usually make it to the table, though, because I know someone, somewhere, will take it home and enjoy having it as much as I enjoyed creating it.

Gavin: What were some of the first reactions you got from people when you started showing them?

Becky: From the beginning and up to now, the reaction is usually the same: “I hate spiders but I love these!” Or, “These are the prettiest spiders I’ve ever seen!” and “These are awesome -- you make these?!” I have taken something that is typically seen as creepy or scary and “twisted” it into something beautiful. Many people have asked, “Why spiders?” and “Why don’t you do other bugs, as well?” There’s this emotional thing with spiders. So many people hate them but they can’t help but like mine. Even people with arachnophobia are drawn to my spiders. Some have even gone home with a Twisted Spider as a therapy spider to help them overcome their fear!
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Gavin: What made you decide to start your own business around them?

Becky: I used to do other crafts such as felted wool hats, hand-knit scarves, purses, jewelry, etc., and sell a variety of these things at boutiques and events, but it was always the spiders that people seemed intrigued by. A boutique owner that carried some of my work suggested I try focusing on spiders to see what that would do. As hard as it was to give up my other hobbies, I decided to give it a try. That was in January of 2009. By the end of that summer, I knew there was no going back! We have been successful in every sort of venue, from Renaissance fairs and boutiques to car shows and gun shows!

Gavin: How did you get both your husband and Jonathan Roller involved?

Becky: My husband has always supported me in my hobbies. It was a bonus for us if I could fund my hobbies myself by selling some of my creations. When we saw the potential of the spiders, he encouraged me and helped initiate the patent process. He’s also been extremely helpful behind the scenes with various business aspects, as well helping to create our business strategy. In late 2009, as the potential became evident, my brother, Jonathan, and his family moved here to Utah. What a blessing this turned out to be! A stay-at-home dad with two young boys, he was available, and wanted to be a part of this, and became my business partner in January 2010. Twisted Spiders had been born!


Gavin: I noticed that you heavily publicize that you own the patent on this design. What made you think to get that so quickly, and how has that worked to your advantage in the marketplace?

Becky: When we realized the positive reaction we were getting, we were sure someone else was bound to compete with us. Believing our spiders were the best, we wanted to ensure we were the sole provider of Twisted Spiders.
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Gavin: What was it like first taking them around to craft fairs and events selling them?

Becky: The emotional response was great. People either loved them or feared them. Those that feared them were intrigued with them because they are so alluring and would, in many cases, have become our most loyal customers. It was, and still is, so much fun! I love to see peoples’ reactions and visit with those that come to see them. My customers have also given me some awesome feedback and great ideas that I have included in my evolving designs.

Gavin: Your spiders have now started popping up in local stores, and you've become a staple of events like the Farmers Market. How has it been for you getting around and getting exposure for your work?

Becky: It’s so exciting! People everywhere are wearing or displaying their spiders for more people to see, and they’re being recognized as Twisted Spiders. Along with the “these are really cool” comments, I am hearing comments like “so and so has one of these” or “I’ve seen these at Gardner Village” and things like that. Last week, I saw one of my spiders hanging from a rearview mirror of a passing car! How cool is that, to see your art work displayed in the car next to you on the freeway?! It wasn’t the first time, either! I once got a text from my son’s girlfriend from San Francisco earlier this year saying someone wearing one of my spider hairclips just walked into the bagel shop she was in. That made my day! I wear one of my spider necklaces all the time and am complimented whereever I go. Twisted Spiders appeal to such a broad spectrum of people that the stores that want to carry them are varied, as well. They are sold in gift shops, garden shops, pet shops, hair salons and, as of this week, a rock shop in Cedar City will be offering them, as well.
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Gavin: You'll be one of the vendors at Craft Lake City this year. How did you hear about the event and what made you want to be a part of it?

Becky: I am so excited to be a part of this event. For being as young as it is, Craft Lake City has such a great following; how could I not know about it? Being a part of the crafting community here in Salt Lake City, you hear from other artists what events are the ones to participate in and which ones to avoid. Craft Lake City offers a fabulous variety to its attendees, and now that the Gallivan Center remodeling is done, this year is sure to be its best!

Gavin: Tell us a little bit about all that you'll have on display at the event.

Becky: My Twisted Spiders collection changes constantly; I’m always coming up with new designs. If you’ve seen my spiders before, there will be new ones that you haven’t seen every time you see me. We offer Twisted Spiders as necklaces, hairclips, pins, magnets, earrings, rings and ornaments. They come in five different sizes and endless designs. Earlier this year, we sold a chandelier adorned with 21 Twisted Spiders. It was a one-of-a-kind. We thought we’d be displaying it for a while, but we sold it in less than two weeks. I plan to have another chandelier available for purchase at Craft Lake City.
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Gavin: Going a bit local, what's your take on our craft scene, both good and bad?

Becky: Utah is filled with so many talented artists and crafters. We are fortunate to have so many venues and opportunities to promote and sell our art. The downtown SLC Farmers Market has become so popular that many nearby towns are attempting to create similar events on a smaller scale in their own communities. On the downside, participating in some events can be pretty pricey. It’s not unusual for participants to pay a booth fee of $600-$700 for a two day event. I need to move a lot of spiders before I start making a profit, but given the exposure, it should be well worth it. Depending on your product, competition can be tough. Juried events can be difficult to get into. If you have something unique to offer that appeals to many, you’ll likely find success … sometimes not.

Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?

Becky: The opportunities just keep coming. We have to decide where best to spend our time and which events to sign up for.
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Gavin: Who are some local crafters you believe people should be checking out?

Becky: So many, but off the top of my head there’s Loriano Tolaini’s Italian Leather, The Neck’s Best Thing Jewelry by De-De Beck, WoofWare by Dawn Sontag, Liquid Glass by Travis Herbert, SugarBear chainsaw carvings and Kettle Corn by Brent Lowry, Nunya Designs, Fiber Arts by Mary Egbert, and Island Kine Art bone carvings by Selu Alofipo. Awesome people with awesome stuff! One of the perks of doing different events are the friendships you get to make with other artists. We’re all hoping that every vendor is successful in their endeavors.

Gavin: What's your take on events like CLC, Craft Sabbath and Beehive Bazaar, and what they do for the local craft community?

Becky: These are all great venues that give incredible exposure for crafters and artists. I think Salt Lake City is very progressive in giving ALL artists a platform to promote their talents.
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Gavin: In your opinion, how would you say the craft community has affected the Utah art scene as a whole in recent years?

Becky: There’s a much grayer line between art and craft than there used to be. I think that people’s artistic abilities are displayed in their craft. We’re also seeing more crafts admitted into art festivals. It’s not just paintings and sculptures anymore. This is apparent by the increased number of categories of “art”. The variety is awesome.

Gavin: What can we expect from yourself and Twisted Spiders over the rest of the year?

Becky: BUSY! We are so excited and have so much planned through the end of the year. Both the SLC Farmers Market and the Park City Farmer’s Market run through the middle of October, with many other events peppered throughout, as well. We’ll be participating in Oktoberfest at Snowbird, Swiss Days-Midway Market, the What A Woman Wants Show, Kottage Kupboard, And Simple Treasures Boutique and picking up other events along the way. The online store will be done soon, as well, so people everywhere can get Twisted Spiders! We’re also looking at doing some collaborating work with Travis of Liquid Glass. He’s creating some fabulous one-of-a-kind beads for me to use as spider bodies. These Twisted Spiders will be priced accordingly, but his work is amazing. I think it’s the beginning of a very cool thing!
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Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Becky: Thanks to you, Gavin, for taking an interest in Twisted Spiders and giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts here. Thanks to City Weekly for sponsoring events like Craft Lake City and helping it to become the huge success that it is. And thanks to all our Twisted Spiders fans! You guys are the best! Like us on Facebook and we’ll keep you updated with the latest events and any special offers that we’ll have as well!


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